A large section of the tropical forest that spans Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala was previously owned by the Forestland Group, a US logging company, but now, a coalition of conservation organizations have purchased the 236,000-acre area to save it from deforestation.
Organizations backing the purchase include the Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Trust, World Land Trust, University of Belize Environmental Research Institute, and Wildlife Conservation Society. According to Elma Kay, Science Director at the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute, if it hadn’t gone to conservationists, this invaluable piece of rainforest would have likely been bought for “large-scale, industrial, mechanized, mono-crop agriculture,” but now, “the forest will… be protected in perpetuity.”
Dubbed the ‘Belize Maya Forest’ by its new owners, the area is a key biodiversity region that is home to five species of wild cat, as well as spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and hundreds of bird species. Julie Robinson, Belize program director for the Nature Conservancy, says that “Forests like these hold vast amounts of carbon,” so it is critical to protect them to try to reverse the unsettling climate trend the world is on.
However, the protection of the Belize Maya Forest conserves more than just the splendor of nature. It also allows for local communities to reconnect with the land while providing opportunities for generated income.
According to Kay, they’re “engaging all the different communities to participate in a conservation action plan. Most livelihoods are based on agriculture. One objective will be making agricultural livelihoods more sustainable, so there will be more climate-smart agriculture, agroforestry systems, systems that are restorative for soils.” Other collaborative plans will likely include low-impact eco-tourism and scientific research.
Philanthropic buying of land for protection offers a solution for habitat loss and protects biodiversity. That said, it is important for organizations that purchase land for conservation to collaborate with local communities. The coalition behind the Belize Maya Forest hopes to set an example for future nature conservationists to follow.