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Costa Rica Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 2,391,000 ha
% of land area: 46.8%

Primary forest cover: 180,000 ha
% of land area: 3.5%
% total forest area: 7.5%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: 3,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: 0.1%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: -117.2%
Total forest loss since 1990: -173,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.7%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: -100.0%
Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990:-29.4%

Forest Classification
Public: 24.3%
Private: 75.7%
Other: n/a
Production: 0.1%
Protection: 1.9%
Conservation: 24.5%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: 73.5%
None or unknown: n/a

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 2,391,000 ha
Primary: 180,000 ha
Modified natural: 1,319,000 ha
Semi-natural: 888,000 ha
Production plantation: 1,000 ha
Production plantation: 3,000 ha

Plantations, 2005: 4,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.2%
Annual change rate (00-05): 200,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 224 M t
Below-ground biomass: 161 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: 6,000 ha
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 117
Critically endangered: 4
Endangered: 33
Vulnerable: 74

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 1,932,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 468,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $122,122,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $122,122,000

More forest statistics for Costa Rica

The Central American country of Costa Rica, despite its small size, has high levels of biological diversity with some 12,000 species of plants, 1,239 species of butterflies, 838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 232 species of mammals. Costa Rica has an ambitious conservation program, perhaps one of the most developed among tropical rainforest countries, that protects more than 10 percent of the country. One protected strip of forest runs uninterrupted for 40 miles through nine ecological zones from sea level to 12,500 feet. In 1995, the government presented a plan to protect 18 percent of the country in national parks and another 13 percent in privately owned preserves. Areas targeted for protection are those with high biodiversity. The government funds the project by issuing landowners forest protection certificates which will annually pay landowners about $50 for every forest hectare (2.5 acres), with the agreement that the forest will be protected. Around two-thirds of Costa Rica's remaining rainforests are protected.

Costa Rica has initiated numerous inventive programs to promote sustainable development. One such project, organized by FUNDECOR (Foresta Project of the Foundation for the Development of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range), works to sustainably manage more than 13,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of forest by developing forest management plans for landowners. Not only do the landowners end up with more money in their pockets, but operations also do less damage to the forest as they remove valuable trees.

Eco-tourism has become one of the most important sources of revenue for Costa Rica. The country is considered an ideal introduction to the rainforests for its biodiversity, its excellent and accessible parks system, and its relative safety for tourists. In some areas, tourism has proved a little too much for the environment and some parks now have restrictions on the number of visitors allowed at any given time. Further, the construction of hotels in some locations has proved ecologically controversial. Still, Costa Rica serves as a prime example to other developing countries that economic well-being is compatible with forest preservation.

Costa Rica is looking to capitalize on its forests in ways other than eco-tourism. In 2005, Costa Rica joined a coalition of tropical developing countries that proposed a "rainforest conservation for emissions" deal at the December United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal. The plan, which was accepted by the UN, called for wealthy nations to compensate poor nations for rainforest conservation. Costa Rica already had a similar program in place which protected rainforest by selling allowances to emit greenhouses gases. In 1999, the program generated some $20 million.

Despite its environmental rhetoric and conservation legislation, Costa Rica has a poor track record when it comes to deforestation. In the early 1990s, the country had one of the worst deforestation rates in Latin America. Costa Rica was once 99 percent forested, but forest cover has steadily diminished from 85 percent in 1940 to around 35 percent today according to the FAO's State of the World's Forests (FAO's Forest Resources Assessment says the current cover is closer to 50 percent). Historically, clearing for agriculture (mostly coffee and bananas) and cattle pastures has been the largest contributor to Costa Rica's rainforest destruction. During the 1970s and early 1980s, vast stretches of rainforest were burned and converted into cattle lands, but when the largest importer of Central American beef, the United States, ceased beef imports, Costa Rica was left with millions of acres of cleared land and a lot of cattle.

Today, while deforestation rates of natural forest have dropped considerably, Costa Rica's remaining forests still face threats from illegal timber harvesting in protected areas and conversion for agriculture and cattle pasture in unprotected zones. The popularity of Costa Rica as an eco-tourist destination makes parks a source of income rather than an expense, and past governments have been known to use park funds for making up budget shortfalls instead of maintaining protected areas. Corruption remains a problem in Costa Rica, though not as much as in nearby countries.

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Last updated: 7 Feb 2006