LOCATIONs: Five Blues National Park, Freshwater National Park, Aguacaliente National Park and the Manatee Special Development Areas, belize

In November of 1998 the United Nations Development Program awarded the Protected Area Conservation Trust (PACT) of Belize a $750,000, 3-year grant to aid in establishing a community co-managed park system. Community Conservation worked closely with PACT in developing the idea of community co-management and in formulating the grant proposal. PACT is an autonomous NGO, yet is funded through government action, receiving an exit fee paid by all visitors to Belize. These funds are specifically designated for conservation. Community Conservation personnel began working with PACT in early 1999 to assist in developing infrastructure and staff for four protected areas: Five Blues National Park, Freshwater National Park, Aguacaliente National Park and the Manatee Special Development Areas.

Taking Co-Management to a New Level:

Peace Corps and Community Co-Management in Belize

In Spring, 2004, Community Conservation began taking its co-management vision to a new level. After working with local community members in the northern coastal plain of Belize proved successful, via the opening of the Community Baboon Sanctuary, four other sites were selected within the country. Supporting community management of natural resources and ecotourism directly benefits the local people. Catalyzing on a successful sanctuary to study and protect black howler monkeys, Community Conservation quickly realized that without joining forces with local people to protect the howlers’ forest home, there might not be any more howlers to study in the future. By sharing the process of community conservation with others, we can multiply the effect of our efforts.

We began this work in Belize, a country with strong support for the co-management vision of government and individuals working together to protect areas and resources. After his a visit to Belize, Community Conservation Founder Dr. Robert Horwich reported that the communities were enthusiastic, but their technology and capability were lacking. They need to learn how to strengthen their own organization by creating a management plan, running group meetings and raising funds. They need to know how to lay out a park. In effect, locals needed mentors to train them, but also to point them to people who can help them learn these skills. This support coordinator is the role Horwich played in 1985 when he helped create the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Belize, a sanctuary for howler monkeys.

Enter the Peace Corps

Environmental Program Manager of the Peace Corps, Matt Miller, formalized a program to help conservation-minded Peace Corps Volunteers become support coordinators for communities in Belize. The volunteers help communities work with the government to create and maintain protected areas. As the community groups develop, the Peace Corps Volunteers will be replaced by village project coordinators. But the volunteers themselves need knowledge about how to be effective in this support role. During a visit Dr. Horwich participated in a Peace Corps training, presenting the lessons Community Conservation has learned in its first twenty years of projects around the world. The trainees learned what has and has not worked in other communities.

Matt Miller training Peace Corps Volunteers in Belize.

Horwich also ran a session on evaluation of community co-management projects. The volunteers learned techniques they can use to check the progress of the projects they have been assigned to support. The evaluation uses twenty-six benchmarks such as: Does the project involve a protected area? Is there a group working to manage the area? Does the group have an operations plan? Does it have bylaws? The volunteers answered these questions about their projects to get a sense of how far along the project is.

These projects are usually concerned with developing parks and other protected land areas. An example is the organization working on Five Blues Lake National Park in central Belize which was the first to sign an agreement with the Forestry Department in Belize. They have been managing the park for ten years. They have a lot of tenacity and interest, but they need a lot more training. After the workshop, Horwich and Miller took a five-day tour of the community projects in Belize. They talked to fifteen communities and non-governmental organizations, and updated our knowledge of what is happening in the country.

Conservation Johnny Appleseeds

Robert Horwich, Matt Miller, the Peace Corps volunteers and Community Conservation workers are sowing seeds of inspiration that conservation can be done by communities. In showing how individuals have inspired or supported communities and how communities have made a difference in all these projects, we hope to help others realize their potential in stimulating change. The focus is to empower communities to take care of their environment. If we do enough of this, the whole world will be taken care of by the communities who live there. That’s the dream. Horwich hopes that by inspiring others to do what he does, the dream will be come reality.

Five Blues National Park

Location: St. Margaret’s Village, Belize
Status: Established

Publicity about the success of the CBS led residents of St. Margaret’s Village to petition the Government of Belize in 1990 to create a protected area. This petition resulted in the establishment of Five Blues Lake National Park in 1991. Later, the local Association of Friends of Five Blues was formed. With the signing of an agreement by the Department of Forestry, and the Association, the 1720 hectare Five Blues Lake National Park became the first community co-managed protected area in Belize. Community Conservation volunteers helped the Friends of Five Blues Association to create a management plan and an education program for the park.

Manatee Special Development Areas

Location: Gales Point, Belize
Status: Established

The Manatee Special Development Areas project initiated by Community Conservation has led to the creation of a 170,000 acre Special Development Area (SDA) surrounding the village of Gales Point and a wildlife sanctuary surrounding the Southern lagoon. The SDA encompasses a wide range of habitats including cayes, ocean tidal areas, coastal beaches and mangrove forests, brackish lagoons, pine forests, broadleaf tropical rain forests, and rugged karst hill forests. The karst hills also have numerous caves, some containing Mayan artifacts. A community sanctuary at Ambergris Cay, modeled on CBS and established for the protection of sea turtle nesting, also merged with the Gales Point project.

With Community Conservation guidance, the Government of Belize created two Special Development Areas for the region as interim protected areas. Community Conservation volunteers were involved in the Gales Point community, stimulating the creation of the Gales Point Progressive Cooperative. In collaboration with Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology, they carried out a bio-diversity assessment, installed village sewage systems, planted viral resistant coconuts within the village and created a buoy system for manatee protection in the lagoons.

All research and village development projects encouraged active participation of villagers. Local people were involved in gathering data on tree phenology, hunting and fishing yields, monitoring and protecting sea turtle nests and creating vegetation and wildlife maps for use in a Geographic Information System. Sporadic funding discouraged building on the initial successes of the project. A recent community organization, however, has formed to take over the hawksbill turtle conservation program that began in 1993. Additional research on manatees is being carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society in collaboration with other organizations, including the Belizean government and the U.S Geological Survey.

Community Conservation Influenced Projects

The Community Baboon Sanctuary as a Motivating Model Project

When the Community Baboon Sanctuary began in 1985, it set forth a series of events-some serendipitous and others by design-which led to a gradual change in perception of Belize, especially on the part of communities country-wide. While the catalyzing effects of Community Conservation’s actions were important, just as important were the steps communities, government agencies and NGOs took to further the direction of community-based conservation and ecotourism efforts.

Between 1985 and 1988, Community Conservation made great efforts to gain publicity for the Community Baboon Sanctuary since local residents had requested help in developing ecotourism. These efforts brought both national and international attention to the project. During those same years, the CBS was co-evolving with the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary under the administration of the Belize Audubon Society. While the CBS was learning more formal methods of park development, the Cockscomb was taking on a community-based element. All staff of Cockscomb including the Director, Ernesto Saqui, came from the nearby Maya Center.

In 1988, a seminar was held by the Belize Tourism Industry Association in Monkey River. The Belize Audubon Society participated along with Fallett Young, the Manager of the CBS. This introduced the Monkey River villagers first hand to the community effort . Monkey River activists began a program to move the government to create a protected area and a project began there in 1991. Subsequently, the Government of Belize has designated the area as a protected area. Currently, the Toledo Intitute for Development and Environment (TIDE), a Toledo based conservation organization, is working with the Nature Conservancy to manage the area.

At the same time, other communities became activated to create conservation/ecotourism programs. Community Conservation initiated a program noted above in Gales Point in 1991. A year earlier Greg Smith, using the CBS format as a model, coordinated landowners to create a community sanctuary for protection of sea turtle nesting beaches on Ambergris Caye. A volunteer program was established in which Belizean teachers patrolled the nesting beaches effectively reducing nest losses. With the initiation of the Gales Point Project, Greg began to work with the villagers in Gales Point to protect a hawksbill nesting beach. The program continues to the present day. Lee Wengryn, an American living in St. Margaret’s Village worked with others from that community to move the Government of Belize to create Five Blues Lake National Park in their area. Meanwhile, in 1991 Jim and Marguerite Bevis began organizing villagers of Siete Millas around creating the Slate Creek Preserve in the Mayan Mountains.

By 1994, the Government of Belize held a National Conference on community ecotourism. What resulted was a video which featured the programs in Gales Point and St. Margaret’s Village. Community Conservation then initiated the idea of a community-based ecotourism guide which was published in 1995 by the Belize Government and the Belize Enterprises for Sustainable Technology (BEST).

In 1989, Community Conservation initiated another proposal for a Biosphere in Toledo District which was to evolve in other directions in the distant future. The resulting proposal which was embraced by villagers of Crique Sarco, Barranco and Punta Gorda had no support from the Government at that time. However, its seeds were later picked up by others. The Nature Conservancy working with Toledo (TIDE) began a program of multiple ecosystems which included Monkey River and the Bay of Honduras. Using this proposal, they incorporated the Sapadilla Cayes in the project. Community Conservation also played a consulting and supporting role in the creation of the Toledo Ecotourism Association.

In 1997, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference working with the Kekchi Maya Council held a conference on co-management in the Toledo District. They used the Community Baboon Sanctuary as an example of co-management. At this time Community Conservation began investigating the possibility of a UN grant for Community co-management with the Government of Belize and the Protected areas Conservation trust (PACT). This was to come to fruition in 1999-2001.

In 1998, working with Judy Lumb, Community Conservation initiated a workshop for stakeholders of the Sarstoon-Temash National Park which had been created in 1994. A group composed of Dr. Rob Horwich, Judy Lumb, Jim Beveridge and Steve Peterson made an expedition to Barranco, Midway, Sunday Wood, Conejo, Temash Bar and Crique Sarco to invite and encourage villagers to come to the workshop. Over 12 NGOs as well as government agencies attended and addressed the audience. The workshop led to the formation of a community co-management group and eventually led to a United Nations grant to organize the communities to co-manage the National Park.

Community-co-management as modeled on the first agreement between the Association of Friends of Five Blues and the Forest Department led to over 13 similar agreements between 1996-2000. In 2003-2004, Matt Miller under the auspices of the Peace Corps and advice from Community Conservation, organized two workshops in Belize on park management and community co-management.