Ya'axché Conservation Trust
managed by E. Hammar
Ya'axché Conservation Trust is a Belizean NGO that aims to maintain healthy ecosystems for the benefit of biodiversity and people. Ya’axché focuses on a 122,000-hectare area in southern Belize called the Maya Golden Landscape (see map). The Maya Golden Landscape is an extremely important biodiversity area even by Belizean standards. It contains part of the largest remaining intact block of forest in Mesoamerica and forms a key link in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. It contains no less than 37 distinct ecosystems from pristine upland broadleaved rainforest to coastal wetlands, providing habitat for an estimated 450 bird species, including three globally threatened species: the yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix, endangered); the cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea, vulnerable) and the keel-billed motmot (Electron carinatum, vulnerable).
Within the Maya Golden Landscape, Ya’axché (pronounced “Yash-chay”) manages its own 6,000-hectare private nature reserve, the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, and co-manages the 41,000-hectare Bladen Nature Reserve with the Belize Forest Department. Ya’axché takes an integrated approach to conservation and development, recognizing that long-term conservation requires community support and that long-term development requires healthy ecosystems. Ya’axché therefore combines protected areas management with environmental education and creation of sustainable livelihood options for the indigenous people of the Maya Golden Landscape.
Deforestation for agriculture is the greatest threat to biodiversity in the Maya Golden Landscape. Hence Ya’axché is working hard to promote sustainable forms of agriculture that protect critical forest habitat whilst allowing Mayan farmers to substantially raise their incomes. One such option is agroforestry. Agroforestry systems are more productive than monocultures and produce a much more diverse array of crops. By maintaining forest cover, agroforestry systems provide the ecosystem services of natural forests, services such as watershed protection, soil conservation, carbon sequestration and of course, providing habitat for hundred of species of birds and other wildlife.
At Ya’axché we believe biodiversity is best protected by the people living closest to it. We have made a long-term commitment to building grassroots capacity and motivation to conserve biodiversity. Key successes in this area include:
- Training and employing 10 community members, including six ex-hunters, as park rangers, several of whom are now passionate about conservation.
- Working with traditional Maya healers to identify and protect rare medicinal plants.
- Creating sustainable extraction zones within the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve.
- Taking 80 primary school children on educational trips to the Belize Barrier Reef.
- Training and employing 12 community members to conduct a forest inventory.
- Inspiring a group of five young people from Medina Bank village to form their own watershed protection group as a result of an educational “watershed weekend”.
- Facilitating community-led reforestation of 6 km of riverbanks.
- Equipping and training three birding clubs for local youths and two “Farmer’s Bird Alliance” groups. This is the focus of the proposed project (see below).