All eyes are on the Amazon as fires decimate the forests of that region. The tragic irony is that it took that fiery blaze for many across the world to realize the importance of that natural treasure. Belize is blessed with about 58% forest cover, and deforestation is one of the issues currently in the national spotlight. There is a constant battle between development and the protection of the environment. That’s where the DOE comes in, with those troublesome, annoying things called Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria, discussed the relation between EIAs and land clearing.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environment Officer, Department of Environment: “For years now on the regs we have thresholds of what we call land clearing and it depends too where, if it’s on land or if it’s in the cayes, cayes are more mangroves.”
Reporter: In this case on land.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environment Officer, Department of Environment: “On land let’s say you have anywhere between 300 and 500 acres of clear cut; less than 300 there is a schedule, 300 to let’s say 500 there is another requirement, more than 500 acres of clear cut in ecologically sensitive areas where you have rivers or mountains or streams then it requires an EIA beyond the 500 acres. 300 acres to 500 it depends, if it is in an area with wetlands, mountains then it might require and EIA but it is more than likely that it requires a limited level study. In theory, once you go above the 500 acres in ecologically sensitive areas basically you are violating the EIA regs. That is when we find out about it we usually would work with the developer, letting him or her know that they have violated, letting them know that they need to do some type of ecological assessment, rapid assessment, environmental audit we don’t know yet it depends on the specifics, so that’s two that they have violated they need to do something before they continue with whatever planned development that they have. Of course part of the screening is ‘why did you clear this thousand acres or this seven hundred acres’ ‘Oh it was for citrus. or oh it was for banana’ well to do that you need to address at least the three issues that banana-growing or citrus growing would require; agrochemical runoffs, biodiversity loss by clear-cutting, protection of the river or streams those are things that then that study will target. But to answer your question anything above 500 acres of clear cut is a violation of the EIA regs.”
Like in much other legislation, there are loopholes which developers use when clearing large tracts of land. Alegria said it is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environment Officer, Department of Environment: “The cumulative impacts, if you cut 300, she cuts 250, you cut 250, you cut 150 you’re all below the 300 but when you add them up you’re talking about 20,000 acres when we combine everything that is a damage to the environment however it doesn’t fall within the regs to address as someone who would want 7,000 acres corn for example or beans – those are the loopholes in the legislation and procedure that we need to address also. When we review a project proposal we know if it’s going route A, route B, route C. One of those routes, let’s say route C is an EIA, route B is limited level study, route A is small such a project that it doesn’t require any of those and the penalties it depends on those it’s $5,000-$25,000, $25,000 to $50,000, $50,000 to $100,00.”