, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 17-40

Forest Area in Costa Rica: A Comparative Study of Tropical Forest Cover Estimates over Time

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Abstract

Forest area figures, at a given point in time and for a given region of interest, differ considerably, affecting the calculation of deforestation rates and thus confuse the political and scientific discussion on the state and change of the resource forest. This article discusses the variation of published forest cover figures, using Costa Rica as an example. A list of published figures on the forest cover of Costa Rica from 1940 onwards is analyzed. Reasons for the differences are hypothesized and discussed. These differences are mainly in the definition of forest and forest classes included, in the type of the studies conducted (mapping and/or sampling), in the precision of the estimates, and in the information sources used. It is concluded that part of the problem is inherent in the nature of the resource `forest'. Quality and completeness of the presentation of the forest cover estimates are a clue to their correct understanding and interpretation. The latter point being especially relevant, as forest cover data have both a technical-scientific and a political meaning and are used as relevant arguments in many discussions. In the example of Costa Rica, a general downward trend is observed up to about 1985/1990, whereas after that forest area figures are on the average at a markedly higher level. Some hypotheses for this change in the trend are discussed.