APAMO Member, Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust advocates to stop conservation violations in Bladen Nature Reserve.
(reposted from the APAMO Blog – original links at title above)
In July of this year, The Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust alerted the public to the illegal campsites and bulldozing activity being conducted by the Hydro Maya facility on the Bladen Nature Reserve. Considered the crown jewel of Belizean protected areas, Bladen Nature Reserve (BNR) co-managed by YCT, is a 100,000 acre, pristine natural forest in southern Belize and currently enjoys the status of a Nature Reserve, the highest level of protection a protected area in Belize can have. It is considered to be one of the most biodiversity-rich, and topographically unique areas within the Mesoamerican biodiversity “hotspot.” BNR’s role in watershed protection within the area is also important as it protects the upper waters of the Monkey River watershed, preserving the quality of the water draining onto the Belize Barrier Reef 26 km to the east. This water system additionally provides water for local communities and large agricultural areas on the coastal plain.
The developers have a concession agreement signed by the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow for the construction of a dam along the Rio Grande River. Research work has already begun by the company. Residents of San Pedro Columbia are against the building of a hydro dam. In November of 2009 a committee was appointed by the San Pedro Columbia Villagers to address these issues and to lead the advocacy initiative. A team of committee members including Mayan leaders from the village accompanied by the BDF and forestry department hiked into the reserve to observe firsthand the damage that had occurred in the area.
They found significant impacts to both natural and archaeological resources in the area. Pristine areas of the forest were cleared on slopes, creeks were blocked, illegal resources used, and unauthorized road development. These activities are of particular concern due to the international biological importance of the area which has been listed as a national focal site for biodiversity conservation.
Once the team completed their assessment they presented their findings to community leaders and local citizens in San Pedro Columbia Village on December 13th. During this community meeting the team discussed their findings, expressed their concerns, and prompted community members to formulate recommendations that would be submitted to the Government of Belize.
The recommendations from the San Pedro Columbia community leaders and villagers was a call for the Government of Belize to revoke the 15-year concession granted in December of last year to the Belize Hydroelectric Developer and Management Company Limited for the development of the hydro potential of Belize’s majestic Rio Grande Basin. The villagers voted on and passed a resolution asking that Prime Minister Barrow address these issues or they would be forced to conduct a peaceful protest.
The committee, villagers, community leaders, and citizens along these buffer areas continue to call for a response from Prime Minister Barrow but to date the GOB has not made a statement or elected to meet with committee members.The company had also created a road which subsequently facilitated access for wildlife hunters and xaté palm harvesters – both banned in the reserve.
APAMO has written to both the Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment supporting the request being made by the Columbia River Forest Reserve Bladen Nature Reserve Committee to revoke the concession agreement granted to the Belize Hydro-electric Development and Management Ltd (BHD).
APAMO considers that this type of development is not appropriate for this highly ecologically rich and sensitive area. The Bladen Nature reserve may be one of the last pristine areas in Belize. The negative effects of the Challio Dam and the Hydro Maya Dam on both the Macal and San Miguel rivers are already visible. The rivers are no longer pristine and clear, there is greater siltation, increased erosion all of which do not only have negative environmental impacts but negative social impacts as well. We have yet to see the benefits of lowered electricity rates as a result of these dams. Instead, the outcomes have been unmitigated environmental and social impacts on the people of the Cayo and Toledo districts; hence we need to look at other more environmentally friendly options.
We recommend that the government conduct a renewable energy study and implement the most feasible and environmentally friendly options. Destroying part of our most pristine and highest protected nature reserves is not, in the least, the progressive way to go.
APAMO calls on the government to reconsider the concession granted to BHD and to engage in meaningful consultation with all the key stakeholders in any future developments that will have impacts on our environment, protected areas and our people.