Untitled Document
Geography
National Context
National System of Protected Areas
Table of Protected Areas
Map of Protected Areas

Geography

Bolivia is a landlocked country located in the center of the South American continent. It shares borders with Brazil to the north, Paraguay to the southeast, Argentina to the south and Chile and Peru to the west.

The southeastern part of the country is dominated by the Andes mountain range, which splits into two major cordilleras separated by a broad high plain known as the Altiplano (3,600 m of average altitude and 840 km long). Reaching its highest point with the Sajama volcano (at 6,542 m the country's highest peak), the Cordillera Occidental forms the border with Chile. Of comparable height, the Cordillera Oriental runs in a northwest-southeast direction towards the Amazonian lowlands. In a narrow gap the so-called mesothermic interandean valleys occupy the eastern slopes of the Andes that constitute the departments of Cochabamba, Sucre, and Tarija.

The eastern lowlands occupy no less two thirds of the national territory, gently descending from 450 to 200 m at the borders with Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. The northern lowlands of the Beni department are drained by the Beni and Mamoré rivers, important tributaries of the massive Amazon basin. Bolivia ca therefore be divided into three geographical regions:

- 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.

On the Altiplano the rainfall varies from 700 mm/year on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which is so large and deep that it has a buffering effect on the climate of the northern Altiplano, to less than 125 mm in the southern part of the plain. The climate of the inter-Andean region is subtropical, characterized by high and regular rainfall (over 1,250 mm). In the eastern lowlands the climate is essentially tropical, with a dry and wet season and diminishing rainfall from north to south.


National Context

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 habitats.

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 1994.

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 process.

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.

Table of Protected Areas
Map of Protected Areas


 
 
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