Published on October 22, 2018

Climate Change Mitigation Also Helps Protect Against Fire

Ornate Hawk-Eagle © Melvis Valdez
Ornate Hawk-Eagle © Melvis Valdez

The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) is the site of one of the first global forest projects to demonstrate that forests can contribute to the mitigation of climate change. The project began with the purchase of critical connecting land, capacity building, providing equipment and facilities for management, and the patrolling and protection of the forest.

This year, the project reached its goal of generating $2.4 million for the establishment of the Rio Bravo Carbon Project Endowment Fund. The revenues generated by this fund will be used for financing the management and operation of a carbon sequestration project and to support the protection, financial sustainability and integrity of the RBCMA.

Hurricanes, Fires, & Learning How to Respond

In the past eight years, Programme for Belize (PfB) has learned a great deal about how to respond to the increasing intensity of hurricanes and associated fires due to climate change.

In 2010, Hurricane Richard hit the southern part of the reserve in the Hill Bank area, directly affecting 46,268 acres of forest (18% of the reserve). At that time, PfB had no experience addressing post-hurricane effects on the reserve, particularly the large swaths of dead trees. In addition, PfB had limited capacity to respond to, control, and suppress fires, so when five major fires broke out simultaneously, the damage was devastating.

Thanks to several organizations who quickly came to their aid, PfB was able to control and suppress the fires after two weeks of intense battle—at one point, almost losing a crew member to the fires.

The cost for fighting the fires came to $35,000. However, the largest financial blow was the loss of timber and the release to the atmosphere of carbon stored in the forest. A total of 17,630 acres of the sustainable timber harvesting area was affected by the fires, resulting in the loss of commercial timber valued at $6.1 million.

Sustainable timber is a critical source of revenue for PfB, and they were only able to salvage $2.1 million over a three-year period.

A New Way Forward

Intent on preventing such catastrophic losses again, PfB created and implemented a comprehensive strategy to address fires:

  • Increased fire management capacity by increasing the number of rangers and adding fire equipment to the fire team.
  • Widened existing fire lines, established new fire lines, and strengthened natural fire barriers, including going beyond the reserve in order to prevent fires before they reach the reserve.
  • Hired three community rangers to patrol the adjacent area, and the entire Belize River Valley, in order to detect and suppress fires.
  • Set up a small, informal community fire brigade to provide support in suppressing fires when necessary.

PfB also hired a Community Outreach & Fire Awareness Officer to implement an environmental awareness and a fire awareness campaign to prevent the deliberate lighting of fires. This represented an investment of $160,000, support for which came from Mass Audubon's Belize Conservation Fund, the local Protected Areas Conservation Trust, our Carbon Sequestration Project, and the USA-Belize Debt-for-Nature Swap.

The positive results of implementing this strategy are already noticeable. Within the past two years, there were no carbon losses and only 39 acres of broadleaf forest were affected by fires. Furthermore, the number of fires occurring in the nearby areas was reduced by more than 50%, and the direct threats to the reserve were significantly reduced.

Thanks to their donors, supporters, and the dedicated PfB staff, the ecosystems and wildlife are much better protected from the impacts of climate change.