Institutional Strengthening in Community Conservation of the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, Belize

Project location: BELIZE, Golden Stream
Project start date: September 2001 - Project end date: September 2002
Project number: 2001-01
Beneficiary: Fauna & Flora International

 

In 1998 Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was invited to begin working with Golden Stream Corridor Preserve NGO (GSCP NGO), a new grass-roots Mayan organization, based in Toledo District Belize on the establishment of a reserve to conserve the global significant biodiversity of the Golden Stream watershed. Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (GSCP) is Belize' last remaining lowland tropical broadleaf forest ecosystem running unbroken from the mountains to the coast and one of the few forested corridors between the Mesoamerican highlands and the Caribbean coast. The Preserve has a planned surface area of 35,000 acres. The lowland wet forests in the GSCP have evolved on limestone and therefore likely to contain a high endemism both at species and at habitat level. The Golden Stream is one of the last pristine coastal rivers left in Belize and is a critical life-supporting waterway, originating in the Maya Mountains and discharging into Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Survival, behavior and habitat spread of both terrestrial and marine species depends on this artery. Toledo is the least developed district in the country and the majority of the populous are Maya people.

The population in the project area is among the poorest in the country and is serviced with poor infrastructure. The main economic activities are agriculture (Milpa farming), hunting, fishing and logging. There are a few alternative part-time work opportunities on citrus plantations and logging in nearby areas. There are therefore several threats from the local communities to biodiversity, resulting from the overexploitation of the natural resources. Thus, GSCP NGO was established with the aim of conserving the remaining forest surrounding Golden Stream and providing a sustainable income to the surrounding Maya communities. Early 1999, subsequent to an agreement with GSCP NGO, FFI was able to help this local NGO by purchasing 9,544 acres for US$ 1.2 million - the most valuable parcel of land in the watershed - on their behalf as the first section of the reserve. The purchase was carried out through the FFI Arcadia Fund and saved the forest from imminent conversion into citrus plantation. This was but the first phase of this initiative for FFI which aims to complete the connection between existing land that GSCP owns and the sea through further purchases, or alternative partnership / management agreements, whilst building the capacity of GSCP NGO to be able to manage the area effectively for the benefit of future generations of local people. Since the inception of its Belize program, FFI funded two biodiversity surveys, a rapid socio-economic assessment part-time Program Manager and provided continuous technical and financial assistance to the GSCP/NGO. Thus, FFI has an ongoing long-term commitment to the project and area, until total management responsibility can be handed over to GSCP NGO.

Institutional strengthening in community conservation for Golden Stream Corridor Preserve

Background Description of the Project area

The Golden Stream Corridor is an area of global biodiversity significance. Its value is further enhanced by its contribution to the globally important biodiversity of the Meso American Biological Corridor (MBC) as it provides the missing link between Northern, Central and Southern Protected Areas in Belize ensuring the continuity of the MBC. GSCP contains Central America's five great Cats: Jaguar (Felis onca), Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarundi), Puma (Puma concolor), Ocelot (Leopardus Pardalis albescens), and Margay (Felis weidii). The area is thought to possess the densest populations of Jaguar in the world . GSCP contains populations of several threatened animal species and subspecies, such as: English Name Scientific Name IUCN Threat category Central American Spider Monkey AÍeles geofrolltucatanenis Vulnerable Jaguar Panîhera onca Lower Risk/near threatened Baird's Tapir Tapirus bairdii Vulnerable West Indian Manatee Trichecus manatus Vulnerable Kee-billed Motrnot Electron carinatum Lower Risk/near threatened Morelet's crocodile Crocodylus moreletti Data deficient FFI conservation biologists recotded during one census 29 oh of individuals and 23 %o of species were Neotropical migrants, many of which are threatened by destruction of old growth forests in Middle America.

The GSCP includes many broad endemics, such as plain chachalaca (Ortalis uetala), chestnut-collared woodpecker (Celeus castaneu), wedge ailed sabrewing (Canpjopterus curvipenni), Montezuma oropendula (Psarocolius montezuma), etc.

Threats to the area's biodiversity

The threats to GSCP area are from two main sources: large-scale industrial activities (logging, shrimp, citrus plantations) and over-exploitation of the natural resources by the local communities living in adjacent areas.

1. Large-scale industrial activities: Land in southern Belize is in great demand by citrus, shrimp and timber extraction industries. The recent trends in timber production indicate that harvests in Toledo District are increasing. Currently, a foreign entrepreneur is planning to clear-fell the 'Flick Parcel'- see map below - which is an essential part of the Golden Stream watershed, for citrus and banana plus shrimp farms. This will negatively impact project communities by:

(i) destroying of the best remaining forest in the area;

(ii) potentially changing the local climate and affecting agriculture;

(iii) contaminating water supplies;

(iv) reducing fishing catches as mangrove is lost to shrimp farm; and

(v) lowering the attractiveness of a partner ecotourism company (BLE on the map) - in a country with one of the fastest rates of growth in this sector globally that employs upwards of 20 people from the main project communities.

Without applying sustainable management practices the natural resources will soon be exhausted. It is highly probable that unless the land within the Golden Stream watershed is purchased and designated for conservation the area will be cleared, within a few years, for alternative uses. The FFI/GSCP initiative, through effectively managing land purchased for conservation should halt these threats.

2. Overexploitation of natural resources by the local communities living in the adjacent areas: There are four Mayan communities living very close to the GSCP, whose populations' total approximately 800 people. Other communities from further away also use the natural resources in the area.

(i) Agriculture and settlement. There is continuous pressure for leasing of forestlands for agricultural and settlement purposes. Approximately 75,000 acres of primary vegetation has been cleared between 1984 and 1,996 (47 7o of which is estimated to be cleared for Milpa cultivation). During the same period, village establishment or expansion has led to the clearance of 40,000 acres of land, with 5,000 in the Golden Stream area.

(ii) Hunting. The rapid biodiversity assessments carried out in 1999 by FFI in the Golden Stream watershed identified a decrease in the number of cats (jaguars, margays and ocelots) since 1990, mainly due to increased hunting of their prey - peccaries (Tayassu tajacu), agouti (Dasyproctapunctata), and gibnot (Agouti paca), etc. Iguanas (Iguana ìguana) and hickety turtles (Dermatemys mawii) have disappeared from the nearby Big Falls river several years ago through hunting pressure. Economic alternatives are required, since the primary motivation appears to be financial rather than nutritional.

(iii) Collection of housing materials from the forest. Most villagers in the project area are collecting, in an unregulated matter, all their housing materials from GSCP and the Maya Mountains.

(iv) Firewood collection. Most of the villagers use firewood for cooking, very few use bottled gas (only in Big Falls). Firewood consumption is between 3 and 4 bundles/week straight from the forest.

(v) Using of rivers for drinking water, bathing and washing clothes. Golden Stream and Indian Creek villages rely on water from groundwater accessed through hand pumps. However, Tambran has to use wells on GSCP property for its supply, and has recently has deaths in the community caused by contamination of the supply - possibly from livestock that also use this water source. Bleach used in washing and garbage left on the river banks are serious threats to aquatic fauna.

Addressing the threats to biodiversity: FFI has already purchased the most valuable area in terms of biological diversity to address the immediate threat of being sold to various private industries and cleared. However, conservation cannot take place in a vacuum - particularly in areas where people lack the ability to provide themselves with a reasonable livelihood. Without sustainable alternatives, the communities who directly depend on their natural resources are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of their own actions, stimulating a cycle of poverty and environmental degradation. Recently FFI secured Project Development Funds from GEF (Global Environment Facility) of US$ 25,000 to prepare the project documents for a bigger submission to GEF for the development of a community-based conservation management plan for the Golden Stream watershed. In addition, UNDP Small Grants Program awarded US$ 40,000 for the FFI/GSCP - NGO work in GSCP, covering the salaries for the GSCP/NGO coordinator and the six rangers and equipment. However, in order to address efficiently the root causes of biodiversity loss, there needs to be strong management from GSCP NGO on the ground, as well as better coordination with FFI, BLE, and other partner organizations. For the short to medium term this will require a permanent presence from FFI working in close cooperation with GSCP NGO staff to increase their working abilities. This will also enable more of a push to demonstrate the project's benefit to the surrounding Maya communities, as well as increasing their understanding and awareness amongst these communities.

Anticipated achievements or outcomes of the project

FFI's anticipates that its increased inputs from this project will display:

1. Improved conservation management activities for GSCP following more regular managerial advice and technical input from the FFI Project Coordinator and other staff.

2. Local communities are more supportive of conservation activities, following the support provided by the project to strengthen their capacity to participate as equal partners in the management planning and implementation.

3. GSCP NGO has a higher standard of professionalism, institutional management and fundraising ability following capacity building by FFI staff, supported by the proposed project.

4. Increased effectiveness of community outreach schemes that GSCP NGO is involved with after ongoing advice and technical input from FFI into (i) environmental education and awareness making ties into Mayan culture to engender feelings of local ownership; (ii) leadership training; (iii) improvement of existing agricultural systems; (iv) initiation of novel forms of income generation activities.
5. GSCP NGO becoming a key regional and national organization that has strong organizational ties to key governmental and non-governmental organizations. 6. GSCP NGO and other key players successful in preventing unsustainable activities in the area within and around the Golden Stream Watershed through pursuing national and international conservation strategies and opportunities e.g. seeking Biosphere Reserve status.


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