Uniting stake-holders for the effective conservation of Belize’s Maya Golden Landscape

Lisel Alamilla has over 15 years’ experience of working in Belize as an educator, consultant and project manager, focusing on resource management, conservation, tourism and policy issues.  Since 2006 she has lead the Ya’axché Conservation Trust, an NGO dedicated to promoting community-led conservation and sustainable development in Belize. More recently, days after her selection as a finalist for the 2012 Whitley Awards, Lisel was invited by the Belizean Prime Minister to join the Country’s government as Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development. Lisel’s appointment signifies Belize’s commitment to conservation and, despite her elevation to government, she will maintain close involvement with Ya’axché to ensure the continuation of her successful work.

Although 45% of Belize’s land surface is protected, rapid population growth and the expansion of agriculture threaten natural habitat from the grassroots level, while the discovery of oil and huge public debt put enormous pressure on government to deregulate protected areas to enable the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. 

The specific focus of Lisel and Ya’axché’s work is the Maya Golden Landscape in the south of the country. This 302,259 acre mosaic of Protected Areas, commercial and subsistence farmland and Mayan villages, comprises a diverse range of forest habitats, including upland and lowland broadleaf forests and mangrove swamps. Supporting over 3,000 plant species, 110 mammals, 400 birds, 92 reptiles and amphibians, including 18 endemic and 37 globally threatened species, such as jaguars and tapirs, this area is of huge ecological importance.

Lisel and her team aim to protect this highly biodiverse but fragile landscape by promoting local participation in conservation through dynamic outreach efforts and by encouraging consistent involvement of stakeholders in capacity building and decision-making. In this way, Lisel is facilitating the building of effective representation of civil society and ensuring close association with national stakeholders and government. She explains, “Ya’axché will focus on delivering leadership training to the next generation of village leaders. In doing so, we believe that we can help to equip new leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to evaluate situations, make decisions that reflect consideration of both social, economic and environmental needs for their communities, and to implement actions to achieve effective conservation and sustainable development. 

Lisel’s work will contribute directly to the conservation of Belize’s biodiversity by ensuring that suitable habitat and habitat connectivity will continue to exist in the Maya Golden Landscape and right across the country, whilst also increasing local communities’ understanding about the connection between human activities and ecosystem health.

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