Economic Development Activities
The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) is its flagship project where Programme for Belize demonstrates the practical application of its principles. On the RBCMA, PFB conducts research, conservation education, professional training and promotes environmental awareness amongst visitors. Approximately half of the RBCMA is managed as a strict nature reserve for the protection of biodiversity and natural habitats. PFB has and continues to develop viable economic land uses that leave the forest and its environmental values intact. These projects are carried out in the buffer zone surrounding the protected core area, creating a reserve design based on Man and Biosphere Reserve principles. Examples of these projects include tourism and forestry. PFB has established two field stations on the RBCMA. The La Milpa EcoLodge and Research Center is a center of visitation, archaeology and environmental education. The Hill Bank Field Station is a center of research activities and visitation.
Economic Development Activities
PFB is committed to the goal of earning sufficient revenue from its economic activities to support the conservation of the RBCMA. To this end, PFB continues to conduct major research on the land and its resources. Due to our progress we were able to support a majority of the operating costs of the organization through ecotourism primarily and timber activities. PFB’s level of self-sustainability will continue to rise provided that adequate funding is available for the research and development of the following revenue-earning projects.
The primary focus of our tourism is environmental education and nondestructive human-nature interaction. Our vision is to provide visitors with an enlightening yet low-impact experience in the rainforest. Through this tourism development, PFB aims to provide environmentally-sound economic alternatives to the villages surrounding the RBCMA. Presently, we encourage local artisans and cultural groups and include excursions to the villages in the travel itineraries of our visitors. Under proper and sensitive management, this can become a significant and sustainable source of revenue for PFB and surrounding villages. To promote and market our ecotourism facilities and services most effectively, PFB has established a Tourism Development Unit. This unit functions as a tour operator, offering receptive services, and having the capacity to design and conduct tours to either field stations on the RBCMA and elsewhere in Belize. To date, visitors, including tourists, researchers, and students, have been accommodated mainly at the La Milpa Field Ecolodge and Research Center on the RBCMA. The establishment of the Hill Bank Field Station has opened up another, entirely different visitor experience on the RBCMA. The Hill Bank Field Station was established in 1996 as a research base for sustainable economic forest management and specialized tourism that incorporates these research activities into its program. The facilities offer a perfect location for applied studies in the areas of natural resource management, tourism, natural sciences, economic development, social studies and others.
Timber is one of the most important forest products and, technically, it is possible to manage sustainable extraction without compromising environmental values. In reality, however, there are very few practical examples of such management around the world. PFB is addressing this complex and controversial issue on the RBCMA by conducting experimental operations to find the optimal approach. PFB’s forestry programs include experiments, pilot trials at an operational scale and rigorous monitoring of impacts. These activities are conducted in the Hill Bank area, in a special zone covering less than 20% of the RBCMA and buffering the fully protected core that constitutes the majority of the area. The operation is subjected to annual external audit and the timber is certified by SmartWood and WoodMark under the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council. This act is an assurance to the PFB, its many supporters and purchasers of is timber products, that RBCMA timber operations are of the highest environmental quality. Through this Timber Programme, PFB is helping resuscitate an industry that literally created the nation of Belize and sustained it over much of its life. The intent is to promote its adoption beyond the RBCMA boundaries to help conserve forests in the wider national and international landscapes.
The PFB, The Nature Conservancy and a consortium of utility companies have joined as partners to develop an innovative project on the RBCMA. This project involves a combination of environmental protection, sustainable forestry and economic development. This pilot project is being undertaken to demonstrate how forest conservation can assist in combating global warming. This project serves as a model that can be applied elsewhere. Implementation of the Carbon Sequestration Pilot Project commenced in October 1995 on the RBCMA, making it the first of seven globally approved projects to start work on the ground and this work continues today.