Conservation In Costa Rica


Costa Rica holds a truly unique position among the world's tropical nations with regard to conservation. This small country simultaneously is among tile nations facing severe environmental threats and the nation that is perhaps most active in Conservation efforts. In this chapter I briefly describe some of the major threats to Costa Rica 's ecosystems, as well as the country's conservation programs and Initiatives.

Environmental Threats

Costa Rica is a wonderful country to visit but it is not an eco-paradise. Like any other country, there are problems, both socioeconomic and ecological. Costa Rica's population, about 3.5 million during the late 1990s, is growing quickly (2.6% per year), and will probably double before it stabilizes; most of the people are concentrated in a single region - in and around the capital, San Jose, and in the surrounding flat part of the Central Valley (the Meseta Central ). Most environmental damage in the country is the result of generations of wasteful and polluting agriculture, practices that persist to this day.

The foremost cause for environmental concern is deforestation. Most forest cutting and burning is not to obtain timber but to clear land for cattle pastures, crop farming, and simply as a way to claim "unused" land. The entire country was once forested. Now most of it has been cleared, much of it recently. One-third of Costa Rica 's forest cover was lost between 1950 and 1985, and the country still has one of the highest rates of deforestation in Central America and, in fact, in the world. According to the World Resources Institute, Costa Rica recently ranked 4th among the world's nations in rate of deforestation, with 3.9% of its forested area being cut each year (about 65,000 hectares, or 160,000 acres). As a result of past and present forest clearing, Costa Rica is among the Central American countries with the smallest percentage of its rainforests still intact. Perhaps only 50% of land outside of protected parks and reserves is still densely forested. Particularly hard-hit has been the tropical dry forest habitat that occupied Costa Rica 's northwest Pacific lowlands. This habitat type, remnants of which are still found in Palo Verde, Santa Rosa , and Guanacaste National Parks , once stretched in a narrow belt along the Pacific from southern Mexico to Panama . Unfortunately, these dry forests lands were easily accessible and able to support several types of agriculture; by now, less than 1% remains of the original dry forests of Central America .

Cattle ranching, aside from large-scale deforestation required to create pastureland, is ecologically harmful in a number of other ways. Cattle grazing cause soil erosion, nutrient depletion of grazed lands, and ground compaction that prevents many plants from growing. Other agricultural practices have also led to environmental deterioration and dangers. The main plantation crops, coffee and bananas, are grown largely in monoculture - the entire plantation devoted to a single crop plant. This type of farming generally requires heavy use of pesticides and leads to depletion of soil nutrients. Also, large swaths of land populated by single plant species provide poor habitat for wildlife. The general rule is that the more complex the vegetation, the more animal species that can thrive in it. The species-rich wildlife of tropical forests cannot live in the pastures and monoculture plantations that replace cleared forest. The result of deforestation, therefore, is decreased plant diversity, which leads to decreased animal diversity.

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