Conservationists urge Costa Rica to maintain environmental leadership

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
June 30, 2013

A body representing hundreds of biologists and conservation scientists has urged the government of Costa Rica not to jeopardize its reputation as an environmental leader by allowing carve-outs from protected areas for industrial development.

In a declaration issued Thursday at the conclusion its 50th annual meeting, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world's largest organization dedicated to the study and conservation of tropical ecosystems, applauded Costa Rica's pathbreaking efforts to integrate environmental protection into its national development strategy. But the group warned that proposed projects that would require de-gazetting of national parks for energy projects could undermine Costa Rica's green credentials.

"Whilst the environmental and economic achievements of Costa Rica’s efforts are applauded, they are currently threatened by potentially damaging projects that could reverse these gains," states the declaration. "If these projects go ahead they may dethrone Costa Rica from its global leadership role in combining social, economic and environmental progress."

ATBC cited a proposal to de-gazette 1,000 hectares — ten percent — of Rincon de la Vieja National Park for an energy project as an example.

"The realization of this proposal would remove 10% of the total area of this National Park from protection and forever threaten the existence of the only example of this unique forest type in Costa Rica," said ATBC's statement. "Moreover, such a de-gazetting of a National Park implies that none of Costa Rica’s National Parks, which offer the greatest levels of protection, are safe from conversion to other land-uses."

"We urge the Costa Rica Congress and the Ministry of Environment to remove the current proposal presented to Congress."

Rainforest in Costa Rica

ATBC went on the recommend expanding habitat corridors to help wildlife cope with the effects of climate change.

"A key example of this is the plan to link the lowland forest of the Piedras Blancas and Corcovado National Parks to Fila Cal in the Talamanca mountains," said the declaration. "Such biodiversity corridors are critical to maintaining Costa Rica’s biological heritage through the 21st century."

ATBC concluded by asking the government to "endorse responsible and sustainable development of Costa Rica outside protected areas" and honor its environmental commitments contained within national laws and international treaties.

"Honoring these commitments will ensure Costa Rica’s National Parks will continue to provide a strong foundation for the national economy, maintain critical ecosystem services, and serve as source of enjoyment for future generations.

Anole lizard silhouetted on a rainforest leaf in Costa Rica.

In recent decades, Costa Rica has made considerable environmental progress since the 1950's to the early 1980's period when the country had one of the world's highest deforestation rates. In the 1980's Costa Rica began to offer subsidies for tree planting and started establishing national parks. In 1996 it banned clearing of mature forest and launched a national payments-for-ecosystems program that was funded by an oil tax. Along the way, the country emerged as a global leader in nature-based tourism that became the basis of its modern service economy. Costa Rica has also seen a dramatic recovery of its forest cover.

"[Costa Rica] is one of the few countries wholeheartedly endorsing the integration of advancing human welfare and environmental protection," stated the declation. "Costa Rica’s visionary decisions have led to 25% of its lands being under some form of protection alongside an exemplary payment for environmental services program."

"Protected areas and national parks have helped transform Costa Rica into a modern service-based economy, thus playing a large role in improving the living standards of Costa Ricans."

AUTHOR: Rhett Butler founded Mongabay in 1999. He currently serves as president, head writer, and chief editor.

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Conservationists urge Costa Rica to maintain environmental leadership.