The Policy Context for
Conservation in Costa Rica
MODEL OR MUDDLE?
WORLDWIDE, a debate is under way over whether we can protect biodiversity in situ, whether we should bother to try, and whether these efforts should include any areas that limit human uses. Critics have claimed that protected areas are hard to manage and therefore we should not even try, that they are too small to make a difference, or that they are socially unfair and unjust (Brechin et al. 2002). Although these criticisms are mostly voiced by social scientists, alarmingly, some ecologists and policy makers, often those who work at levels far from the field, have echoed them (Sayer et al. 2000).
Within this debate, Costa Rica often features prominently and ironically—as an example of a country that has wholeheartedly embraced sustainable development with protected areas as the centerpiece or as a country with policies that fail to support conservation and parks too small to be ecologically viable. Much can be learned from examining the cases in this volume about the politics and policies surrounding biodiversity conservation; they not only present the situation as it exists within Costa Rica but also facilitate an understanding of the degree to which Costa Rica is, or is not, a model for other tropical countries.
This chapter builds from the other chapters in this book and examines Costa Rica's leadership as a “model” for conservation in other countries, expanding outward from dry forests to the broader issues of conservation in Costa Rica and how conservation in Costa Rica is linked to larger debates concerning biodiversity conservation worldwide. Although conservation can, and must, take place in many ways and at different scales, this chapter focuses on protected areas because they are the organizing nexus for biodiversity conservation efforts and offer the most concrete examples of how conservation actions occur.