Conservation and resource extraction in parks and protected areas: Comparing Canada and Belize

One of the things I was most excited to learn about during my time abroad is how Belize was successful in establishing such a high percentage of parks and protected areas. I found it surprising that such a small developing country was able to safeguard more than a quarter of its terrestrial and marine territory while Canada, a more developed country, protects just 10.3% of its terrestrial territory and a mere 0.9% of its marine territory. I was looking forward to traveling to a country that was seemingly more conservation-minded than my own and comparing their practices with those in Canada.

My roommate Shantel and I set a goal upon our arrival in Belize to do something every weekend while we were here. We wanted to see EVERYTHING. We wanted to see the reef, forests, ruins, beaches, waterfalls, caves, and anywhere else we could reach. We had seen the reef, beaches, and caves, but it wasn’t until our eighth weekend that we finally made it to a national forest reserve. I was super excited to check out a national forest and see what a Belizean terrestrial protected area looked like. As we drove through the forest reserve I was surprised to find that the forest looked not unlike much of the forest seen from the Inland Island Highway as you drive up Vancouver Island. The pine trees were thin and sparsely spaced and many spots had little vegetation covering the dry ground. At first, I tried to justify the look of the “forest” as a simply different, but it was clear that this area was frequently logged. This confused me as a forest REserve in my mind was somewhere where the forest was CONserved, but I have learned that these are two very different things.

Although we were in a protected area, the main purpose of the reserve was not conservation but the sustainable extraction of resources. The sustainable extraction of resources is, of course, an extremely important practice, but it wasn’t really my idea of a park or protected area. In British Columbia, parks are focused on conservation and recreation with limited extraction permitted (although recent legislation may be changing things). Now, of course this isn’t to say that all parks in Belize allow extraction. Extractive reserves are only one category of protected area in Belize, but they do consist of half of the 26.22% of parks and protected areas in the country. So this was enlightening for me; but even with the consideration of extractive reserves, Belize is still “winning” in their percentage of protected space. Come on Canada!

I suppose if these extractive reserves are considered protected areas, perhaps due to the higher amount of regulation of crown land in Canada, we may actually have more “protected” land than I thought. I haven’t done much digging as to what activities are permitted on crown land in Belize and the amount of regulation, but maybe a more appropriate comparison of protection of natural resources is between extractive reserves in Belize and crown land in Canada? Alas, a question for another time. To be continued?

Stephanie Govier, Natural Resource Protection, VIU