- The highlands, which occupy 28% of the national territory
and is characterized by a mountainous relief. In spite of its cold and relatively
hostile climate, it's the most populated part of the country.
- The inter-Andean valleys (mid-montane, 13% of the national
territory), composed of warm and well-watered valleys like the Valle de Cochabamba.
The climate is hot to temperate, with constant temperatures (approx. 20°
C) throughout the year.
- The lowlands, which represent by far the largest share of
the territory (56%). This region, which partly overlaps with the Amazon basin,
is crisscrossed by numerous and powerful rivers.
Environmental protection and nature
conservation are relatively new notions in Bolivia, where the importance and
benefits of conserving natural resources have long been overlooked, party
due to a lack of basic information. It is therefore understandable that the
concept of protected areas still attracts so little political support, although
there are signs of a growing concern of Bolivian citizens for the adoption
of wiser practices in the use and management of forests and other natural
Due to a long-term occupancy and a
high population density (60% of the national population), the western part
of the country, corresponding to the Altiplano and the inter-Andean valleys,
is the most degraded region in terms of soils and plant cover. Its lowered
fertility and rampant poverty problems make it predominantly expulsatory,
landless peasants fleeing constantly to the lowlands.
The eastern lowlands, recipient of the
majority of migrants, comprise 440,000 km2 of dense forests (two-thirds of the
region's total area) and a population of approx. 3,500,000 de habitantes, composed
of indigenous people, colonists and entrepreneurs dedicated to agro-industrial
activities, livestock grazing, and forestry. Mainly due to the “soya boom”,
the annual rate of deforestation in this region reaches 160,000 has.
This situation, compounded by the
chronic weakness of the successive institutions responsible for the country's
protected areas, motivated in the past two decades the arrival and creation
of a variety of conservation organizations involved in the consolidation and
management of the different elements of the National System of Protected Areas
(SNAP). In early 1998 these efforts were reinforced by the creation of the
Servicio Nacional de Areas
Protegidas (SERNAP), the first independent governmental agency in charge
of the SNAP as a whole, with an autonomous budget rapidly complemented by
a substantial grant from the Global
Environmental Facility (GEF).
However, the country's delicate and
unstable situation, determined by an ongoing economic crisis, an incipient
industrial development, difficulties to attract foreign capitals and a complex
and highly competitive international context, represent a permanent danger
for the achievements made so far, considering moreover that the interest of
the mining and oil industries, fundamental pillars of the national economy,
overlap with numerous protected areas.
National System of Protected Areas
Despite the creation of the first protected
area in 1939 (Sajama National Park), Bolivia's National System of Protected
Areas (SNAP) is one of the youngest of Latin America. Established in 1992 through
the Law of the Environment, its fundamental objectives are the conservation
of representative samples of the country's major ecosystems and it is administered
by the Servicio Nacional
de Áreas Protegidas (SERNAP), under the jurisdiction of the Ministry
of Sustainable Development and Planning (MDSP). The SERNAP is responsible for
defining and enforcing the laws and regulations pertaining to the management
of the country's genetic and biological resources, as well as to administer
and implement the Convention of Biological
Diversity signed by Bolivia at the Rio Conference (1992) and ratified in
Although generally supportive of the
creation of protected areas, the Bolivian government does not support them financially.
As a matter of fact, the management of the SNAP relies almost entirely on international
funding (GEF, Government of Holland, KfW, IADB, etc.) and on the manpower and
additional resources provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Conservation
International, WCS, GTZ, TNC, CARE, WWF, FAN, Trópico, etc).
At present the SNAP is composed of twenty
nationally recognized protected areas, covering approximately 16,8 million hectares
(15,3% of the national territory) and divided into National Parks, National
Reserves, Biosphere Reserves (a category still not recognized by the national
legislation), Wildlife Reserves and Integrated Management Natural Areas (equivalent
to Multiple-Use Zones). In parallel to the SNAP, there is a growing contingent
of protected areas of lesser hierarchy, such as Forest Reserves, Watershed Protection
Areas, and Departmental, Regional, and Municipal Parks and Reserves. Another
important zoning category is the Reserva Natural de Inmovilización,
which corresponds to a temporary ordinance until a final status is defined based
on the area's values and characteristics.
Each national or departmental protected
area must form a Management Committee inviting spokesmen of the various cultural
groups inhabiting its territory or surrounding area to participate in the decision-making
Since the creation of the Bolivian SNAP,
significant achievements have been made in the following areas: (i) planning;
(ii) design and implementation of a monitoring and evaluation system; (iii)
establishment of operational protection teams; (iv) development of a training
program for both park rangers and administrative staff; (v) adoption of a set
of policies for the public use of protected areas, and; (vi) participation of
local stakeholder groups in park decision-making.
However, there are still several important
factors limiting the SNAP's consolidation and sustainability, among which: (i)
a lack of coordination between the different conservation NGOs and the SERNAP;
(ii) an incomplete legislation (lack of an actual Law of Protected Areas); (iii)
a lack of political support; (iv) an insufficient knowledge of the species and
biological resources contained within the protected areas, and; (v) a severe
lack of financial sustainability.