Environmental Conflict: The Situation in the Chiriqui Highlands March 2010

March 2, 2010 —

The Thickening Plot

Peace Corps policy prohibits volunteer participation in political activities. Panamanian prohibits political activity by non-citizens. I am reporting here on activities that are occurring in the region in which we are working but we  maintain a neutral posture.

The Old Chiriqui River (Rio Viejo Chiriqui) runs from the mountains outside Cerro Punta, all the way to the Pacific Coast. To call it a river might give the wrong impression. At least from Cerro Punta to our area you can walk across it. It sometimes moves swiftly but no one would call it a river on the scale of the Mississippi. In English we would call it a stream.

The Panamania government has contracted with at least two companies so far to install hydroelectric electricity generating plants. One project is well along towards completion. The one in our area has been started, a least to the extent of the letting of the contract, the completion of the required environmental impact statement and the like, at least some work on the river bed and some work on the dams.  The plans call for somewhere between 6 and 14 such projects, depending on who you ask, on a river that runs approximately 80 miles in length.  The portion of the river in our area will be routed through a 10 foot diameter tunnel for a distance of about 5 miles total in two separate tunnels.

Rio Viejo Chiriqui near Volcan not far from the dam

The project consists of two plants, The Pando and the Monte Lirio.  According to the environmental impact study commissioned by the company,

The Pando and Monte Lirio plants are two hydropower projects configured in cascade on the Chiriquí Viejo River… The Pando hydropower plant (HPP) is located about 4 km west of the town of Volcán, Bugaba District, Chiriquí Province. It includes a 28-meter high dam and a reservoir of 440,000 m3 of usable volume with an average storage of 8 hours and covering an area of 18 hectares, which will allow daily peaking power production; a 5.1 km-long derivation tunnel; and a powerhouse with an installed capacity of 32.9 MW…

The Monte Lirio HPP is located just downstream of the Pando HPP tailrace, about 1 km from Plaza Caisán town, Renacimiento District, Chiriquí Province. It includes a 15-meter high dam but no reservoir; an 8 km-long derivation tunnel; and a powerhouse with an installed capacity of 50.4 MW.

The local environmentalists, or at least some of them, want to change the law so that a hydroelectric project can only take 50% of the river flow, instead of the current 90%.   They are also demanding an environmental study of the impact of the entirety of the 12 or more projects (we have heard varying numbers starting as low as 6.)

Electron Investment S.A. is a Panamanian corporation established for the purpose of constructing the project in our area. As seems common in Panama, they are distributing money to local communities for various projects. .  On March 1 and March 2nd I attended meetings with them at the request of our local community.

On Monday the meeting (the second) was attended by representatives of most of the Renacimiento.  EISA had established this committee a month ago in conjunction with the mayor of our region. The committee meets to approve applications for community projects followed by a vetting process performed by the company to determine feasibility and to compare the various projects approved by the committee.  There were several projects approved having to do with extending electrical service to some more remote areas.

On March 2nd we met with EISA here in our town.  This was to discuss other possible projects in our community, our groups role in the anti-hydroelectric project movement, and to discuss reforestation.   During the meeting EISA expressed an eagerness to work with environmental groups such as ours and dismay with the hard line that others were taking.

EISA has stated their commitment to reforesting the area which will be effected by the installation of around 5 miles of tunnels. This will lessen the environmental impact of the project. Our agro-environmental group has experience in reforestation, although not of the scale of the entire project we are talking about here. But they would like to be in the running for such a project.

EISA learned, however, that some members of our group attended a meeting to discuss whether the areas environmental groups should oppose the hydroelectric projects that the Panamanian government has seemingly sprung on the people.   EISA was not sure if attendance meant support for the subsequent statements made by the organization formed as a result of that meeting, whose acronym is APRODIPA.  Our group, however, has not signed any protest documents nor agreed to do so at this time.  In the meeting EISA seemed to accept our groups statement that it had not signed onto any protest agreement.  Our president, however, did state that the 90%-10% was not right and supported the study of the environmental impact of the project as a whole.

The newly formed enviromentalist group APRODIPA is strongly encouraging our agro-environmental group to join the protest.  If our group enters into any agreement to assist EISA then further projects with the local environmental groups might be in jeopardy.

Our group has decided to not make final decision on the matter until they know more.  Proposals to reduce the amount of water the projects can use and other such mitigating factors might change the political situation. They may or may not be interested in the reforestation project or part of it depending on the offer.  They might decide it’s not worth doing for practical reasons, such as too little money for the work involved, or the intent to use non-native species, or perhaps an upcoming environmental study of the impact of the projects as a whole might clearly show a very negative impact.  By law only individual projects had to have impact studies.


Development is the primary threat to areas such as this. Agro-chemical farming is a prime example. Agro-chemicals contribute to reductions in the biodiversity and total population of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects a}s well as the flora. These chemicals contaminate rivers and streams on their way to the ocean, where they damage the mangrove swamps and coastal fish. Chemical use contributes to erosion, which in turn leads to further chemical use in an effort to maintain production, as precious topsoil causes silt build up in the rivers and streams.

Hillside agriculture poses a special threat. The Chiriqui Highlands produce about 80% of the vegetables consumed in Panama. Onions, carrots, potatoes and lettuce are common. In places such as Cerro Punta the lack of ground cover produces significant erosion exacerbated by the steep slopes.

Mining is another threat. Mining requires powerful chemicals to extract the ore. These chemicals are hard if not impossible to remove from the environment, while preventing contamination is expensive and difficult for the Panamanian government to monitor for a variety of reasons. Mining also requires road construction through fragile zones, and where strip mining is employed there is significant deforestation.El desarollo económico es la amenza principal a la región. Agricultura agro-química contribuye principalmente a la reducción de la cantidad de mamíferos, aves, reptiles, insectos and daña la flora. Estes químicas contamina los ríos y quebradas en su viaje al mar donde dañan el manglar costero y los peces costeros de Chiriqui. Su uso contribuye a la erosión, y por falta de suelo bueno los granjeros usan más y más químicas. La erosión produce sedimento y otros problemas.

Agricultura ladera, que es muy común en Cerro Punta, es una amenza de otra clase. En Las Tierras Altas de Chiriqui se produce 80% de las vegetales y verduras como cebollas, zanhorias, papas, lechuga, scarola y mas que se consume en Panamá. La cantidad de agricultura en Cerro Punta y la falta de yerbas, destruidas por los químicos, produce muchisima erosión.

La minería es otra amenaza al medio ambiente y la población de seres humanos, los animales y las plantas. La extrasción de minerales como cobre, oro y otras requiere el uso de químicos peligoros que son difíciles o imposibles de eliminar. El agua y el suelo se quedan contaminados. La minería requiere la construción de carreteras en zonas fragiles, cambiando el ambiente, la resulta es la deforestación.

More About La Amistad International Biosphere Reserve

Under construction Feb 12 2010

From rare.org

Stretching across the foothills and mountains of southeast Costa Rica and northwest Panama in the Talamanca range, La Amistad Biosphere Reserve is located at a point on the Central American Isthmus where flora and fauna from both North and South America reach their maximum species mix. Comprising 221,000 hectares and 10 different life zones, La Amistad is an area of extraordinary biological diversity. The Talamanca range contains the largest tracts of virgin rainforest in Costa Rica, and more than 30 percent of the reserve’s plant species are endemic. It is also home to the ocelot, Baird’s tapir, and the quetzal. Some 30,000 people live around the site, in addition to the nearly 5,000 indigenous people representing three of Panama’s five ethnic groups who inhabit La Amistad, including the Teribe and Guaymí. Their livelihoods depend on subsistence agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Threats to the Region

Despite its remoteness and small population, La Amistad Biosphere Reserve is under threat from agricultural expansion, deforestation, cattle ranching, hunting, and the commercial extraction of exotic flora and fauna. There is also persistent pressure to build roads or highways through the protected areas as exploitation of coal and minerals increases.

From Wikipidia

The La Amistad International Park, or in Spanish Parque Internacional La Amistad, formerly the La Amistad National Park, is an transboundary protected area in Latin America, management of which is shared between Costa Rica (Caribbean La Amistad and Pacific La Amistad Conservation Areas) and Panama, following a recommendation by UNESCO after the park’s inclusion in the World Heritage Site list.

The park area is equally split between Costa Rica and Panama, as part of the former La Amistad Reserves of the Talamanca mountain range. It covers 401,000 ha of tropical forest and is the largest nature reserve in Central America and together with a 15 km buffer zone it represents a major biodiversity resource at a regional (ca 20% of the regions species diversity) and global level. This is recognized in its strategic position in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its cross-frontier position gives it unique potential to improve bioregional planning. The park’s buffer zone includes coffee and beef producers and indigenous subsistence farmers. A consequence of the difficulty of the terrain, the park is relatively unexplored and the only substantial scientific explorations deep into the park have been lead by the Natural History Museum London, INBio and the University of Panama in the last 6 years (2003-2008).

In 2006 the UK’s Darwin Initiative funded a three year collaborative project lead by the Natural History Museum, London, INBio (Costa Rica) and ANAM (Panama), the aim of which was to generate baseline biodiversity information for the park and a map of the biodiversity. This involved a series of seven multi-disciplinary and international expeditions to remote parts of La Amistad during which over 7,500 plant, 17,000 beetle and 380 herpetological collections were made and deposited in the national collections of Costa Rica and Panama. These expeditions also lead to the discovery of 12 plant species, one dung beetle species, fifteen amphibian and three reptile species new to science.

* UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205
* Web page of Darwin Initiative project on the biodiversity of La Amistad

Reserva De La Biosfera La Amistad (RBA)

La Reserva de la Biosfera Amistad es un conjunto de áreas naturales protegidas compartida por Costa Rica y Panamá, el sector costarricense del parque fue inscrito en la Lista de Patrimonios de la Humanidad en 1983, y el sector panameño en 1990. Este Sitio Patrimonio de la Humanidad Transnacional es mencionado como Cordillera de Talamanca-La Amistad/ Parque Nacional La Amistad.

El Parque Internacional La Amistad (PILA) fue creado por la Resolución de Junta Directiva 21-88 del 2/9/88, con una extensión de 207,000 has, es una de las unidades de manejo más grandes del sistema de áreas protegidas. Está ubicado en la provincia de Bocas del Toro (cerca del 97%) y en Chiriquí (el restante 3 %) al occidente del país. En tanto el Parque Nacional Volcán Barú fue creado por decreto ley del 24 de julio 1976 con 14,300has.

También la zona de influencia, incluye otras áreas protegidas y las reservas indígenas. Las acciones que se llevan a cabo en este sitio prioritario se han venido realizando en coordinación con grupos de base con el fin de encontrar alternativas económicas y educativas, fortalecimiento de la coordinación binacional y apoyo a actividades de monitoreo sobre el estado de la biodiversidad en la región.

Esta reserva del lado panameño esta formado por las siguientes unidades de manejo.

Áreas Protegidas

Esto consiste en 6 áreas e incluye, áreas terrestres así como marinas. El total de extensión es de 270,151has.

Parque Nacional Volcán Barú (14,300has)
Parque Internacional la Amistad (207,000has)
Humedal de importancia internacional Lagunas de Volcán (143has)
Humedal de importancia internacional San San Pond Sak (16,125has)
Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos (13,226has)
Reserva Forestal Fortuna (19,500has)

La zona de amortiguamiento consiste en tres áreas con una extensión aproximada de 300,517has. La sección no protegida de las cuencas altas de los ríos Chiriquí Viejo, Caldera, Los Valles y Fortuna hasta una cota de 1200msnm.

Bosque Protector de Palo Seco
El área de las Propuestas comarcales Naso y Bribri

La zona de transición se refiere al área que se esta en un cambio de prácticas amigables a las áreas protegidas y compatibles con ellas. Y estas consisten de dos zonas. 1. Provincia de Chiriquí: todas las áreas adyacentes a la zona de Amortiguamiento (Zona de Vecindad) hasta una cota de 1000 msnm. 2. Provincia de Bocas del Toro: áreas adyacentes al BPPS hasta una cota de 100msnm.

Desde su creación el PILA ha estado bajo la responsabilidad de manejo del Estado de Panamá. De tal forma la Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente es la entidad encargada de velar por la conservación de este sitio. Los objetivos de conservación del PILA son los siguientes:

Proteger una muestra significativa de la diversidad biológica de una de las zonas más ricas en fauna y flora que aún permanecen poco alteradas en la República de Panamá.
Proteger las cuencas hidrográficas superiores de los ríos Teribe y Changuinola, asegurando su estabilidad y calidad hídrica para el aprovechamiento de su potencial hidroeléctrico, considerado el mayor del país.

Mantener un marco ambiental natural y estable que asegure el desarrollo socioeconómico y cultural de los pobladores aguas abajo, disminuyendo los riesgos de inundación y garantizando la continuidad de las actividades agroindustriales que se dan actualmente en las áreas aledañas de las provincias de Bocas del Toro y Chiriquí.

Promover la investigación científica y la investigación de la herencia natural y cultural existente en el área.

Aprovechar el potencial turístico del paisaje natural inalterado, así como de sus componentes biológicos.

Estrechar los lazos de amistad y aunar los esfuerzos binacionales en materia de protección y manejo de recursos naturales de los pueblos hermanos de Costa Rica y Panamá.

Las poblaciones aledañas al PILA son comunidades dedicadas principalmente a la producción agrícola, las cuales han influido grandemente al cambio de uso de suelo a partir de 1930 con la extracción madera, posteriormente con las prácticas agrícolas, con la producción de café, hortalizas, además de la ganadería. Estas actividades han ejercido presiones en las áreas naturales, por lo cual el Estado panameño crea los actuales parques nacionales Parque Nacional Volcán Barú y Parque Internacional La Amistad.

En la región hay nueve de las 12 zonas de vida reconocidas en el sistema de clasificación de Holdrige para Panamá: bosque pluvial montano, bosque muy húmedo montano, bosque pluvial montano bajo, bosque muy húmedo montano bajo, bosque húmedo montano bajo, bosque pluvial premontano, bosque muy húmedo premontano , bosque muy húmedo tropical y bosque muy húmedo tropical y una zona de vida no indicada en el trabajo de Tosi (1971), pero que ha sido recientemente confirmada por literatura, la de páramo pluvial subalpino.

Las zonas de vida de tierras altas están ubicadas en las cimas y estribaciones superiores de la cordillera de Talamanca y el macizo del Volcán Barú. Las zonas de vida intermedias se encuentran en ambas costas. En los sectores de menor altura, en el área regional se encuentran las zonas de vida características de tierras bajas. En algunos casos las secuencias de aparición de las zonas de vida no se apega a esta descripción general, debido al efecto de los patrones estacionales de: Precipitación, nubosidad y fuerza y dirección de los vientos.

Contribuciones de numerosos científicos y el cual se basa en: la localización geográfica, condiciones ambientales y composición de especies de las comunidades. En Panamá se identificaron 2 bioregiones, con 7 ecoregiones y 3 complejos de manglar los cuales contienen 4 unidades de manglares. De estas categorías en el área regional están presentes una bioregión y 3 ecoregiones, además de un complejo de manglar con una unidad de manglar.

Mediante estudios efectuados en el área se han identificado ocho objetos de conservación dado que estos son los más amenazados por las presiones humanas en la zona. Los objetos de conservación se presentan a continuación:

Pastizales naturales, mamíferos grandes, bosques nubosos de altura, robledales y páramos
bosques de transición entre bosque nuboso y los bosques tropicales de tierras bajas, humedales de altura, especies endémicas, especies migratorias altitudinales, ecosistemas acuáticos


Mining, dams and other projects, soil erosion, agro-chemical run-off and direct exposure are the primary threats to human health…Minas, presas y otros proyectos, erosión, contaminación agro-címico….

Mining, dams and other projects, soil erosion, agro-chemical run-off and direct exposure are the primary threats to human health…


The Chiriqui Highlands forms part of the Talamanca Mountain Range, which has the highest biodiversity index of the Central American isthmus, although it is most famous for its bird populations. In 2001 the  Range was designated a Worldwide Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The area contains the International Park la Amistad and the Volcan Baru Park. It is part of the PAMBAC (Panamanian Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corredor) which extends from the Colombian border to the Costa Rican frontier.

The isthmus of Panama itself is one of the most diverse in the world in terms of species, with more than 1,300 species of fish, 175 of amphibians, 228 of reptiles, 930 birds and 232 of mammals. The flora has more than 9,520 species, 850 of which are angiosperm, 22 gymnosperm, and 930 compatible fern and related organism. (statistics per publications of Smithsonian Tropical Reaserch Institute and ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente)).

The forested area also provides a significant contribution to carbon sequestration. The University of Northern Colorado is studying the area of Chiriqui called Renacimiento, whose capital is Rio Sereno on the Costa Rican border. The study seeks to determine current land use, degree of deforestation and potential for providing forestation incentives.

Panamanian environmental authorities began to develop a general land use and environmental monitoring plan starting in the 1996. It was part of a regional study of the MBC (Mesoamerican Biological Corridor) sponsored by the Global Environmental Facility (http://www.gefweb.org/) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Promotion (the World Bank). Under ANAM, the effort identified biological corridors and began to focus GEF funds on still intact areas. This project became known as the Panamanian Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project (PAMBC). The objective of the project was to promote biodiversity and sustainable development.  The Chiriqui Higlands was one of the areas which have received attention in this project.  Local groups engaged in reforestation, organic agriculture and sustainable  development projects as a result.

The two protected areas in this region are the Volcan Baru National Park and Parque Internacional La Amistad. An environmental education project was part of the program to protect these areas. Adata members participated in this project and continue to promote environmental awareness. A large number of projects focused on opportunities to produce income in an environmentally responsive way.

Las Tierras Altas de Chiriqui forma una parte de…

The Chiriqui Highlands forms part of the Talamanca Mountain Range with the highest biodiversity index of the Central American isthmus.  In 2001 the Talamanca range was designated a Worldwide Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.  The area contains the International Park la Amistad and the Volcan Baru Park.

The isthmus of Panama itself is one of the most diverse in the world in terms of species, with more than 1,300 species of fish, 175 of amphibians, 228 of reptiles, 930 birds and 232 of mammals.  The flora has more than 9,520 species,  850 of which are angiosperm, 22 gymnosperm, and 930 compatible fern and related organism.  Statistics per publications of Smithsonian Tropical Reaserch Institute and ANAM (Autoridad Nacioanl del Ambiente).


ADATA ((Alianza para el Desarrollo Ambiental de Tierras Altas) is an alliance of 13 environmentally oriented organizations in the Highalnds of Chiriqui Panamá. Member organizations are non-profit and self-governing.

Members support sustainable development in this beautiful and ecologically sensitive zone.  Some are organic farmers, while others work in ecotourism supporting the famous International Park la Amistad.  There are organic coffee producers, fish farmers, a biodigestor, and more.  On this site you will learn about them all.  Follow the links to their pages.

In addition you can learn about how very important the Chiriqui Highlands

Cloud_forest_panamaare from an environmental perspective, the threats the area faces to human health, flora and fauna populations, and more.

google map of the regionADATA (Alianza para el Desarrollo Ambiental de Tierras Altas) es una alianza de 13 organizaciones ubicados en las Tierras Altas de Chiriqui, Panamá, sin fines de lucro con autogestiónñ que comparter saberes para impulsar cambios en la sociedad y su entgorno, del tal forma que selogre el desarollo humano sostenibles de los habitantes de Tierras Altas.

Las organizaciones miembros de ADATA tiene objetivos y fines se enfocan a la conservación y desarrollo sostenible de los recursos naturales.

Todas tienen su área de acción en la zona amortiguamiento de la Reserva de la Biósfera la Amistad.

Porque las Alianzas representan la unidad para el logro de objetivos mayores y la fuerza para proteger los recursos naturales, la desigualdad y la corrupción de las instancias que deben velar por su conservación.


Algunos miembros son granjeros, otras trabajano con turistas o apoyan La Parque Internacional la Amistad.  Hay productores de cafe organico. peces, biodigestor y mas. 

En este sitio web se aprende de todos y además de la importancia de esta área desde un punto de vista ambiental, y las amenazas al ambiente y la salud.

Toco Toucan

mapa google de la region