Columbia River Forest Reserve Expedition, 9-16 December 1990.
A large portion of the Columbia River forest Reserve remains fairly intact. The lack of evidence for the presence of mammals and large birds (i.e. cracids), is due to hunting pressures; however, the control of this activity would assist in the rejuvenation of the faunal populations within the Reserve.
With regard to agriculture in the Columbia River Forest Reserve, there is no valid potential for this type of development. Campur and Coban karst foothills are too rugged, the soils too rocky, and the dry season water surely too uncertain to such a degree that even the traditional slash-and-burn techniques of the Maya indians are proving unprofitable.
Permanent access roads through “cock-pit” landscape is extremely costly, and water and power services would not be feasible due to the difficulties defined by the same karst topography. Thus, the Columbia River Forest Reserve is not an “ecologically friendly” environment for farming endeavors.
Similarly, the soils of “Little Quartz Ridge” are totally unsuited for farming. The Machikilha upland plain is unsuited for traditional Maya-farming activities, as well. And due to its isolated location, it is unlikely to attract investment by large, modern farm operations.
The Columbia River Forest Reserve cannot be regarded as a potential agricultural asset. It is, however, a very important forestry asset, providing valuable watershed protection to the lowland farmer of the Columbia and Rio Grande Rivers. Nine months out of every year, flood problems plague local agriculturalists. The Columbia River Forest Reserve provides watershed protection, and further cutting of these forests could not only result in flood inundations of great severity, but the drying up of valuable spring waters during the dry season.
The karst foothills function like a sponge, accepting much of the heavy rainfall during June and July, partially storing this water in fissures and underground caverns and slowly releasing this stored water during the months with lighter rainfall, or no rain at all.
Forest cover is essential for the efficient operation of this “sponge” system. Forest destruction causes most of the heavy rains to sluice directly off exposed rock surfaces producing flash floods which may last only a few days or even hours, but they do great damage to roads, bridges, homes and livestock on the lowlands beyond the limits of the Columbia River Forest Reserve.
The Big Falls road bridge on the Rio Grande has been under observation since 1962 (D. Owen-Lewis, pers. comm. 1990), and the annual pattern of flooding shows a steadily increasing maximum flood level (“top-gallon” conditions), a steady increase in the number of floods submerging the highway bridge, and only a slight decrease in the number of days of each flood when the road is impassable.
The landscape of the Columbia River Forest Reserve has a story to tell and future ecological research may disclose an exciting tale of very ancient land surfaces with soil-development processes continuing for many millions of years, and a tale of similar rocks and soils buried under thick layers of limestone, reappearing again in some localities as the covering limestone beds slowly dissolved away.
And while all these landscape-forming processes were going on, plants and animals from diverse sources east, north, and south were invading the landscape, resulting in the present patchwork of plant and animal communities. From Baldy Beacon to the north, southwards through Cockscomb and the high plateau of “Doyle’s Delight”, to “Little quartz Ridge” of Columbia River Forest Reserve, there may be a great ecological continuum awaiting research by botanists, zoologists, soil scientists, archaeologists, and for future scientists whose disciplines are still evolving. Belize is indeed favored to be the sole custodian of this unique phenomenon, certainly unique in Central America and perhaps unique in all the world. The Columbia Fiver Forest Reserve is an essential part of this fascinating regional mountainous ecosystem.
The full citation for this report is not known; the date of the report is 27 April 1993.
The PDF was prepared from a photocopy received from Lee Jones in September, 2016. The cover page is missing and the maps have been reproduced very badly.
Appended to the PDF is a portion of a summary of the expedition published in The Belize Times.