1.         Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park (Costa Rica,Panama) (N 205bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1983

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1982-1997)
Total amount approved: USD 276,350
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount granted: USD 30 000 from the Rapid Response Facility

Previous monitoring missions

February 2008: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission; December 2011: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission; January 2013: IUCN reactive monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2013

From 17 to 24 January 2013, an IUCN reactive monitoring mission visited the property, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th (UNESCO, 2011) and 36th (Saint-Petersburg, 2012) sessions. On 1 January 2013, a joint report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the States Parties of Costa Rica and Panama. The mission report can be consulted on-line at the following address: https://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/37COM  

a) Transboundary Cooperation

The States Parties note that the Amistad National Park Management Bi-national Executive Technical Unit (UTEB-PILA) was created in 2009, within the legal framework provided by the formal transboundary cooperation agreement (1992). The Unit has met twice yearly since 2009 and in addition, several joint activities have taken place both in the field as well as at the level of central administration (coordination of management and reporting).

b) Progress on the Transboundary Dam Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).

The States Parties report that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was conducted by independent consultants between 2011 and 2012 and then shared during three multi stakeholder meetings during late 2012. During the ordinary meeting of the UTEB-PILA in November 2012, the States Parties determined that the document obtained from this consultancy did not comply with national and international SEA requirements and that the obtained results were not in accordance with the reality of the property. The States Parties therefore consider it a draft technical report, providing a support tool for a future complete SEA.

The mission analyzed the SEA process and the perception of the different stakeholders that were involved in this process. It was noted that the process until now is of very preliminary character, with a limited series of multi-stakeholder workshops and lacking substantiated, quantitative information on impact. As reported in the SEA document's annexes, most stakeholders consider the process ill planned, superficial and not following formal procedures. The State Parties noted that under such circumstances, this work could only serve as a support tool for a future, more rigorous SEA, though not deadlines were provided.

c) Hydro-electric dams

The State Party of Panama reports that the current two projects in various stages of operation and construction (CHAN75 and Bonyic) are located in the Palo Seco Forest Reserve, adjacent to the property. Construction of these projects continued in spite of Decision 34 COM 7B.32 that requested halting dam construction until a SEA had been completed. The State Party of Panama notes that the projects involve contractual agreements between the State of Panama and the development companies, which cannot be terminated without considerable social and economic cost. Also, it states that the projects comply with all national legal requirements and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and the management authority (ANAM) is monitoring the environmental impact and supervising mitigation and compensation measures for this impact.

The State Party of Costa Rica notes that there is one hydro power dam constructed within the property in Costa Rica before it was included in the World Heritage List. It further notes that four others are in operation, but all are located outside the property. There is one large project (Diquís) currently undergoing feasibility studies.  The State Party of Costa Rica states that it is located at a considerable distance from the property’s boundaries on the Pacific side, and that its potential impact on the property is yet to be determined.

The mission observed that the two dams on the Caribbean side of the property in Panama (CHAN75 and Bonyic) have direct negative impacts on the biodiversity of the property (fish and crustacean diversity). This is not expected to immediately lead to disappearance of these species in the property, as long as intact watersheds remain elsewhere in the property. However, the assemblage of species, possibly unique in each individual watershed, will be irreversibly affected. In both projects, physical mitigation measures for biodiversity impact (e.g. fish stairs) have not been implemented. According to consulted freshwater biodiversity experts as well as biologists from the dam companies, these measures would unlikely have a major positive impact in this type of (high) dams, hence the impact is considered permanent. The companies’ planned measures to restore one or several native fish species to the affected riversthrough the installation of fish breeding stations does not compensate for biodiversity loss.

The mission confirmed that at present, there are no additional hydropower projects explicitly planned, hence most of the river basins continue to be without threat. However, the change in ownership (from private to public) of the concession for a second dam on the Changuinola river, whose reservoir will be very close to the property, points to a real possibility of renewed dam construction in the near future. 

The mission noted that the construction of the hydroelectric dams has seriously affected the local social and political situation. Traditional indigenous leaders and many individual members of indigenous groups expressed opposition to dam development to the mission.  The ongoing projects, where the mission noted that due consultation of indigenous peoples was lacking, have seriously affected the relationship between indigenous peoples' organizations and the government as well as internal relationships within the indigenous groups. This situation decreases governability and increases the threat of uncontrolled migration and inappropriate use of resources in the property. 

d) Mining concessions and oil exploration near the property (Costa Rica)

The State Party of Costa Rica has indicated that the requests for mining exploration permits, predominantly in the Bribri indigenous people’s territory near the property have all been rejected. Three more recent requests, corresponding to the same zone, remain open. The Congress of the Republic of Costa Rica has the faculty to approve these types of requests within the indigenous reserves, however the State Party of Costa Rica notes that given the longstanding tradition of refusing such exploration rights in indigenous territories, and given the opposition to mineral exploration by indigenous groups, these will not be approved. Costa Rica has also declared a gold mining moratorium, valid until at least the end of the present government, and there is now a public request to the national authorities in order to forbid any further mining activity in the country. 

e) Road traversing the property from Boquete to Bocas del Toro (Panama)

The State Party of Panama indicates that although this road is proposed in the relevant section of the 2010-2014 National Government Strategic Plan ("Estrategia Occidental"), no action has been taken to date. Relevant government agencies, including ANAM and the Ministry of Public Works, informed the mission that receipt of an environmental permit for any road crossing the property would be highly unlikely. Nevertheless, non-governmental organizations remain concerned, pointing to regular declarations by some public officials in support of its construction, and to the fact that a second dam on the Changuinola River would facilitate its eventual construction. 

f) Presence of cattle, agriculture and situation of private lands within the property

The States Parties report that there has been no change in the situation since the previous reactive monitoring mission. In Panama, cattle have always been present on private lands within the property, dating back to before it was declared a protected area. According to a 2004 survey and more recent observations, low density cattle grazing is restricted to less than 1% of the total surface of the Panamanian sector of the property. The legal situation of land rights in Panama makes it difficult to oblige long term land owners to abandon productive activity, as requested by the World Heritage Committee (Decision 35 COM 7B.39). As an alternative, ANAM has formally established a relationship with cattle owners' organizations to promote sustainable practice and support to park management. This, in combination with decreasing profitability of animal husbandry, has apparently led to a lower amount of cattle within and directly outside the property.

Cattle grazing and agriculture in the Costa Rican sector of the property are localized and occur on a small scale. Land acquisition within the property has not happened in recent years due to the fiscal situation in Costa Rica.

The mission noted that, although cattle owners' organizations supported ANAM's claim of fewer cattle inside and directly outside the property, this trend could not be confirmed because no actual land use data exist. Also, the mission confirmed marginal and localized agricultural activity in Costa Rica and an active effort from the Park Administration to control expansion. Nevertheless, it expressed its concern about the apparent increase in illicit crop cultivation, particularly of marihuana, inside and directly outside the property in Costa Rica, as evidenced by recent confiscations. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee commend the positive efforts of both States Parties to improve the management of the property, particularly through improved international cooperation as well as efforts made to maintain the integrity of the property and its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). However, they note that serious threats to several of the elements of the OUV of the property remain, specifically originating from the ongoing development of hydroelectric dams.  They recommend that the Committee urge the State Party to complete the Strategic Environmental Assessment as a matter of priority, and to suspend construction of the Bonyic dam until the SEA has been completed and approved by all relevant government institutions.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that irreversible damage has been done to freshwater biodiversity on the Panamanian side of the property. Given that there are still many intact river systems in the property and that for now, there are no other projects (e.g. hydropower, mining, roads) in concrete planning stages, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the view that these threats do not currently justify the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger; however, any concrete development of new economic projects (including new hydropower projects, any road crossing the property and mining within the property) would represent an ascertained danger and would lead to the property meeting the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also stress that the Bi-National Executing Technical Unit for the management of La Amistad International Park (UTEB-PILA) should be converted into the principal management planning and oversight body for the property and should continue increasing the number of park staff as well as their level of training, and include indigenous peoples and local farmers within park monitoring efforts.

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 7B.30

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/7B,

2.  Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.31 , adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),

3.  Commends the States Parties for the progress achieved in strengthening transboundary cooperation in the management of the property;

4.  Regrets that construction of the Bonyic dam has continued without prior consideration of the results of the on-going Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and urges the States Parties to complete it as a matter of priority and in line with international standards of best practice, in particular to:

a)  Analyse impacts based on evidence and science, including impacts on Outstanding Universal Value (OUV),

b)  Consider least damaging alternatives, including the “no project” alternative,

c)  Ensure broad stakeholder consultation and validation processes;

5.  Also regrets that the State Party of Panama did not suspend the construction of the Bonyic dam until the SEA has been completed and its results considered, as requested by Decision 34 COM 7B.32 ;

6.  Notes with concern the irreversible damage to fresh water biodiversity in at least two watersheds (Changuinola and Bonyic) and the absence of adequate measures to mitigate for biodiversity loss, and requests the State Party of Panama to implement mitigation measures and put in place an effective and long-term monitoring programme to measure the extent to which these measures are effective;

7.  Also notes with concern the social conflicts related to the hydroelectric dams in both countries, which complicates governance of the wider region and multiplies the direct threats originating from the economic development projects;

8.  Also requests the States Parties to implement other recommendations of the 2013 IUCN reactive monitoring mission, in particular:

a)  Not permit any further development of hydro-energy projects, mining or road construction within or directly adjacent to the property, particularly in neighbouring protected areas and indigenous territories,

b)  Ensure that any further planned economic development that could potentially negatively affect the property be subjected to independent Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that include a specific assessment of impacts on the OUV of the property and counts with all elements of due process to achieve Free, Prior and Informed Consent by indigenous peoples having territorial rights in the affected lands,

c)  Guarantee the long term integrity of complete unaffected watersheds (from source to sea), which form part of the property at altitudes below 1,200 metres, to preserve aquatic ecosystems therein,

d)  Harmonize the management plans of the protected areas that constitute the property within the framework of one overarching management plan,

e)  Compile and monitor field data on the present state of human activities, including intensity of cattle grazing and impact on OUV, extent of illicit crop cultivation within and directly adjacent to the park, including number of hectares affected, number of families making use of resources within the property, and nature and extent of overland pathways / trails present,

f) Continue to increase the number of park staff and include indigenous peoples and local farmers within park monitoring efforts to ensure integration of key stakeholders to the conservation agenda;

Further requests the States Parties to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015 , a joint report on the state of conservation of the property, including a report on progress with the implementation of the above recommendations, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015