Forest Cover and Deforestation in Belize: 1980-2010
This study demonstrates the utility of Earth observation technologies for monitoring the forest resources of Belize. The Regional Visualization & Monitoring System (SERVIR) is a joint initiative of the regional organizations CATHALAC, RCMRD, and ICIMOD and is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and NASA. It has provided key decision-support information for monitoring the land surface, oceans, and atmosphere of regions such as Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, Africa, and, soon, the Himalayas.
With an increased global focus on the capacity of the world’s forests to mitigate climate change, one relevant recent development from SERVIR has been the completion of a 30-year study of forest cover change and deforestation in Belize. The study was done at the request of the Government of Belize’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, responsible for managing forests and public lands in the nation recognized as having the highest percentage of forest cover in Mesoamerica.
Based on analysis of imagery for 1980, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2004, and 2010 from the Landsat series of satellites managed by NASA and the US Geological Survey, the validated, national-level assessment indicates that Belize’s forest cover has declined from 75.9% in 1980 to 62.7% as of late February 2010. Average annual deforestation was estimated at 0.6%, equaling the clearing of almost 10,000 hectares of forest per year.
Of particular significance is the study’s illustrating that protected areas have been extremely effective in conserving forests, with only a small percent of forests within protected areas being detected as cleared within the past 30 years, compared to a quarter of forests outside of protected areas being cleared in that period. The assessment also fills an important information gap, since the only previous evaluation of deforestation in Belize was a 1996 USAID-funded study.
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