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 rosewoods Dalbergia stevensonii grow up to 30m tall and produce a highly-prized, incredibly dense timber, which has resulted in their intense exploitation. 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, a vast expanse of broadleaf forest harbouring a number of threatened tree species.

In recent years, illegal logging has 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 has 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 continue to threaten the important Honduran rosewood populations in Belize, and the long-term viability of the species.

Dalbergia stevensonii (Honduran rosewood), GTC

What are we doing about it?

Working with Ya’axché Conservation Trust (Ya’axché), our strategy is to ensure that two priority protected areas for Honduran rosewood within the Maya Golden Landscape are protected as a stronghold for the species. Ya’axché is playing a central role in the conservation of this ecosystem, and is managing or co-managing the priority protected areas for Honduran rosewood. We are also working 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 are taking the following key approaches:

  • Supporting ranger patrols to prevent illegal logging of Honduran rosewood in two protected areas within the Maya Golden Landscape.
  • Supporting 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.
  • Enabling communities to support Honduran rosewood conservation, including restoration of the species within their agroforestry plots.

Key achievements

We have 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.

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 in 2016 and 2017, 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.

We have also been working to raise national awareness of rosewood conservation and positive progress has included the government’s decision in 2017 to increase penalties for harvesting rosewood from within protected areas, strengthening the deterrent to potential loggers. Plus in 2017 we initiated activities with eight villages, with the aim of mobilising support for Honduran rosewood planting, to increase regeneration of the species.

Dalbergia stevensonii (Honduran rosewood), GTC

Contact details

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

Did you know?

One species of rhododendron (R. kanehirae) would be extinct if were not for collections made by botanic gardens.