Illegal logging by Guatemalan poachers in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve have cost Belize an estimated US $14 million or more, according to an Economic and Ecological Valuation Assessment done by the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which co-manages the reserve and the Chiquibul National Park.
FCD’s Boris Arrevalo and Derric Chan prepared the assessment. Arrevalo said “the problem is getting bigger and bigger every day” as he presented his report to representatives of the Forest Department, the Police Department, the Belize Defence Force, Customs and Immigration Departments, other government agencies and non-governmental conservation organization and the media at the Belmopan Convention Hotel on Wednesday, September 26.
The FCD study is one of the first assessments of illegal logging that actually involved direct field data collection. It estimates the illegal loggers have extracted 2,832,185 board feet of cedar worth US$4.248 million and 2,971,343 board foot of mahogany, worth another US$5.199 million, a total of US$9.448 million, from an area of 34,188.74 hectares.
The evidence the loggers leave behind indicates their method is very wasteful as 34.5% of the commercial bole length of cedar, and 30.5% of the bole of the mahogany trees are not harvested.
For the cedar, that’s a US$1,468,437 and another US$1,589,638 for the mahogany, a total of $3.058 million worth of lumber just left on the ground to rot.
Those trees could have earned Belize carbon credits of US$7.00 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. They were worth US$2,068,752 in carbon credits alone. Add that to the value of the timber, and that’s a US$14.57 million loss for Belize.
The illegal logging also has an ecological impact in that it endangers the viability of targeted species. Can seeds from the remaining cedar and mahogany trees reforest the affected areas?
FCD notes that the Belizean regulatory and enforcement agencies have been unable to effectively deter the illegal loggers, and goes so far as to suggest that there is direct link to corrupt practices.
The FCD recommends that monitoring and assessment of illegal logging be continued to gather information, which will allow the volume, waste and deforestation as a direct side effect of illegal logging to be properly estimated.
The FCD also recommends that the commercial grade timber left to waste by illegal loggers be salvaged, by establishing a mechanism for this purpose.
Belizean law enforcement authorities need to formalize bi-national cooperation with their Guatemalan counterparts to better address the issue of illegal logging, and this will require that law enforcement units establish a constant presence in the forest. They need to change their tactics and synchronize their efforts to make best use of limited resources, if they are to effectively deter illegal loggers from penetrating deeper into Belizean territory.
The area affected by the illegal logging has grown from 18,000 hectares in 2010 to 26,642 hectares in 2011, to 34,000 hectares so far this year. The loggers are not only extracting timber. They also loot any Mayan sites they stumble upon, poach scarlet macaw parrot chicks, and just about any other target of opportunity.
Actions recommended include establishing a mechanism to salvage commercial grade timber that was left as waste and maintain a constant and varied security presence.