Effects of Deforestation on Costa Rica Final Paper

This topic submitted by Melissa Kulp ( kulpma@miamioh.edu) at 3:18 PM on 5/17/06.

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The tropical rain forest is the most diverse ecosystem found in the world today. They are home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of these species are not found anywhere else. Rainforests are the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Unfortunately, with the ever growing population of humans the rain forests are being cut down at a shocking rate to provide humans with lumber, pasture land, and farm land. As a result of this cutting down of trees, or deforestation, the rainforest is being destroyed. The rainforests of Costa Rica are also enduring this fate. Costa Rica's rain forest is home to large numbers of plant and animal life. This life is slowly diminishing as the natural habitats are vanquishing.
Deforestation, involves the cutting down, burning, and damaging of forests (Deforestation 2006). In Costa Rica, most deforestation takes place because of a need for agricultural land. There are three main types of deforestation that take place in the tropical regions. In countries with poor economies, people turn to agriculture to meet the everyday needs of living. Poor farmers migrate to agricultural settlement areas and cut down several acres of land to use for farming. They then burn the stumps to release the nutrients into the soil needed to grow crops. This is essential because in rainforests nearly all of the nutrients required to sustain life are found within the plants and trees, and not in the soil. This process is called slash and burn agriculture (Jordan 2006). In poor countries, farming like this is the only way for people to survive. They raise crops to feed themselves and to sell to make money to live by. However, with no trees, the nutrients are soon washed away by rain. This can happen in as little as three years. The farmers are forced to move to new land, as the land they cleared becomes useless and unable to yield crops. The land is left to re-grow, but as the soil is left infertile, the forest will take a long time to grow back (Rudel 2005).
Intensive agriculture takes place on a much larger scale in Costa Rica. Large companies clear vast amounts of land, often for cattle pastures to fill the beef market. They also use the land for large plantations and use pesticides and irrigation systems that are very damaging to the land. The chemicals they use to kill pests also kill other animals and cause a lot of damage to surrounding areas. The rain washes the chemicals into the water system killing the marine life (Jordan 2006). Land used in these ways not only affects much of the surrounding area negatively, but also can take centuries to re-grow. Approximately 2.2 billion metric tons of top soil has been eroded in Costa Rica due in a small part to the role of beef exports to the United States. Ironically, Costa Rica receives greater earnings from the preservation of its rain forests today than it did from its exploitation and destruction of them (Costa Rica 2006).
Commercial loggers also cut forests to sell as timber or pulp. This is done either selectively, taking only certain types of trees, or through clear cutting, where all trees in a certain area are removed. Selective deforestation is more damaging than expected, with studies showing that selling a small amount of trees in a forest can affect a great deal of trees in the surrounding area. However, when left to re-grow, the area recovers quite quickly. When clear cutting has taken place, it is very difficult for the forest to re-grow at all, because all the nutrients have been removed. These trees are taken away, not burnt, so their nutrients are not released into the soil (Jordan 2006).
The causes of deforestation are mainly related to a competitive global economy, which forces poorer countries to use their only resources for money. This happens both locally and nationally. Locally, people use land for farming to make money, due to poverty and increasing populations. Nationally, governments sell logging concessions to cover debts and develop industries. For example, in 1995, Brazil owed $159 Billion internationally. By selling their prized woods such as mahogany, they can attempt to pay back their debts and develop their own industries to generate wealth for the country (Moran 2005).
The problem is that using their rainforests is only a short-term solution, which is causing even worse and long-term effects. Most heartbreaking is its effect on the environment and the local wildlife. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide with each acre of tropical forest storing about 180 metric tons of carbon. Trees are made of about 50% carbon, so when trees are burnt, carbon is released into the atmosphere (Deforestation in Costa Rica 2006). This joins with oxygen to make CO2, which enhances the greenhouse effect, changing temperatures globally. It also affects the climate of the local area, as it is estimated that half the rain in tropical countries comes from evaporation of moisture in the canopy of the trees. As trees and plants are cleared away, the moist canopy of the tropical rain forest quickly diminishes. Evaporation and Evapotranspiration processes from the trees and plants return large quantities of water to the local atmosphere, promoting the formation of clouds and precipitation. Less evaporation means that more of the Sun's energy is able to warm the surface and the air above, leading to a rise in temperatures and the drying of land (Jordan 2006).
Also greatly affected are the animals and plants that live in the rainforests. Tropical rainforests hold about 50% of earth’s species of animals. When we destroy their habitat, we kill them too. Many of the animals killed as a result of deforestation are yet undiscovered. It is estimated that approximately 130 species a day are wiped out globally through deforestation. These plants and animals could hold cures for cancer or aids that may never be discovered. Not only this, but animals that we do know about are also being threatened, as their habitats are destroyed and they themselves are killed too (Population 2006).
Costa Rica removes nearly 57,000 hectares of rain forest each year. This is the highest total in the Western Hemisphere (Rudel 2005). The Costa Rican rain forests are among the world’s richest ecosystems. The problems facing Costa Rica are pressuring the government and the world leaders to help preserve the remaining rainforest. The Costa Rican government has recently begun taking action to preserve the rainforest. In 1969, the government established thirty-two national parks and reserves (Munasinghe 1996). This amounts to approximately 10% of Costa Rica's national territory. One of these parks, Corcovado, contains 161 square miles of rain forest. Within this small area, about the size of Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, there are 285 species of birds, 139 species of mammals, 116 species of amphibians and 5,000-10,000 species of insects (Herwitz 1981). If the logging of rain forests continues at its present rate, the rain forests in Costa Rica will disappear before the end of this century.
There are also social consequences of deforestation. For indigenous communities, the arrival of civilization usually means the destruction of their traditional life-style and the breakdown of their social foundations. Individual and collective rights to the forest resources have been frequently ignored and indigenous peoples and local communities have typically been excluded from the decisions that directly impact upon their lives. The intrusion of outsiders destroys traditional life styles, customs, and religious beliefs (Moran 2005).
Due to the complexity of environmental issues such as deforestation, many conflicts have arisen between environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace and those involved in deforestation activities. The solutions to problems such as deforestation lie in addressing the root cause. In this case, finding a solution means considering the economic problems that lie at the heart of the situation. Many propositions have been put forward such as sustainable wood sources. Organizations such as Greenpeace and other activists are making huge efforts to save the rainforests, but in doing so they make many enemies. Many of these enemies are those whose co-operation is needed to help both the rainforests and the people (Jordan 2006). If deforestation continues at its current rate, in just 100 years there will be no more rainforests left at all (Costa Rica 2006). This is not a solution that is working hard or fast enough.
Rainforest are magnificent, unique, and diverse areas on our precious Earth. If something is not done to stop the effects of deforestation, we may lose animals, plants, and possibilities for cures to diseases that are killing off our own race. We must come together to devise a plan that is best suited for businesses, governments, and most importantly the environment. Once the rainforest is gone, it will be gone for good. We need to all step up and help save our planet’s “gemstones.”

Works Cited

Costa Rica. Mongabay. 2006. 20 Mar. 2006

Deforestation. Environmental Web. 12 May 2006. .

Deforestation in Costa Rica. Ed. Oak Park Students. 1996. 20 Mar. 2006 .

Herwitz, Stanley R. Regeneration of Selected Tropical Tree Species in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1981.

Jordan, Leilani. Deforestation on South America. Conservation Zone. 12 May. 2006.

Moran, Emilio F., and Elinor Ostrom. Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Human-Environment Interactions in Forest Ecosystems. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005.

Munasinghe, Mohan. Environmental impacts of Macroeconomic and Sectoral policies. Washington D.C., United Nations Environmental Program, 1996.

Population and Deforestation in Costa Rica. Ed. Alberto Palloni. U of Wisconsin-Madison. 21 Mar. 2006 .

Rudel, Thomas K. Tropical Forests: Regional Paths of Destruction and Regeneration in the late Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

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