A Talk on the Wild Side.
|A squirrel monkey living in Corcovado National Park, which is one of the biodiversity hotspots that will benefit from collaborative conservation efforts that continue to build in Central America. Photo by Christian Haugen on Flickr under a Creative Commons license|
On November 11, the governments of Costa Rica and the United States signed a new agreement to further collaborate on important conservation initiatives throughout Costa Rica.
Costa Rican Environment Minister Édgar Gutiérrez was the principal signatory of the five-year agreement on behalf of Costa Rica. Bryan Arroyo, Assistant Director for International Affairs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, served as the signatory and top environmental official for the U.S. government. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís and U.S. Ambassador S. Fitzgerald Haney also attended the ceremony, with both signing the agreement as witnesses.
According to Minister Gutiérrez, more than 26 percent of Costa Rica’s land mass is protected as reserves and national parks. “It’s for this reason that the government is taking all of these actions and making agreements with other countries that will help us preserve our biggest treasure: our biodiversity,” he said.
“These efforts are not only vital for our two countries, but also for the Mesoamerican region and the entire western hemisphere,” said Assistant Director Arroyo. He added, “Just as Mesoamerica is the vital link between wildlife and ecosystems in North and South America, Costa Rica is the vital hub of collective efforts to address these challenges and promote sustainability across the region. Our priority is to work together to conserve priority species and ecosystems, while supporting stability, security, and economic development across the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. As we all know, conservation is about more than just wildlife – it’s about the relationship of people to the landscape.”
|Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís (left) shakes hands with Bryan Arroyo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for International Affairs, as U.S. Ambassador S. Fitzgerald Haney looks on. Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy in San Jose.|
The new agreement will help both countries further pool resources to protect Costa Rican national parks, reserves and other protected areas, as well as work together to conduct research, share expertise, cultivate local stewardship and champions, and collaborate with indigenous and forest communities. There is also an emphasis on teaming up to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. If unchecked, the illegal trade of animals could further place certain species of concern on the path to peril, or potential extinction. The new agreement supports harsher penalties for those who are caught trafficking wildlife and also supports efforts and best practices to rehabilitate rescued animals.
Agreement Builds on New Wave of Regional Collaboration and Investment
Earlier this year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe wrote about the first anniversary of the MESOAMERICA 2020 partnership, which has fostered broader conservation collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Organization of American States, and other key stakeholders. MESOAMERICA 2020 seeks partners, not only from conservation agencies and organizations, but also across disciplines-- such as diplomatic missions and development and agricultural agencies-- with the goal of creating a unified voice to identify and implement priority actions.
Among the early achievements has been the launch of a Service grants program dedicated to funding conservation throughout Central America. The program will provide nearly $700,000 to support 13 new projects in all seven Mesoamerican countries this year, matched by an additional $770,000 from partners.
“The Service is committed to supporting effective on-the-ground conservation while improving human well-being” said Program Officer Ani Cuevas. She added that “these projects will support jaguar conservation, address wildlife trafficking, reduce agricultural encroachment in key transboundary protected areas, and strengthen livelihoods for local communities and their capacity to sustain programs in the long term.”
In Costa Rica, projects include an effort to work with partners to boost ecotourism jobs while reducing threats to wildlife from illegal hunting, logging and mining. Three trails that range from the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve to Corcovado National Park will be improved in an environmentally conscious manner, along with the mechanisms to cultivate the growth of the rural ecotourism business sector through an online reservation system as well as the training of certified nature guides, park guards, and citizen scientists from local communities.
Another project aims to reduce poaching, illegal gold mining and logging within Corcovado National Park, considered the “crown jewel” of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. The park is home to jaguars, white-lipped peccaries, squirrel monkeys and the largest remaining wild population of scarlet macaws in Mesoamerica. The Service will support efforts of the Costa Rican government and partners to better identify poaching hotspots and develop a strategy to protect those areas. More broadly, an educational campaign to build support for conservation of the park will take place in local schools and also through a national media campaign.
A broader project taking place in Costa Rica is part of a regional effort to protect La Amistad International Park, the largest park in Mesoamerica and a designated World Heritage Site. Jointly managed with the country of Panama, La Amistad includes a stunning array of plant and animal biodiversity and is also home to several indigenous tribes.
|Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula has the largest remaining wild population of scarlet macaws in MesoAmerica. Photo by Bryan Arroyo/USFWS|
Finally, as part of the Service’s Marine Turtle Conservation Fund program, a long-term research and conservation project for leatherback sea turtles is taking place at Langosta Beach in Las Baulas National Park, as well as nesting surveys and nest protection activities at other secondary nesting beaches. The project aims to reduce threats to turtles and nests from poaching.
The Service is excited to continue working with Costa Rica to protect its world-renowned biodiversity, or as Environment Minister Édgar Gutiérrez described it, their “biggest treasure.” While challenges remain to accomplishing our goals, we are confident that by working together we will create the best conditions and solutions possible to safeguard Costa Rica’s natural riches for future generations.