Author: Cathy Smith (Royal Holloway, University of London)
This article examines the past century of fire management of the coastal pine savanna in Belize, drawing on archival evidence,interviews, and ethnographic enquiry into an international development project in Belize. It considers contemporary approaches that seek to use prescribed fire with the participation of local communities in relation to past practices. The Belizean savanna has long been shaped by human fire use. Its flora is ecologically adapted to fire. Yet fire has been repeatedly cast as a problem, from c. 1920, by British colonial and, later, USA foresters, and, most recently, by international and local non-governmental nature conservation organizations. Informed by different schools of thought, each of these organizations has designed programs of fire management aiming to reduce wildfire frequency. Yet little has changed; Belize's diverse and growing rural population has continued to use fire, and the savannas burn, year upon year. While the planned aims and methods differed, each program of fire management has, in practice, been similarly structured and constrained by its genesis within colonial or international development. Funding and leadership for fire management has been inconsistent. Each program has been shaped by a specifically Belizean ecology and politics, in excess of its definition of the fire 'problem' and 'solutions' to it. Powerful political elites and fire users in Belize have not seen clear incentives for the fire management supported by official policy. This analysis highlights that contemporary efforts to build more ecologically and environmentally just forms of fire management must be understood in the context of broader political struggles over land and resources.
Keywords: savanna, fire management, colonial, state forestry, political elites, Belize
How to Cite: Smith, C. (2021) “From colonial forestry to 'community-based fire management': the political ecology of fire in Belize's coastal savannas, 1920 to present”, Journal of Political Ecology. 28(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.2989