In July 2009 the World Heritage Centre received a report from the State Party regarding the state of conservation of the property. The property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1996 and removed from that List in 2007. In Decisions 32 COM 7B.38 and 33 COM 7B.37,the Committee noted a number of remaining conservation concerns and urged the State Party to: fully implement the 2006 World Heritage Centre/ IUCN mission recommendations, expedite efforts to complete the action plan required for the effective implementation of the recommendations of the 2006 mission, and respond to the report on illegal logging by Global Witness. The State Party report provides an overview of the implementation of the 2006 mission recommendations as follows:
a) Assure swift and strict enforcement of the law regarding illegal settlement, land use and logging, particularly by ensuring the implementation of the full cycle of the law
With regards to the increase in encroachment by agricultural and land use changes, the State Party reports that illegal settlement by a limited number of families has been detected and that their relocation is underway. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have received various reports concerning large scale illegal settlement within the property, including the return of previously re-located and compensated families. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that this relocation alone is insufficient to address the larger issue of illegal settlement within the property. The report also mentions a recent study on the economic valuation of environmental damage in Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve. While the study sheds light on the long term environmental costs of ecological damage, it does not constitute a response to ongoing violations of the law with regards to illegal settlement, land use and logging.
The State Party acknowledges that illegal logging continues to be a concern, and notes that in many cases the individuals involved in illegal logging activities have been identified by the authorities. IUCN has received reports that there is insufficient follow-up on violations of existing laws, including illegal logging, despite recognized enforcement efforts on the ground. IUCN considers that, although the precise details are subject to some debate, the data presented in the 2009 Global Witness report is by and large an accurate presentation of illegal logging practices affecting the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that despite the State Party’s efforts to enforce conservation laws, illegal logging remains a serious threat to the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. Under the umbrella of an agro forestry scheme, twelve local cooperatives are permitted to harvest defined quantities of timber in line with specific management plans. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that this is a plausible and promising approach to introduce controlled logging in the buffer zone while encouraging local stewardship. The State Party report does not specify and discuss the achievements under the agro forestry scheme but is instead limited to tabular overviews of licenses granted to local cooperatives. Furthermore, the State Party report mentions and quantifies a number of confiscations of timber, in part supported by the military, but does not specify the follow-up and implications for the property.
Forest monitoring plots, in particular of big-leaf mahogany, are being set up by ICF (El Instituto Nacional de Conservación y Desarrollo Forestal, Áreas Protegidas y Vida Silvestre), the national institution in charge of forests, wildlife and conservation, and supported by the United States of America (USA) through its Forest Service and United States Aid Agency (USAID). The State Party also reports that an independent monitoring system (Proyecto Monitoreo Forestal Independiente or MFI) covering timber and non-timber forest products, is being introduced. MFI involves a broad number of actors beyond the forestry sector and intends to increase participation and transparency in the illegal logging and trafficking of timber. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that these initiatives could contribute to addressing illegal logging and mitigate its impacts on the values and integrity of the property. However, as these measures are at an early stage of implementation, they are unlikely to yet have led to perceptible reductions in, or mitigation of, illegal logging.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the efforts underway to address illegal logging in Rio Platano Reserve, and note that law enforcement does take place despite logistical difficulties. The establishment and promotion of local cooperatives is widely considered a positive step towards establishing more sustainable forms of managing forests and land. However, they note that the lack of sanctions imposed on individuals involved in conversion of forests into cattle pastures, and illegal logging continues to be a barrier to effectively addressing this issue. They further note that the governmental institutions addressing illegal activities are isolated and receive limited support from other sectors and higher political levels. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party of Honduras take decisive action to discourage illegal activities which continue to occur on a large scale, and are reported to have increased lately.
b) Complete the cadastral process of all lands surrounding the property, and provide legal titles to the owners of these lands
In the buffer zone of Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve there is a scheme to negotiate and grant forest usufruct contracts to local residents based on a participatory process (usufruct is the legal right to use and derive profit or benefit from land that belongs to another person, as long as the land is not damaged). The lack of clear title to lands has been identified as one of the main challenges in regulating the advance of the agricultural frontier, and investment in land stewardship. Community representatives have repeatedly requested modifications and amendments to this scheme, which were considered by the State Party. The State Party reports that negotiated settlements were usually reached and that overall, approximately 70% of usufruct contracts had been awarded to eligible residents in the various administration sectors of the property’s buffer zone. The remaining land parcels remain under review. The State Party reports that a self-appointed “Lands Committee" (Comité de Tierras) and its lawyers have created unnecessary obstacles to progress in terms of regulating land tenure. It is acknowledged that the process of organizing land tenure is time-consuming with obstacles including logistics, and communication. It requires the building of trust and thus considerable time. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that while the awarding of usufruct contracts is not yet completed, and that other challenges remain with regards to the provision of legal titles to the owners of the land, the State Party’s efforts in this regard are a positive step forward and should be continued and that the contracts should reflect a fair negotiation of interests.
c) Demonstrate effective participation of local organizations and communities in the management processes of the property
The State Party report notes that there is a strong legal basis for consultation in the realm of forests, wildlife and protected areas based on the establishment of "Community Consultation Councils" (Consejos Consultivos Comunitarios). The State Party expresses the hope that through the transboundary project "Heart of the Corridor" (supported by Global environment Facility (GEF), World Bank and the Central American Commission on Environment and Development), extending across to neighboring Nicaragua within the regional Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, there will be funding opportunities for increased participation. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome this initiative and consider that a strengthened and structured approach to involving local resource users will be essential to its success. This would also assist the effective response to the previous decisions of the World Heritage Committee, and related reactive monitoring missions.
d) Demonstrate that decommissioned wood is not re-entering the market, but disposed of in a manner that eliminates all profit incentives
The State Party report notes that legal tools have been established to prevent commercial use of confiscated timber. The report also notes that a manual providing guidance on the tracking of the chain of custody of timber has been prepared. However, the on the ground results are not clear from the report: i.e. whether the legal framework and the development of timber tracking methodologies have prevented the illegal selling of confiscated timber or discouraged illegal logging. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that there is a need to further consider this issue and assessment of the effectiveness of the legal tools aimed at preventing commercial use of confiscated timber.
e) To quickly identify any new intrusions into the property and to deal with them swiftly, so as to further discourage this practice
As mentioned above, there is no specific feedback relating to this question which is in part addressed in points a) and b). From the information provided in the report, and comments provided by independent observers, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN conclude that there is no mechanism in place which would serve to quickly identify and react to intrusions. The use of the armed forces to monitor strategic entry points to the property is reported to have been discontinued.
The State Party provides a map in response to the request of the 2006 mission for a map showing the revised boundaries of the property and the rationale used for promoting any changes in the boundaries approved at the time of the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List. The submitted map does not provide clear information to assess these issues. The report furthermore mentions that the authorities are currently working on a new proposal for the revision of the boundaries of the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN understand that despite the lack of clarity in the submitted maps, there are maps available which do clarify the current situation. Both the maps and a clarification of the current process to re-consider the boundaries are still required.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that no further information is provided on the possible dam construction which may affect the property, and was previously considered an important threat to the property’s values and integrity.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also note reports concerning cattle within the property (at Waraska) and 45 fishing camps, where commercial quantities of fish were photographed drying on makeshift drying racks. There are also reports of the Wahawala and Tiro valleys being invaded by settlers coming from the Paulaya River.
In conclusion, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that despite further implementation of the 2006 recommendations, there remains strong concerns that illegal logging and illegal commercial fishing are not only being conducted, but appear to have increased considerably. There are also indications that families re-settled and compensated in 2002 to 2004 may have resettled in the land they had previously occupied and that the efforts to regulate tenure are facing challenges. Despite strong efforts at the national and local levels, the environmental authorities are somewhat isolated and often not in a position to follow through with their given mandate. Moreover, illegal activities such as logging do not result in appropriate sanctions. Given this situation, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that continued and increased efforts are required on the part of the State Party to maintain the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property. The absence of a more systematic application of existing laws is a serious issue which is likely to lead to a degradation of the property and re-consideration of its inscription on the List of World Heritage Danger.