Excerpted from DEFORESTING TO REFORESTING: A MODEL IN COSTA RICA FOR PROFITABLE REFORESTATION*
By the Finca Leola staff
It doesn't take very long to cut down a tree, but it takes decades to replace it. Reforestation is not happening fast enough. And other than in national parks and forest preserves, it is not normally a long-term proposition. The reason is that, eventually, the owner of reforested land will have to sell it or pass it on, and it may go to someone who doesn't feel that conservation and reforestation are all that important. Trees often outlive people, and someone may eventually yield to the temptation to harvest them unless they are protected somehow.
In Costa Rica, until only about 15 years ago, you could secure free land by improving it. The easiest way to improve the land was to chop down the forest. The forest was considered wasted or unused land. In fact, Costa Rica had to pass laws to prevent squatters from having the right to take over land that was being allocated for reforestation, because it seemed to them to be neglected.
Our goal on the Finca Leola S.A. tree plantation is to move back in the other direction: to go from pasture to perpetual forest, with a plantation as the first cycle, or interim step. Returning farmland to forest takes creative thinking for those of us with limited resources. We have a two-phase plan: taking pasture to plantation, then plantation to perpetual forest. The first phase will pay for the second, and the second phase will pay to maintain itself.
In the plantation phase, we grow trees as an investment. We are taking this approach because in this way we can afford to secure more farms around us for reforestation. After the plantation trees are harvested, the land will revert to forest. It's as if the trees themselves are working to bring back their habitat.
Already, because of owning land for our current plantation, we are expanding the natural forest around the rivers, streams, and swamps. Also, we have done a very unusual thing: All of the big, lone trees in the middle of the pastures, ojoche, laurel, corteza, and other rare species, have been left standing and the plantation trees planted around them. This means that we are preserving the seed stock, or mother trees. There are about 200 mature trees in the areas that we are planting. Some will need to be harvested over the years due to their age, but most will still be there in 25 years, bigger than ever.
Illustration: The steps to a perpetual forest
Fields are filled in with rows of plantation trees; space has been left around mother trees and existing forest.
Half the plantation trees harvested; native trees replace plantation trees; mother trees bigger; forest has spread.
Plantation trees 100% harvested; mother tree seedlings transplanted to open space; forest spreads. This is the start of a new forest.
Perpetual forest means that, unlike most forests, this one will have people who will always protect it and care for it. It will be maintained for wildlife and for the environment, with trees only being removed as needed to improve the health of the forest. The wood from these trees will be sold to provide a living for those who work taking care of the forest.
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