Contributed by Wendy Rubiano
Costa Rica has been a pioneer in the development of funds for environmental services. Home to about 4% of the species on earth, this country offers a great variety of incredible landscapes and biodiversity. With agriculture, livestock, and development booming, Costa Rica has established programs to compensate landowners for reforestation so that the economy as well as the natural heritage can be further supported.
What Is Reforestation?
Reforestation refers to the repopulation of a territory with trees. Generally, this territory was in its recent past (approximately fifty years or so) populated by various trees and forests that were deforested for various reasons. These can be construction of different infrastructures, growth of urban areas, the use of wood for industrial or consumer purposes, increased agricultural and livestock limits or, were destroyed by various factors such as fires, whether caused, accidental or by natural phenomena.
Ideally, the species used in reforestation projects are indigenous to Costa Rica, although they can also be brought over from other places. The most important characteristic is that they are fast-growing trees. In general, planting and reforesting lands in poor condition has had a positive effect on the environment.
Why Is Reforestation Important?
Reforestation is an essential action for the survival of man and other living beings on this planet. Some of the most important functions of trees and forests are:
- Trees (and plants) perform photosynthesis. In this process, they use part of the carbon dioxide that we emit when breathing or in our daily activities and transform it into oxygen, among other elements. Therefore, reforestation is important for the production of oxygen in our planet and thus essential in our survival.
- The trees of the large wooded areas have the ability to trap and remove polluting particles such as dust, pollen, smoke and ash that can be harmful to our lungs.
- Trees, by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, help to reduce the greenhouse effect. This effect is created because gases such as CO2 and others cause heat to be retained in the atmosphere, contributing to the increase in global warming.
- Trees are important agents to ensure water conservation and reduce soil erosion. Thanks to the reforestation, we managed to stop the torrential water currents in the soil and reduce the erosion and sedimentation of the rivers.
- Trees and forests serve as habitats for a great diversity of species on the planet including decomposers, birds or different fungal species. With reforestation, we would recover this biodiversity lost in that area.
- Trees reduce the so-called thermal island effect, which occurs in cities as a result of heat retention by materials such as concrete. In this way, reforestation can impact the local climate and lower temperatures.
Objectives Of Reforestation
The main objectives of reforestation are:
- Plant production.
- Creating more green areas to promote the above-mentioned effects.
- Production of wood, cellulose, fruit, fibers or fuels.
- Control soil erosion and promote watersheds.
- Establish protected areas for the livestock, using intensive production techniques.
- Form areas of protection against the wind and thus protect crops.
- Expanding forests as part of more sustainable agricultural practices.
In Costa Rica, deforestation had reached its peak in the 1980s. However, according to the New Report of FAO, The State of the World’s Forests 2016 (SOFO), an increase of 54% in protected forests has been recorded.
Some data about Costa Rica’s reforestation efforts
With the creation of normative tools in solidarity with the environment and the effort of the so-called Payment for Environmental Services (PSA) Program, the country has recovered a notable percentage of its protected areas.
The Payment for Environmental Services Program is a financial institution funded by the State through the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO). Their mission is described as forest conservation and management, reforestation and natural regeneration. This program has strengthened the protected areas covering 437,000 hectares.
The PSA offered farmers the opportunity to plant 5.4 million trees, in addition to supporting the conservation of forests in indigenous territories. However, although the area of secondary forests is increasing, logging for agricultural purposes continues. In addition, some farmers avoid forest regeneration because they do not want to lose the opportunity to use their land for agriculture.
Between 1996 and 2015, the PSA’s projects related to reforestation reached an investment of 318 million USD; 64% of these funds came from taxes on fossil fuels and 22% from World Bank loans.
Currently, about 50% of the country’s forest area is in protected, where the forestry law prohibits the change of land use.
Costa Rica recognizes 4 environmental services that support forests and forest plantations. These are:
- Mitigation of greenhouse gases (fixation, reduction, and storage of CO2)
- Protection of water resources
- Protection of biodiversity
- Protection of scenic beauty.
Costa Rica has 6 different types of forest:
- Tropical rainforest
- Cloud forest
- Tropical dry forest
- Lowland rainforests
- Riparian forests
From a biological point of view, forests are the most diverse terrestrial ecosystems, because they harbor more than 80% of animal and plant species. According to the National Inventory, Costa Rica registers a list that contains more than 2040 forest species, one of the highest figures in the tropical world.
Reforestation And Global Warming
The emission of CO2, deforestation, the exploitation of natural resources in an irresponsible way, the mistreatment of soils and a host of practices inherited from past generations, have accelerated climate change which is generating global warming.
Broadly speaking, global warming is an increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, which generates changes in the rainfall regime, increases sea levels, causes climatic changes that damage biodiversity, and cause risks for the agriculture, food and water supply.
Faced with the evident progress of climate change, there are things that each of us can do, conscious reforestation is one of them.
As I have stated previously, the forests clean the air and regulate the climate at the same time. A single healthy tree produces the same cooling effect as 10 air conditioning units working together, as well as reducing particulate matter in the air by 7% to 24%. Trees are the only solution that cleans and cools the air at the same time, in addition to offering other benefits such as natural areas for people to enjoy and a habitat for wildlife and carbon sequestration.
Help Kids Saving The Rainforest Plant Trees!
In Costa Rica, there are private organizations that do their part and develop reforestation programs. Kids Saving the Rainforest, as its name suggests, is a Non-Profit organization that rescues injured animals, treats them and releases them back into the wild when possible. They are home to at least 100 animals per year.
They have been given 113 hectares of land to be used as a biological sanctuary to release rescued wildlife and to become a green lung for the Central Pacific area. This forest will offer shelter to species such as Squirrels, White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Sloths, and many more species native of this area.
Their goal is to plant 10,000 trees in 2019! They will be planting a mix of native species like Manzana de Agua, Roble Cebo, Ron Ron, Pilon, Muneca, Lorita, Sota Caballo, Caoba, Hule, Aguacatillo, and Laurel Negro.
The planting will commence on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2019, with the help of volunteers.
This activity is open to the general public, so if you want to be an active supporter of this cause, you can send an email to [email protected] to confirm your assistance!
Maybe you are not in Costa Rica but you want to help with this wonderful initiative. The good news is that you can donate directly to them right here, you can also become a Sloth Sponsor and even help them achieve their USD$15,000 Goal to be able to buy a Wildlife Ambulance.
Today is the day that we try to make amends for the a past of neglect and build towards a future where we will be able to live in balance with the environment. We must be aware that our actions leave a mark on the world and that affecting it in a positive way is much simpler than it seems!