In April 2013, the Ya’axché Conservation Trust initiated a new programme in Belize focusing on increasing the capacity of protected area managers and staff to carry out tree species conservation. Approaching the end of the project’s first year, Gail Stott reports on the early progress made working with Ya’axché’s ranger team.
The first year of Ya’axché’s Global Trees Campaign project has so far been an extremely busy one, involving training workshops, competitions, monitoring trees in the field, and the revamp of our tree nursery.
Bearing in mind the relatively low capacity of Belizean NGOs to identify, monitor and manage different tree species, we have started with the basics: new training materials have been developed and tailored to the needs of conservationists in Belize, focussing on plant identification, core field skills, survey methods and the collection of voucher specimens.
One of the most satisfying aspects of our work so far has been trialling these new materials with Ya’axché’s ranger team.
Two workshops have been completed – and the training has been well-received by all of the ten rangers who took part. Rangers have been monitoring their own progress throughout the course, and a prize was awarded to the ranger with the most impressive handbook.
As part of our plans to extend our training workshops to a greater range of individuals and institutions working in Belize, a third workshop – including staff from the Belize Audubon Society, Program for Belize, Belize Forest Department and Ya’axché – was completed in February 2014. Participants were provided with opportunities to gain vital tree conservation skills as well as share their experiences and knowledge of forestry, conservation and environmental issues in Belize.
Putting news skills into practice
Ya’axché’s rangers have been applying their skills in the field by conducting monitoring activities for four threatened tree species within two protected areas.
In Bladen Nature Reserve they are currently focusing on two Red List species: Chiangiodendron mexicanum and Pouteria amygdalina.
They are also keeping a close eye on one tree (Macrolobium sp. nov.) that could potentially be new to science!
In Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, monitoring has focused on Honduran rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii) – a species that has declined significantly in recent years due to a spike in illegal logging (although a logging moratorium put in place early in 2012, and a listing under CITES Appendix II in March 2013 has provided some respite for the species).
The new monitoring programme has discovered evidence that fallen rosewood trees are still being illegally removed from the preserve, although fortunately no new trees have been harvested.
The team remains on high alert and we have increased our patrolling activities in these areas.
For some of the tree species targeted by our project, tree planting may be required to aid their recovery. To help us carry out targeted planting in the years to come, we refurbished our nursery in August 2013.
Two threatened species have been successfully raised in the nursery (Cedrela odorata and Swietenia macrophylla) – and these saplings have already been assigned to specific farmers for inclusion in their agroforestry systems.
As the project progresses we will continue to extend our training workshops to a greater range of individuals and institutions working in Belize. We will also be implementing a wider range of survey and monitoring activities within protected areas.
The excellent progress made by the ranger team in the first year of the project puts us in a great position to move forward with the conservation of these tree species in the years to come.