Professor Evans will talk about rainforest loss in the Chiquibul Forest region of Belize at Sewanee's Third Annual Interdisciplinary Conference: " Borders and Human Rights" being held March 7–9. His seminar: "Deforestation on the Belize - Guatemala Border -- the Palm Sunday Connection" will feature work conducted in conjunction with his Field Study in Belize Program and will highlight a blended learning project he created with funding from the Associated Colleges of the South.
Abstract for Paper:
Deforestation on the Belize - Guatemala Border -- the Palm Sunday Connection
Jon Evans, Dept. of Biology, University of the South
Will Evans, Dept. of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University
Geanina Fripp, Dept. of Biology, University of the South
Considered an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot, the 177,000 hectare Chiquibul Forest spans the border between Belize and Guatemala and is part of the second largest moist tropical forest area in Central and South America. Chiquibul National Park, the largest protected area in Belize forms the western boundary with Guatemala where the two countries share a historically disputed border.
Faced with deep poverty, Guatemalans, known as Xateros, have crossed the border into Belize in search of fishtail palms, or Xate. Xateros earn a few dollars for every few hundred palm leaves they harvest in order to support their families. The collection of the Xate has been a main driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Chiquibul Forest. Xate palms, also known as “Leaf of Gold” by the Guatemalans, are highly prized in the international floral industry. The highly profitable nature of this multi-million dollar industry encourages continued exploitation of the rainforest. Xate palm leaves are commonly sold to churches to be used in the celebration of Palm Sunday. The abundance of Xate in the Chiquibul, however is low, which forces Xateros to travel throughout the national park. They not only search for Xate, but also other valuable resources such as scarlet macaws, mahogany, gold, and bushmeat. This activity damages the ecological integrity of the park. On the Guatemala border, expanding Xatero communities have extended slash and burn agriculture into the protected rainforest areas of Belize.
Friends for Conservation and Development, a non-profit in Belize, has taken the first step towards tackling the threats to the Chiquibul. They are working towards conservation and collaboration between Guatemala and Belize through environmental education, environmental security, sustainable agriculture, research and monitoring, and carbon offsets. In 2014, Belize and Guatemala signed bi-lateral agreements allowing both countries to work cooperatively and effectively provide and implement solutions to improve Guatemalan livelihoods and maintain the integrity of the Chiquibul.