The worst thing that can happen during the 1980s is not energy depletion, economic collapse, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us.
Cerro Osa Station is a privately-owned biological field station dedicated to tropical rainforest conservation and management. Our primary work is tropical forest ecosystem research and the application of research to the restoration and maintenance of tropical rainforests. Our principle goal is to achieve a balance between reasonable human economic activity and the fundamental priority of maximizing forest biodiversity.
Tropical moist forests cover only 6% of the earth's terrestrial surface area but contain at least half of all the earth's living species. These forests are being cut, burned, and converted to other land uses (deforested) at an annual rate of at least 2% per year, faster than any other forest ecosystem. An estimated additional 2% per year are degraded by forest fragmentation and human activities within the forest such as road building and selective logging. The current rate of global species extinction is 10,000 to 100,000 times the normal background rate of extinction. Tropical deforestation is easily the most serious of the many environmetally damaging, human-activities that are driving the current mass extinction of species on our planet (See "Note" below).
In March of 1992, the Compania Reforestadora de Puerto Jimenez, S.A., whose principle asset is a 652 hectare tract of tropical rainforest land on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica, was purchased by the current owner, Albert Foster. The immediate goal was to rescue the 323 hectares of natural forest on the property from being logged and to stop the application of herbicides in the 329 hectare tree plantation.
From our experience in Costa Rica, the greatest obstacle to tropical rainforest conservation is not a lack of general public concern, science, or even money, but a lack of secure land tenure or property rights which effectively discourages long-term investment of labor and capital. Insecure land tenure promotes and perpetuates the cycle of tropical deforestation by encouraging management for short-term profits. This cycle is characterized throughout the tropics by logging and removal of commercially valuable tree species, clearing and burning of the remaining vegetation, conversion to agricultural uses such as cattle pasture, and abandonment without reforestation after site productivity has been diminished, often within a few years. Only a socio-political solution will break this cycle.
(Note: The source for for this information is Principles of Conservation Biology, Second Edition, by Gary Meffe and Ronald Carroll, published in 1997 by Sinauer Associates in Sunderland, Massachusetts. This is the current textbook for BIOL 476 Conservation Biology, an Upper Division course I just completed at the University of Washington in Seattle. In other words, this is the latest, mainstream scientific thinking on this subject as taught at one of the leading US research universities. See also my expanded and periodically updated coverage under State of the World. -A.F.)
Primary rainforest, Cerro Osa Station, 1996.
Cerro Osa Station is located in the upper Piro River watershed near Cabo Matapalo, about 10 km southeast of Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica (see map of Costa Rica to find the Osa Peninsula). The geographical coordinates are: from 8° 24' 16" to 8° 25' 51" north latitude, and, from 83° 18' 48" to 83° 20' 49" west longitude.
The property is 609 hectares/1,504 acres in area with a rugged, irregular topography. The highest point is Cerro Osa at 326 m elevation on the eastern boundary and the lowest is in the southwest corner at 40 m elevation. Two rivers, the Piro and Coyunda, cross the property from north to south. The most recent survey was done in December 1994.
The climate is humid with approximately 5,000 mm (197 inches) rainfall per year, falling primarily from April to December with a peak in October, and temperatures ranging from 22 to 34° C (72 to 93° F). The land is classified as 'Tropical Wet Forest, multistratal, broadleaf evergreen forest' under the Holdridge Life Zone System Classification, the most species-rich in all of Costa Rica.
Access is by road or air from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. By road it is 404 km from San Jose with the first 298 km paved and the last 106 km on all-weather gravel surface. The last 27 km from Puerto Jimenez, the nearest town (see map below), are best accomplished with a four wheel drive vehicle. Regularly scheduled domestic air service is available from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez with a one hour flight time.
The property has a 176 square meter (1,870 square foot) masonry house built in 1994 to US standards with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, central dining and kitchen room, and a large porch. The house has a gravity-fed, fresh water system and a solar electric power system. An older workers house will be replaced with a new caretaker's quarters in 1998. Several small guest cabins are planned for construction in 1999. It is 4 km from the main road in to the house.
Our research and management focus is on the reforestation of degraded tropical land, primarily abandoned cattle pasture. There are currently millions of hectares of degraded former tropical forest lands, now abandoned pasture, that could be reforested to the benefit of both humanity and other living organisms. Most of these lands require human intervention for forest regeneration to succeed due to one or more of several reasons. Our management goal is to maximize the wildlife habitat quality of new forests planted in abandoned pasture lands across the tropics by mimicing natural forest succesional patterns, structure, and biodiversity as closely as possible while providing a reasonable financial return. Current projects include:
Please read my paper "Tropical Reforestaion: A Global Imperative" for an overview of tropical plantation forestry and a review of our current research interests here at Cerro Osa Station.
To date, this project has been privately funded by the owner except for a very minor component for the reforestation project received from the government of Costa Rica. Future funding will rely primarily on sales of wood products from the tree plantation beginning as early as 1998. Development of additional revenue sources from hosting visiting eco-tourists or renting facilities to researchers is currently being considered. If revenues fail to cover expenditures over the next few years, the sale of all or part of the property will be required.