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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Costa Rica: Reasons For Hope

Costa Rica: Reasons For Hope

Costa Rica Forests (circled, green), Regional Forest Fires (red), Mexico & Central America (credit: NASA, Tico Times)

Costa Rica has been named a Champion of the Earth by the UN Environment Program (UNEP). In announcing the designation, the UN's highest environmental honor, UNEP recognized this small nation's effort in nature protection and its ambitious policies to combat climate change. Fires in tropical rainforests in South America, Borneo, and Africa are now raging while forests in Siberia and Australia are also burning, Costa Rica, Bhutan, and several other nations have taken a different path to environmental protection. They offer real reasons to hope that other countries will to do likewise.The UN recognition comes at a particularly appropriate time when an international conference, to detail climate change action plans, is underway.

This forest situation wasn't always the case. In the 1940's, Costa Rica's was nearly 80% covered by tropical rainforests or tropical dry forests. By the 1990's, tree cover, outside national parks, had ben reduced to ~20% in the country. Costa Rica generates virtually all their electricity from water-driven hydro-electric power stations. With their mountains deforested, the volume of was greatly reduced and in some cases rivers were dry. The Costa Rican's abruptly realized the direct connection between forested watersheds, water supplies, and their electricity. 

 

Costa Rican forest cover maps,1940-2014 (credit: NASA Landsat and Remote Sensing Case Study)

To reverse the situation, the country created a payment for environmental services (PES) program that provides landholders with an incentive to protect and restore forests on their land. A small 'user-fee' was added to every person's power bill to be used specifically for forest protection and restoration. PES changed the bad situation. Costa Rica has returned to where forests now cover ~70% of Costa Rica's land area. Added benefits also included the return of its unique biodiversity in plant and animal species making Costa Rica an international magnet for ecotourism.

Costa Rica is an example of what can be accomplished with dedication and innovative programs in environmental and economic sustainability. While forests environments vary in other countries, Costa Rica has shown how it can work when a program is nationally applied. Volunteer programs exist in various countries that offer an educational and life changing opportunity for students to become involved in environmental restoration and other types of community projects.

Costa Rica shows reasons to be hopeful.

WHB

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