It is dark as the group of students from the University of South Wales depart from Las Cuevas Research Station (LCRS) with Rafael Mesh, Caretaker of LCRS. The aim is to reach the tower lookout, just in time to observe sunrise over the Chiquibul-Maya Mountains.
The early hike takes out the first sweat on everyone in the group, but it is all worth it. From the tower, the landscape view is impressive!! Mesh explains that the landscape observed is that of the largest terrestrial protected area in Belize. Foggy clouds appear, far and near due to the first rays of sunlight hitting the forest and the hidden understory streams. The diverse shades of green of the forest comes into light. As far as the eye can see – it is forest and more forest. But as large as the Chiquibul National Park is, with over 285,000 acres this area cannot survive on its own.
In August of 2021, the Government through the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management aimed to streamline FCD’s activities in the Western Maya Mountains more specifically in six locations including the Chiquibul National Park, Vaca Forest Reserve, Bald Hills in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and LCRS in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Although several program activities are still pending, it is clear to us that a landscape approach is critical and imperative. This year a Landscape Communication Strategy was developed, and a Landscape Manager joined the team. Identifying connectivity and synergism between the various programs such as enforcement and research is key so that improvements in management effectiveness occur in the areas where we work. This has been the steady task at hand for the Landscape Technician. The Landscape Communication Strategy on the other hand, identifies the different tier stakeholders and it is breath taking to learn of the multiple individuals and institutions that we will need to communicate with externally. Internally, good communication among the different program Units has also been identified as a limiting factor and steps to improve are underway.
As FCD extends full steam unto a landscape approach we realize that new avenues for fundraising will also need to be identified. The budget expansion of $200,000.00 annually forces us to investigate various options. In that regard, this year the Board endorsed for us to promote Las Cuevas Research Station as a tourism hub and to investigate the creation of a 501C3 Friends of Chiquibul. Eco-Quest Expeditions, a tour company opened years ago has never taken flight, but this time around the expectation is to have it properly certified as the business arm of FCD.
As we immerse ourselves into a landscape approach, I want to thank principally the Ministry of Sustainable Development for the confidence as well as to the Protected Areas Conservation Trust and the US Department of the Interior – International Technical Assistance Program for the finance which has enabled for us to institute the landscape vision. To the Board and FCD staff, thanks for embracing this new promising concept.

Rafael Manzanero
Executive Director
Friends for Conservation and Development


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