May 2012 - Belize Conservation Flights

May 25, 2012

Captain's Log 1XE, Day 28 in the month of April in the Earth Calendar Year of 2012. Flying over our water planet...or is it the jungle planet or the oil and gas planet?

Flying a small plane great distances can sometimes feel like you are on a magic carpet ride, albeit a slow one, and when you look back, what comes to mind are the vivid colors and the changes in the landscape as we fly south. Heading down through Texas, the brown fields of early spring are punctuated ...literally punctuated by oil wells. We come to the azure blues of the Gulf and the Caribbean, and then the incredibly green pristine jungles of Central America.

We are on our way to Belize, a longstanding commitment EcoFlight has had to conservation work in this country, which has had the foresight to protect 40% of its land. I have been involved in flying in Central America for almost 30 years and it is an area that is dear to my heart, not only because of the pristine rain forests and vast ocean reefs, but also because of the generosity and spirit of the people of the area.

In Belize, Harpy Eagles can still exist down here with a little help from their friends. Their friends are great organizations like the Bladen Nature Reserve, the Peregrine Fund, flights like the ones EcoFlight provides and Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE).

BFREE works to protect the over 97,000-acre wilderness of the Bladen Nature Reserve, probably Belize's most pristine rainforest and a remote haven for wildlife where Harpys and an amazing assortment of species flourish. Harpy Eagles are known as the most powerful raptor in the Americas, weighing up to 20 pounds and reaching a seven-foot wingspan. They hunt prey as large as monkeys and sloths. However, due to deforestation and hunting, Harpy Eagles are typically missing from most of Central America's rainforests, where they once freely ranged. They are designated as "Near Threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and considered "Critically Endangered" in Belize.

Good stories and bad abound about the age old battles between a developing country pursuing civilization in the form of fruit plantations, dams and development that compromise the mangroves and primal rainforests. The Chiquibil National Park is part of the largest remaining contiguous block of tropical forest north of the Amazon. This forest that seems to go on forever is to many small villagers slowly and sometimes not so slowly being whittled away by campesinos (farmers) and loggers who cross the border from neighboring Guatemala and invade the Chiquibul and Bladen Reserves. They plunder cedar and mahogany trees and carry out the traditional milpa farming system - clearing areas of forest for agricultural crops - and carve out homesteads in protected forest areas. Flights with rangers skirt the border and record incursions and hope to address these issues that compromise some of the last great forests of Central America.

As we slowly head north after 10 days of flying we see the greens and blues dissolve and the white of our winter wonderland that is Colorado, our home, come into view.



Bruce Gordon