Nicaraguan Army protects nation’s wildlife, forests
By Dialogo June 27, 2014
Nicaraguan security forces are working to protect the country’s wooded areas from wildlife, drug traffickers, and the harvesting and trafficking of granadillo wood.
The Ecological Battalion Army of Nicaragua (BECO) is protecting wooded regions which are targeted by organized crime groups for illegal logging. The BECO is defending natural resources in 78 nationally protected areas. These protected areas include the Bosawas and the Indo Maiz Reserve. Authorities consider defending these and other protected areas a matter of national security.
Nicaraguan Army Lt. Col. Marvin Paniagua commands the 700 soldiers of the BECO. Paniagua is in his 35th year in the Army.
Protecting the country’s natural resources is an important and challenging task.
The Bosawas, located on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, near the Honduran border, is one of the largest forested areas in Central America. The Bosawas region consists of about 20,000 square kilometers of land. The region, known as the “Heart of the Mesoamerican Bio-Corridor,” is the largest protected tropical mountain forest north of the Amazon basin.
The Bosawas region is home to populations of exotic species, many of which are endangered. Among the species in the Bosawas are the jaguar, ocelot, margay cat, spider monkey, white-headed capuchin monkey, howler monkey, giant anteater, and Baird’s tapir. It is also the habitat of endangered birds, such as the harpy eagle, the military and scarlet macaw. More than 200 bird species live in the Bosawas.
BECO soldiers combat wildlife smugglers who capture and try to smuggle out of the country exotic birds, monkeys and even deer.
“Ignorance on the part of dealers and buyers maintain this business,” Paniagua told journalists.
In addition to exotic animals, the Bosawas region contains valuable natural resources, such as precious woods and gold, which are coveted by organized crime groups.
In recent years, organized crime groups have harvested and exported granadillo wood, an exotic wood which grows in Central America, the Amazons and Mexico. The wood is used to make acoustic guitars, some percussion instruments, furniture, and some medical instruments. Granadillo wood is used to make wood panels for Rolls Royce cars and yachts.
In 2008, about $127,000 (USD) worth of granadillo wood was exported from Nicaragua to six countries, insightcrime.org reported.
The amount of granadillo wood that has been harvested and exported by organized crime groups has grown exponentially in recent years.
Because of the high demand for granadillo wood, “wood mafias” have formed. Instead of trafficking drugs or firearms, these groups harvest granadillo wood and smuggle it out of the country.Granadillo wood sells for about $11 per board-foot.
In 2011, security forces seized about $6 million (USD) worth of granadillo wood that wood mafias were going to export out of Nicaragua, according to Confidencial. The rise in demand is being driven by buyers in China.
Nicaraguan security forces have registered successes in their ongoing battle against wood mafias.
For example, in January 2012, in one operation, the military confiscated a shipment of granadillo wood valued at an estimated $1.35 million (USD).
Overzealous harvesting of Nicaraguan forests is harming the country’s environment and is contributing to global warming. It is damaging the ability of legitimate coffee growers and other farmers to grow their crops.
Largely because of overzealous logging, Nicaragua’s forest cover has dropped from 63 percent to 40 percent since 1983, government statistics show, according to BBC News. If the rate of logging continues unabated, by 2030 only about 25 percent of the country will be forested.
Forest cover helps fight global warming. Less forest cover will exacerbate the rate of global warming and climate change, according to Dr. Paul Orquist, who represents President Daniel Ortega in world climate change forums and advises the government on national development policies. Rising temperature in Nicaragua – the average has risen by three degrees centigrade since about 1964 – are impacting rain cycles, Orquist said. Because of increasing temperature, coffee growers have to move higher in the mountains to find cooler temperatures hospitable to their crops.
“Eventually, you run out of mountain and you run out of the coffee industry,” Orquist said. “Since 2006, we are losing $200 million (USD) a year in lost agro-production due to climate change.”
The rate of deforestation in Nicaragua is accelerating, said Victor Campos, vice president of Centro Alexander von Humboldt, a nonprofit organization dedicated to public policy initiatives on environmental issues in Nicaragua.
Protecting Nicaragua’s forests is important for environmental, economic, and social reasons.
“They provide us not only with wood but also help with the conservation of biodiversity and play an important role in providing food and reducing hunger,” Campos said. “Unscrupulous people are cutting the granadillo trees when they are too young, 10 years old instead of 30. This will have serious consequences for the environment and biodiversity. Because of this devastation we have lost most of the jaguar population and harpy eagles typical of the region.”
BECO soldiers have completed several successful security operations since January 2012.
BECO soldiers have:
• Confiscated more than 2.7 million board feet of illegally harvested timber.
• Rescued 108 exotic birds which had been stolen by wildlife smugglers, and returned the birds to the Bosawas.
• Captured 218 suspects for environmental offenses, such as harvesting wood without a permit.
• Arrested nine land traffickers who allegedly defrauded indigenous people by selling them protected land, which cannot be sold.
BECO soldiers receive physical training and are educated in environmental laws. In addition to fighting wood mafias, BECO soldiers also confront drug trafficking groups which operate in forests the soldiers protect.
Fighting drug traffickers
In recent years, BECO soldiers have discovered 21 marijuana plantations and destroyed 257,770 marijuana plants, Lt. Col. Paniagua said.
“Drug traffickers are trying to occupy the area but we hit them hard and we have developed strategies to dismantle their operational networks,” Paniagua said. Most of the drug traffickers are Nicaraguan and Honduran. BECO has 30 Forest Control posts, with 20 soldiers at each post. “Our officers are highly trained to detect drugs, woods and animals. Illegal logging has decreased considerably in the last two years.”
BECO’s 700 members are from diverse backgrounds. Many of them speak the indigenous languages of Bosawas, such as Mayagna and Miskitu. “They love Nicaragua and are very committed to our mission,” Paniagua said. “Bosawas is the lung of Central America and if destroyed this would have serious consequences for the region. With teamwork and collaboration our soldiers have rescued this area,” he said.
Praise for BECO
BECO began operations in November 2011 and since then has had a positive impact in the Bosawas region.
“Before the arrival of BECO an endless number of unauthorized people entered and left the Bosawas, ransacking it,” said Professor Luis Herrera, Coordinator of Social and Environmental Information Center of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.
“When BECO was created we applauded the idea. It was something we dreamed of, that there was control and safeguarding of the natural resources of the biosphere of Bosawas,” he said. “The presence of BECO means stability to 30,000 indigenous families and that is very important.”
“BECO soldiers are very brave and have conducted courageous operations against animal and timber traffickers in deep areas of the Caribbean Coast. They are fearless and tireless,” said Sarah Otterstrom, an ecologist who is executive-director at Paso Pacífico a non-governmental organization dedicated to restoring and conserving the natural ecosystems of Central America. Paso Pacifico has an office in Nicaragua.
BLESSINGS, I am a citizen of NICARAGUA and I'm celebrating the creation of BECO. Obviously I agree with the missions that they have and that they should fulfill, because of the known reasons, the damage that the shameless drug traffickers intend to do to our stability; the efforts made by the GOVERNMENT of Commander DANIEL ORTEGA are on the right track. Also, the leadership of all of us is TO DEFEND this GOVERNMENT model, from wherever we are, and at all times, without letting down those that have fallen in the long struggle, written in our HISTORY, to DEFEND our SOVEREIGNTY, without excluding from the context the RIGHTS for which our GENERAL AUGUSTO C. SANDINO FOUGHT FOR. I'd like to see the detainees on trial for their crimes, because as an common individual, I am saddened to see how they are destroying the only world we've got. The biggest damage that is caused to the wooded areas is not from the loggers that only exploit from one to five species; the biggest problem of high deforestation rate derives from animal breeding since year after year large wooded areas are cut down for growing grass. This is easy to verify just by touring around the protected areas during the months of March and April, you will find tall trees of all species that were cut down to be burnt and in order to change the soil usage from forestry to agricultural or for breeding. According to the publication, they are working on the goal of its creation, but the majority of the population thinks that not even the bat. ecoØ² can fight against the predatory mafia because it's infiltrated within our government. It's a very good article - very detailed, well done. I like it because you thoroughly explained the subject, protecting what's ours :) That was in 2014 weâ€™re now in 2016 and those conspicuously missing institutions now even the rivers and lakes are drying up and no one does anything theyâ€™re blind or have their hands tied by the government