Building capacity for community-based wildfire management and freshwater quality monitoring in rural Belize

Ya’axché Conservation Trust (link: www.yaaxche.org) is a Belizean organization which aims to maintain a healthy environment with empowered communities by fostering sustainable livelihoods, protected area management, biodiversity conservation and environmental education within the Maya Golden Landscape. Ya’axché works with nine communities within the Maya Golden Landscape to build their resilience against climate.

With predictions of irregular rainfall patterns and reduced amount of precipitation, rural communities of the Toledo District in southern Belize must increase their economic, ecological and social resilience to the impacts of such changing climate. National plans incorporating climate change, mitigation and adaptation policies have been produced, with good recommendations, but implementation is lacking. As an NGO with considerable experience of community development, Ya’axché Conservation Trust recognizes that on-the-ground capacity building – in line with these plans and policies – needs to be started urgently to increase the capacity of the communities to adapt to impacts on their livelihoods and quality of life. Climate change effects are already being felt by the communities; they have voiced concerns several times during community for a lead by Ya'axché. Two severe dry seasons in the past three years have highlighted two major areas of concern: the increased risk of escaping agricultural and domestic fires, and the condition of freshwater resources.

Within the Maya Golden Landscape, communities have been commenting on the high occurrence of wildfires during dry season (February-June) and the impacts that it has on the communities, specifically destruction of farms (which are many families’ sole income and threats to nearby homes and human life. Though fires are of great concern, there are no resources, excepting manpower, available in or near the communities to combat them. Community members with no training, equipment or protection are left to defend property and livelihoods in very dangerous conditions. Compounding this, there is only one fire station to combat fires within the entire Toledo District which covers just over 1 million acres. The demand for land is increasing as human population density increases in the Maya Golden Landscape. Coupled with expanding population centres, and settlement densities, proper fallow periods in the traditional ‘slash-and-burn’ rotational agricultural cycle are no longer being observed by communities. This traditional farming method is highly unsustainable since it commands the use of large areas of land and since it utilizes fire, which degrades the soil. Degraded or compromised land, whether through agriculture, escaped fire or hurricane damage, as is found adjacent to settlements in Toledo, has been shown to have more frequent fire issues than primary habitat for a multitude of reasons including reduced moisture content, proximity to agricultural fires and increased susceptibility to run-away fires due to increased fuel load.

In order to address the issue of wildfires, this project sought to procure fire management equipment and to build the capacity of local community members to form community fire brigades that implement preventative and curative fire management, focusing on fires occurring within community lands. In addition, Ya’axché led a district wide fire awareness campaign in collaboration with community leaders to increase awareness about responsible fire management and the destructive effects of fire.

A similar need for capacity building exists in the freshwater realm. Increased awareness of the need for stream management is evidenced by the limited amount of research being undertaken in Belizean waters, the limited emphasis placed on teaching of watershed science to future natural resource managers and the limited number of active watershed groups present in different villages in Toledo. However progress in this area is obstructed, because a pressing gap remains with regards to tools for the education and implementation of freshwater management, particularly locally appropriate monitoring and assessment techniques. Bio-assessment uses easily collected biotic samples (usually freshwater invertebrates) to obtain an approximation of freshwater quality, thereby eliminating the need for expensive and highly technical analysis of abiotic samples (i.e. chemical water analysis). This method thus offers a cost-effective technique to monitor the influence of human activities on the stream ecosystems that link terrestrial and marine environments. Bio-assessment is a particularly suitable stream management tool for Belize because quality assured laboratory facilities and equipment that are required to undertake alternative measures of stream condition are lacking. Research conducted in southern Belize has demonstrated that macroinvertebrate-based bio-assessment can detect large-scale impacts, and that it is particularly suitable for use by local conservation organizations. However, before implementation of bio-assessment, (i) the identification of indicators of environmental changes, and (ii) the creation of taxonomic reference material for Belizean fauna that is appropriate for local use needs to occur . Thus, this project sought to provide draft bio-metrics of freshwater quality and a draft identification key for freshwater invertebrates.

Building on the success of the freshwater water project, Ya’axché intends to expand the freshwater monitoring in the Maya Golden Landscape in 2015. The proposed activities of the project expand previous work to enhance developed knowledge experientially with the intention of facilitation the involvement of community researchers (young people to be recruited from the surrounding communities) in the monitoring and assessment of streams. Through this project, it is also proposed that young Belizean capacity to lead freshwater monitoring be built through a series of riverine and invertebrate fresh water courses facilitating the capacity development of a rural Belizean graduate in the UK and attendance at the Latin American Macroinvertebrate training course at the University of San Jose, Costa Rica. Finally this project will further develop the technical capacity of the facilities at Belize’s first dedicated freshwater monitoring laboratory in Golden Stream Village, Toledo District. Such efforts will ensure that Ya’axché has the necessary information on the health of these fresh water ecosystems to determine how better to manage them, sharing such information with communities to encourage their involvement in the management. In addition, the capacity of locals will be built to increase their understanding and participation in the management and conservation of the freshwater ecosystems.

Fire management

Output 1: Community fire brigades
Output 2: Fire awareness raising materials created and distributed

For further information, see downloadable CATS_report_FINAL.pdf at end of page.

Freshwater quality monitoring

Output 3: candidate metrics for measuring change
Output 4: draft macroinvertebrate key
Output 5: bio-assessment training facility

For further information, see downloadable CATS_report_FINAL.pdf at end of page.

Useful Resources
FileDescriptionDate AddedFile Size
Belize - CATS Final Report
Building capacity for community-based wildfire management and freshwater quality monitoring in rural Belize
August 19, 2014 7:12 PM0 KB
Belize - Freshwater component Report
Building capacity for community based wildfire management and freshwater quality monitoring in rural Belize - Freshwater Component - Final Report
August 19, 2014 7:18 PM0 KB
Poster 2screen
Poster: Six steps to a simple burn
August 19, 2014 7:13 PM0 KB
Poster 3screen
Poster: Falling inside your Milpa
August 19, 2014 7:14 PM0 KB
Poster: How to safely burn a Milpa
August 19, 2014 7:14 PM0 KB
CATS Links:
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YouTube Biodiversity