Examining the Management of
Belize Audubon Society's Protected Areas,
Belize, Central America
 
National Policy
There are three major laws that affect the management of protected areas in Belize: the National Parks System Act of 1981, the Wildlife Protection Act of 1981, and the Environmental Protection Act of 1992.
 

National Parks System Act (1981)

The National Parks System Act provides for the preservation and protection of highly important natural and cultural features, and for the regulation of their scientific, educational, and recreational use. The Act is administered by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, through the Forest Department. The minister can declare any area of Crown Land a national park, nature reserve, wildlife sanctuary or natural monument. Presently, BAS manages all four kinds of nationally-designated protected areas through the Protected-Area Management Program:

 
 Reserve Type
Main Purpose Under Law
Legal Definition
Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve Strict Protection with use limited to education and research Protection to conserve biological communities or species and to maintain natural processes in an undisturbed state in order to have ecologically representative examples of the natural environment available for scientific study, monitoring, education, and the maintenance of genetic resources
Blue Hole and Guanacaste National Parks Protection of nationally important recreation areas Protection and preservation of natural and scenic values of national significance for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument Protection of nationally important unique features for education, research, and appreciation Protection and preservation of nationally significant natural features of special interest or unique characteristics to provide opportunities for interpretation, education, research, and public appreciation
Cockscomb Basin and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuaries Protection of nationally important wildlife, habitats, and physical features Protection of nationally significant species, groups of species, biotic communities, or physical features of the environment requiring specific human manipulation for their perpetuation
 
There have been recent efforts in Belize to amend and strengthen the National Parks System Act. Suggested reforms include: 1) Authorizing the Minister to zone National Parks for differing levels of use, 2) Expanding the number of categories of protected areas under the law, 3) Strengthening the evidentiary basis for prosecutions under the Act, to improve enforcement, and 4) Ensuring that National Parks cannot be sold or leased. None of these amendments have been officially passed to date.
 
Wildlife Protection Act (1981)
The Wildlife Protection Act provides mainly for "the conservation, restoration, and development of wildlife, for the regulation of its use and for all other matters connected therewith." It basically regulates hunting and commercial dealing in wildlife (the definition of which does not include fish). The Act applies to all undomesticated mammals, birds, and reptiles, and all parts, eggs, and nests of any of these wildlife forms. It prohibits the hunting of certain species, including all species of whales and dolphins, as well as of immature wildlife or females accompanied by young. Regulations regarding fish and turtles are found under the Fisheries Act. As with the National Parks System Act, there have been efforts to reform the Wildlife Protection Act. These include increasing the level of penalties and strengthening the powers of arrest for offenses under the Act. Some have also called for expanded protection to cover wildlife habitat and plants.
The Environmental Protection Act (1992)
Until the enactment of the Environmental Protection Act in 1992, Belize had no comprehensive environmental protection legislation. The Act established the Department of the Environment and placed it within the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, giving it a broad range of regulatory and enforcement authority. The Department deals with the prevention and control of environmental pollution, conservation and management of natural resources, and environmental impact assessment (EIA). With regard to protected areas and conservation, the most important powers of the department, under the Act, are to:
  • Conduct environmental impact assessments and risk analyses
  • Promote successful management of wetland ecosystems
  • Assist the Forestry Department in promoting a "balanced forestry management program"
  • Be responsible for continuous and long-term assessment of natural resources and pollution
  • Advise the government on policies promoting good management of natural resources and environment
  • Foster both inter-ministerial cooperation and governmental-NGO communication with regard to the prudent use and proper management of the natural resources of Belize