San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ombudsman, Environment Ministry, At Odds Over Hunting

An ambiguous statement from theConstitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court(Sala IV) has Ombudsman José ManuelEchandi and the Ministry of Environment andEnergy (MINAE) at odds over the status ofsports hunting in Costa Rica.The ombudsman interprets the Sala IV statementas ordering a temporary ban on sports huntinglicenses, while the Environment Ministry deniesthis and has continued issuing hunting permits.Meanwhile, the president of the National HuntingAssociation, attorney Ricardo Guardia, sides withMINAE’s interpretation but admits the governmentneeds a better system to control hunting and promotethe rational use of the country’s resources.ECHANDI and Canadian Dennis Janik, president ofthe Foundation for Nature Restoration, filed a case beforethe Sala IV Aug. 4, 2004, alleging sports hunting representsa failure of the State’s duty to preserve the environment,as stipulated in Article 50 of the Constitution.“We are concerned about our wildlife and theirdecreasing numbers. The jaguar and peccary are already on their way to extinction,” Echandi said.An attorney from his office says it isthe first Supreme Court case against sportshunting in Costa Rican history.THE high court gave notice of theombudsman’s case to the EnvironmentMinistry and the Government Attorney’sOffice last November, and requestedreplies from both within 15 days.MINAE rejected Echandi’s motionagainst sports hunting “for lack ofgrounds” in its Nov. 18, 2004, response,while the Government Attorney’s Officedeclared it “without cause” but offeredadditional explanation.Julio Jurado, the state attorneyassigned to this case, explained Echandibases his case on the idea that sports huntingviolates the constitutional right to life.“If Sala IV justices choose to interpretthat all animals, even though we consumesome of them, have a right to life, then werecommend they alter portions of theWildlife Conservation Law that deal withsports hunting only – not subsistence hunting– namely, one executive decree andtwo of its articles,” Jurado explained.THE Sala IV document accepting thecase, dated Oct. 29, 2004, states that “duringthe process or proceedings in which theapplication of the matter in question isdebated, a final resolution may not bepassed until the Sala has made its pronouncementon the case.”Echandi interprets this as an order totemporarily ban sports hunting while SalaIV justices make their decision.However, Ana María Tato, a legal advisorfor the Environment Ministry, said theministry was never informed of any ban.“The Sala IV has not imposed anyrestrictive measures on sports hunting sofar,” she said, when asked about the controversialparagraph.Juan Luis Camacho, an attorney for theOmbudsman’s Office Quality of LifeDepartment, said that MINAE submitted arequest for clarification of this ambiguity,but the court has not yet replied.In the meantime, Camacho explained,because the ambiguous statement leads todiverging interpretations, it is not illegalfor MINAE to continue granting huntinglicenses.SALA IV Secretary Gerardo Madriz,who wrote the publication containing theambiguous line last year, said he is notauthorized to make any interpretations to thetext, adding, “It means exactly what it says.”The next step is a court hearing scheduledfor March 31, when MINAE and representativesfrom the Ombudsman’s Officemust appear before the Sala IV.THE Environment Ministry neverstopped granting hunting permits, accordingto Elizabeth Acosta, licensing officialfor MINAE’s regional office in San José.“Each year, our office grants approximately1,200 hunting permits for CostaRicans and around 10 for foreigners,” shesaid.Permits, usually obtained on the sameday of the request, expire after one year(see separate box).In total, throughout the country, an estimated3,670 licenses were granted in 2003,according to Joaquín Calvo, a wildlifebiologist for the National System ofConservation Areas (SINAC), part ofMINAE.He explained last year’s numbers havenot been compiled yet because the informationis decentralized, and each conservationarea extends a different number oflicenses.GUARDIA, president of the NationalHunting Association, also insists the courtnever suspended sports hunting.“And even if the law changes from oneday to the next, hunters are not going tostop hunting,” he said.“Hunting is human nature. Wheneveryou pick up meat, chicken, fish and evenvegetables from a supermarket shelf, youare killing living organisms and perpetuatingthe food chain. Plants are alive too, youknow,” he added.Guardia, who has gone on hunting tripsto Africa, South America and the UnitedStates, said if hunting is banned in CostaRica, the amount of staff and resourcesMINAE has will not be enough to enforcethe law throughout the country.“THE worst mistake you could makeis to prohibit hunting all at once – the ideaderives from sentimental, not scientific,criteria. What the government needs is asystem of more controlled hunting, a rationaluse of our resources,” he said.Carlos Ventura, an experienced hunterand owner of the Serengeti gun shop in thewestern suburb of San Rafael de Escazú,agrees with Guardia.“Banning hunting sounds lovely in theory,but it would never work,” he said.However, even a Sala IV ban on sportshunting would not hurt his sales significantly,he said, because most of his profitscome from the sale of defense weapons.ACCORDING to Federico Guillén,one of the first people to come up with theidea of filing a case to prohibit huntingwhen he worked as an EnvironmentMinistry volunteer in 1999, said sportshunting may be viable in Costa Rica if theactivity is conducted in a technical manner.“In this country, we have never doneresearch that shows the sustainability ofhunting. For hunting to be sustainable, weneed to know how many animals of eachspecies there are in the country, and we don’tknow that,” said Guillén, an animal rehabilitationspecialist at the private Zoo Ave in LaGarita de Alajuela, northwest of San José.He works closely with Janik at the zooand environmental education center, fundedby the Foundation for Nature Restoration.Guillén said that until experienced personnelconduct a careful animal populationindex for the country, hunting should becurtailed.GUARDIA said hunting prohibitionsin other countries have brought species tonear extinction, ironically.“In Kenya, there were 167,000 elephantsand 10,000 black rhinos in 1977,the year hunting was banned. Now, thereare less than 20,000 elephants and only 20-25 black rhinos,” he said. “Nobody caresfor animals as much as hunters – we wantour animals alive more than anyone, Iguarantee it.”The lawyer said sports hunting should beprivatized rather than government-controlled,with landowners selling permits forprofit to maintain and care for their animals,following the example of some Africancountries where hunting is legal and animalsare abundant.“Everybody knows the government isnever as efficient as the private industry,”he said.Obtaining a Hunting LicenseACCORDING to Elizabeth Acosta,licensing official for the Environment andEnergy Ministry (MINAE) in San José,those seeking a hunting license mustpresent two passport-size pictures, aphotocopy of their identification, anddeposit a fee at the Banco Nacional.Fees vary according to the area and thetype of animal to be hunted, from ¢1,500($3.25) to ¢30,300 ($66).It is not necessary to prove theprospective hunter’s gun is legally registeredwhen applying for a hunting license,because that is the responsibility of thePublic Security Ministry, Acosta said.The country is divided into four huntingareas: Guanacaste-Puntarenas, Alajuela-Heredia, San José-Puntarenas andLimón-Cartago.Licenses are issued in four categories:large prey, such as deer and coyotes;small prey, including rabbits and squirrels;ducks and doves; and other birds.Hunting seasons vary slightly eachyear, and are determined by animals’ matingseasons, according to JuanRodríguez, MINAE biologist.For example, in Guanacaste, huntingseason for deer is usually between Juneand October, the rainy season, becausedeer reproduce in the summer. Accordingto Rodríguez, deer hunting is allowed twoweekends per month, and each huntermay catch only two deer per year.Hunters may pursue their prey acrossall public property except protected areas,and private property with the owner’s permission.Certain species are off-limits tohunters, including all endangered species,and others such as female deer.For more information about huntingregulations, call MINAE’s regional office inSan José at 258-0035.

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