Illegal hunting, logging and mining operations don’t always operate during convenient nine-to-five business hours. For park rangers, policing these activities is a 24-hour job. For the first time, they are going to be paid for it.
“We don’t have fixed hours,” Roberto Molina, the secretary general of the Environment Ministry’s labor union, SITRAMINAE, told The Tico Times. “We don’t work eight hours a day, sometimes we work 16, and until now we were working all those extra hours for free.”
To qualify, park rangers must have a license to carry a firearm and work for the National System of Conservation Area’s (SINAC) control and protection unit. These rangers will receive a 25 percent salary increase starting in May, bringing their base salary to ₡500,000 a month (about $900 by today’s exchange rate). Firefighters will also receive the same incentives during the dry season, when forest fires are most common.
Beyond rewarding park rangers, the pay increase will also allow parks to create permanent 24-hour patrols for the country’s 168 protected areas. The incentive is designed to encourage more park rangers to work whatever hours necessary to protect the parks.
According to Molina, SITRAMINAE has been fighting for the pay increase for the past six years. The pay bump is the first in a long list of demands from SINAC employees who have begun to grow weary of the state of the country’s national park system.
Spurred in part by the murder of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, SITRAMINAE has been heavily protesting for additional government support since last May. Along with the pay increase, SITRAMINAE is asking that park rangers be given police authority when on duty in the parks.
“We carry state-owned weapons and are out risking our lives protecting our country’s natural environment,” Molina said. “Still, we are not invested with the same rights and protection as our police officers or coast guard.”
Giving park rangers police authority is part of a new bill put forth by SITRAMINAE and a group of conservationists. If passed, the law would reform the National Parks System, a defunct agency that dissolved when SINAC was created.
In addition to policing Costa Rica’s protected areas, SINAC officials are responsible for the administrative and touristic tasks of running the parks. The National Parks System would only employ park rangers trained in environmental protection and given police authority.
“The problems we are having with protecting the national parks is primarily administrative,” Mario Boza, one of the National Parks System’s founding fathers, told The Tico Times. “This would give park rangers the support they need to protect the parks without getting caught up in other duties.”
The bill is currently being managed by Broad Front Party lawmaker and former presidential candidate José Maria Villalta who leaves office on May 8. On April 23, SITRAMINAE will meet with the party’s incoming lawmakers to discuss the future of the bill.