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Quality of life and reforestation in Costa Rica | Osa Vive Nonprofit


There are many reasons to visit or move to Costa Rica:  a stable and peaceful democracy with good health care, a tropical climate and wonderful people.  And on top of that, Costa Rica has incredible natural beauty and abundant wildlife.

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 from the north to move south and those from the south to move north.  As a result, Costa Rica has a double dose of diversity.  Consider: Costa Rica is only 5% the size of the United States, and yet it has more species of trees and frogs than does the entire United States!

In the 1940’s 75% of Costa Rica was covered with rainforest.  Then much of the forest was quickly cut down to grow crops and raise cattle, causing the loss of 50% of the country’s original forests between 1940 and 1983.

Almost alone among tropical nations, Costa Rica chose to stop the deforestation and began working to reforest the country.  By 2010 forest cover had rebounded from a low of 21% up to 52%.  There is still work to do but Costa Rica’s achievement to date is remarkable.

Why did Costa Rica commit to reforesting the country?  And how did they do it?

Costa Rica understood the negative consequences of deforestation: increased greenhouse gas emissions, problems with water quality and management, decreased soil fertility and loss of biodiversity.  And Costa Rica recognized that healthy forests full of beautiful tropical animals and plants would bring more tourism dollars to support the Costa Rican economy.  Knowing how much the country had to gain, Costa Rica had to figure how to make reforestation a reality.  Several factors contributed to the reforestation of the country but two policies from the mid 1990’s stand out, one carrot and one stick.  

The carrot: Costa Rica began to pay landowners for preserving their land.  This system is called Payment for Ecosystem Services, or PES.  Landowners are paid for managing their lands to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, protect water resources, protect biodiversity and preserve scenic natural beauty.  Suddenly landowners could benefit financially by preserving their lands (and selectively harvesting specific trees, which the program allows).  The average payment of $64 USD per hectare per year has incentivized landowners to protect their forests rather than cut them down.

The stick: It became illegal to cut down forest trees without approval from environmental authorities.  If anyone wants to cut a forest tree they are legally obligated to contact MINAET and ask for permission.  (A future Osa Vive article will provide more detail on this topic.)

Thanks to these and other environmental laws and policies, in less than 30 years Costa Rica has seen a significant increase of its forests and the animals that live in them.  And reforestation has paid off financially.  International visitors are flocking to marvel at Costa Rica’s bountiful nature, bringing 2.2 trillion colones (roughly 3.8 billion USD) to Costa Rica in 2018.  Those who live here also benefit from reforestation: we are blessed with an abundance of wildlife every day.

But these positive changes are not guaranteed or permanent.  Unscrupulous people still cut trees without permission, often knowing that they are acting illegally (hence the sound of chain saws on weekends and holidays, when enforcement is particularly unlikely).  People illegally cut forest trees for various reasons: for local use, to open up views, to sell as lumber and for real estate development.  Other environmental laws are also routinely violated, including those protecting streams, regulating earth movement, and prohibiting burning.  Sadly, there are simply not sufficient funds to properly enforce all of Costa Rica’s excellent environmental laws.

Costa Rica has worked hard to rebuild its forests.  Those of us who live here have an incredible quality of life thanks to Costa Rica’s efforts.  We owe it to our host country – and to ourselves – to help make sure their reforestation efforts are a permanent, ongoing success. 

Osa Vive is dedicated to ensuring that development occurs in accordance with all Costa Rican environmental laws. Please join us and help us: check out more articles and guides our webpage, follow us on Facebook and make a donation if you can.