The World Heritage Centre received the report from the State Party of Costa Rica on 27 February 2009. The State Party explains that concerns raised over the presence of cattle in the property are negligible on the Pacific side, but are a growing issue on the Caribbean slopes, due to the advancing agricultural frontier, promoted by indigenous groups and other settlers and in part originating in Panama. The State Party of Costa Rica also reports that NGO efforts, notably by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) focused on improving governance among the indigenous groups in question appear to be helping reverse the encroachment within the property.
The report also notes that 5.6% of the land within the property is under uncertain ownership. Indigenous territories are included within the property, in two zones of the Caribbean slopes (the Island, and the Telire sector) totaling 6,700 hectares. Though only traditional indigenous and sustainable uses are permitted in these areas, the report indicates that more work is required to ensure a long term arrangement to secure effective management. On the Pacific side, 4,500 hectares of the property are claimed by private landowners (All but 125 hectares of this area is undisturbed at present, and regenerating as natural forests), though no clear legal title exists. The State Party of Costa Rica provides a detailed action plan on the proposed steps to take in addressing these issues.
The number of full-time management staff has increased from 7 to 10 park rangers in 2009, with an additional 3 support staff providing administrative support. The State Party of Costa Rica indicates that it is consolidating cooperative agreements with local NGOs, who provide additional complementary support to management of the property. The management plan recently developed calls for 36 park rangers on the Pacific slopes alone, and the State Party of Costa Rica recognizes the need to secure stable financing as a priority.
The State Party of Costa Rica describes the many structures in place at different levels that provide national and transboundary coordination frameworks for policies and action related to the conservation of the property, including a Biosphere Reserve Management Committee for the Pacific sector. There is recognition that on-going lack of coordination between these structures results in lost opportunities and wasted effort. The State Party of Costa Rica has demonstrated a good grasp of the inefficiencies and proposes practical actions to help overcome them, namely by incorporating existing structures, where appropriate, into two local management councils (Pacific and Caribbean) and one national council. The latter is anticipated to be empowered to participate in the bi-national commission meetings with Panama. Changes to current transboundary frameworks for cooperation between Panama and Costa Rica along the boundary are being considered, which would allow for greater participation of civil society.
The State Party of Costa Rica notes that of the 80 potential sites for hydroelectric power identified in a national assessment, eight lie within the property, though these are not the subject of further consideration at this time. Two applications for mining concessions within the property (Caribbean side) have been submitted to the authorities. Similarly, past oil exploration permits have been granted in parts of the property, but were abandoned for various reasons. Currently, no activities are underway. In regards to forestry, a 4,000 ha concession, granted several years ago, was withdrawn via expropriation procedures. These procedures have not yet been finalized. The State Party of Costa Rica indicates that it will undertake a detailed analysis of these development proposals and carry out a process for addressing them in 2009.
The State Party of Costa Rica describes the various ecological monitoring initiatives in place, relying on a number of NGOs and reports on partial results of these initiatives. It notes that hunting is part of indigenous and settler practices, and these often rely on wild meat for sustenance, though no organized trade is reported. Though no action is reported in regards to the 2008 World Heritage Committee decision on monitoring, the State Party recognizes the need to re-orient some of the work so that the request of the World Heritage Committee may be implemented.
The World Heritage Centre received the State Party of Panama’s report on 24 March 2009. Responses to the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee are generic in nature, providing little detail. The report states that there is improved dealing with the presence of cattle in the property, pointing to the creation of a farmers’ group to this effect, indicating that a 5 year strategic plan was developed in 2008 to ensure sustainable development in the region. Besides the absence of any information on how this plan proposes to address the issue, the World Heritage Centre has learned that there is no financing for its implementation and no action has taken place since the plan’s finalization.
There is no information on any mitigation measures related to aquatic species affected by the construction of the hydroelectric dam on the Changuinola River, beyond describing legal requirements related to environmental impacts and stating that mitigation measures identified by the authorities would reduce the impact on these species. Reference is made to several Environmental Impact Studies, but these are not provided by the State Party. The State Party indicates that monitoring of the species concerned will take place regularly and results will be used to adjust the mitigation measures. Given that the life cycle of the concerned species require that they migrate between salt waters and oxygen rich freshwater streams, and that the dam will create an insurmountable barrier, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN are concerned that monitoring after the dam is constructed will indicate that the species have disappeared altogether. The Changuinola watershed comprises the vast majority of waterways within the property and the placing of migratory barriers on this system will likely result in the loss of 5 aquatic species within 80% of the property’s waterways.
The report describes efforts underway to reduce illegal fishing, focusing on environmental education. It cites existing legislation designed to reduce water pollution from agricultural run-off, though does not provide any detail on the water quality in the Changuinola estuary, nor what particular measures are being implemented to reverse current levels of pollution.
Similarly, the report indicates that the construction company is responsible for human resettlement efforts and will be monitored by the national authorities. The report states that park ranger numbers have increased from 9 to 14 between 2007 and 2008, and that regular land air based monitoring activities are taking place. It states that cooperation with local communities has improved, but provides no details. A multi-stakeholder management committee is being implemented for the Amistad Biosphere Reserve. Ecological monitoring is supported by the Darwin Initiative and is expected to establish baseline biological indicators.
The State Party of Panama report did not consider a number of requests of the World Heritage Committee, in particular:
i) There is no reference to longer term hydro-electric plans that may affect the property;
ii) No information is provided on efforts to strengthen bi-national coordination efforts
iii) No assessment is made of the effectiveness of institutional follow-up on the reporting of environmental crimes.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider the detailed level of analysis that appears to have taken place in Costa Rica in response to the World Heritage Committee decision in 2008 is encouraging. Detailed descriptions of the current situation for each of the pertinent points raised by the World Heritage Committee is provided, followed by clear recommendations on how to deal with the issues. Though little effective progress is reported on the implementation of the World Heritage Committee’s requests, the report provides a good framework from which action can be initiative and future monitoring of its implementation can be effectively carried out and indicates that action on many of these issues is beginning in 2009. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are satisfied that the process outlined in Costa Rica, would contribute significantly to dealing with the various conservation challenges noted by the World Heritage Committee in 2008, and also note that a number of actions are currently being implemented. However, progress in Panama has been limited and therefore the state of conservation of this transboundary property is still threatened and additional efforts are required by the State Party of Panama
The report from the State Party of Panama, though addressing several of the points raised by the World Heritage Committee, contains little clear information on what precisely is being done in response to the decision of the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session and nor does it provide any clear indication on what future plans may be. In particular, the State Party should ensure that:
a) The aquatic species of the Changuinola river watershed, which is the main watershed of the property, are not extirpated by the construction of the hydroelectric dam through the implementation of effective mitigation measures. Additional measures dealing with illegal fishing and water pollution at the river estuary, are required as per decision 32 COM 7B.35;
b) The presence of cattle within the property is monitored quantitatively, to ensure that progress from the efforts described in the report for dealing with this issue can be measured;
c) The displacement of human settlements due to dam construction does not negatively impact on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value;
d) The actual numbers of park management staff dedicated to the property, and detailed descriptions of co-management arrangements with NGOs or other groups is provided, so that the management presence can be adequately monitored;
e) The management committee for the Biosphere Reserve is activated and given a clear mandate, with clear reporting obligations.