Illegal Tree Felling Increases in Guanacaste

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Things are not going well for protected trees in Guanacaste, as the number of complaints about illegal cutting and transportation of wood in the first half of 2014 is higher than in past years and show a trend of increasing.

As of July 2014, the office of Natural Resources at the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE – Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia) in Nicoya reported 124 complaints of illegal tree felling and transportation of wood, among other forest-related crimes. The number is higher than 2013, in which 113 complaints were registered, while in 2012 the number was 110.

Of 124 complaints made to MINAE so far this year, 60 have been for tree felling, 30 for the illegal transportation of wood, 21 for forest fires and to a lesser degree there have been complaints for illegal hunting or fishing and other similar crimes.

According to Luis Orlando Matarrita, director of natural resource management and use for MINAE, the number of complaints is increasing, especially for illegal wood sales.

“The majority of cases to which we respond are complaints made by citizens. We have a problem with the illegal wood market, mainly for rosewood (cocobolo). The majority of confiscations that we have made in the last months are of rosewood, due to the price of that kind of wood,” said Matarrita.

In the local market, a trunk of rosewood can fetch a price between ₡450,000 ($900) and ₡900,000 ($1,800). However, in the foreign market, the price can be higher.

The complaints collected by MINAE’s office in Nicoya are from the cantons of Nicoya, Hojancha and Nandayure.

According to Matarrita, in Costa Rica the most protected species are white cedar (cedro blanco), rain tree (cenizaro), Amazon rosewood (cristobal), mahogany (caoba) and rosewood (cocobolo), since they are in danger of extinction. In addition, species such as mahogany, rain tree and rosewood take more than 40 years to mature.

However, for all of those trees, certain permits do exist for their use, according to the forestry law. To obtain a limited use permit for wood, the interested party has to have their farm inscribed in the National Property Registry and have a certification for the property issued by the Public Registry, the municipality or a public notary. The permit is free and flexible.

According to the forestry law, permits are not issued for protected areas, forests or lands near water sources such as rivers, creeks or wetlands.

MINAE with Limited Resources

Facing the increase of forestry crimes and especially the illegal transportation of wood in the Nicoya Peninsula, MINAE officials say that they need to redouble their efforts, using both human and economic resources.

“We recognize our weaknesses; our personnel mainly [works] in the office. We only have the help of the Public Force for confiscations and operations; we do at least two operations per week. The officials only have two vehicles for operational work and wood cutters take advantage of weekends, when officials are not working,” explained Matarrita.

Matarrita added that citizens’ complaints are very important, as they enable an investigation into problems that had not been detected.

Recent Cases

On July 14, Carlos Esquivel, a Nicoya resident and president of the Samara ASADA, complained before the Nicoya Municipal Council regarding the overland transportation of protected wood.

“I have made a complaint before the Municipal Council and  different authorities in search of a solution to the problem. The council told me that it is not up to them to resolve it, that it’s the responsibility of MINAE,” said Esquivel.

Esquivel claimed to have seen trucks loaded with pochote, cedar, rain tree and wild cashew (espavel) in areas such as the Tempisque bridge, the Mansion intersection and leaving from Ostional.

Despite its limitations, in recent months MINAE and Public Force operations have been effective. During the last confiscation, which took place on July 14 in the area of Abangares, officials intercepted 16 rosewood trunks.