Protective environment precautions in Costa Rica


Every day, the world is more aware and alert of the harmful effects we cause to the planet and the need to take some protective environment precautions in this regard, and not only in Costa Rica. The damage we are doing is more evident every day:

  • The melting of the poles
  • A hole in the ozone layer.
  • The increasingly unusual climate.
  • The extinction of species of flora and fauna.

And so on.

These and many other reasons were what prompted Costa Rica to carry out a self-diagnosis and take a series of environmental precautions to protect the rich ecosystem it boasts.

On what should protective environment precautions be taken in Costa Rica?

The main protective environment precautions in Costa Rica had been taken based on:

  • Felling and burned forests.
  • Invasion of protected areas.
  • Projects in aquifer recharge zones.
  • Affectation of bodies of water. (springs, rivers, streams, and lagoons).
  • Constructions on class VII and VIII soils (slope, rocks, floodable soils)
  • Direct impact on biological corridors.
  • Wetlands drained, filled, and invaded.
  • Alteration of Wild Protected Areas and the Natural Heritage of the State.
  • Water use and mismanagement.
  • Illegal use of materials.
  • Loss of scenic beauty.

Let’s see some of them in detail.

Protective environment precautions about felling trees

This is one of the many protective environment precautions that Costa Rica took regarding the forests. Trees may not be cut without permission. The trees that are going to be cut must have the felling permit of the respective SINAC Conservation Area.

In any project that requires felling or pruning more than 10 trees, a forest inventory of the trees must be presented by the corresponding professional. It is recommended that the felling be ordered, taking advantage of the largest number of parts of the tree. On slopes or sloping areas, tree stumps or roots should be left to prevent soil erosion.

In agroforestry areas, the Forestry Law only allows the felling of 3 trees per hectare annually. On the other hand, up to a maximum of 10 trees per property. If any permit stipulates the felling of more than 3 trees per hectare, it will be considered illegal, unless there is a special authorization from the State Forestry Administration.

Protective environment precautions so as not to affect the natural beauty

The beauty of the natural landscapes is one of the most important assets of Costa Rica, and that’s why there are so many protective environment precautions about it. Any development or productive activity must take care not to affect the natural beauty of an area.

It should be considered how the farm or project will take a look from the outside and prevent the landscape effect that it could cause. The holes and voids of the excavations and the destruction of natural areas on beaches are among the most frequent effects on landscapes that the Environment Court has had to intervene.


Among the main actions of protective environment precautions are reforestation, revegetation, and natural restoration programs. They must be developed for the areas that are temporarily affected by a project or activity. Reforestation, revegetation, and restoration of other areas that currently don’t have vegetation cover should also be sought. In this process, species native to the area must be used.

Know and protect biotopes

Every project, activity, or farm must identify the biotopes (land with forest or another ecosystem with biodiversity) present on the property; and protect them in the event of planning any construction or cultivation. A fundamental strategic guideline is not to fragment the natural biological corridors, and this guideline must be jealously watched by the local environment authorities, the municipality, and the communities.

Protective environment precautions in the rational use of water

Nowadays, rationalizing water is one of the main protective environment precautions, due to the lack of this vital element. Every work, project, activity, or individual must make rational use of water resources and avoid wasting water by repairing leaks in tanks, pipes, and faucets.

Constant monitoring of treated water must be maintained, and the use and reuse of sewage and collected rainwater for irrigation of green areas or other uses must be promoted.

River and creek protection area

Tourism, real estate projects, or productive activities must respect a minimum distance between the works and the course of rivers and streams. As one of the protective environment precautions, a strip of 15 meters should be left in rural areas and 10 meters in urban areas, measured horizontally on both sides on the banks of rivers, streams, or creeks if the terrain is flat, and 50 meters horizontally if the terrain is broken.

Water source protection area

Tourism, real estate projects, or productive activities must respect a distance of 100 meters between the works and permanent water springs; 60 or 50 meters if the spring is intermittent or 200 meters if the spring is captured. Specifically, the environment legislation orders to respect:

  • Areas bordering permanent springs, defined within a radius of 100 meters measured horizontally.
  • An area of 50 meters measured horizontally on the shores of natural lakes and reservoirs and artificial lakes or reservoirs built by the State and its institutions. Private artificial lakes and reservoirs are excluded.
  • The recharge areas and the aquifers of the springs, whose limits will be determined by the competent bodies established in the Regulations of the Forestry Law.
  • It is forbidden to destroy; both in national forests and in private forests, trees located less than 60 meters from the springs that are born on the hills, or less than 50 meters from those that are born on flat land.

Wetland Retreat Area

Every work, activity, or project must respect a distance of 50 meters (withdrawal area) between the works and the wetlands (lagoons, lakes, and natural or artificial reservoirs built by the State). Maritime-Terrestrial Zone In the coastal areas’ tourism projects, real estate, or productive activities must respect an inalienable distance of 50 meters between the works and the high tide (the highest level of the tide).

In these 50 inalienable meters, nothing can be built (not even walls), unless you have special permission to build docks, berths, jetties, or the like. In the following 150 meters of the ZMT, concessions and municipal permits are required for any type of work, except that the land, previously classified by the respective Conservation Area, qualifies as State Natural Heritage.

What to do in the event of a violation of protective environment precautions?

If a project, activity, individual or legal entity deviates from good environmental practices, harms the environment, and violates environmental legislation, the inhabitants of Costa Rica (nationals and foreigners) can file an environment complaint.

Municipalities’ Local governments or municipalities are in charge of granting the final construction permits for any work or project in their respective community. They also authorize permits for land use, location, and commercial patents. In Costa Rica, there are 81 mayor’s offices and 8 district councils (municipal administration) that have jurisdiction over their locality in terms of permits and territorial administration.

Many of these city halls or municipalities have an Environment Management Unit or similar department, which is responsible for processing (approve or reject) and following up on construction permits or projects in their jurisdiction. The only exception to this rule is wildlife refuges, whose permits and administration correspond directly to MINAET.

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