, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 407-431
Date: 23 May 2006

Post-Frontier Forest Change Adjacent to Braulio Carrillo National Park, Costa Rica

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Effective biodiversity conservation in national parks depends to a large extent on adjacent forest cover. While deforestation and forest fragmentation as a result of colonization and agriculture have been widespread in neotropical countries over the past few decades, in some places agricultural intensification, wage labor, and rural to urban migration are becoming the most important emerging trends. Changes like this have resulted in forest recovery in other places, mostly in temperate zones, but there have been few studies of this phenomenon in the tropics. This paper presents a case study from a national park buffer zone in Costa Rica. An expansion of Braulio Carrillo National Park (BCNP) in 1986 forced the closing of a frontier that had been characterized by spontaneous colonization and widespread forest-to-pasture conversion. After that time, the Sarapiquí region surrounding the northern sector of BCNP underwent a dramatic social and economic transformation. Population more than doubled, new roads created easy access to a coastal port and the capital city (San José), industrial agriculture and ecotourism enterprises expanded, and population and urbanization along major highways increased. In spite of government reforestation and forest protection programs and changes in rural people's attitudes favoring forest conservation, we find that there has been only slight detectable forest recovery in satellite imagery and that forest fragmentation continued, even in remote rural areas near BCNP with stable or shrinking population. We attribute this to the consolidation of landholdings into large cattle ranches and smaller hobby ranches, driven by an inflow of capital from urban areas and developed countries. This pattern has important implications for the management of this and other national park buffer zones. We suggest that strategies focused only on sustainable land use inside buffer zones are unlikely to succeed when carried out in a context of certain macro-level changes. Conservation of endangered biological resources will only be possible if we broaden our thinking about national parks and adjacent lands in the tropics to address new land ownership and use patterns that are occurring as a result of globalization, urbanization, and expanding wage labor employment.