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Forest, part of solution to global warming

by Floro Mercene

Costa Rica, a “green republic” known worldwide for its efforts to protect forests, had poor track record when it comes to deforestation. Costa Rica was once 99 percent forested, but forest cover had steadily diminished. Clearing for agriculture, mostly coffee and bananas, and for cattle pastures had 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. In 1995, the government initiated a project issuing landowners forest protection certificates which will annually pay landowners about $50 for every forest hectare, with the agreement that the forest will be protected. The country initiated numerous incentive programs to promote sustainable development. One such program encourages forest management plans for landowners, which earns more money for landowners, but operations also do less damage to the forest.

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 with an excellent and accessible parks system, and its relative safety for tourists. Costa Rica has an ambitious conservation program. It boasts 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.

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.

Driven by a growing environmental movement in countries that are home to tropical forests, and the success of Costa Rica, shows what may be possible if the world gets more ambitious about tracking global warming by locking human-released carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it into long-term storage.