Posted: Monday, February 4, 2019. 7:00 a.m. CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
By Richard Harrison: The Mountain Pine Ridge is a beautiful part of the Maya Mountains that stretches south from the Belize Old River to the Moho River, rising majestically to the west of the scenic Hummingbird and coastal Southern Highways…rising to 3,000 feet above sea level, until the Belize border with the Peten region of Guatemala.
As its name implies, it is a nature reserve mostly filled with pine forest.
When I was a child the Government of Belize maintained over 500 forest rangers in the area to protect it from incursions, fires, diseases and others risks…to manage the harvesting and replanting of pine trees…and to protect most of Belize’s fresh water sources, which originate in this area.
All the homes of Belize used natural Christmas trees harvested annually from this forest.
The forest was rich green with big pine trees planted in rows and contours as far as the eye could see. Fire lines and drainage could be seen throughout the maze of well- maintained forest roads that traversed the reserve…the forest was managed…it was healthy and rich.
Shortly after Independence, the Government of Belize started slashing budgets for forestry development and waterways maintenance. Less than 20 years after, by 1998, the pine forests were largely destroyed by pine bark beetle infestation, uncontrolled wild fires, over-harvesting without replanting and mining/land clearing.
Finally, the Government seems to have realized the error of its ways…the error of abandoning such a rich area of Belize and leaving it to illegal encroachment and wrongful exploitation. This area is rich in beautiful sites for tourism activities, such as waterfalls, caves, Mayan temples, etc…lush with exotic wildlife…rich in minerals, including granite, gold, limestone and clay…abundant in fresh water sources…ideal for Swiss-style residential living in small planned communities, with cool climate and big star-lit skies, year-round.
Now the GOB has allegedly requested the Inter-American Development Bank to finance a project to initially develop 4 tourism sites in the area…Thousand Foot Falls, Barton Creek Cave, Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Caves. The entrance gate and facilities will be upgraded so that fees can be charged at each site…providing safe, clean and well maintained infrastructure…with rentable concessions for toilets, cafeteria, parking, gift sales, photo op, etc.
Thus, there are plans to develop tourism sites…allegedly being designed by a Panamanian company….which combined with Caracol Mayan temples, one of the largest Mayan sites known…and the planned pavement of the access road with OPEC/Kuwait/IDB financing…will bring big time tourism development over the next 5 years to the Cayo district and especially to San Ignacio Town, which is at the foothills of the access entrance to the reserve.
The development of these sites will allow the squeezing out of hard cash from the Mountain Pine Ridge (MPR)….and bring in many more thousands of tourists annually.
BUT…what about the Forestry Development?…for the protection of our fresh water resources? Will not many thousands of tourists generate a lot of waste? Don’t we need to ensure that our water resources are protected? Is not forestry management of the Mountain Pine Ridge a principal component of the sustainable way of financing the protection of our fresh water supply into perpetuity?
Well…there are no known plans for such!
This IDB project needs to be expanded and accompanied by a forestry development plan…such that a significant portion of the revenues raised from entrance fees can be channeled into forestry and water resources protection….via an institutionalized organization with credible plans in hand.
We should not accept the story that we will develop the sites for extraction of tourism dollars first…then later we will invest in forestry and water protection….NO…the two must happen at the same time! Otherwise the second part will never happen!
The Belize Forestry Department and all guardians of Belizean forestry, environmental and water resources, fauna and flora….government, NGO’s and private sector…must ALL join up to demand this vitally necessary COMPREHENSIVE forestry development component for the MPR.
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