Greetings from BFREE.
As 2016 comes to an end, I am excited to share some of our accomplishments, as well as the ongoing challenges we face in our conservation efforts in Belize. Without a doubt, this has been a year of significant growth and institutional strengthening. We remain true to our mission, to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize, and as a result the field station continues to serve as a valuable resource for students, researchers, and conservation practitioners from Belize and abroad.
During 2016, BFREE hosted 237 visitors from Belize, the U.S. and farther afield. Students working on their Masters and PhD degrees addressed conservation questions such as fish species composition in the Bladen River, cacao-based agroforestry systems as suitable habitat for wildlife, and human impacts on large mammal populations.
Of the many improvements made at the field station this year I’d like to highlight one which is of particular importance to our current work: our first Observation Post, referred to by BFREE staff as the “OP.” The structure took three months to complete and is a source of great pride for Lead Ranger, Sipriano Canti. It was his recommendation to place a structure at the eastern boundary of BFREE land in order to create a presence on the side of the property that had become most vulnerable to incursions from hunting, logging, and fire.
Canti was the closest witness to the landscape changes during his patrols and he watched, feeling powerless, as our boundary lost its buffer when it was cut and burned for agriculture. On a rainy day last winter, he led the BFREE staff and Board of Directors on a hike to the area where the changes were taking place and we collectively recoiled at the sudden and hard line that divided the forested lands of BFREE from what was quickly becoming a denuded landscape of cattle and agriculture.
This is one example of how threats to the biodiversity of the BFREE reserve and the surrounding areas are rapidly increasing. Population growth, significant land use changes in neighboring reserves, deforestation for agriculture, mining of natural resources and hunting of wildlife are all active threats. So BFREE must strive to mitigate these threats and adjust our programs and activities to ensure our organization has the greatest impact on the long-term conservation of the forests and wildlife in the Maya Mountains Massif of Belize.
We recognize that everything we do plays a role informing the way individuals, communities, organizations, and governments think about, interact with, and impact the forests and wildlife. We take this role very seriously.
As a small environmental organization, BFREE relies significantly on visitation and contributions from individuals such as you. We receive no financial assistance from the Belize government, grants are fewer and more competitive than ever, and the economic downturn of the past decade has affected everyone, including BFREE. We are also deeply concerned about the future US administration's impact on environmental policies: not only in the US, but on a global scale. Though the challenges ahead are certainly large, together we can have a positive impact on the future health of our planet. Therefore we are asking you, our long-time friends and supporters, to help us again.