Biodiversity in Belize
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Full report on Land Degradation in Belize. Including methodology

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Forest Cover and Change in Belize

circa 1990 – 2000 - 2005

Jan Meerman, Belize Tropical Forest Studies, P.O. Box 208, Belmopan, Belize

Justin Epting, Marc Steininger, Jenny Hewson, Center For Applied Biodiversity Science, Arlington, VA, USA

August 2010

As part of a regional wide Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund Project, a forest cover change assessment was conducted utilizing a series of 28.5 m Landsat TM satellite images following a supervised classification of double stacked image composites. As it was not possible to locate cloud free images of the sample years, the closest possible temporal replacements were chosen. Even with these second best options, not all scenes were entirely cloud free. In total, 10 scenes were analyzed (some only partially). For this project, forest is defined as closed canopy, mature natural broadleaf forest and took particular care not to classify secondary growth that was part of an agricultural cycle of slash and burn, as “forest”. Also within this definition, pine stands were not classified as “forest” based on their light and open canopy. The study found a steady but very low level of deforestation of approximately 0.5% annually. This figure is substantially lower than found in earlier studies, none of which followed the same methodology.

Land Cover Change over the analysis period. Deforestation is in orange and red


Based on this review of forest cover the UNDP Millennium Goals score card, reported that forest cover in Belize declined steadily over the period 1990 to 2005. It is estimated that if the trend continues unabated land covered by forest could decrease to about 56 percent or less (See table below). This trend will need to be recognized by the forest policy and decisions will need to be made regarding extent of forest cover desirable.

The decline in forest cover in hectares is shown graphically in Figure 1 below. The forest cover change over the period 1990 to 2005 is shown spatially in the map on top.

This study provides deforestation figures for a period of 15 years which makes it the first integrated long term study on a national scale. Estimating the amount of forest loss in countries that have historically experienced very low rates of deforestation, such as Belize is particularly important given the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism under development through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as part of the post-Kyoto climate negotiations. And as such there is a increasing need for comparable forest cover rates and trends. While short term studies can give important insights into the local socio-economic mechanisms behind deforestation, they are usually difficult or even impossible to compare as they may have used different methodologies and definitions.

The current study finds an annual deforestation rate hovering around 0.6% (0.42-0.72%), which is globally a very low rate, which confirms the status of Belize as a High Forest Cover Low Deforestation (HFLD) Country.

Download Forest Cover 1990/2000/2010 Report (pdf)


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