Forestry Department, Belize
Belize has extensive forest and associated woodland resources characterized primarily by tall, highly diverse broadleaf forest, and secondarily by pine foprests, low scrubby woodland areas, and abundant mangroves, (King an others 1986, 1989, 1992; Zisman 1992; Forest Department 1993; and LIC 1994). Among the environmental issues facing Belize are deforestation and the management of forest resources. Thousands of hectares of broadleaf forest have been cleared for agriculture and other purposes (Forest Department 1993). Nevertheless, it is generally believed that the amount of deforestation that has occurred in Belize is much less than that has occurred in other rain forest countries.
The Ministry of Natural Resources of the Government of Belize under whose the Forest Department falls is, the entity by law, to ensure that the country`s Forest Policy is adhered to. In summery the policy dictates: the protection of water catchments, prevention of erosion, production of timber, maintenance and enhancement of natural habitats and improve quality of amenity areas for recreational activities.
Protective areas for Belize are divided into seven categories. These are:
Due to Belize's low population [260 000] the long- ago demarcated boundaries of the protective areas remain almost the same.
Pressures for agricultural land are always present but restricted to national lands. When encroachments do occur, the colonizers are asked to leave or are evicted. As a point of interest it is important to note that most encroachers into protected areas are refugees but because reserve boundaries areas well demarcated, small colonies are easily removed. Nationals also encroach with the objective of securing squatters rights to the land being encroached upon. For political reasons they are the most difficult to remove. All in all the percentage of encroachments compared to percentages of protected areas in regards to total land areas is small and easily controlled.
Currently only three forest reserves have approved management plans.
These are: for the Columbia River Forest Reserve a restoration felling program; for the Chiquibul Forest Reserve a Restoration felling program; for the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve a Harvesting Plan. A fourth plan, accepted but yet in the back- burner, for the Fresh Water Creek Forest Reserve, is where it is, for reasons unknown to this writer.
As a member of staff in the rank and file of the Belize Forest Department it is my humble opinion that the Swazey-Bladen, Deep River, Sittee, Sibun and Manatee Forest Reserves should be prioritized in regards to establishment of controlled felling programs. The Vaca Forest Reserve should be closed for logging operations and perhaps due consideration should be given for its transition into a National Park. Technical assistance is required to implement the above.
There are management plans for National Park and Nature Reserves directly under government control.
Natural Land: land not in private ownership and outside boundaries of protective areas. This land suffers the brunt of agricultural incursions an the Forest Department has only girth limits to ensure that undersized trees are not exploited. Because of the urgent need for land, however, salvage licenses are granted with the hope that everything growing inside the area in question is utilized.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment must therefore gear itself to carry out feasibility studies in protected areas because they will come under intense pressure when National Lands, for agriculture, are all gone. The public must be convinced that areas growing pine or broadleaf forests are not necessarily good for agriculture. For such an exercise, Belize would again need technical assistance.
The report, Deforestation in Belize 1 989-92, 94-96 is at this point the only study available which is recognized to be the basic tool for Belize in relation to the FAO's Forest Resource Assessment 2000. Since the emphasis of the study was on total forest cover, however, other land use types were only provisionally classified. There is a need for a more detailed and rigorous digital analysis of Landsat TM imagery to refine the classification of both forested and non-forested areas to provide more up to date and complete digital data and maps of current land use in Belize. If there is another one available to date this writer promises to make it available at the earliest.
Statistics in regards to inventories, timber yields and forest fire occurrence are unavailable at this point but effort will be made to collect them and have them transferred as quick as possible.
BIRD, N.M. 1 998. Sustaining the yield. Improved timber harvesting practices in Belize.
FOREST DEPARTMENT. 1993. The Forests of Belize; A first approximation at estimating the Country's forest Resources: Forest Department. Ministry of Natural Resources.
GRAY, I.A. 1995. Harvesting Plan. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
WHITE, W.H. et al 1 996. Deforestation in Belize 1989-92, 1994-96.