Today the Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development, Omar Figueroa signed Statutory Instrument Number 59. The new regulation prohibits the burning of bush, milpa, agricultural fields, pasture, grass, or any type of vegetation during the state of emergency. It also prohibits the open burning of household and yard waste. Anyone engaging in open burning on any private or public land is liable to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment not exceeding two years. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been an increase in wildfires across the country due to the drier weather conditions and illegal burning activities. Love News has received numerous complaints from residents in the Cayo district that the smoke has become a hazard to them, especially to persons with respiratory diseases. Today Love News reached out to the folks at Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) who told us about the impacts these wildfires have had on both the Vaca Forest Reserve and the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. According to the Executive Director for FCD, Rafael Manzanero the fires have been affecting the Forest Reserves for more than 2 weeks now.
Rafael Manzanero, Friends for Conservation and Development: “We normally have been normally more operating in the Chiquibul Maya mountains. In this particular case we have been observing more that area of the Vaca which is around the Benque Viejo / Arenal Zone and then going south into Caracol and Chiquibul. In total we’re looking at some 43 kilometers in Chiquibul and then another 17 kilometres in Vaca. So in total we’re looking at some 60 or so kilometres of that western border and that’s where we have been more documenting the forest fires. From my area where we live in Succotz we can see a lot of the smoke that is dropping along the valleys and that’s basically all throughout the day and also at night that you can feel and you bet that people are now complains a lot because of their health issues that is becoming more pronounced because the smoke has been here for quite some days now. The ones that we started to document in the Vaca area have been almost two weeks now. As soon as the dry weather starts we normally start to pick in the signals on where forest fires are already starting to pop so we do have for example data right now from January when it started more of the dry, up until now so that’s a period of some three to four month that we have been more documenting about the impacts and appearance of fires in the area of Chiquibul and also in Vaca -I must say that we have been documenting also that only to get a more generic idea of the landscape and the impacts that are being suffered on the forest cover.”
Manzanero also spoke about the regulations passed by the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development and how they pertain to the conservation of these reserves and the protection of the health of residents.
Rafael Manzanero, Friends for Conservation and Development: “Well you know what is happening of course whenever a forest fire is starting of course it is able to degrade the forest cover habitat for wild animals so wild animals try to seek other areas so they are losing their habitat. Of course carbon emissions is growing every time a tree is being cut. In Guatemala they have done already analysis of how much carbon has already been released into the atmosphere over the last couple of weeks which is really dramatic, here we don’t really have a full assessment of the carbon emissions but you bet that with the dryness and the drought certainly it tends to get much warmer the days and nights here. The microclimate in a way in simple language you are then able to feel even much more the sort of dryness and the high temperatures so it is having an effect of course for the health of the people more and more people are becoming more concerned about their health. As a result of that the Ministry of Environment they passed a regulation yesterday where now the implementation of enforcement if going to take place more strictly with the involvement of police, Department of the Environment and Forestry Department. So the health matter is one but the displacement of wild animals, the loss of biodiversity, climate change of course are all the other factors that are being more observed and becoming more acute over the recent years.“
According to a press release from the government Through satellite tracking, the Ministry can determine, in real-time, the location of bushfires anywhere in Belize. The Ministry will be mobilizing personnel to investigate burning throughout the country and prosecute those persons contravening this law. Please be advised that every member of the police department is authorized to enforce this act.