The Burning Issue – fires in Mexico and Belize SEARCH NEWS

Firefighters in Sierra Gorda Mexico

Recent wildfires in World Land Trust (WLT) project areas in both Mexico and Belize highlight the urgency of tackling climate change and supporting the crucial work of our Keepers of the Wild. In Mexico, over 3,000 hectares of wildlife-rich oak forest in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve was devastated, while a series of fires also burnt 1,274 hectares of forest and scrubland in Belize’s Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.

Few things are more terrifying or destructive than a large wildfire – and they run amok on the news with alarming frequency these days. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The same forces of climate change that can thaw our polar icecaps or wreak havoc with our weather are more than capable of fanning these blazes. Even when the initial spark is caused by lightning or human activity, it’s climate change and global warming that have created the tinderbox on which wildfires feed. As the climate warms, dry areas become drier, droughts occur and wildfire seasons lengthen. Fires are becoming more intense and long-burning. And the more that burns, the more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, fueling climate change and further exacerbating the crisis.

We’ve seen wildfires devastate entire communities in California, sweep through Australian forests and even take hold in Lapland. Protected land and reserves funded by the WLT are not immune from the threat. Our conservation partner in Mexico, Grupo Ecologica Sierra Gorda (GESG), recently reported wildfires rampaging through WLT-funded reserves in the Sierra Gorda – a Suffolk-sized swathe of oak, pine and cloud forest that’s home to everything from Jaguars to Bumblebee Hummingbirds. Tragically, seven marines died in a helicopter crash before the flames were doused – a sombre reminder of the risks facing people on the frontline of protecting habitats at risk from wildfire.

“Rains are getting nearer and it seems finally the monster will be tamed,” Roberto Pedraza Ruiz of the GESG told us in early June. “I have been in several fires for more than 20 years and there was one bigger than this in 1998, but this one was more vicious and destructive.”

Along with fire crews, the army and volunteers, Roberto and his team of rangers spent long days in the field, fighting the blaze. It’s too soon to fully assess the damage to forests and endangered species in the Hoya Verde Reserve (one of the worst affected in Sierra Gorda), but Roberto is clear about one thing:

“Finally it seems that society and the Government is fully aware of the destructive power of fire,” he says. “Fuelled by a long drought and heat wave, it is the new reality of climate change. We have to be much better prepared to endure its effects in the coming years.”

In May 108 active fires were reported in 17 Mexican states: There were 14 in Guerrero; 13 in Oaxaca; 12 in the State of Mexico; 11 in Veracruz; 10 in Michoacán; nine in Puebla; nine in Chiapas; six in Jalisco; another six in Chihuahua; four in Mexico City; two in Tamaulipas; two in Hidalgo; two in Guanajuato; two in Yucatán; one in Aguascalientes, and also in Querétaro where WLT partner, GESG protect the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. The above map shows the extent of the fire in the reserve.

Keepers of the Wild play a crucial role

Our Keepers of the Wild play a crucial role in the ongoing fight against wildfires. These WLT-funded rangers work on the frontline of conservation – they are “our eyes and hands in the field” according to Roberto, and played a vital role in protecting GESG’s land from the recent blaze.

Wildfires threaten Programme for Belize forests

When wildfires broke out in the northeast tip of Programme for Belize’s Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area Keepers of the Wild were quickly dispatched to assess, control and suppress the fire. Staff from PfB monitored and dealt with several further outbreaks of fire over the following weeks.

“During these fire incidents, all other activities were halted and the primary focus of our field work was to control and extinguish the fires,” says Edilberto Romero, Executive Director of PfB. “At the end, we dedicated a total of 75 bulldozer hours and 236 person days in order to control them.

Wildfires threaten Programme for Belize forests

Programme for Belize carried out fire management training in March which undoubtedly helped in controlling recent fires as quickly as possible.

If you’ve generously donated to one of our land purchase appeals to help safeguard some of the world’s most threatened habitats, please consider continuing your support by donating to our Keepers of the Wild programme. Our commitment to conservation doesn’t begin and end with land purchase and the creation of nature reserves. It’s an ongoing partnership with local NGOs like GESG to ensure that these vulnerable places are protected in perpetuity – and that means tackling everything from poaching and illegal farming to wildfires. With your help, we can fund more Keepers of the Wild, equipping them with the resources they need to patrol reserves, monitor wildlife, assess the potential threat of wildfires and work with local communities to minimize the danger.

More information

World Land Trust supports our partners with management and ongoing protection of their reserves through the Keepers of the Wild programme. £5,000 will fund a Keepers of the Wild ranger for one year


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