Eighteen of the World's experts on forests and tropical ecosystems, including Dr. David Suzuki

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April 22, 2001   Earth Day

H. Stanley Marshall
President and CEO, Fortis, Inc.
P.O. Box 8837
Suite 1201, Fortis Building
139 Water Street
St. John's, Newfoundland
A1B 3T2

Re: Upper Macal River Valley, Belize

Dear Mr. Marshall,

As scientists who specialize in the study of forests and tropical ecosystems, we are concerned that the Chalillo dam, which you have proposed to build in the Macal River Valley, could further imperil species such as the Scarlet Macaw, jaguar, tapir, and numerous others, as well as the integrity of the biological corridor system of the Maya forests.  You have said publicly that if the dam would have “significant impacts on wildlife”, and in particular on the Scarlet Macaw, you would not build it.  Given the rarity of the Upper Macal River valley floodplain vegetation, the high-quality of intact wilderness found there, and nearly a century of experience with dams in tropical environments, it is our opinion that the Chalillo dam would impact the ecosystems of the region and many of the species which inhabit it.  The preponderance of existing evidence indicates that these impacts would be significant and long lasting.

The long-term effects of the project on endangered species and the region’s landscape are difficult to predict in detail, and may never be known completely.  Nonetheless, in the absence of thorough multi-year surveys of vegetation and fauna, and reliable models of the potential impacts of the dam, it would be reckless to undertake the Chalillo project.  If you decide to move ahead with plans for the dam, we urge you heed the appeal from the October 2000 World Conservation Congress (WCC) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to “conduct a fully transparent and participatory environmental impact assessment of the proposed hydroelectric facility” (CNV028  Protection of the Macal River Valley in Belize).  While your company has stated that wildlife studies are ongoing, to date they have been neither open nor participatory.

In keeping with the WCC resolution’s call for transparency and participation, we recommend that a panel of independent experts be formed to determine the Terms of Reference for these studies.  These studies, once completed, should also be reviewed by an independent panel of scientists.  The WCC resolution requests that the IUCN provide “technical and scientific support to Belize during the preparation, review and evaluation of the EIA”.  We urge you and the government of Belize to invite such support from the IUCN.

We understand that the British Natural History Museum has been contacted to conduct wildlife studies for the Chalillo dam Environmental Impact Assessment and yet its contractor, AGRA-CI (now a subsidiary of British AMEC), and Canada’s Development Aid Agency (CIDA), which is funding the studies, had refused—until very recently—all requests to make public the Terms of Reference for these studies.  For its part, CIDA, in a letter dated January 30, 2000 has indicated that it does not intend to make public the results of the Chalillo EIA studies, writing that “there is no legal requirement to put the project deliverables in the public registry”. The process to date contravenes good scientific practice and the WCC resolution on the Macal River Valley.  It is not enough to contract field studies, the EIA needs to include full participation and review of the broader scientific community.

In November, 2000, in an effort to provide an outline of the studies needed to estimate the impacts of Chalillo on vegetation and wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Belizean conservationists organized a meeting of many of Belize’s top wildlife ecologists.  This group provided recommendations to set minimal requirements for wildlife studies for the Chalillo dam.  Attached is a compilation of the suggested ‘Terms of Reference’ which emerged from this meeting.  This document should not be taken to represent the views of any of the individual scientists in the November meeting.  However, it is the most comprehensive attempt to date to publicly address the need for fieldwork to fill in the gaps in knowledge of the vegetation and fauna of the Upper Macal River Valley.

We recommend that this document be incorporated as the basis of a public scoping process by an independent panel, to set Terms of Reference for the Chalillo dam wildlife studies as outlined above.  These studies should form part of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment for the Chalillo dam, to include a full hydrological, geological and socio-economic analysis, as well as an evaluation of the no-project option and the potential for non-hydro-power electricity purchase and generation.  We emphasize, though, that even the best of Environmental Impact Assessments is incomplete, and predictions about the potential impacts on complex ecosystems are by their nature uncertain.

Central America’s true wilderness areas are fast disappearing, and the Upper Macal River Valley is at the core of one of the most undisturbed stretches of tropical forest left.  In preparing your company’s cost-benefit analysis of the Chalillo dam, we ask that you proceed with extreme caution.  It may well be possible to calculate how many dollars this project will generate, but we may never know the value of what was lost as a result of its construction.


Robin Bjork, Tropical Ornithologist, Wildlife Conservation Society, Maya Forest. Guatemala.

Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Director, Center for Conservation Biology and Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University; recipient of numerous awards for his research, including the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; a co-founder of the Society for Conservation Biology; co-author of co-evolution theory; author of "The Population Bomb" (1968), over 3 million copies sold worldwide. USA

Dr. Tom Eisner, Director of the Cornell Institute for Research in Chemical Ecology, Jacob Gould Shurman Professor of Chemical Ecology, Cornell University; recipient of the National Medal of Science, 1994. USA.

Omar Figueroa, Tropical Biologist. Belize.

Dr. José Fragoso, Department of Zoology, University of Florida, Gainesville; conducted the first published studies of tapir, peccary and other mammals in the Upper Macal River valley in the mid-1980s; expert on landscape ecology. USA

Dr. Gary S. Hartshorn, PhD from University of Washington; President and CEO, Organization for Tropical Studies (a 56 member consortium of universities and research institutions hedquartered at Duke University); Professor of the Practice of Tropical Ecology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. USA.

Sharon Matola, Director, Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center; former chair, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Tapir Specialist Group; expert in Scarlet Macaw biology. Belize.

Roan McNab, Director Wildlife Conservation Society. Guatemala.

Bruce Miller, Associate Conservation Zoologist, Wildlife Conservation Society, Tropical Forest and Reserve Planning Project, Belize; specialist in tropical mammals and birds, regional expert on bats and co-manager of the Belize Biodiversity Information System. Belize.

Carolyn Miller, M.Sc., Associate Conservation Zoologist, Wildlife Conservation Society, Tropical Forest and Reserve Planning Project, Belize; specialist in tropical mammals and birds, regional expert on jaguar, and co-manager of the Belize Biodiversity Information System. Belize.

Marta Pilón, Interamerican Prize for the Environment, Organization of American States, 1995. Guatemala.

Dr. Peter Raven, Director of Missouri Botanical Garden; Professor of Botany at Washington University, Chairman; National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration; President, American Association for Advancement of Science. USA.

Fiona Reid, M.Sc., Illustrator, and author of  “A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America & Southeast Mexico”. Canada.

Dr. Katherine Renton, Research Associate, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; author of numerous papers on Scarlet Macaw biology in Belize. Mexico.

Dr. Norman B. Schwartz, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware, Mayanist, with more than 30 years of research on social/ecological interactions in the Maya Forest. USA.

Dr. Anthony Stocks, Chair and Professor, Department of Anthropology, Idaho State University; research on human ecology, biodiversity conservation and resource management.  Nicaragua.

Dr. David Suzuki, Sustainable Development Research Institute, University of British Columbia. Canada.

Dr. David Whitacre, Ph.D. Zoology, University of California, Davis, Ornithologist, specialist in Birds of Prey; more than 10 years of research on birds of the Maya Forest, in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Guatemala.

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