San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Environmental Conservation Saw Ups, Downs

PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco appearedslightly less gung-ho this year than previousyears in his crusade to be consideredone of Costa Rica’s most environmentallyconscious Presidents. Still, the year sawseveral important happenings on the conservationfront.According to the Universidad National(UNA), levels of animal poaching reacheda breaking point this year, particularly inCorcovado National Park on the OsaPeninsula, in the country’s Southern Zone.Scientists studying Corcovado wildlifepopulations told The Tico Times in Marchthat if the rampant poaching continuedunchecked, jaguars could become extinctfrom the area by the end of this year.Pacheco rejected a request by theMinistry of Environment and Energy(MINAE) to declare a state of emergencyin Corcovado because of the poachingproblem, saying there were no funds tooffer until the Legislative Assemblyapproves the almost three-year-old FiscalReform Plan.SEVERAL private donors heeded thecall for help, however. In May, the SanJosé-based Horizontes Nature Tours madea $20,000 donation toward anti-poachingefforts in Corcovado in celebration of its20th anniversary. Several Southern Zonetourism businesses also helped pay forpark guard salaries.Meanwhile, President Pacheco helpednegotiate a donation from the U.S.-basedGordon and Betty Moore Foundation, whichin November agreed to donate $8 millionover a period of three years, to help thefinancially strained national park system,particularly Corcovado National Park.The month before, Corcovado Parkdirector Eliécer Arce was awarded theOjoche Prize by the National BiodiversityInstitute (INBio), in recognition of hisefforts to overcome severe lack of fundingand resources from MINAE.IN February, Japanese AmbassadorTanadori Inomata signed two contracts ofassistance pledging more than $130,000 toprotect the rights of indigenous populationsin the Southern-Zone area of Boruca,where the largest hydroelectric dam inCentral America is planned.Opposition to the dam continuedthroughout the year, as well as protestsagainst proposed hydroelectric dams inPocosol, in the north-central region of thecountry near the Children’s Eternal RainForest, and on the Pacuare River, a popularrafting river on the Caribbean slope.The Costa Rican Electricity Institute(ICE) took responsibility for the deaths ofthousands of fish and shrimp in February,after releasing silt-filled water from thePeñas Blancas hydroelectric dam, built in2003, and presented a plan to repair thedamage, which at year-end had yet to beapproved by the Prosecutor forEnvironmental Crimes.Hundreds more fish were killed inApril after some 500,000 kilograms ofmolasses spilled into the San Carlos Riverin April after a tank exploded at the sugarplant Quebrada Azul, 13 km north ofCiudad Quesada.FIRES, illegal drainage canals anddykes built to divert water from the wetlandsof the Caño Negro Wildlife Refugein Northern Zone by private landowners toraise crops and cattle this year continuedcontributing to the severe deforestationand destruction of Costa Rica’s most fertilewetlands in the Río Frío River basin.Environmental activists insist thecountry has a duty to protect the wetlandarea under the Ramsar Treaty, an internationalagreement that came into effect inCosta Rica in 1992.At year-end, the environmental tribunal,an administrative tribunal of the EnvironmentMinistry, was looking into the issue.A decree signed by Pacheco and EnvironmentMinister Carlos Manuel Rodríguezin May allows for tree felling in coastalareas. The decree permits the chopping of15% of a coastal property’s virgin forest and25% of a property’s secondary forest, aslong as it is for eco-tourism projects.While Pacheco, Rodríguez andTourism Minister Rodrigo Castro claim thedecree provides some protection wherebefore there was none, members of theCosta Rican Federation for EnvironmentalConservation (FECON), say it permitsdeforestation and puts business interestsover environmental protection.The decree was suspended September,while the Sala IV reviews a lawsuit submittedby FECON alleging the decree isunconstitutional.In August, eleven sea turtles almostmet their deaths at the hands of poachersbut were saved by police in the Caribbeantown of Limón.THE controversial Bellavista open-pitgold mine in Montes de Oro, in the hillsabove the Pacific port of Puntarenas, isoptimistic about beginning gold extractionin 2005.Río Minerales, a Costa Rican subsidiaryof the Canadian firm GlencairnGold, was fined in late December 2003 forstarting work without all the necessary permits.By year-end, the mine claimed tohave the necessary permits from theExecutive Branch, the National TechnicalSecretariat of the Environment Ministry(SETENA) and MINAE to begin mining.Despite reservations from MinisterRodríguez over the use of cyanide at themine, and demonstrations by environmentalists,area residents and college studentswho traveled to the area last month toprotest, company representatives say thereis no danger of cyanide contamination,except in the event of “an act of God” –which is how protestors described a magnitude6.2 earthquake that shook the countrythe morning of Nov. 20.ANOTHER controversial open-pitgold mine proposed for the Northern Zoneby Industrias Infinito, the Costa Rican subsidiaryof Canadian company VannessaVentures, came under intense scrutiny bythe Nicaraguan government in August,who heard news of the proposed mine afteran a public audience held by SETENA inlate July.Nicaraguan officials said they fearcyanide contamination of the nearby SanJuan River, part of the border betweenNicaragua and Costa Rica.The company’s hopes of opening theLas Crucitas mine were dashed inNovember after the ConstitutionalChamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV),struck down the concession the governmenthad awarded it in 2002.The high court ruled the mine violatedArticle 50 of the Constitution, which guaranteesthe right of every individual to ahealthy and ecologically balanced environment.

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