Costa Rica has an international reputation for having one of the most environmentally conscious governments anywhere in the tropics. Nevertheless, according to a recent report by Jose Joaquin Campos and a team from CATIE titled "Illegal Logging in Costa Rica, An Analysis for Discussion", between 28% and 41% of all the timber sold in Costa Rica was illegally harvested or transported. Around 50% of the illegal timber comes from locations where the loggers might have been able to harvest timber legally, but did not obtain the necessary permits. Forty percent comes from protected areas and locations that are too steep or too close to rivers and streams to harvest timber legally. The remainder is from places where someone requested permission to log but did not get it.
Since Costa Rica no longer has much primary forest outside protected areas most legally logged timber comes from trees in pastures (53%) and forest plantations (33%). Only 14% comes from logging in natural forests. The same applies to illegally logged timber. Logging in forests with management plans account for only a small percentage (4%). Most illegal timber comes from trees in pastures, illegal conversion of secondary forest and primary forest without a management plan.
The report says the first thing the government should do to reduce illegal activities is to make it cheaper and easier for loggers to follow the rules and manage their forests sustainably. Second, it should start using modern information technology to monitor timber harvesting and transport. Third, it should create a highly trained and multidisciplinary team at the central level to supervise, monitor, evaluate, and assist the officials working out in the field. That team should give priority to controlling logging in protected areas. Fourth, various public and private entities need to train all the groups involved in producing and regulating forest products. Fifth, NGOs, the media, and other private groups ought to get more involved in monitoring illegal activities, and the government should support them in their efforts. Sixth, new laws need to clarify the penalties for violating each regulation and the responsibilities of people who transport and purchase illegally harvested timber.
Like most countries, Costa Rica has serious difficulties enforcing its forestry laws. But at least it is addressing the issue. In fact, government officials asked CATIE to prepare this report. It is time for other countries to take similar steps.
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