Parks Beyond Borders: NPS and Costa Rican Parks Sign Agreement, Deadly Park Drive in Australia

Corcovado National Park Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica is one of the world's most biologically diverse places and a prime target for ecotourists. It borders the Pacific Ocean on the Osa Peninsula. To thwart drug traffickers in Costa Rican parks, the country is coooperating with the US Navy.

U.S. and Costa Rica National Parks Leaders Sign Agreement

Late last week, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed a memorandum of understanding with Costa Rica’s national system of protected areas, the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion. Rafael Gutierrez Rojas, executive director of the Costa Rican parks, signed the agreement for his country during a simultaneous ceremony in Costa Rica.

The agencies will work together to support planning, development, management and operation of protected natural parks and cultural sites. The two agencies will also share information in fire management and control, coping with climate change, marine protected areas and the development of educational and public information.

“The National Park Service and Costa Rica have a long history of cooperation,” Jarvis said. “It dates back to the late 1960s when two students – Alvaro Ugalde and Mario Boza – travelled to the U.S. to work and study with the National Park Service.”

Ugalde and Boza completed ranger skills training at Grand Canyon National Park and worked in various national parks around the U.S. Inspired by what they learned, Ugalde and Boza returned to Costa Rica to develop one of the world’s most famous park systems. Costa Rican Parks are now known as the focus of that country’s bullish ecotourism industry.

“The signing of this accord will contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of the national parks and protected areas in both countries,” Director Gutierrez Rojas said. “Through its implementation, both countries will be able to share experiences and lessons learned and promote the exchange of information and the understanding in areas of mutual interest, in order to support the conservation and management of biodiversity and the natural and cultural resources in protected areas.”

Several U.S. national parks have cooperative relationships in Costa Rica. Rocky Mountain National Park, working through Estes Park Colorado’s Sister City partnership with the Costa Rican community of Monteverde, has developed a sister park-type partnership with the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the protected areas of the Arenal-Tempisque Conservation Area.

The protection of shared migratory bird species has been identified as a priority for these National Park Service-Costa Rica partnerships. There is a greater understanding now that preservation of these birds requires international cooperation. Jarvis said, “More than 150 species of birds found here in the summer at Rocky Mountain National Park migrate to Costa Rica every fall. It is in the interest of both of our countries and agencies to ensure that habitat at both ends of their migrations are well protected.”

Friday’s signing took place during the National Park Service/National Geographic BioBlitz, a 24-hour event for volunteers and scientists to work together to document as many species in the park as possible. Students from the Santa Elena High School near the community of Monteverde, Costa Rica, were special guests at the signing ceremony and the BioBlitz. Monteverde and Rocky Mountain National Park’s gateway community of Estes Park are sister cities and have been National Park Service and Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion partners in the conservation of their respective protected areas.

Jarvis told the students, “In Costa Rica as in the United States and the rest of the world, the fate of parks and of conservation in general will very soon be in your hands and in the hands of people your age around the globe. I hope that through this agreement and our Sister Parks we will together develop a new cadre of conservationists who will ensure that our world’s natural and cultural heritage will be preserved for generations to come.”

The new partnership also calls for agency employees to look for opportunities to develop cooperative work exchanges and workshops within existing budgets. No new funding is attached to the memorandum.

All this took place as Costa Rican parks come under increasing pressure from drug traffickers. An article from Reuters said, “Organized crime cartels have turned to Costa Rica's treasured nature reserves as governments wage military offensives against the gangs throughout Mexico and Central America.”

The piece went on to cite some troubling statistics. “In total,” the article said, “Costa Rican authorities seized more than 6.6 tons of cocaine in the first half of this year both in and out of parks, compared to less than 3 tons in the same period last year ... Park rangers have also uncovered dozens of gangster encampments, complete with food supplies.”

The expansion of drug activity is being seen as a “balloon effect” where drug traffickers direct their efforts from one place to another as local enforcement efforts squeeze them in a given spot. Such efforts are underway throughout Mexico and Central America.

The country has no standing army but it has created a special tax to fund anti-drug trafficking enforcement efforts and has upped its cooperation with the US Navy.

The Reuters report by Isabella Cota said Costa Rica is very concerned about keeping such astivities out of parks because tourism brings “300,000 visitors annually. Tourism generates some $2.1 billion a year, roughly 5 percent of gross domestic product.”

The situation seems stable at the moment. The article quoted James Kaiser, an American writing a travel guide about Costa Rica, as saying, "As someone who visits national parks I don't have any reservations about visiting the most popular parts of the parks because I think those are not the areas that the drug traffickers are going to use."

Local officials in Costa Rica said it is “highly unlikely to bump into cocaine smugglers” and that they “were keeping an extra eye out for wandering visitors to make sure that did not happen.”

At last Friday's ceremony in Estes Park, Jarvis was joined by National Park Service Intermountain Regional Director, John Wessels; Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent, Vaughn Baker; Estes Park Sister City President Jim Thompson; Minister Counselor of the Costa Rican Embassy to the Unites States Anna Maria Obduber and other senior National Park Service officials.

Scenic Route Past Australian Parks Is New South Wales' Deadliest Road

From the town of Taree north of Sydney, to the border of Queensland near the Gold Coast and Brisbane, the scenic Pacific Highway has become the state’s deadliest road.

A news article from an Australian news syndicate said, “From Taree on the mid-north coast to the Queensland border, 11 people have died and hundreds have been injured in car crashes on the Pacific Highway this year. The Centre of Road Safety figures also reveal drivers are three times more likely to be in an accident on the Pacific Highway north of Newcastle than anywhere else.”

Speculation about the cause of the crashes center on “street racing” and the need to four-lane some sections of the road that is tied up in political wrangling over funding.