In late 2012 there was a meeting held with ANAM organized by a few local people with claims on land in Volcan Baru National Park. The intent of the meeting was to have ANAM, the environmental protection agency of Panama, rezone parts of Volcan Baru National Park to allow deforestation and agricultural use of land. Fortunately for all of us, a small group of environmentalists also attended the meeting and made enough impact that ANAM stopped and decided to listen to reasons this should not happen.
For those not familiar with Volcan Baru, walk outside and look West, it’s that big mountain with the antennas and clouds on top. If you look at the slopes you will see that some farms have been established within the park. You will see the clear cut brown areas where trees were removed. Now you can yawn and say who cares, that’s good capitalism, take the unused land and make it productive. You would be wrong on many levels and two effect all people living in this area.
Volcan Baru is the upper watershed for almost a half a million people. I know that because today I attended a meeting with ANAM and some of those environmentalists at the Chamber of Commerce in David. A biology professor from UNACHI in David has done extensive watershed research on Baru. He stated that if the logging does not stop now, the water will stop within five years. That simple, the trees hold the mountainside and hold the water from seasonal rains. Eliminate the trees and you eliminate the roots that hold the soil and the entire ecosystem that holds and gradually releases the water we all need to live. Clear cuts and farms do not act the same way as forest ecosystems.
The Mayor of Boquete was at the meeting and it was decided that since the watershed effects more than just Boquete District that the mayors of all of the other effected districts also need to be involved to stop the destruction. There is a chance we can save our valley.
This simples analysis below is from a similar crisis in Jamaica
The environmental factors contributing to watershed degradation in Jamaica have been intensified by the following types of human activity:
While the impact of human activities on watershed are many and varied, some of the main ones may be summarized below:
And you thought a shaking from a small temblor was significant, consider an unsupported mountain side, soaked by seasonal rains, without trees followed by a few seconds of the earth shaking. Watch parts of the mountainside slide down into your house like some people in Valle Escondido did a couple of years ago.
If ANAM is allowed to make the changes we will all suffer economically as a few people pocket some short term gains.
Volcan Baru National Park was created by DECRETO No. 40 (de 24 de junio de 1976) . You can download the PDF of the Decree here. LINK
Article 2 says,
Homeowners with surrounding land titles Baru Volcano located more than in 1800 (1,800) meters high and included within the limits described will not be affected in their rights by the establishment of the National Park, however, shall adopt the provisions on land use arising Forest Service National Directorate of Renewable Natural Resources, aimed at protecting soil, water regime, wildlife and flora of the area being able to prohibit any activity detrimental to them.
That means those who had title to land cannot do things destructive to the water, soil, wildlife and flora. That might be interpreted to mean they cannot clear cut land to plant onions. It was also pointed out that ROP claims have even fewer rights within the park and since 1976 no ROP land could be titled within a national park.
The law is already in place to prevent development which is why they want it relaxed even as it is ignored by developers and law enforcement alike.
As Boquete’s economy shifts from agriculture to tourism and residential tourism for it’s economy, saving the park takes on a second significance, income for more than a few farmers.
Tourists are more valuable to Boquete than a few more onions. Our watershed is more important than either onions or tourists. As we notice on days where there is no water we need it to live.
There are other meetings on this coming and community support is important. I spoke at this meeting, I spoke about the water issues echoing the biologist from UNACHI, I spoke about the lack of enforcement of the current laws and the price of deforestation. Come to the next meeting and let ANAM know you want to look up and see trees on Volcan Baru and be able to drink the mountain fresh water we have come to enjoy here. I will post on Boquete Ning when I know about the next meeting.