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 provided to the property: USD 30 000 from the Rapid Response Facility

Previous monitoring missions

February 2008: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission; December 2011: World Heritage Center /IUCN reactive monitoring mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Construction of hydroelectric dams near the property in Panama and associated effects (greater human presence near the property, interruption of aquatic species migratory corridor);

b) Encroachment (settlements, cattle ranching);

c) Planned road construction which would traverse the property on the side of Panama.

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

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

On 22 March 2012, a joint report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the States Parties of Costa Rica and Panama. The Committee had requested the States Parties to invite a reactive monitoring mission in time for a report to be provided at its 36th session (Decision 35 COM 7B.29). Although an invitation was received from the State Party of Costa Rica, no such invitation was received from the State Party of Panama. For this reason, no mission was carried out. 

a) Transboundary Cooperation

The States Parties explain that the structure for transnational cooperation has been in place for many years, initiated by a formal transboundary cooperation agreement in 1992. Under this agreement, several bi-national sectorial technical commissions have been created, including one on natural resources. Under this latter commission, the Amistad National Park Management Bi-national Executive Technical Unit (UTEB-PILA) was created, which assumes the practical work of the transboundary coordination for matters related to the property. The Unit has met twice yearly since 2009, most recently in November 2011, and during these meetings, it has carried out various management planning and operations activities. Four joint field monitoring missions are carried out annually whereby park rangers from both States Parties conduct patrols near the international border area of the property. 

b) Progress on the Transboundary dam Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

Both States Parties report that the SEA was launched in June 2011 with support from the Global Environment Facility. They report that a first draft of the assessment has been completed and would be reviewed during a multi-stakeholder participatory workshop in the first months of 2012, followed by an internal review on the part of both States Parties, and that it was expected to be completed shortly.

c) Hydro-electric dams

The State Party of Costa Rica indicates a total of 32 hydro-electric dam projects proposed over the years for the watersheds emanating from the property. Four of these are operational, one is under construction, five are undergoing feasibility studies and the others remain at the conceptual stage with no evidence of further development at this time. Only one of these is within the property, though the State Party notes that it was constructed before the Park was established, and well before it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The State Party of Panama indicates that at the time of the World Heritage Committee Decision in 2010 (Decision 34 COM 7B.32) requesting that construction of the Changuinola 75 (CHAN 75) be halted, it was already 60% completed. It explains that the project benefits from an approved environmental impact assessment and a September 2010 resolution from the National Authority for Public Services declared the project of public interest and urgent in nature. As for the Bonyic Project, the State Party refers to a series of contractual obligations and Government resolutions, including one for the approval of a category III environmental impact assessment in 2005. Based on the above, the State Party of Panama argues that it is under legal obligation to complete these dams and can only cancel the contracts in case of war, serious disturbance of public order or urgent social interest, and that it would have to compensate the concessionaire of the project in such case. It adds that the SEA of the hydro-electric dams along the transboundary area of the property is not yet completed, and until it is concluded, it is premature to determine the threat to the property posed by these projects. 

Though hydro-electric dam construction projects on the Costa Rican side of the property are not as extensive as originally considered, concerns remain over the potential undermining of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value arising from existing projects. IUCN has received reports that the CHAN-75 dam was completed without fish passage facilities, despite repeated calls by the Committee that mitigation measures be implemented. Information received by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN confirms this is likely to have a serious negative impact on the unique assemblage of diadromous fish and shrimp species in the majority of the Caribbean side of the Panamanian portion of the property in the short term, which in turn is likely to have cascading effects on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the property that depend on these species. Furthermore, IUCN has received reports about increasing pressure from hunting and other resource use by indigenous communities that were displaced by the construction of CHAN-75. While these communities are not currently settling inside the property, they were forced to relocate much closer to its boundaries, and some lands are reported to be completely deforested right up to the property boundary.

d) Mining concessions in or 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, except three that remain on hold until clear environmental impact statement criteria are developed. The State Party notes that only the National Legislative Assembly in Costa Rica has the authority to approve such requests, and that no such request has been granted in the modern history of the country. 

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

The State Party of Panama indicates that although this road was proposed in the 2010-2014 National Government Strategic Plan, no action has been taken in this regard to date, including the call for an environmental impact assessment that would obligatorily precede a decision to go ahead with the road.

f) Presence of cattle and integration of private lands within the property

The State Party of Costa Rica reports that there has been no change in the presence of cattle within the property, and indicates that less than 1% of the property is affected by cattle or any other type of incompatible land use. It dismisses this issue as one that is marginal and small scale with only very localized effects and offers no response to the Committee’s request to develop and implement a joint plan with Panama to control and manage cattle within the property and to integrating private lands into the property by 2018 (Decision 32 COM 7B.35), further requesting that the cattle be completely removed (Decision 35 COM 7B.39). It adds that due to the global financial crisis, no progress has been made in integrating private lands into the property. The State Party of Panama indicates that the presence of cattle on small landholdings within the Park was noted in its original nomination (1990), adding that the resolution creating the Amistad National Park called for these lands to adjust to the land use plan to be established by the Park’s management agency, though no indication as to what this might be is provided. The State Party indicates that small landholders are legally established within the property, near its south-eastern boundary. These landholdings and the presence of cattle were acknowledged in the IUCN evaluation (1990). IUCN also noted in its evaluation that cattle were being moved across the southern part of the property and occasionally herded there. The State Party of Panama reports that an October 2011 monitoring flight over the south-eastern portion of the property where extensive cattle grazing had been reported by the 2008 mission, revealed no evidence of cattle grazing. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

Transboundary cooperation appears to have improved markedly in recent years, with regular coordination meetings, joint planning, management and field monitoring activities. The road project in Panama remains a concern and the absence of any formal indication as to the status of this project should be addressed. Cattle within the property is an additional concern and both States Parties appear to dismiss this issue despite a Committee request to take specific actions, including the gradual integration of private lands into the Park. Given the conflicting information on the possible effects of cattle on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, a technical evaluation of this threat is called for. Concerns over requests for mineral exploration permits appear to have been addressed, although the final word on this issue is still expected from the National Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is underway, and that it should serve as a basis to guide future decision-making in terms of hydro-electric dam construction that might affect the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. However, they note with serious concern that the CHAN-75 dam was completed without fish passage facilities in place, and that construction on the Bonyic dam is ongoing. Concern also remains regarding the other two proposed dams on the Changuinola River (CHAN-140 and CHAN-220). The World Heritage Centre and IUCN emphasize that the location of the dams outside the property does not automatically imply that they do not have a negative impact on the property’s biodiversity, as the watersheds upstream of the dams are located within the property. The lack of an invitation for a reactive monitoring mission on the part of the State Party of Panama has not enabled necessary information to be effectively gathered on this property’s state of conservation. IUCN considers that the State Party of Panama’s intention to complete the Bonyic dam without prior consideration of the results of the SEA, as stated in the joint States Parties report, is cause for serious concern. IUCN therefore recommends that the Committee inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger, in line with paragraph 180 (b) (ii) of the Operational Guidelines. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN further recommend that the Committee requests the States Parties of Costa Rica and Panama to jointly invite a reactive monitoring mission undertaken by IUCN to the property, to assess the threats posed by on-going dam construction in Panama, existing and further potential dam developments, mining in Costa Rica, the planned road project to traverse the property from Boquete to Bocas del Toro, the effects of cattle in the property, and to make a recommendation on the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7B.31

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7B.Add,

2.  Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.29, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3.  Welcomes the examples of transboundary cooperation in management planning, in addressing the requests of the World Heritage Committee, and in carrying out field missions;

4.  Regrets that the State Party of Panama was unable to invite a reactive monitoring mission to the property, as requested in Decision 35 COM 7B.29;

5.  Expresses its serious concern about the State Party of Panama’s stated intent to complete the Bonyic dam without prior consideration of the results of the on-going Strategic Environmental Assessment, and requests the State Party of Panama to put in place adequate mitigation measures at the CHAN-75 and Bonyic dams to overcome barriers to the movement of aquatic species along the affected waterways, and to also put in place an effective and long term monitoring programme to measure the extent to which mitigation measures are effective;

6.  Also requests the States Parties to submit a copy of the Strategic Environmental Assessment to the World Heritage Centre as soon as it is completed;

7.  Expresses its concern over the absence of progress in developing and implementing a systematic approach regarding the cattle in the property, and in the unresolved situation concerning the remaining mineral exploration permits in Costa Rica, and further requests the States Parties to address these issues;

8.  Requests furthermore that both States Parties jointly invite an IUCN reactive monitoring mission to the property, prior to its 37th session in 2013, which should assess the threats posed by ongoing dam construction in Panama, existing and further potential dam developments, mining in Costa Rica, the planned road project to traverse the property from Boquete to Bocas del Toro, and the effects of cattle in the property, and to make a recommendation on the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger;

9.  Requests moreover both States Parties of Costa Rica and Panama to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a joint report on the state of conservation of the property, including on the halting of dam construction that may impact the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, a report on progress on the transboundary dam Strategic Environmental Assessment project, a report on progress achieved in resolving land tenure and land use issues, as well as on the other points raised above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013, with a view to consider, if the ascertained or potential danger to Outstanding Universal Value is confirmed, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.