Landscape Series Volume 10, 2010, pp 227-252

Forest Expansion in Northwest Costa Rica: Conjuncture of the Global Market, Land-Use Intensification, and Forest Protection

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Abstract

Though widely documented in developed countries, understanding of how and whether forest transitions occur in the developing world is limited. This research entails a spatially explicit, remote sensing based analysis of land cover conversion trends in northwest Costa Rica to explore the mechanisms driving the observed forest expansion. I assess the physical and socioeconomic landscape setting for dominant conversion patterns in light of broader conservation and development initiatives, along with relevant economic trends, in order to propose a conceptual model accounting for forest expansion. Results demonstrate that conversion processes are interrelated and characterized by unique landscape niches. Agricultural intensification occurred in lowland areas, facilitating reforestation of marginal grasslands in upland areas. Protected area establishment facilitated forest recovery. Yet forest conservation and regeneration were significant on private property as well due to the conjuncture of declining beef prices, agricultural intensification and revised forestry policies. Elements of this study provide support for aspects of the classic explanations for forest transitions while highlighting the limitations of forest transition theory to account for observed reforestation trends.