Where do we draw the line?

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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?

 EfrainCane fields and Milpas within the Forest Reserve

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?

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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?

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Posted on October 16, 2013, in Enforcement. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You asked what our ideas are about what can be done. 1. Start by forming a fund raising committee of volunteers that are ecological minded, maybe include some members from the US or other countries where preservation and protection have been successfully implemented. 2. Begin fund raising (too many ideas for that to list here). 3. In the short term, purchase an area of land – or have the government donate it – so that the farmers can ‘free lease’ with an option to buy, making small, affordable payments. Let it be free only for a specific period of time for them to grow their cane on, in order to buy time to work out a long term solution. 4. While the fund raising is taking place, begin offering classes, free to the public, to educate people in the area, including farmers, on the importance of conservation and means of sustainability. Offer food at the classes and people will attend (I have more ideas on this, but not enough space to include here). Bring in guest speakers and offer once a week over a period of eight weeks.

    As a volunteer Master Environmental Educator in the United States, I have seen some of these ideas put into action here, and I can assure you people will step up and help with this project – offering both their money and their time.

    Hope this is somewhat helpful.

    • Thanks a lot for your input Tracy. I like your enthusiasm and ideas, some of them actually parallel our own. Education and relocation are key strategies that we’re in the process of implementing. We’ll keep you updated on our progress through our blog and I’ll definitely take your advice on offering food. Since we started managing this protected area, we have significantly increased patrols. We confiscated over 180 illegal logs in one day, all believed to have been extracted from the reserve. For years people have been using the reserve to make a living either through illegal harvesting of forest products or farmland. Now that we are trying to effectively manage the area, the challenge is to provide tangible economic alternatives to these communities and harmonize people with nature. Here’s a link to a project we’re working on:

      http://www.csfi.bz/projects/sustainable-forest-management/freshwater-creek-forest-reserve/

      Thank you for your ideas and interest.

  2. First of all, permit me to express my sense of relief that finally an institution/NGO has stepped up to the plate to take on this huge challenge. Continuing with business as usual would surely lead us to further deterioration of this block of forest and perhaps its eventual de-reservation. The forest has already been degraded but not totally lost. I strongly believe that the management of the Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve (FCFR) should be in line with its primary objective for which it was first of all declared a Forest Reserve (FR). In the short term, the FCFR requires a clear demarcation of its boundary and proper signage especially where there is more influence by nearby communities. Under the forest regulations, the CFO can authorize the erection of barriers at the main entrance points to the reserve which would essentially deter unwanted visitors to the area. Keep up the surveillance of illegal activities within the reserve and stop any further agricultural development in the area. In the medium term, allow farmers who have encroached into the reserve, to harvest their produce and expel them once they have recovered their expenses. In the long term, I can forsee the need for a restoration plan for the entire reserve. Parallel to these activities, the CSFI will have to engage the buffer communities in other livelihood alternatives and perhaps better agricultural practices such as integrated farming systems along with the support of the Agriculture Department (AD). CATIE has been supporting the AD within the Cayo District in promoting these production systems which have yielded some great results. A needs assessment in relation to the FCFR of the buffer communities is a must to learn more on their dependencies on its resources such as firewood, game meat among other things. Good luck.

    • German I love your practical approach to these challenges. I can tell that you are fully aware of the issues we face in FWCFR. We have already established a presence with regular surveillance and signage/demarcation. Getting farmers out of the reserve will be harder than we initially thought and it will require a really calculated measure.The goal is to reclaim and fully protect these areas but also to provide alternatives (like the ones you mentioned) and hopefully instill a positive view on conservation. I know it’s a lot to ask for but we’re determined to get as close to it as possible. We are currently in the process of partnering with other organizations to accomplish this. I’ll definitely post an update when we’re through. I’ll include details of our approach and success/setbacks.

      Thank you for your following and providing meaningful insight.

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