The Friends for Conservation and Development FCD, the Non Governmental Organization that protects the Western Maya Mountain Massif, held its 16th Annual General meeting at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel on Saturday of this past weekend. As part of the activities for the day, new members were elected to serve within the Board of Directors at FCD, which included a retired Belize Defense Force soldier Oscar Mira as well as Jorge De Leon.
In his report to the audience, Board President Dr. Filiberto Penados said that the AGM was a space to review the year, ponder the challenges, review commitment as well as to elect friends to take on the mantle. He said that the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, co-managed by the FCD is the watershed for half of Belize and parts of Guatemala. Dr. Penados also said that there are now 18 rangers on the ground to protect that asset.
Executive Director Rafael Manzanero also reviewed the roles of those rangers, who are currently doing smart patrols and deployed at conservation posts. According to him, the work that the FCD does with the help of rangers has been facilitated by the Police, the Belize Defense Force as well as the Immigration Department. He reported that since November of last year, there has been no major illegal logging in the Chiquibul Forest; however the FCD has not been able to contain the gold panning at head waters. (As a result of these gold panning activities there has been a lot of contamination.) Manzanero also reported that while the scarlet macaw populations in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico are not healthy, FCD has managed to raise 8 chicks in the laboratory and released seven adults into the wild.
The FCD partners with some 80 other entities to protect the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, which is one of the largest protected areas in Belize. The partnership to protect the reserve is also a bi-national effort as there is a 43.5 kilometer span at the park’s western border with Guatemala, where some 63 communities exist and can exert pressure upon the natural and cultural resources of the park.
“But to be really effective, the effort cannot be only on one side of the border…and that is why the British High Commission has been and will be funding the activities of FCD with Balam on the other side of the border…,” said Peter Hughes, the British High Commissioner during his main address on Saturday.
During the last four years, the British High Commission has contributed nearly $300,000.00 on both sides of the Belize-Guatemala border, to bring people together, to build respect for the forest, to engender trust and encourage confidence towards a better ecology in the Chiquibul.
Others have joined the British High Commission to assist the FCD in protecting the Chiquibul. FCD received grants during 2014 to 2015 totaling $753,821.21 from ‘Associacion Balam’, CARSI, FAO, IWT UKAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society; with the Protected Areas Conservation Trust coming up with the largest donation of $181,994.30. Indeed; in keeping with that trend, Valerie Woods, the Country Manager for Chukka delivered a check of $10,000 to Rafael Manzanero on Saturday to bolster FCD’s investments, which is now about one million dollars a year.
FCD’s investments are for ample reasons such as to protect the Chiquibul watershed that provide safe water for over 230,000 people in Belize. The Chiquibul Forest is also a habitat for numerous animals and plant life, some yet to be catalogued by science. Ardent supporters of FCD like British High Commissioner Peter Hughes believe that there is a future for FCD post the Climate Change talks now occurring in France. For it is the broad leaf forests within the Chiquibul, that forms part of a rapidly fragmenting green tapestry around the Globe that capture carbon dioxide and releases oxygen to give life to the rest of the World.
“If you have taken a dip in any of the mentioned rivers, had a couple of Belikins or every time you turn your lights on, then you definitely have something to thank the Chiquibul for,” reminds Dr. Filberto Penados, who once trailed the paths of the forerunner to the FCD, the Youth Environmental Group YEAG, which sprung from San Jose Succotz over two decades ago.