On 1 March 2011, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party of Costa Rica. The report provides a detailed overview of progress achieved in the implementation of World Heritage Committee recommendations adopted at its 32nd (Quebec City, 2008), 33rd (Seville, 2009) and 34th (Brasilia, 2010) sessions. On 18 February 2011, the State Party of Panama submitted a copy of the proposal of regulations for the operation of the Bi-national Executing Technical Unit for the management of La Amistad International Park (UTEB-PILA). It did not submit a report on the state of conservation of the property as requested by the Committee at its 34th session and thus, there is little information available on progress achieved in the implementation of World Heritage Committee recommendations relating to the Panamanian portion of the property.
a) Hydro-electric dams and mining
The State Party of Costa Rica notes that there are several potential hydropower projects identified within the boundaries of the Costa Rican portion of the property, and that whether or not these will be developed depends on the outcome of current discussions of a law on electric power generation. It also notes that there has recently been a public request to the national authorities to forbid any further mining in the country. However, it further notes that individuals interested in exploiting the mineral resources of the property have been visiting its buffer zone recently. IUCN has received reports that an illegal heliport was constructed for mineral exploration purposes within a proposed 20 km2 mining concession located entirely within the Talamanca Bribri Indigenous Reserve, which is adjacent to the property. According to these reports, the Bribri are opposed to dams and mining in their territory.
The State Party of Costa Rica reports that the national environmental authorities of Costa Rica and Panama, in cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank, are in the process of selecting the consulting team that is to carry out the transboundary Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) requested by the Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010), in order to identify the least environmentally damaging options to meet energy and water management needs. The State Party of Costa Rica notes that it will submit a copy of the final SEA report to the World Heritage Centre upon its completion, due four months after commencement of the work. It does not provide further information on the detailed analysis of all development proposals within the property (including dams, mining and forestry), as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009). However, it notes that the SEA consultation team will carry out a large part of the work needed, and that the Costa Rican government is still looking for funding to carry out the remaining studies.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that the World Heritage Committee, at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010), requested the State Party of Panama to halt all dam constructions untill a detailed transboundary SEA has been undertaken. IUCN has received consistent Non Governmental Organization (NGO) reports that the construction of dams on the Changuinola (CHAN-75) and Bonyic rivers is ongoing, and that no mitigation measures are being implemented to ensure that migratory routes for fish and shrimp species remain intact. This raises concerns that a situation may soon be reached where the loss of up to 16 migratory fish and shrimp species is irreversible, with potential impacts on its Outstanding Universal Value . A press release by the Center for Biological Diversity and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, dated 21 April 2011, states that the company constructing the CHAN-75, CHAN-140 and CHAN-220 dams (AES Corporation) has failed to compensate all flood victims and build a resettlement community, and intends to begin the flooding process without rescuing and relocating flora and fauna, in direct violation of Panamanian environmental legislation.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that existing and potential projects involving hydroelectric power and mining represent both a potential and an ascertained danger to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines, and note that these projects had already been assessed by a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN mission in 2008.
b) Land tenure and land use issues
The State Party of Costa Rica provides information on the implementation of the strategy it developed in 2009 for integrating private lands into the property by 2018. It notes that there are ongoing efforts to resolve the existing overlap problem between La Amistad International Park (PILA) and indigenous territories, update land tenure information systems for most Costa Rican protected areas, and undertake regular monitoring of the state of forest cover in areas where land ownership is not entirely clear. However, it also notes that most of the actions that form part of this strategy are yet to be implemented, including those related to the assessment of encroachment taking place on the Caribbean side of the property and cattle grazing in the property. With regards to cattle grazing in the Panamanian portion of the property, IUCN has received NGO reports indicating that no concrete action has been undertaken by the State Party.
c) Road development
IUCN recalls reports that as part of its five-year governmental plan (2009-2014), the State Party of Panama intends to build a road traversing the property from Boquete to Bocas del Toro, but that there are currently no concrete maps or designs, nor is there a budget to implement these plans. However, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that, as long as there is no official statement that the road will not be built, this issue remains serious and could irreversibly damage the property’s integrity. They recall that the World Heritage Committee, at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010), requested the State Party of Panama to submit any preliminary environmental assessments to the World Heritage Centre as soon as these become available.
d) Other conservation issues – (bi-)national coordination, long-term funding of park rangers, and ecological monitoring
The State Party of Costa Rica notes that, following the recent approval of the management plan for PILA, it expects to establish the coordination and decision-making structure proposed in that plan, namely the National Council for the Management of PILA and both the Caribbean and Pacific Local Management Councils. It also notes that a joint agenda for indigenous territories and protected areas is being prepared, which provides a good opportunity to adopt the approach of “shared responsibilities” included in the management plan. Both the States Parties of Costa Rica and Panama note that the imminent recognition of the Bi-national Executing Technical Unit for the management of PILA (UTEB-PILA) is expected to strengthen the coordination of the management of the property.
The State Party of Costa Rica notes that the annual budget of the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) has been increasing steadily over the past years, and that a Global Environment Fund (GEF) funded project to update SINAC’s financial strategy could provide opportunities to improve the property’s budget in the middle term.
The State Party of Costa Rica also notes that a number of indigenous people are being trained as tourist guides, and that some of them may become part of permanent biodiversity monitoring teams, which is expected to contribute to addressing the lack of information on the conservation status of target species and ecosystems. It also notes that the ecological indicators and related protocols previously developed by partner organizations will be revised as soon as the draft statement of Outstanding Universal Value has been officially adopted by the World Heritage Committee, in order to ensure that they reflect those elements that determine the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.