Costa Rica Supreme Court squashes coastal logging decree

November 21, 2008

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court this week annulled a 2004 government decree authorizing the logging of coastal forests for eco-tourism projects.

The decree was issued by the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) in April 2004 but was suspended two months later when the high court took up an injunction filed by MINAET workers and Alvaro Sagot, an environmental law professor.

“The decree had a first and last name,” Sagot said. “It was made for someone in particular that needed to cut down forest to build hotels.”

Sagot declined to identify whom he believed the bill was meant to benefit.

According to the text of the decree, its purpose was to regulate eco-tourism, defining it as tourism developments that “simultaneously promote environmental education, the conservation of natural resources, the socioeconomic development of the inhabitants, (and) that reflect an environmental conscience and identity.”

The decree also limited the definition to coastal projects that fell within the first 200 meters inland from the ocean, which is state-owned land known as the maritime zone. Land there can be developed for tourism under a concession. However Costa Rican law prohibits the logging of any land declared as forest, and the concession of any coastal forest.

The Environment Ministry decree, signed by former environment minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez and former President Abel Pacheco, allowed “eco-tourism” projects to get concessions on forested property and to build over as much as 15 percent of an area declared old growth or primary forest, and 25 percent if the forest is second growth.

The decree required the project to have its due permits and a forest management plan to cut down any trees in a forested area, but the decree does not appear to limit how many trees could be logged.

The court, however, found that permitting the logging of forest on government land is unconstitutional and ruled to annul the long-suspended decree.

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