Financing Protected Areas: a Costa Rican case study

Protected areas have long been recognized as valuable environmental resources: as benchmarks for scientific study; as secure zones for wildlife habitat; as tourist destinations; for their role in conserving biodiversity; and, for the valuable environmental services they supply, such as drinking water and hydroelectricity, to name a few. 
 
But effectively protecting designated landscapes costs money. In recent years, a handful of countries and organizations have been exploring the concept of payments for environmental services (PES) as a possible source of funds for environmental protection. The basic idea of PES is that external beneficiaries make direct payments to local landholders and users in return for implementing practices that safeguard ecosystem conservation and restoration[1].
 

Tapanti National Park

 
Tapanti Macizo de la Muerte National Park is home to more than 20 per cent of Costa Rica’s animal species, including the endangered tapir and jaguarondi, and contains the rare sub-alpine rain paramo ecosystem zone, among other features.  However, illegal extraction of plants and animals is endangering the Park and working contrary to conservation efforts.  Park officials claim that, beyond their annual budget of USD 245 000, they will require an additional USD 100 000 over the next four years for equipment, infrastructure and maintenance. 
 
In July 2005, with support from CATIE, a graduate student from the Environmental Systems Analysis Group at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands completed her thesis on “Ecosystem Services of, and Financing Mechanisms for Protected Areas.”  Florence Bernard focused her research on Tapanti National Park, a partner in the Reventazón Model Forest.  The study focused on three main ecosystem services: biodiversity, water supply, and recreation and tourism. 
 
In addition to the enormous variety of plants and animals found within the Tapanti National Park, Bernard also found that 25 per cent of the country’s population benefits from the Park’s water supply service for drinking water as well as for hydroelectricity.  She also estimates that the Park’s recreation and tourism sector is greatly underdeveloped as a result of insufficient equipment, infrastructure and personnel.
 
In broad terms, Bernard recommends financing the Park through payments for its environmental services by those currently using it for free — such as local hydro companies, and consumers of water and electricity.  She also proposes development of tourism opportunities that involve the small local communities surrounding the Park.  Through these and other means, the Park could more than generate the funds it requires to functionally and effectively operate.  Finally, Bernard notes the monitoring of financing mechanisms is key to ensuring conservation, sustainable forest management and social equity targets are being met.
 
Bernard’s study is part of several being facilitated by the Model Forest.  For more information, please contact Dr. José Joaquín Campos (jcampos@catie.ac.cr) of the Regional Model Forest Network for Latin America and the Caribbean or Dr. Rudolf de Groot, Wageningen University (dolf.degroot@wur.nl).


[1] Sven Wunder, CIFOR Occasional Paper No.42, Payments for Environmental Services: Some Nuts and Bolts,  2005, Centre for Indonesia