Scientists and environmentalists continue to voice their opposition to the Costa Rican government’s plan to downgrade Las Baulas Marine Park.
Who owns the earth? Does any government have the right to eliminate a species of plant or animal? When a country willingly accepts outside funds to preserve its natural resources, does it entitle those organizations or individuals to have a say in the future of those resources?
When the Costa Rican government unilaterally decides to devalue one of its natural resources, Las Baulas Marine Park, and threaten the existence of a nearly extinct species, the Leatherback sea turtle, can it do so without considering the international community that has helped support their preservation effort in the first place?
One member of that international community has raised his voice in protest. Michael Schnitzler is an absolutely extraordinary human being. I am personally at a loss for words when I read about this Austrian gentleman and what he has been able to accomplish on behalf of Costa Rica. The present administration of this country doesn’t appear to have the imagination or motivation of this single individual when it comes to developing a strategy to preserve its national park system. They appear to be content to simply justify their decision to downgrade Las Baulas Marine Park, rather than exploring creative alternatives to preserve it.
Michael came to Costa Rica in 1989. He purchased land near Golfito and built a home there. According to Alvaro Ugalde, “ Rainforest of the Austrians (Rigenwald der Osterreicher) was created by Michael Schnitzler in 1991, after he and I met to discuss conservation in the Osa. He took up the challenge of the territorial consolidation and land acquisition of Piedras Blancas National Park. Later, he got help from his government to help local communities adjacent to the Park.”
Michael adds, “Since 1991, the non-profit organization Rainforest of the Austrians has been collecting donations to protect the Esquinas rainforest in the Osa Conservation Area. Thousands of Austrians have donated more than 3 million dollars, enabling the purchase of 3850 hectares (9500 acres) of endangered forest. The land has been donated to the Costa Rican government and is now part of Piedras Blancas National Park.”
The unbelievable part of this story is that it is only the beginning of this man’s effort. He was instrumental in developing the Equinas Rainforest Lodge, a textbook study of what a real ecolodge is all about. In conjunction with the University of Vienna, he helped to create the La Gamba Field Station, a research facility within the national park. His accomplishments go on from there. I strongly encourage you to take 25 minutes out of your busy day to listen to Michael describe his experiences in Costa Rica in a beautiful slide presentation. When you and I think about what we can do to make a difference against seemingly overwhelming odds, this man’s story is an inspiration.
The entire aforementioned is a preamble to a letter Michael recently wrote to the Costa Rican ambassador to Austria, Ana Teresa Dengo, adamantly protesting the proposed plan to downgrade Las Baulas to a wildlife refuge. While I could have simply reprinted the letter without sharing Michael’s story, it would have devalued its significance. In many ways, Costa Rica belongs to all of us. Its precious natural gifts must be preserved. Special people like Michael Schnitzler understand this.
Dear Mrs. Ambassador,
Please excuse my writing in English. You might remember that we had lunch together with Alvaro Ugalde two years ago. I am the director of the NGO “Regenwald der Österreicher” (Bosque de los Austriacos) that has been working since 1991 to preserve Piedras Blancas National Park in the Osa Conservation Area.
This is to express my deep concern about President Arias’ proposal to change Las Baulas National Park into a mixed reserve. For almost 20 years, I have been promising the Austrian people that Costa Rica will never abolish a national park. What should I tell them now? I am very disappointed by the present government’s attitude against conservation and in favor of the commercial development of a beach. It is extremely hypocritical by the government to launch a campaign called “Paz con la Naturaleza” while at the same time destroying its natural resources, and I am afraid that your country’s reputation as a leader in conservation will be seriously harmed by this radical change in policy.
During the next days, Regenwald der Österreicher will be sending E-mails to around 6000 of our donors asking them to write to Señora Hannia M. Durán, Jefa de Area, Comisión Permanente Especial de Ambiente opposing the Proyecto de Ley 17.383. It is quite possible that you will be receiving telephone calls or e-mails from representatives of the media in Austria. I am sorry to cause you any inconvenience, but my conscience as a conservationist and my concern for Costa Rica’s precious national park system makes this necessary.
If Las Balas is changed into a zona mixta”, the same could happen to Piedras Blancas National Park and all the other parks. If Proyecto de Ley 17.383 is approved, I am very sorry to inform you that ”Regenwald der Österreicher” will be forced to cease its cooperation with the Costa Rican government after almost 20 years. If you have any way of communicating this to President Arias, I would be grateful in the name of thousands of Austrians, including children from more than 200 schools, who have donated almost 3 million Euros to protect 3800 hectares of rainforest in your beautiful country.
Director, Regenwald der Österreicher