San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Endangered Almond Tree Gets Court Protection

The government has been ordered to stop allowing landowners to harvest endangered almond trees.

The mountain almond, known also as the tonka bean wood, or almendro amarilloin Spanish, is listed as endangered by the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET).

The trees are important habitat to the great green macaw, another endangered species.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ruled that the tree cannot be harvested in any way until both the great green macaw and the tree itself are no longer endangered.

The decision came after Franklin Carmiol, president of the Costa Rican Network of Private Natural Reserves, filed for an injunction against the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area, a regional MINAET office that had been issuing permits to extract fallen mountain almond trees.

“We were able to verify that in the Northern Zone, around San Carlos and Sarapiquí, there is an excessive harvest of mountain almond, and that MINAET is allowing it,” Carmiol said.

Carmiol said that he was not sure just how many trees had been extracted under the permits, but called the harvest “massive.”

Carmiol also said he believed the permits, while only for fallen trees, were being used as an excuse for landowners to harvest live ones.

“It’s very easy to say, ‘This is a fallen tree,’ but how did it fall? It’s very odd that so many farms have these fallen trees. … We haven’t had any hurricanes or cyclones to have all these trees knocked down. And it’s only almond trees and not other kinds.”

Carmiol’s injunction request alleges the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area issued extraction permits for mountain almond trees in pasture land as well as secondary and old-growth forest.

According to the conservationist, the great green macaw feeds and nests exclusively in the mountain almond.

The Sala IV ruling annulled a MINAET resolution that opened up the tree for extraction that was issued last year by the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area.

The court ordered the Environmental Tribunal, an MINAET administrative court, to carry out regular inspections of the region.

A tropical hardwood, the mountain almond was, until recently, largely passed over by loggers because it was difficult to extract and mill. However, advances in technology have made the wood an attractive option, and it now is used in construction.

Alberto Delgado, director of the regional MINAET office, could not be reached for comment. Carlos Quesada, an official working in the office, told The Tico Times the permits were issued only for trees that had fallen naturally.

–Leland Baxter-Neal


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