Forestry in Costa Rica

December 14, 2013

Costa Rica, a country smaller than the Free State in South Africa, was inhabited by an estimated 400 000 Indians when Columbus explored it in 1502. The Spanish conquest began in 1524 and the slowly, the region and was administered as a Spanish province. Costa Rica achieved independence in 1821 and became a republic in 1848. An important aspect of Costa Rica's cultural legacy is their love of peace and democracy. They take pride in having more than one hundred years of democratic tradition, and almost half a century without an army. The army was abolished in 1948, and the money the country saves is invested in improving the Costa Rican standard of living, which has fostered a culture of social peace that makes it such a pleasant place to visit.

by Michal Brink/ Forestry Solutions / /

costa rica forest
Costa Rican lowland forests and palm swamps.
auditing teak
Auditing on horseback in Costa Rica. Teak plantations are growing in popularity.

Costa Rica has some 65% of its land area covered by forestry land. Deforestation in Costa Rica has a serious impact on the environment and therefore may directly or indirectly contribute to flooding, desertification, sedimentation in rivers, loss of wildlife diversity, and the obvious sheer loss of timber. Since the end of World War II, approximately 80% of the forests of Costa Rica disappeared. Approximately 8 100ha of land are deforested annually. As the population grows, the people of Costa Rica cut down the forests to provide for pastureland for cattle ranching to produce beef for the world market to raise revenue, as well as for the establishment of other crops such as bananas. Since the 1950s, approximately 60% of Costa Rica has been cleared to make room for cattle ranching.

Forest types
The tropical rain forest and tropical moist forest are the more important forest types, both in area and species biodiversity. According to current figures, the forest cover is growing both by protection and by establishing new plantations. Through private investment, governmental incentives and payment of environmental services, over 100 000ha of forest plantations have already been established in Costa Rica.

The two main species are Gmelina arborea and Techtona grandis (teak), which constitute half of the total planted area. Forest plantations compete favourably for land with agricultural crops, such as coffee, oil palm, sugarcane and banana plantations.

Harvesting and silviculture practice
The National Conservation Areas System approves nearly 3 500 logging concessions annually. Follow-up and control of forest harvesting is the responsibility of the State Forest, who ensures that the forest owners fulfill technical and administrative regulations for forest management and harvesting.

Harvesting activities essentially happen in two ways, namely through traditional forest management plans for natural forests and then also by the harvesting of scattered trees in agricultural land. The latter is primarily responsible for the conversion of forest cover to pastures through an illegal practice called 'socolado', where the natural regen- eration and understory forest cover is removed and pastures sown.

Illegal harvesting
Up to a third of all consumed wood in Costa Rica originates from illegal harvesting. In order to control this, the government implemented a Forest Auditing System, as required by the local forest law. The audits are intended to assess the fulfilment of requirements related to forest sustainability as approved by the State Forest Administration.

Forest industry
Due to the scarcity that has arisen in natural wood species, the traditional Costa Rican forest industry is in a transition phase. Where the natural woods previously harvested were of a large diameter, the plantation species now being harvested are of a significantly smaller size. New expertise is required to process the new plantation species of small diameters.

Examples of areas where change is required are kiln drying and finger jointing techniques, where new industries are adding value to sawn timber. The transition to smaller diameter timber has led to some traditional sawmills going out of business, but simultaneously has created opportunities for new businesses. Specifically Gmelina arborea is very popular for the production of pallets, and the teak plantations are now reaching maturity.

Published in Ocober 2013

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