National System of Conservation Areas (Costa Rica)

Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación (Costa Rica)


The National System of Conservation Areas is a public body attached to the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE). It is responsible for directly administering Costa Rica's protected areas and for promoting and controlling conservation and sustainable natural resource (including forest) management in the entire national territory. SINAC also has a role in supporting land-use planning at the national level, with a view to protecting rivers basins and catchment areas. SINAC was established by Art. 22 of the Biodiversity Law (Law 7788 of 1998) which merged the National Park Service, the Forestry Department and the Wildlife Service. Art. 22 defined SINAC as a decentralised, participative, management and coordination institution. Its roles are in forestry, wildlife, protected areas and other areas of MINAE with the aim of setting policies, planning and implementing processes to achieve sustainable natural resource management.

SINAC is the most important environmental management authority in Costa Rica, both centrally and at the local level, especially given that the Regional Environmental Councils envisaged by the 1995 General Environmental Law and the 1996 Forestry Law were never set up. SINAC has police powers to the extent that it has the power to enter private property to carry out checks. The 1996 Forestry Law also gives SINAC responsibility for measuring forest cover. Within the Payments for Ecosystem Services Programme (PPSA) and REDD+ SINAC's two main roles are: (i) monitoring and controlling deforestation and verifying that the owners of private forest have complied with their forest management plan; and (ii) mapping forest cover and preparing the forest inventory. 

For the purposes of SINAC's mandate, the Biodiversity Law of 1998 gave MINE the power to divide the entire national territory into eleven conservation areas (Guanacaste, Arenal Tempisque, Tempisque, Huetar Norte, Cordillera Volcánica Central, Pacífico Central, Osa, Amistad Caribe, Amistad Pacífico, Tortuguero and Marina Isla del Coco). These are administrative regions approximately aligned with eco-regions; they do not coincide with the political division of the country, nor do they imply a particular management regime. 

The maximum authority within the SINAC is the National Conservation Areas Council (CONAC), made up of 25 people, including a representative from each Conservation Area. SINAC has a regional office (Regional Conservation Area Council; CORAC) in each of the eleven conservation areas as well as subregional offices, together these total 33 offices.

SINAC is one of the main recipients of funding under the FCPF grant, receiving support for for five activities: (i) building an information system to build a complete chain of custody for timber, from the management plan through to the sawmill and transport to the end user; (ii) updating the principles, criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management as well as a certification scheme; (iii) developing a plan to encourage sustainable forest management, including from private protected areas; (iv) updating the strategy for controlling illegal logging and developing practical tools; and (v) monitor emissions from forest fires and try to prevent them by developing a weather-based early warning system using MODIS.

Under the GIZ-funded REDD/CCAD project, SINAC is receiving support to prepare Costa Rica's first forest inventory. Work on the inventory is overseen by the Forest Inventory Committee (made up of FONAFIFO and SINAC). At the time of writing (December 2013), the results are expected by the end of 2014. Under the project, SINAC has also received Rapideye images with which it is working on a map of forest cover in 2012, using seven different categories of forest. 

Alongside the Biodiversity Institute (INBio), SINAC will also jointly implement the Sustainable Management of Ecoystem Services project. That is an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)​ funded project, which is nearing the end of its design phase, and aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity through payments for ecosystem services.