Methodology based on environmental economics principles, to be replicated in wildlife protected areas
By Joselyne Hoffmann
The concession of non-essential services offered at Costa Rica’s wildlife protected areas (PAs) is one of the alternatives pursued by the administration of these areas to obtain additional resources and open spaces for the involvement of organized local groups.
Entities such as the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), the La Amistad-Pacifico Conservation Area (ACLA-P) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Costa Rica, have expressed that concessions improve the quality of the service offered to visitors and release protected area staff from activities which are not inherent to their positions; and thus, enabling them to devote this time to tasks such as control, protection and environmental education, among others.
According to Sandra Jiménez, financial management coordinator at SINAC, concessions were established in article 39 of the Biodiversity Act No. 7788 in 1998. At that time, SINAC tried to implement the process of concessions but, due to an appeal before the Constitutional Court, implementation did not advance until 2008, when the positive vote of the appeal was received.
Jiménez mentioned that, in 2009, Guiselle Méndez, SINAC’s executive director, appointed a commission to initiate the process and develop the concessions procedure in the SINAC. At the same time, the ACLA-P’s administration proposed the Chirripo National Park (PNCh) as a pilot area, since the conservation area’s infrastructure was suitable for concessions and the technical team encouraged concessions.
"CATIE services were contracted from the very beginning due to its high professional level for this type of study," stressed Jiménez. She added that the methodology of costs for non-essential services is a complement to the methodology for setting rates in PAs elaborated by CATIE in 2004, and used by SINAC since then.
The study requested by SINAC to the Environment for Development in Central America (EfD-CA) initiative at CATIE estimates costs for non-essential goods and services to grant as concessions at the PAs. The report shows the results of the joint work of ACLA-P, TNC, PNCh authorities and key informants from the protected area’s surrounding community.
"Based on the results, a handbook of the methodology for collecting data to develop a costing of the goods and services to be granted and its application to the PNCh case was created,” said María Angélica Naranjo, EfD-CA researcher. "We included estimates for room and board at Base Crestones and Llano Bonito stations, rental of recreational equipment, transportation of luggage and materials, and a grocery store.”
Naranjo added that an Excel tool allows recalculating and readjusting costs for non-essential services. Also, as a baseline for the analysis of possible impacts of implementing concessions, a diagnosis was conducted in the communities near the PNCh. “This region presents low income and differences in the distribution of wealth; historically, it has been devoted to agriculture and livestock, but today the tourism activity related to the PNCh has allowed diversifying the income of households," explained Naranjo.
Some recommendations suggested by EfD-CA experts are the following:
- PA administration should determine the amount charge for the concession and provide the conditions to offer high quality services, effectively and safely
- concessions are charged depending on the number of visitors, to easily monitor revenues and reduce risks for the concessionaire and the PA
- studies of demand for services determine cost-effectiveness (concession may not be feasible for all PA)
- modification of rates takes into account visitors’ capacity, willingness to pay and appreciation, to avoid discontent among the users of the service
- ample consultation with stakeholders involved in each PA to get feedback from the recommendations and increase possibilities for implementation
Jiménez stressed that the methodology manual, estimates and diagnosis are a great contribution to SINAC, because they can be applied to other wildlife protected areas and be tools for obtaining information to negotiate with people interested in operating non-essential services.
“Recommendations are being incorporated into the process. Costs data are being adjusted according to the latest version of the characterization of the Chirripo National Park's non-essential services, for their inclusion in the call for bids,” said Jiménez. “A workshop with the wildlife protected areas that have their management or tourism plans approved has been scheduled, to prioritize in which areas non-essential services concessions will begin next year.”
María Angélica Naranjo
Researcher, EfD-AC CATIE
Tel.+ (506) 2558-2379