Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2020. 7:38 pm CST.
By BBN Staff: Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) informed that on April 23, an over-flight supported by the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) was conducted covering 90 kilometres of the western border with the aim of documenting the extent of forest fires in the Chiquibul-Maya Mountains.
FCD notes that forest fires are ominously visible throughout the landscape and a blanket smoke is descending over and covering the towns and villages.
In the Vaca Forest Reserve, large patches of forest have been cleared and fires are actively fuming and carbon emissions sent to the atmosphere.
In Chiquibul and Caracol, likewise some patches appear burnt already while dozens of wild fire fumes appear on the landscape still actively consuming vegetation on the forest floor and displacing wildlife.
Using VIIRS Fire Alert Data, a total of 286 hotspots have been registered in the Vaca Forest, while in Caracol a total of 89 and in the Chiquibul National Park a total of 125 hotspots.
These have been registered throughout the period from 1 st January to 21st April 2020.
FCD notes that fires in both Caracol and Chiquibul have been set up by Guatemalan farmers and cattle ranchers, with an environmental damage that undermines all the reclamation efforts ongoing in the Chiquibul. The fire crossed the main Cebada road and large trees have also collapsed on the road making access that more difficult.
In the Vaca these have been provoked by Guatemalan cattle ranchers along the border, but also by farmers operating inside the reserve.
Given the remoteness of the area, inaccessibility, topography and absence of water sources in the Vaca, Caracol and Chiquibul it is difficult to combat the cross-border fires.
FCD, however, recommends the following:
1. The Government of Belize to do an exchange of note to the Guatemalan Government about the serious environmental impacts created by Guatemalan farmers and ranchers on Belizean territory and for them to dissuade their populations from further incursions and encroachments in compliance with the Confidence Building Measures and Belizean environmental regulations.
2. Develop a full mapping of the extent and effects caused by the fires through a Commission comprised of Belize and Guatemalan authorities and promote an open dialogue with targeted communities on the adjacency zone through the leadership of the Organization of American States.
3. Institute a Binational Forest Fire Prevention Taskforce as recommended on the MoU for the Protection of the Environment signed by both Governments in 2014 that prevents future upsurge of this environmental threat in the Chiquibul-Maya Mountain landscape.
4. Create an intense annual binational environmental education and outreach campaign in advance of the dry weather with the aim of sensitizing populations across borders of the regulations and guidelines.
5. Impose heavy fines and imprisonment on anyone one found slash and burning the forest in the protected areas.
6. Build local capabilities to combat forest fires and acquire the proper equipment to address tropical montane wild fires.
7. Maintain a monitoring presence at Conservation Posts and boost up patrols as a formidable presence to deter agricultural encroachments and cattle ranching
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