Forest Fires – All Is Not Well In Belize

in Issue 33 by

The rainy season has started; no longer the gloomy grey dome of smoke choking us and distressing tourists because the rains have cleared the air from the fires of the dry season. Incredibly extensive and costly fires have persistently been devastating the countryside and biodiversity year after year. Before Belize gained its independence fires were considered a very serious business. Extension officers of colonial Belize worked with farmers in the fields every day of the week and issued official fire-permits to farmers to burn their milpa clearings. It was mandatory that all cleared land have a 6-foot wide fire-pass around the entire perimeter. The extension officer of the area would ensure that the fire-pass was well done and up-to-date for the controlled incendiary, as it was called then. It was against the law to burn without a fire-permit. Burning without a fire-pass and burning the adjacent forest in any extensive way was a crime and penalized by the law. If a farmer burned a neighbour’s premises and crops he was liable and had to make compensation for the damage which was determined by an authorized government “valuator”; it was a serious matter.

The Agricultural Fire Act is all but forgotten in Belize; a significant percentage of the natural forest environment has been destroyed by fires started by farmers who do not make fire-passes and do not monitor their fires. Not only forests are being destroyed, but farmland, plantations and houses as well. In 2012 50% of a 10-acre commercial mahogany plantation was destroyed. The fire burnt for many weeks moving up the El Pilar road to another farm that was burned down and another 7-year mahogany plantation even though the owner and his family fought the fire desperately. The fire burned more than one mile of forest before reaching a coconut farm where that farmer lost 50 bearing coconut trees, a camping site and infrastructure. This year that same farmer lost a farm house, all his bearing fruit trees and 200 young coconut plants. In 2015 beekeepers of the Honey Producers Cooperative realized that the honey-crop that year was being influenced negatively by not only the effects of climate change but also wild fires that were threatening the physical apiaries. A beekeeper in Vaca Falls lost his complete dwelling house, some timber and 10 colonies that year.

A healthy forest is not only the lungs of Belize but is a whole universe of invisible living things like fungi, actinomycetes, bacteria, insects, worms, creeping and crawling creatures and of the visible ambulant biodiversity that we call wildlife. This universe of creatures…visible and invisible, in many ways contributes to keeping the planetary environment in equilibrium. The apparently insignificant ones do work to sustain the conversion of all organic material of the forest to rich organic soil which in turn sustains the trees.

It’s time to start a propagation nursery to produce millions of trees to reforest the scorched forests, to regenerate the destroyed species. We also need an organization: People Against Forest Fires. Let’s come together and do it. My contact number is 669-6713, my email is: