I packed my bags the night before we left, made sure I didn’t forget my tooth brush just to realize later that I forgot the toothpaste instead. So we took off early Monday morning to attend the “Primer Intercambio Regional de Guardarecurso de la Selva Maya” in Flores Peten, Guatemala. The purpose of the workshop was for the exchange of ideas among rangers and representatives of Protected Areas within the Selva Maya region which encompasses Belize, Guatemala and parts of Mexico. To be honest I only had a vague idea what the workshop would be like and I wondered how CSFI would benefit or fit into the whole scheme of things. Now that the workshop has ended, I can safely say that it far exceeded my expectations and it has been a great learning experience, further emphasizing the need for collaboration and exchange of information among Protected Areas and partner organizations.
What it was like
The workshop was filled with presentations from different organizations shedding light on their roles, challenges and accomplishments. What were very evident are the similarities that each organization shared and the contrast in techniques and strategies to accomplish projects and tackle challenges. On the second day we paired off with other groups and representative organizations to develop a plan for further collaboration. Realistic goals were set and while the workshop was just an icebreaker, the plan is further develop these relationships and collaborate effectively. In short we gained a wealth of knowledge, socially, intellectually and strategically. It is amazing how many things can be learned in such a short time when you learn from a collection of experienced people willing to exchange ideas and information.
After a fruitful workshop, what can we do next? It is important that we follow through and accomplish the goals that we have set. Sometimes with the overwhelming amount of work that we have, we tend to forget our commitments or the importance of collaboration. In fact, collaboration should ease the overwhelming work and enable us to be more efficient while accomplishing even greater goals. Of course we also have to be realistic and accept that collaboration is a “give and take” relationship that encompasses personalities and self interests, but if you can’t put differences aside it can be very hard to grow. It’s not always easy and it may not always work but in an ideal world, collaboration is the standard for getting things done in an efficient, progressive and innovative manner. The stage has been set now it’s time to make things happen, 2014 here we come.
Great! If you’re reading this it means that I got your attention, now let’s try to keep it that way. I’m Jay, the little cartoon on the top left of your screen and I work for CSFI, but what’s more important is that I talk about the real issues that we face in conservation. What are the real issues? Poverty, corruption, education, justice and developing practical solutions that work, just to name a few.
The Real take on conservation
In recent years the entire world has become more environmentally conscious and while we scramble to save the environment, there are many challenges that the average person is not aware of. Hopefully through our blog we can bring these challenges to light. The reality is that effective conservation is usually very complex and it takes patience and dedication to make significant progress.
Be informed about the issues we face. Follow conservation blogs and facebook pages that talk about the real issues. Educate the younger generation and stand up for what’s right; stand up for what you believe in. Volunteer at a local institution or take environmental approaches to your job. Have some empathy; look beyond the obvious problems like deforestation and understand why these things happen. It is easy to get outraged by these problems especially if you’re an avid supporter for conservation but the more we understand, the more we can do. Lastly, follow our blog; we’ll try to be as honest and transparent as we possibly can, without getting into too much trouble.
When we took over Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve a couple of months ago we had only a slight idea of the challenges we would be facing. Freshwater creek is such an important reserve in creating inter-connectivity within protected areas. It is a key area that helps to bridge the gap between central protect areas and northern protected areas forming a much needed corridor for wildlife including many threatened species.
Our rangers working hard on the field have encountered several areas where illegal activities like logging and illegal harvesting of forest products are occurring. Most of the cleared lands found within the reserve are cane fields with a couple of them being milpas. Some of the land markers have been illegally relocated but thanks to GPS mapping, we know exactly where the boundaries should be.
How did we get to this point?
Freshwater Creek FR has been quite honestly one of the more neglected reserves. It has been due to lack of resources and funding. Through the years people have engaged in illegal logging, poaching, extraction of forest products and claimed land for themselves, all within the reserve. We are now faced with the task of effectively protecting this area and maintain healthy relationships with the communities. We know that we need to remove these farmers who are planting within the reserve but how do we tackle that? Well that’s the real challenge.
Sure, it’s easy to get outraged by all these illegal activities within reserve but who can we blame? Is it the local farmer who is trying to put food on the table? Some of these poor locals can’t even get a legal piece of land to work on. What’s more important to us is developing practical solutions for challenges like these.
What can we do?
Going over boundaries with Santa Martha chairman
Some of the solutions like conservation education have long term results but sometimes immediate results are needed in order to ensure no further deterioration to the protected area. The ideal solution requires a combination of both long term and short term tangible benefits. We have developed and are in the process of establishing two new projects that will help us provide more tangible benefits to these communities. The struggles of a protected area are so complex but we have developed our ultimate goal focusing on conservation for the benefit of the people.
How would you tackle these challenges?
Just 3 miles before arriving at the small fishing community of Sarteneja, there is a flag and sign that mark the entrance to a place known by locals as “La Reserva”. This Protected Area (PA), however, is quite a bit more than that and through the years it has become an integral part of the Protected Areas System of Belize.
The Shipstern Conservation and Management Area is currently managed by the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative (CSFI). It is the only PA in Belize that protects the Yucatan Dry forest – a forest with unique vegetation and wildlife found only in this part of the world. This PA is home to 4 broad ecosystems, over 266 species of plants, 43 species of mammals, over 275 species of birds, 67 species of reptiles, 17 species of amphibians and 33 species of fish.
The most recent achievement for the organization (CSFI), is the signing of management agreements for both Honey Camp National Park and Fresh Water Creek Forest Reserve. While the team at CSFI is committed to what they do best, they are always eager to share the work that they do with anyone willing to drop by for a visit.