Tackling illegal rosewood logging in Belize

Conservation Problem
Honduran rosewood trees in southern Belize have been subject to intense illegal logging, driven by demand for luxury timber, directly threatening this potentially endangered species.

Project Goal
Our aim is to ensure that two priority populations of Honduran rosewood are effectively protected from logging, and to support the government in ensuring sustainable management of the species in Belize.

Why this species?

Rosewoods are the world’s most trafficked wildlife product, with a trade value higher than elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts combined. Honduran rosewood, Dalbergia stevensonii, grows up to 30m tall and produces a highly-prized, incredibly dense timber, which has resulted in intense exploitation of the species. They are found in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, however the largest remaining populations of Honduran rosewoods are found in the forests of southern Belize, including the Maya Golden Landscape. This vast expanse of broadleaf forest harbours a number of other threatened tree species, too.

Illegal logging increased to become a major issue in Belize and in the Maya Golden Landscape in particular, directly threatening tree species. More than half of Belize’s mature Honduran rosewood trees were harvested following a surge in logging activity between 2008 and 2012. This decimated stocks across southern Belize, in some of their last remaining strongholds. Additionally, a large number of the fruits generated by Honduran rosewoods are predated by caterpillars, limiting natural regeneration.

Without our support, illegal logging and lack of natural regeneration would have continued to threaten the important Honduran rosewood populations in Belize, and the long-term viability of the species.

Honduran rosewood, Dalbergia stevensonii. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust

What did we do about it?

Working with Belizean NGO Ya’axché Conservation Trust (Ya’axché), our strategy was to ensure that two priority protected areas for Honduran rosewood within the Maya Golden Landscape were protected as a stronghold for the species. Ya’axché plays a central role in the conservation of this ecosystem, and manages or co-manages these priority areas for Honduran rosewood. We also worked to advise and assist the government in ensuring the future sustainable management of Honduran rosewood, based on information on species population status, growth and ecology. We took the following key approaches:

  • Support ranger patrols to prevent illegal logging of Honduran rosewood in two protected areas within the Maya Golden Landscape
  • Support the Belize Forest Department in developing and implementing sustainable management measures for Honduran rosewood throughout Belize, informed by scientific data on appropriate levels of use and regeneration
  • Enable communities to support Honduran rosewood conservation, including restoration of the species within their agroforestry plots.

Key achievements

We made significant progress towards ensuring the protection and sustainable management of Honduran rosewood in Belize. In 2013, we assisted the government of Belize’s proposal to include the species on CITES Appendix II, helping to protect the species from unsustainable international trade and laying the foundations for the long-term conservation of the species. Through working with the government on rosewood conservation, we were able to influence national policy for this species, including the amendment of the Belize Forests Act and an update to the CITES Non-Detriment Findings (NDF).

Ya’axché’s ranger teams have been trained in tree identification, monitoring and effective patrolling, which has resulted in zero records of illegal Honduran rosewood logging in the two target protected areas between 2016-2020, compared to a total of nine incidents reported over 2013-2015. With illegal logging still a common occurrence in other parts of Belize, the successful prevention of Honduran rosewood logging in these two protected areas is a significant achievement, and offers a model of best practice for replication in other sites. In 2017, we initiated activities with eight villages, with the aim of mobilising support for Honduran rosewood planting, to increase regeneration of the species.

We also worked to raise national awareness of rosewood conservation and, in 2017, the government increased penalties for harvesting rosewood from within protected areas, strengthening the deterrent to potential loggers.

We continue to work with Ya’axché in the Maya Golden Landscape, to strengthen sustainable management for a range of threatened timber species.

Honduran rosewood, Dalbergia stevensonii. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@fauna-flora.org

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.