Carlos Palacios (35 years) and Donald Wewe (47 years) both pleaded guilty to illegal entry into a protected area in the Dangriga Magistrate court on February 20th, 2017. The men were charged under the National Protected Areas System Act of 2015 and were fined $10,000 each. Failure to make payment will result in a 1-year imprisonment. Authorities found the two men during a routine patrol within the Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Stann Creek District in April 2016. They were found in possession of twenty-seven (27) pieces of prickly-yellow lumber and a chain saw.
The Mayflower Bocawina National Park spreads over 7,800 acres of broadleaf forest and contains Mayan archaeological sites, three primary waterfalls and is home to a variety of wildlife species; however, it is fast becoming a hotspot for illegal logging operations and looting. Recognizing that the complexity of illegal logging and illegal timber-trafficking requires greater collaboration of all stakeholders, the Forest Department officers and rangers of the Mayflower Bocawina Environment and Development Group have stepped up patrols and monitoring to stem the illegal forestry activities in this area. Over the next months, the Forest Department will increase the number of rangers and patrols, improve collaboration with co-managers and join law enforcement officers in setting-up road blocks and inspection points at strategic areas.
According to Forest Department Forest Officer, Rasheda Garcia, the message is becoming clearer as many local communities are recognizing that forest crimes eat away at our country’s resources. “Such exploitation seriously undermines Belize’s forest-dependent economy and ecological integrity, costing us far more than what illegal loggers oftentimes pay when caught and even more when they elude authorities,” Garcia noted. She explained that apart from reducing forest cover and increasing habitat loss, illegal logging also affects our local economy.
She recognized that the recent passage of the National Protected Areas System Act and the recent amendments to the Forest Act have established stricter penalties to match the seriousness of the offences; however, it is not enough. The Forest Department is multiplying efforts of surveillance, building awareness and increasing community involvement in monitoring to combat illegal operations.
The Department notes that on February 20th the amnesty period to forfeit illegal forest produce ended and marks beginning of a new era in addressing forest crimes. The Department welcomes the support and assistance of community residents to continue to assist the Department in its monitoring efforts by reporting any forest violation to the Forest Department at 822-2079 or email at [email protected].