S.O.S. Our Environment is in Danger!
AUTHOR: Osa Vive Team
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Osa Vive is dedicated to ensuring local development under Costa Rican environmental laws. We’re meeting a lot of resistance from illegal developers.
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Costa Rica has geology to thank for its stunning biodiversity. Three million years ago, a land bridge formed between North and South America, allowing plants and animals to combine. As a result, it has a double dose of diversity. Consider: Costa Rica is only 5% the size of the United States, yet it has more species of trees and frogs!
In the 1940s, 75% of Costa Rica was rainforest. Then new settlers cut down much of the forest to grow crops and raise cattle, causing the loss of 50% of the country’s original forests between 1940 and 1983. Then a new generation chose to stop deforestation and began working to reforest. By 2010 the forest cover had rebounded from a low of 21% up to 52%. There is still more work, but the achievement is remarkable.
Why and how did they commit to reforesting the country? Costa Rica understood the negative consequences of deforestation, such as increased greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, management problems, decreased soil fertility, and loss of biodiversity. They recognized that healthy forests full of tropical animals and plants would bring tourism dollars to support the economy. Knowing how much there was to gain, they had to figure out how to make reforestation a reality. Several factors contributed, and two policies from the mid-1990s stand out, a carrot and a stick.
The carrot: Landowners were paid for preserving their land under the Payment for Ecosystem Services Program, or PES. Landowners profited from managing their lands to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, protect water resources, protect biodiversity and preserve natural beauty. Landowners could benefit financially by preservation (and selectively harvesting specific trees, which the program allows). The average annual payment of $64 per hectare has incentivized landowners to protect forests.
The stick: It became illegal to cut trees without approval from environmental authorities. Anyone who wants to cut a tree is legally obligated to ask permission.
Thanks to these and other environmental laws and policies, everyone is blessed with abundant wildlife. In less than 30 years, forests and animals have significantly increased. Reforestation has paid off financially. International visitors are flocking to marvel the nature, bringing roughly $3.8 billion in 2018.
These positive changes are not guaranteed or permanent. Unscrupulous business people are cutting trees without permission, knowing they are acting illegally (hence the sound of chainsaws on weekends and holidays, when law enforcement is unlikely). People illegally chop for various reasons: for local use, more extensive views, lumber sales, and last but not least, real estate development. Other environmental laws are routinely violated, including those protecting streams, regulating earth movement, and prohibiting burning.
Ex-pats in the South of Costa Rica have a superb quality of life. It was tough to rebuild these forests. We owe it to our host country and ourselves to ensure their reforestation efforts are a permanent, ongoing success. Sadly, there are not sufficient funds to enforce all of the excellent environmental laws. Please help us protect wildlife, rainforests, rivers, mangroves, reefs, and the ocean. Costa Rica is worth it.
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