Belize

Protecting Belize’s Critical Maya Forest Corridor

Project Cost: $4,800,000

Funding Raised: $4,546,094

$192.00 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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The broadleaf forests of central Belize connect two of the largest swaths of intact protected habitat in Mesoamerica, forming the most expansive forest block north of the Amazon. Located between the Maya Mountains and the tri-national Maya Forest of Belize, Mexico and Guatemala, the Maya Forest Corridor has been recognized by the Belizean government as an area of natural significance. This untouched stretch of forest supports numerous threatened species and connects protected area refuges, ensuring the genetic viability of wildlife populations. But without urgent protection, agricultural expansion will isolate existing protected areas and threaten the region’s sensitive species. To halt the imminent threat of deforestation, Rainforest Trust and a local consortium of partners seek $4,800,000 to protect 25,000 acres of the Maya Forest Corridor, linking the Labouring Creek Jaguar Sanctuary and the Bermudian Landing Community Baboon Sanctuary.

Photo: An Endangered Yellow-headed Amazon. Photo by Francis Canto.

Fast Facts

Location:
Belize

Size/Acres:
25,000 acres

Key Species:
Central American River Turtle (CR), Yellow-headed Amazon (EN), Baird’s Tapir (EN), Yucatán Black Howler Monkey (EN), Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey (EN)

Habitat:
Maya forest

Threats:
Forest clearing, unsustainable agricultural practices

Action:
Purchase

Local Partner:
A local consortium of partners

Financial Need:
$4,800,000

Price per Acre:
$192

Metric Tons Carbon Storage:
2,919,000

Biodiversity

The region’s forest is an important habitat for a tremendous diversity of resident and migratory birds, including the Endangered Yellow-headed Amazon and Vulnerable Great Curassow.

Several Endangered mammal species also inhabit the forest including Baird’s Tapir, Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey and the Yucatán Black Howler Monkey. Populations of iconic species such as Jaguars and White-lipped Peccaries depend on the connectivity of this forest block for their long-term viability in the region. The presence of White-lipped Peccaries indicates forests with limited human intervention, as the species has disappeared from 87% of its historic range in Mesoamerica due to habitat loss and hunting. In addition, the Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle, the only living species in its family, lives in the creeks and lagoons of the Cox Lagoon wetlands in the Maya Forest Corridor. Researchers have identified this site as the most important location in Belize for the protection of this species, known locally as the Hickatee or Tortuga Blanca.  

Photo: The Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle. Photo by Donald McKnight.
 

Challenges

Unsustainable mono-crop agriculture has devastated Central Belize in recent years and threatens to destroy the critical connection between the Maya Forest and the Maya Mountains.

Forest clearing and unsustainable agriculture are spreading rapidly in neighboring countries and have already decimated nearby Guatemalan forests. Despite its global significance for biodiversity, the proposed protected area faces an imminent threat from conversion of primary forest into sugar cane plantations. This habitat fragmentation would be detrimental to wide-ranging species such as Jaguar, Baird’s Tapir and Geoffrey’s Spider Monkey, which require vast expanses of habitat.  

Photo: Agricultural encroachment near the proposed site. Photo by Chris Jordan.
 

Communities

The properties that comprise the 25,000 acres proposed for purchase are all owned by a single-family. The two communities closest to the project site are La Democracia and Mahogany Heights.

These Afro-descendant communities are an important part of the overall corridor conservation initiative and do not have agricultural land or settlements within the land proposed for purchase. These communities support conservation: in 2015, communities, government, and non-government stakeholders came together to make a conservation action plan for the area. Additionally, project stakeholders will design a management plan that includes strategies that ensure compatibility between livelihoods and corridor conservation.  

Photo: Measuring a male Central American River Turtle. Photo by Thomas Rainwater.
 

Solutions

To secure a key portion of the Maya Forest Corridor, Rainforest Trust and a local consortium of partners seek $4,800,000 to purchase 25,000 acres of private land.

This will secure over half of a 43,887-acre stretch of forest identified as critical for habitat connectivity between existing protected areas. Once the partner acquires the three properties, the land will be placed in a trust in the name of a new civil association which will manage the land. The civil association’s Board of Directors will be comprised of members from seven different NGOs with the management and fundraising capacity to ensure this protected area’s sustainability. This land trust guarantees perpetual protection under Belizean law. A collective of local and international collaborators will develop a management plan for the site. To ensure the protection of the Maya Forest Corridor, Rainforest Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation and a local consortium of partners are working with a local consortium in Belize that includes Wildlife Conservation Society-Belize, World Wildlife Fund Belize, Panthera, University of Belize's Environmental Research Institute, Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the Runaway Creek Nature Preserve, Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, the Belize Zoo and the Belizean Government. These local partners, who may serve on the Board of the new civil association, have committed funds for management and will work on developing a long-term management plan based on government-supported feasibility studies. (Photo: Maya forest. Photo by Stephanie Wester/Rainforest Trust. )