The Central American country of Costa Rica, despite its small size, has high levels of biological diversity with some 12,000 species of plants, 1,239 species of butterflies, 838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 232 species of mammals. Costa Rica has an ambitious conservation program, perhaps one of the most developed among tropical rainforest countries, that protects more than 10 percent of the country. One protected strip of forest runs uninterrupted for 40 miles through nine ecological zones from sea level to 12,500 feet. In 1995, the government presented a plan to protect 18 percent of the country in national parks and another 13 percent in privately owned preserves. Areas targeted for protection are those with high biodiversity. The government funds the project by issuing landowners forest protection certificates which will annually pay landowners about $50 for every forest hectare (2.5 acres), with the agreement that the forest will be protected. Around two-thirds of Costa Rica's remaining rainforests are protected.
||Costa Rica Forest Figures
Total forest area: 2,391,000 ha
% of land area: 46.8%
Primary forest cover: 180,000 ha
% of land area: 3.5%
% total forest area: 7.5%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: 3,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: 0.1%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: -117.2%
Total forest loss since 1990: -173,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.7%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: -100.0%
Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990:-29.4%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: 73.5%
None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 2,391,000 ha
Primary: 180,000 ha
Modified natural: 1,319,000 ha
Semi-natural: 888,000 ha
Production plantation: 1,000 ha
Production plantation: 3,000 ha
Plantations, 2005: 4,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.2%
Annual change rate (00-05): 200,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: 224 M t
Below-ground biomass: 161 M t
Area annually affected by
Fire: 6,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 117
Critically endangered: 4
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 1,932,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 468,000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $122,122,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $122,122,000
More forest statistics for Costa Rica
Costa Rica has initiated numerous inventive programs to promote sustainable development. One such project, organized by FUNDECOR (Foresta Project of the Foundation for the Development of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range), works to sustainably manage more than 13,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of forest by developing forest management plans for landowners. Not only do the landowners end up with more money in their pockets, but operations also do less damage to the forest as they remove valuable trees.
Eco-tourism has become one of the most important sources of revenue for Costa Rica. The country is considered an ideal introduction to the rainforests for its biodiversity, its excellent and accessible parks system, and its relative safety for tourists. In some areas, tourism has proved a little too much for the environment and some parks now have restrictions on the number of visitors allowed at any given time. Further, the construction of hotels in some locations has proved ecologically controversial. Still, Costa Rica serves as a prime example to other developing countries that economic well-being is compatible with forest preservation.
Costa Rica is looking to capitalize on its forests in ways other than eco-tourism. In 2005, Costa Rica joined a coalition of tropical developing countries that proposed a "rainforest conservation for emissions" deal at the December United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal. The plan, which was accepted by the UN, called for wealthy nations to compensate poor nations for rainforest conservation. Costa Rica already had a similar program in place which protected rainforest by selling allowances to emit greenhouses gases. In 1999, the program generated some $20 million.
Despite its environmental rhetoric and conservation legislation, Costa Rica has a poor track record when it comes to deforestation. In the early 1990s, the country had one of the worst deforestation rates in Latin America. Costa Rica was once 99 percent forested, but forest cover has steadily diminished from 85 percent in 1940 to around 35 percent today according to the FAO's State of the World's Forests (FAO's Forest Resources Assessment says the current cover is closer to 50 percent). Historically, clearing for agriculture (mostly coffee and bananas) and cattle pastures has been the largest contributor to Costa Rica's rainforest destruction. During the 1970s and early 1980s, vast stretches of rainforest were burned and converted into cattle lands, but when the largest importer of Central American beef, the United States, ceased beef imports, Costa Rica was left with millions of acres of cleared land and a lot of cattle.
Today, while deforestation rates of natural forest have dropped considerably, Costa Rica's remaining forests still face threats from illegal timber harvesting in protected areas and conversion for agriculture and cattle pasture in unprotected zones. The popularity of Costa Rica as an eco-tourist destination makes parks a source of income rather than an expense, and past governments have been known to use park funds for making up budget shortfalls instead of maintaining protected areas. Corruption remains a problem in Costa Rica, though not as much as in nearby countries.
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First strike: nearly 200 illegal loggers arrested in massive sting across 12 countries
(02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL's first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
Three developing nations move to ban hunting to protect vanishing wildlife
(01/21/2013) Three developing countries have recently toughened hunting regulations believing the changes will better protect vanishing species. Botswana has announced it will ban trophy hunting on public lands beginning in 2014, while Zambia has recently banned any hunting of leopards or lions, both of which are disappearing across Africa. However, the most stringent ban comes from another continent: Costa Rica—often considered one of the "greenest" countries on Earth—has recently passed a law that bans all sport hunting and trapping both inside and outside protected areas. The controversial new law is considered the toughest in the Western Hemisphere.
Telling the story of the father of sea turtle conservation
(01/21/2013) In 1959, visionary Archer Carr founded the world's first conservation group devoted solely to sea turtles. Working with these marine denizens in Costa Rica, Carr was not only instrumental in changing local views of the turtles—which at the time were being hunted and eaten at unsustainable rates—but also in establishing basic practices for sea turtle conservation today. Now a new film by Two-Head Video, Inc. tells the story of Carr's work and the perils still facing marine turtles today.
Gaming for rainforests
(10/03/2012) The average gamer will spend thousands of hours playing video games by the time they reach adulthood, but the most popular games among some demographics — shoot-em-up and sports games — don't seem to offer many dividends to society or the environment. However Jan Dwire doesn't believe that has to be the case. With a small team in Costa Rica, Dwire has developed "Rainforest Rangers", a multi-platform game that teaches kids about rainforests, including their importance and the threats they face.
Jaguar conservation gets a boost in North and Central America
(09/27/2012) Jaguar conservation has received a huge boost in the past few months both in Latin America and in the U.S. An historic agreement singed between the world's leading wild cat conservation organization Panthera and the government of Costa Rica in addition to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal bring renewed hope to the efforts to revive the iconic jaguar in its current habitat and return the cats to the American Southwest.
Dry forests disappearing faster than rainforests in Latin America
(08/21/2012) Countries across Latin America lost 78,000 square kilometers of subtropical and tropical dry broadleaf forests between 2001 and 2010, according to a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Biotropica.
Animal picture of the day: the boat-billed heron
(05/16/2012) Boat-billed herons (Cochlearius cochlearius) are found in Central and South America, as far north as Mexico and as far south as Argentina. A notably bizarre heron, the species is the only member of the genus Cochlearius. Like many heron species it feeds on a wide variety of freshwater and terrestrial animals.
Jaguar v. sea turtle: when land and marine conservation icons collide
(05/16/2012) At first, an encounter between a jaguar (Panthera onca) and a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) seems improbable, even ridiculous, but the two species do come into fatal contact when a female turtle, every two to four years, crawls up a jungle beach to lay her eggs. A hungry jaguar will attack the nesting turtle, killing it with a bite to the neck, and dragging the massive animal—sometime all the way into the jungle—to eat the muscles around the neck and flippers. Despite the surprising nature of such encounters, this behavior, and its impact on populations, has been little studied. Now, a new study in Costa Rica's Tortuguero National Park has documented five years of jaguar attacks on marine turtles—and finds these encounters are not only more common than expected, but on the rise.
Tink frog calls allow researchers to measure population
(03/19/2012) Given their often tiny size and cryptic nature, how does one determine frog populations in the rainforest? Just eavesdrop. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society (TCS) employed automated recorders to listen to amphibian calls to determine if the common tink frog (Diasporus diastema) could be found in recovering secondary forests in Costa Rica.
Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?
(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.
Featured video: saving baby orphaned sloths
(12/06/2011) The world's only sloth sanctuary works to save orphaned and injured sloths in Costa Rica. A recent short film (below) by Lucy Cooke highlights a few of the stars of the sloth sanctuary. Cooke has a new hour long film debuting on Animal Planet on December 17th at 8 PM EST, following the adventures of a number of these sloths.
Yeti crab cultivates bacteria on its claws to feed itself
(12/02/2011) A species of deep-sea crab found in hydrothermal vents off Costa Rica cultivates "gardens" of bacteria on its claws to feed itself, reports Nature News.
Costa Rican fishermen plundering Colombian waters for sharks
(10/14/2011) Costa Rican fishermen have killed some 2,000 sharks in Colombian waters off Malpelo island, a protected area renowned for its marine life, reports Colombia Reports.
Little-known animal picture of the day: salmon-bellied snake
(10/11/2011) The salmon-bellied snake (Mastigodryas melanolomus) is found in Central American forests, savannas, and even agricultural areas. It preys on lizards, frogs, and rodents.
Cameratraps take global snapshot of declining tropical mammals
(08/17/2011) A groundbreaking cameratrap study has mapped the abundance, or lack thereof, of tropical mammal populations across seven countries in some of the world's most important rainforests. Undertaken by The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM), the study found that habitat loss was having a critical impact on mammals. The study, which documented 105 mammals (nearly 2 percent of the world's known mammals) on three continents, also confirmed that mammals fared far better—both in diversity and abundance—in areas with continuous forest versus areas that had been degraded.
Photo: six new mini-moths discovered
(07/19/2011) Researchers have discovered six new species of moth from Central America, according to a new paper in Zoo Keys. The moths belong to the primitive Yponomeutidae family, which are commonly known as ermine moths, since some of the species' markings resemble the coat of the ermine.
Animal picture of the day: the adorable scale-crested pygmy tyrant
(07/18/2011) The scale-crested pygmy tyrant is a species of flycatcher that belongs to the passerine order of birds. It is found in tropical forests, including lowland areas and montane forests, and ranges from Costa Rica to Peru and Venezuela.
Ant surprises on Murciélago Islands in Costa Rica
(06/28/2011) The Murciélago Islands are seven small islands off the northwest coast of Costa Rica in the Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), home to one of the largest intact dry tropical forests in Central America. Despite this, few scientists have studied the biodiversity of these small uninhabited islands. A new study in the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has attempted to rectify this gap by conducting the first survey of insects, specifically ants, on the islands. Researchers were surprised at the richness of ant species on the island: 50 species were documented, only two of which were invasive species.
Environment versus economy: local communities find economic benefits from living next to conservation areas
(06/12/2011) While few would question that conserving a certain percentage of land or water is good for society overall, it has long been believed that protected areas economically impoverish, rather than enrich, communities living adjacent to them. Many communities worldwide have protested against the establishment of conservation areas near them, fearing that less access and increased regulations would imperil their livelihoods. However, a surprising study overturns the common wisdom: showing that, at least in Thailand and Costa Rica, protected areas actually boost local economies and decrease poverty.
Amazon still neglected by researchers
(03/28/2011) Although the Amazon is the world's largest tropical forest, it is not the most well known. Given the difficulty of access along with the fear of disease, dangerous species, indigenous groups, among other perceived perils, this great treasure chest of biology and ecology was practically ignored by scientists for centuries. Over the past few decades that trend has changed, however even today the Amazon remains lesser known than the much smaller, and more secure, tropical forests of Central America. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, which surveyed two prominent international tropical ecology journals (Biotropica and Journal of Tropical Ecology) between 1995 and 2008, finds that Central America was the subject of twice as many studies as the Amazon. In fact, according to the authors, much of the Amazon remains terra incognito to researchers, even as every year more of the rainforest is lost to human impacts.
Top forest policies recognized
(03/23/2011) 19 forest policies have been nominated for an award by the World Future Council, a global think tank.
Good stewards of forests at home outsource deforestation abroad
(11/24/2010) As more nations adopt better laws and policies to save and restore forests at home, they may, in fact, be outsourcing deforestation to other parts of the world, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at six developing nations where forests are recovering—instead of receding—the study found only one of them did not outsource deforestation to meet local demand for wood-products and food, a process known as 'leakage'.
Photos: ants take top prize at Veolia Wildlife Environment Photography contest
(10/21/2010) An image of nocturnal ant silhouettes systematically devouring a leaf in Costa Rica has given Hungarian photographer, Bence Máté, the much-coveted Veolia Wildlife Environment Photographer of the Year award. In addition to being named Photographer of the year, Máté also won the Erik Hosking award, given to a young photographer (ages 18-26) for a portfolio of images, for images taken in Costa Rica, Brazil, and Hungary.
Photos: world's top ten 'lost frogs'
(08/09/2010) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International (CI) have sent teams of researchers to 14 countries on five continents to search for the world's lost frogs. These are amphibian species that have not been seen for years—in some cases even up to a century—but may still survive in the wild. Amphibians worldwide are currently undergoing an extinction crisis. While amphibians struggle to survive against habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation, they are also being wiped out by a fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis.
Inga alley cropping: a sustainable alternative to slash and burn agriculture
(06/14/2010) It has been estimated that as many as 300 million farmers in tropical countries may take part in slash and burn agriculture. A practice that is environmentally destructive and ultimately unstable. However, research funded by the EEC and carried out in Costa Rica in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Mike Hands offers hope that it is possible to farm more successfully and sustainably in these tropical regions.
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