Fifteen world's experts on the Scarlet Macaw of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico

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May 11, 2001

H. Stanley Marshall, CEO
Fortis, Inc
P.O. Box 8837
Fortis Building, Suite 1201
139 Water St.
St. John’s NF
Canada A18 3T2

Dear Mr. Marshall:

We are aware that Belize is generally heralded for its keen awareness and concern for the environment, and are therefore alarmed at the proposed Upper Macal Storage Facility (Macal River hydro-electric project), which would harm some of the last wild populations of North Central American endangered species such as the Scarlet Macaw  (Ara macao) and the Tapir  (Tapirus bairdi).  It would also negatively impact the entire tropical ecosystem in which they live, the Selva Maya,  the largest contiguous block of tropical forest north of the Amazon basin and the last stronghold for these populations.

As world-renowed national field researchers, dedicated to the conservation of the Scarlet Macaw and its habitat-- the Selva Maya, in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico— for over ten years, we would like to convey our deep concern regarding the impacts that the proposed Macal River hydro-electric project would have on the regional population of Scarlet Macaws.

A conservation meeting of Guacamayas Sin Fronteras (Macaws Without Borders), was held by a coalition of thirty-two highly-trained specialists from more than nineteen organizations in the three countries, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico.  This occurred at the Chajul Tropical biological Station, in Chiapas, Mexico from February 6-9 of this year.

At this meeting, data was compiled from Scarlet Macaw research in the region, to assess the status of the regional population of Scarlet Macaws, and to review and determine legal conservation status at the national and international level.  A regional conservation strategy for the long-term survival of the population was a key objective.

As a result of this meeting, it was concluded that the proposed Macal River hydro-electric project in the Central Maya Mountains of Belize, would severely impact the survival of this population, one which is shared among the countries of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico.  As scientists and conservationists, concerned for the survival of this species, we request that you cancel plans to construct the Macal River hydro-electric project, and consider more environmentally-friendly energy alternatives for Belize.

The position of this group of experts is based on the following considerations:

1.  The Northern Central American Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera), is a distinct subspecies from that occurring south of Nicaragua, and has been greatly reduced both in distributional range and population size.  Fewer than 1,000 birds remain in the region, known as the Selva Maya.  This decline is the consequence of habitat loss and robbing of nests for illegal trade,  which continues to imperil the population’s survival.

2.  The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the largest conservation organization in the world, published a report, “Parrots: Status, Survey, and Conservation Action Plan” in 2000.  This report recommends that the Northern Central American Scarlet Macaw be considered an Endangered Species.  At the February meeting of Guacaymayas Sin Fronteras, the participants from all three countries unanimously agreed that this sub-population should be considered an Endangered one, as it faces very high risk of extinction in the wild.

3.  The survival of the Scarlet Macaw depends upon multiple factors, including preserving their “critical habitat”, which is essential for both reproduction and foraging activities.  The critical habitat mentioned is the riparian tropical forest, a unique area of forest bordering the edges of the rivers which seasonally flood.  This habitat provides the greatest densities of  nesting trees used by Scarlet Macaws,  e.g. Ceiba pentandra, Schizolobium parahybum and Vatairea lundelli.  Flooding the  riparian habitat in Belize would destroy the only known breeding area for the species in this nation.  Research conducted  in the Selva Maya has shown that these nesting areas are the limiting factor for maintaining the Scarlet Macaw populations.  Furthermore, this riparian habitat is very restricted, occurring in less than five percent of the terrestrial forest ecosystems of the Selva Maya.  Today, it is estimated that only two percent is left, and of this, only 0.48 percent is protected by all three nations combined.

4.  Scarlet Macaws, like other parrot species, travel long distances in search of food resources.  Scarlet Macaws in Belize share resources with those in Guatemala and Mexico.  Our ongoing studies, using radio telemmetry, indicate that adults and juvenile macaws disperse over 100 kilometers in search of resources.  In doing so, they frequently cross political boundaries.  Therefore, negative impact to the Belize population of Scarlet Macaws, would also have a negative impact upon the populations in neighboring countries.

5.  In a previous meeting of Scarlet Macaw researchers, Chiapas, Mexico 1998, it was noted that the Scarlet Macaw population in Belize is the only one within the Selva Maya region which lives in an environment unaltered by human settlement and development.  The Macal River hydro-electric project would affect the Scarlet Macaw population, not only by flooding the breeding grounds for the species, but by allowing this undeveloped area to become vulnerable to human settlement and activity, which would likely increase poaching pressures.

6.  Research has shown that, in the wild, Scarlet Macaws demonstrate strong nest fidelity, and have life-long pair bonds.  There is no record of any successful re-establishment of Scarlet Macaws by reintroduction of individuals to other geographical areas.

7.  Our three nations are developing a trinational strategy to ensure that this Endangered Species, which we consider to be a flagship species for the Selva Maya, continues to play a strong role in the growing nature-based tourism industry within this region.  We believe that by maintaining these remaining populations, the socio-economic profile of all three nations will be further empowered.

The proposed dam development will significantly increase the risk of extinction to the remaining populations of Scarlet Macaws within the Selva Maya.  Our coalition, Guacamayas Sin Fronteras, urges Fortis, Inc, to discontinue further plans for this project. 

It is our understanding that other energy alternatives exist.  One viable option appears to be co-generation from waste available through the sugar industry, or bagasse.  We strongly urge that, in the interest of conservation and industry development through strategic linkages, Fortis, Inc. and  Belize Electricity, Ltd (BEL),  actively pursue its power purchase agreement with the Belize Sugar Industry (BSI), and seek to develop a bagasse plant, cancelling further consideration of  the Macal River hydro-electric project.  Several countries within the region have successfully utilized bagasse as an economically and environmentally sound energy alternative.  We urge your company to work diligently with BSI to see a similar energy strategy realized.


Guacamayas Sin Fronteras, Tri-National Coalition

Members include:

Nini de Berger, Conservation International, Guatemala.

Robin Bjork, Research Fellow, Wildlife Conservation Society, Guatemala.

Gerardo Carreon, Instituto de Ecologia, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Christian Barrientos Contreras, PROPETEN, Guatemala.

Eduardo Inigo, Director, Fundación ARA, Mexico.

Zucely Viviana Orellana Leon, PROPETEN, Guatemala.

Sharon Matola, Scarlet Macaw Project Leader, Wildlife Trust; Director, The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center

Ignacio J. March Misfut, Conservation International and Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico.

Omar Molina, Biologist, Scarlet Macaw researcher, Sierra de Lacandón National Park, Guatemala.

Rodrigo Morales, Biologist, Scarlet Macaw researcher, Sierra de Lacandón National Park, Guatemala.

Francisco Javier Castañeda Moya, PROPETEN, Guatemala.

Marie-Claire Paiz, Director, Sierra de Lacandón National Park, Guatemala.

Dr. Katherine Renton, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, Mexico.

Karina Pérez Reyna, Biological Monitoring Project, Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, Chiapas, Mexico.

Miriam Lorena Castillo Villeda,  PROPETEN, Guatemala.

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