Guatemala and Belize: Transboundary efforts to reduce illegal logging

The Maya Silva represents the largest continuous forest area in the north of the Amazon. It is made up of protected areas in the area “Rio Bravo Manejo y Conservación” and the transborder mountainous region of Chiquibul in Belize, the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala and Reserve Calakmul Biosphere in Mexico. Since two years, Belize and Guatemala have initiated a joint effort to curb the growing illegal logging in the border shared with Mopan and Kekchi indigenous territories settled for more than 100 years ago in both countries.

In the last decades the illegal logging increased in this area, reaching more than 1 million cubic meters of illegally exploited timber only in 2013; and all the timber that was confiscated doesn’t exceed 5% of illegal logging, according to reports Balam Association that developed the same year the diagnosis of the current state of illegal logging in Southern Petén.

Public officials and non-governmental organizations in Guatemala and Belize teamed up to reduce cross-border, illegal logging between the two countries. The initiative included collaborative actions with NGOs, border municipalities and the national government. The work was carried out by the Asociación Balam in Guatemala, Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) in Belize and the Governments of Guatemala and Belize.

The Department of Peten, Guatemala hosts significant protected areas including the cross-border Chiquibul-Maya mountain region that reaches into Belize. Increased institutional collaboration in northern Peten to reduce illegal logging and improve forest governance, however, led to an increase in illegal forest activities in the south. Asociación Balam and FCD joined forces to counter this challenge.
“This project has helped reduce illegal logging and improve forest governance in the south of Peten through multi-sectoral coordination between the Government, civil society and municipal authorities,” says Byron Castellanos of Asociación Balam. “The quantity of illegal timber confiscated in the region has doubled since the start of this project, particularly the seizure of ‘Rosul’ wood.”

“Thanks to the FLEGT funds there has been a pronounced, ongoing effort to understand and address illegal logging across borders,” adds Rafael Manzanero of FCD. “The initiative has been innovative since it seeks to not only address the problem internally with improved law enforcement but also across our borders with Guatemala through a program of joint strategic moves that includes data sharing, governance, policy advocacy and stakeholder participation.” 
Asociación Balam and FCD will continue to support the public ministries to carry out specialized investigations to dismantle criminal activity tied to illegal trafficking of timber in the region.
“The next steps to address forest governance are to consolidate strategies between FCD and its counterparts in Guatemala; further inclusion and collaboration among agencies of the State, increase penalties that can serve as a deterrence for the illicit acts, improved institutional presence across the landscape and the development of alternative livelihood programs in poverty ridden Guatemalan communities,” says Manzanero.

Castellanos adds, “During the next phase of the project, we need to build on our efforts and strengthen the task force against illegal logging, consolidate the National roundtable against illegal logging and make sustained efforts between Guatemala and Belize to stem illegal logging.”

Project Results

  • Asociación Balam conducted a study on illegal logging in southern Peten as a tool to reduce illegal forest activity. 
  • Asociación Balam, together with regional stakeholders, established an Inter-institutional platform on reducing illegal logging in southern Peten.
  • Asociación Balam produced and disseminated 12 radio programmes, two television documentaries and six radio infomercials to raise awareness of the effort to stop illegal forest activities in the region.
  • The governments of Belize and Guatemala increased their collaborative efforts to reduce illegal logging in the cross-border Chiquibul-Maya mountain region. Both governments are considering a memorandum of understanding on this collaboration.
  • Municipal authorities in southern Peten developed targeted actions to reduce illegal logging in their jurisdictions.
  • Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD)rangers covered 256 kilometers on patrols and monitored an area of over 33 480 ha across the Chiquibul Forest. These rangers accompanied the Belize Defence Force and Police Officers on a weekly basis.
  • FCD facilitated the implementation of a more effective communication system between the three conservation posts established across the Chiquibul.
  • FCD engaged Justice System agencies to build awareness of environmental crime.
  • FCD and Asociation Balam facilitated the establishment of a bi-national database on illegal logging records, exchanging information on the illegal logging landscape.