PRIVATE RESERVES


Some private nature reserves belong to nongovernmental organizations who use them for research, education, or tourism, with large areas simply for preservation. Well-known examples are the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve operated by the Tropical Science Center, La Selva and Las Cruces Biological Stations that belong to the Organization for Tropical Studies, and Basque Eterno de los Ninios that belongs to the Monteverde Conservation League.

Other private reserves are oriented principally to eco-tourism, though they may also incorporate research and education. Perhaps 150 such reserves now function in the country, initiatives by both individuals and communities who see tourism as a Way to bring in income and maintain their forests.

Some reserves belong to individuals who inherited forested land or bought it simply to protect it from destruction, expecting virtually no economic benefit. In reality, farmers who maintain forest on their farms have private reserves. Many reserves function as important buffer zones around public conservation areas.

Whatever the category, these reserves face threats from hunters and squatters just as public protected areas do; management and protection costs come out of their own pockets. The Costa Rican Network of Natural Reserves is an organization that began in 1995-96 as a mechanism to share information among private reserves as well as to represent their common interests and seek solutions to problems in the community. The government of Costa Rica favors this initiative: these landowners are protecting important habitats and species without the necessity of incorporating them into the nationally protected wildlife areas.

The value of the forest and other biological resources is one issue the network addresses. Value goes far beyond cost per hectare. What about roles in protection of biodiversity and watershed, in carbon fixation, in gene banks, in production of water and energy, in preservation of scenic beauty?

This issue, confronted by this small group of farmer biologists, and lodge owners, is one that faces politicians, business people, and all of us who share the planet. What are the costs of conservation? Who is paying them now? Who should pay them? What are the benefits? Who is receiving them?

I recommend that your travels in Costa Rica include at least one private reserve. You will experience firsthand their contributions to conservation and quality of life.

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