Conserving threatened timber species in Belize

Conservation Problem
The Maya Golden Landscape is home to many important timber species but faces ongoing pressure from unsustainable and illegal logging.

Project Goal
We aim to build local capacity to conserve threatened timber trees and support their sustainable management.

Why this species?

The Maya Golden Landscape in southern Belize represents one of Central America’s last unbroken stretches of broadleaf forest. The forests extend from the Maya Mountains in the west to the Caribbean Sea, forming a key link in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. The area is home to many rare and threatened animals and plants, including some found nowhere else in the world. These forests are also vital for watershed protection, preserving water quality in the region and supporting local communities.

Within the Maya Golden Landscape, the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve (MMNFR) is a 16,888-ha protected area which has historically faced pressures of unsustainable illegal logging, escaped fire and agricultural expansion. MMNFR is recognised nationally as a key biodiversity area due to its importance for wildlife, timber, soil, and water security. Prickly yellow (Zanthoxylum spp.), Honduran rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii), and white mylady (Aspidosperma megalocarpon) are among the valuable timber species found in the reserve. A lack of capacity to distinguish species and poor knowledge of population characteristics in the reserve increase the likelihood that timber species will be subject to overexploitation.

The distinctive, spiny bark of prickly yellow (Zanthoxylum spp.) trees. Credit: Elizabeth Dorgay/Ya’axché Conservation Trust

What are we doing about it?

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working in partnership with Belizean NGO Ya’axché Conservation Trust (Ya’axché) for over 20 years, including through a GTC project specifically tackling illegal logging of Honduran rosewood. In 2015, Ya’axché became co-manager of the MMNFR, alongside the Belize Forest Department. Since then, Ya’axché has instituted compliance patrols, demarcated boundaries and monitored biodiversity within the reserve. Its community outreach and livelihoods programme has targeted education events to local communities and assisted a group of local farmers to gain responsible and legal access to produce cacao within the reserve.

Our current work focuses on protecting ten threatened timber species from illegal logging and supporting healthy populations of these species to thrive within the MMNFR. We are taking the following key approaches in order to achieve this:

  • Improve knowledge on the distribution and age structure of threatened timber species and use this information to enable zonation of the reserve for sustainable management and conservation
  • Where required, reinforce threatened tree populations through targeted tree planting and ongoing care of seedlings
  • Support the ongoing training of community rangers to continue to patrol the reserve and deter illegal activity
  • Support Belize’s Forest Department with project findings to enable the development and updating of sustainable timber species management planning.

Ya’axché rangers collecting tree data in MMNFR. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust

Key achievements

Surveys of the project’s target timber species has shown skewed population structures for three of these species, highlighting poor regeneration rates that could lead to local extinctions. We are now developing and implementing strategic tree planting plans to re-establish healthy populations of these trees within the reserve. The survey data have also enabled Ya’axché to identify a zonation scheme for the reserve which is under further development in partnership with Belize’s Forest Department.

Ya’axché staff and community rangers have received training in threatened tree identification, surveying, seed collection and propagation and these new and improved skills are continually used in ongoing patrols seed collection trips and nursery activities. Significantly, patrols have successfully deterred Honduran rosewood logging in the reserve each year since 2016, and instances of logging of two other threatened trees have also declined since patrols were initiated. Propagation trials for target species with tricky germination requirements are underway and seedlings will be planted in the reserve when they are a suitable age for planting out. To share learning, a field guide has been created for sharing with other forest management groups.

Ya’axché rangers collecting Zanthoxylum seeds in MMNFR. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact

Did you know?

Two-thirds of tree species are found in protected areas worldwide, but this does not guarantee their conservation.

Check out our Resources to find practical ways to conserve trees in situ.