Deforestation is an issue affecting areas in many parts of the world, including Costa Rica. Approximately 20,000 acres of land are deforested annually and recent studies indicate that only a quarter of the original forest cover in Costa Rica is still standing. Half of the land is under the protection of national parks and biological reserves, whereas the other half is comprised of indigenous and forest reserves, wildlife refuges, and privately owned plots of land. Despite the creation of many national parks and protected areas, Costa Rica still has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates (3,9%/year in 2007). According to Planeta, approximately 11% of Costa Rican land has been set aside for national parks; that is the equivalent of the US declaring all of Texas and Oklahoma as nature preserves.

Pristine Rainforest in Manuel Antonios National Park (Photo Credit: A. Vlack)

Many rainforests in Central and South America have been eradicated to create areas for cattle farming, which supply cheap beef to North America, China and Russia. It is estimated that for each pound of beef produced, 200 square feet of rainforest is destroyed. This subsistence strategy is known as slash and burn farming and is believed to account for approximately half of all rainforest destruction. The problem with clearing rainforests is that the soil quality is poor, and without the vegetation it becomes dry very quickly. The grasses often die after only a few years, leaving the land to resemble a crusty desert. As a result, cattle farmers then have to relocate and destroy more rainforest to create new, productive cattle pastures.

Logging in a Costa Rican Rainforest

Logging is believed to be the second largest cause of deforestation because timber companies often cut down mahogany and teak trees to sell to other countries for furniture production. It has become a problem because current laws are too lenient on land that is not deemed a national territory, and recent amendments to forestry laws makes it even easier to obtain logging permits. The forests are also cut down to create vast mono-crop plantations where bananas, palm oil, pineapple, sugar cane, tea, coffee and other agricultural products are grown. Similarly, the soil is not able to sustain crops for long, and after a few years farmers are forced to cut down more rainforest to create new plantations.

 Flooding in San Juan, Costa Rica as a Result of Deforestation

The effects of deforestation can be devastating. Not only does it rid the land of its natural aesthetic, there are also consequences such as erosion that are damaging to the environment. When an area is cleared, the soil under the surface is essentially stripped of the roots that provided the foliage with structure and support. Without this support system, the force of water and gravity causes the land to move and as a result creates flooding, desertification, river sedimentation, long-term hydroelectric shortages, loss of wildlife diversity, and the depletion of wood resources.