Though steps have been taken to conserve Costa Rica's wild places, approximately 20,000 acres of land are deforested annually. Recent approximations indicate that only a quarter of the original forest cover in Costa Rica is still standing. Half of this is under the protection of national parks and biological reserves. Indigenous and forest reserves, wildlife refuges, and privately-owned plots occupy the other half. This latter half is where the biggest problem exists. Laws are too lenient on land that is not deemed a national territory, and recent amendments to forestry law makes it even easier to obtain logging permits.
Evidence of deforestation is everywhere. Enormous logging trucks loaded with gigantic trees can be seen thundering down roads, exiting the dwindling reserves - the sights and sounds of a forest's slow death. From the air, one can see the huge plots of land barren of the massive giants that once stood there.
There are many reasons for the deforestation that is occurring in Costa Rica. Firstly, logging companies do not discriminate when deforesting. An entire area will be cleared in order to extract only one or two profitable species; the rest is left to rot. In addition, roads that logging companies build to transport trees out of the virgin forests further enable the encroachment of civilization into those forests. The production of grazing land, however, is the major cause of deforestation. Since the 1950s, about 60% of Costa Rica has been cleared to make room for cattle ranching. In fact, during the 1960s, the U.S. offered Costa Rican cattle ranchers millions of dollars in loans to stimulate beef production. The result was devastating.
Banana plantations also contribute to the shrinking of the Costa Rican wilderness; in particular, the ultra-diverse lowland rainforest. They now cover 130,000 acres of previously forested land, primarily in the Atlantic and Northern regions. In addition, this industry has a long tradition of affecting its workers with exposure to high levels of dangerous pesticides. In the 1970s, this became embarrassingly apparent when thousands of plantation workers throughout Central America became sterile.
Many of the these plantations, especially mango and citrus fruit, are owned by large multinational corporations or very wealthy Costa Ricans. As they steadily gobble up the smaller, family-owned farms, especially in the Northern Plains, the land is homogenizing into a single monocrop. This condition may be devastating in the long-term. The single species progressively depletes the nutrients that are particular to it, disrupting the soil's delicate nutrient balance, and potentially making it problematic to sustain the land for agriculture.
While the large companies get bigger and bigger, the small farmers are forced to vie for scraps, parcels of land that are unsuitable for agriculture, usually on steep hillsides. Costa Rica's population explosion will only prove to exacerbate the problem. As the population increases at a distressing rate, farmers are compelled to work more land, clearing it of all its foliage. Costa Rica's conservation laws are apparently progressive in theory and ambitious in scope, but, like many developing nations, the government lacks the resources to enforce them.
The effects of deforestation can be devastating. Not only does it rid the land of its natural aesthetic, but consequences that are damaging to the environment are possible, usually stemming from its ability to cause land erosion. When an area is cleared, the soil under the surface is essentially stripped of the roots that provided it structural integrity and support. Without this support, the force of water, gravity, or both can cause the land to move, either as one piece, or, more commonly, gradually and incrementally. This is erosion, and it is the main cause of Costa Rica's environmental crises such as flooding, desertification, sedimentation in rivers, long-term hydroelectric shortages, loss of wildlife diversity, and the obvious depletion of the wood resources.
Currently, the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) promotes conservation to the agriculture industry by offering financial incentives to farmers for their efforts in protecting primary and secondary forests on their land. Similar incentives are offered for reforesting. Many national parks encourage their neighbors to develop their own private reserves, relieving some of the burden from the potentially shrinking parks. In addition, private reserves that surround national parks provides a strong buffer to the encroachment of villages and inhibit their antropogenic effects due to proximity.
Many non-government conservation organizations exist throughout the country. To learn about how you can help further the efforts for conservation, preservation and restoration, check out Conservation Ethics.