The World Land Trust has said it is proud to be part of the broad coalition that has come together for the Belize Maya Forest, a movement of NGOs, government, businesses and community leaders joining forces to create a vast new protected area, and save crucial habitat from deforestation.The home of Jaguar, tapir, 200 tree species and over 400 bird species is now protected – and WLT supporters have played a part. Image Credit Programme For Belize: Volunteers set out on bird-banding and observation mission at La Milpa, Rio Bravo, Orange Walk.
236,000 acres of imperiled tropical rainforest are now protected, boosting climate efforts and securing vital habitat for charismatic species including Jaguar.
Decades ago, a radical idea was born to protect the Maya Forest in Belize. What if NGOs, the government, community leaders, and businesses could form a coalition to conserve one of the world’s last remaining pristine rainforests?
Today, that dream is a reality with more than a dozen organizations coming together to protect 236,000 acres of land that represents an irreplaceable linchpin in the conservation of the largest remaining tropical forests in the Americas, outside the Amazon. This new protected area is contiguous with and nearly doubles the size of the adjacent Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area previously protected through efforts led by The Nature Conservancy.
Combined, it represents 9% of the landmass of Belize and secures a vital wildlife corridor in Central America’s dwindling forests. Together, these new protections will fill a critical gap in a vast forest network called the Selva Maya – 38 million acres of parks and protected areas across Central America. Belize has been at the forefront of land and ocean conservation; combined with previously protected areas, almost 40% of Belize’s landmass now has some level of protection in place.
“The Belize Maya Forest project allows us to fulfill further our goals of reducing pressures on biodiversity, improving mitigation and adaptation to the impacts of climate change as well as our goals of sustainable management of ecosystems for the goods and services they provide,” says Hannah St. Luce-Martinez, director of Belize’s National Biodiversity Office.
Since 2011, the Maya Forest Corridor that connects Belize’s Maya Mountain Massif to the Belize Maya Forest has faced deforestation rates almost four times the national average, driven primarily by clearing land for industrial-scale agriculture. That was the fate that seemed very likely for this tract of land as well.
Securing protection for this climate- and nature-critical ecosystem means preserving habitat for some of the world’s most iconic wildlife species like Jaguar and Ocelot, as well as preserving a significant living carbon reserve that represents a natural solution to climate change. This project is a premier example of this sort of solution, preserving significant amounts of sequestered carbon that would otherwise be lost due to deforestation, while offering valuable co-benefits, especially to biodiversity.
These logs are historic,” says Elma Kay, standing in Belize Maya Forest, where she has been doing an inventory of felled trees. “These are the last logs that were cut here, for mahogany and other hardwoods, left behind by the previous logging company.”
Trees will no longer be cut down in this 950 sq km (236,000-acre) area, after the land was bought by a coalition of conservation organisations to save one of the world’s last pristine rainforests from deforestation. “The forest will now be protected in perpetuity,” says Kay.
The news is timed to coincide with Earth Day, the annual event established in 1970 to mobilise action on environmental issues.
The newly named Belize Maya Forest is part of 150,000 sq km (38m acres) of tropical forest across Mexico, Belize and Guatemala known as the Selva Maya, a biodiversity hotspot and home to five species of wild cat (jaguars, margay, ocelot, jaguarundi and puma), spider monkeys, howler monkeys and hundreds of bird species.
New Belize Government Mad About Belize Maya Forest Accomplishment
The fly in the ointment on the initiative to save a portion of Belize’s rainforest was swift to land on 23 April 2021, the day after Earth Day, in the form of a condemnation from Henry Usher, member of parliament and son of former Prime Minister Said Musa and Area Representative, Fort George
“I hold here Madam Speaker, an agreement signed between the Government of Belize and Nature Conservancy. This agreement was signed on the nineteenth day of October 2020. And this agreement Madam Speaker was signed on behalf of the government of Belize, by the member for Corozal North who was then the Minister of Natural Resources. The reason I bring up this agreement Madam Speaker because incredibly in this agreement, two hundred and sixty thousand acres of land was acquired by the Nature Conservancy. In the agreement government agrees to remit, to waive and exempt the payment and stamp duty on these properties for a term of fifty years. The government of Belize signed by the member for Corozal permitted the trustee to retain, exercise and transfer to them the carbon rights on the trust properties. Couple that with now the waiver of land tax, and we see that they were not serious about collecting land tax.”