Human Ecology

, 34:407 | Cite as

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


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.

Key Words:

land use and land cover change forest transition national park buffer zones sustainable development Costa Rica 



This research was funded by grants from the National Geographic Society and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and an institutional grant from the Tinker Foundation to the University of Alberta. We thank Paul Gobster, Tom Rudel, and two anonymous reviewers from this journal for their comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript, and Terry Rodriguez for the maps of the study area.


  1. Bawa, K., and Dayanandan, S. (1998). Socioeconomic factors and tropical deforestation. Nature 386: 562–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bilsborrow, E. R., and Carr, D. L. (2001). Population, agricultural land use and the environment in developing countries. In Lee, D. R., and Barrett, C. B. (eds.), Tradeoffs or Synergies? Agricultural Intensification, Economic Development and the Environment. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, pp. 35–55.Google Scholar
  3. Brockett, C. D. (1998). Land, Power, and Poverty: Agrarian Transformation and Political Conflict in Central America (2nd edn.). Westview Press, Boulder.Google Scholar
  4. Brockett, C. D., and Gottfried, R. R. (2002). State policies and the preservation of forest cover: Lessons from contrasting public-policy regimes in Costa Rica. Latin American Research Review 37: 7–40.Google Scholar
  5. Browder, J. O., and Godfrey, B. J. (1997). Rainforest Cities: Urbanization, Development, and Globalization of the Brazilian Amazon. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Butterfield, R. P. (1994). The regional context: Land colonization and conservation in Sarapiquí. In McDade, L. A., Bawa, K. S., Hespenheide, H. A., and Hartshorn, G. S. (eds.), La Selva: Ecology and Natural History of a Neotropical Rain Forest. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 299–306.Google Scholar
  7. Carrière, J. (1990). The political economy of land degradation in Costa Rica. New Political Science 18/19: 147–163.Google Scholar
  8. Cruz, M. C., Meyer, C. A., Repetto, R., and Woodward, R. (1992). Population Growth, Poverty, and Environmental Stress: Frontier Migration in the Philippines and Costa Rica. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  9. Escofet, G. (1997). FUNDECOR: Turning theory into Practice. The Tico Times, September 19, 1997, p 7.Google Scholar
  10. Evans, S. (1999). The Green Republic: A Conservation History of Costa Rica. University of Texas Press, Austin.Google Scholar
  11. Geist, H. J., and Lambin, E. F. (2002). Proximate causes and underlying driving forces of tropical deforestation. BioScience 52: 143–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grau, H. R., Aide, T. M., Zimmerman, J. K., Thompson, J. R., Helmer, E., and Zou, X. (2003). The ecological consequences of socioeconomic and land-use changes in postagricultural Puerto Rico. BioScience 53: 1159–1168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hall, C. A. S. (ed.). (2000). Quantifying Sustainable Development: The Futures of Tropical Economies. Academic Press, San Diego.Google Scholar
  14. Hartshorn, G., Hartshorn, L., Atmella, A., Gómez, L. D., Mata, A., Mata, L., Morales, R., Ocampo, R., Pool, D., Quesada, C., Solera, C., Solórzano, R., Stiles, G., Tosi, J., Jr., Umaña, A., Villalobos, C., and Wells, R. (1982). Costa Rica Country Environmental Profile: A Field Study. Tropical Science Center and U.S. Agency for International Development, San José.Google Scholar
  15. Kleinn, C., Corrales, L., and Morales, D. (2002). Forest area in Costa Rica: A comparative case study of tropical forest cover estimates over time. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 73: 17–40.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Klooster, D. (2003). Forest transitions in Mexico: Institutions and forests in a globalized countryside. The Professional Geographer 55: 227–237.Google Scholar
  17. Lambin, E. F., Turner, B. L., Geist, H. J., Agbola, S. B., Angelsen, A., Bruce, J. W., Coomes, O. T., Dirzo, R., Fischer, G., Folke, C., George, P. S., Homewood, K., Imbernon, J., Leemans, R., Li, X., Moran, E. F., Mortimore, M., Ramakrishnan, P. S., Richards, J. F., Skånes, H., Steffen, W., Stone, G. D., Svedin, U., Veldkamp, T. A., Vogel, C., and Xu, V. (2001). The causes of land-use and land-cover change: Moving beyond the myths. Global Environmental Change 11: 261–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Langholz, J., Lassoie, J., and Schelhas, J. (2000). Incentives for biological conservation: Costa Rica's private wildlife refuge program. Conservation Biology 14: 1735–1743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Laurence, W. F., and Bierregaard, R. O., Jr., (1997). Tropical forest remnants: Ecology, management, and conservation of fragmented communities. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  20. Mather, A. S. (1992). The forest transition. Area 24: 367–379.Google Scholar
  21. Mather, A. (2002). The transition from deforestation to reforestation in Europe. In Anglesen, A., and Kaimowitz, D. (eds.), Agricultural Technologies and Tropical Deforestation. CABI Publishing, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Mather, A. S. (1998). The forest transition: A theoretical basis. Area 30: 117–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mather, A. S., and Needle, C. L. (2000). The relationships of population and forest trends. The Geographical Journal 166: 2–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McDade, L. A. (1994). La Selva's human environment: Commentary. In McDade, L. A., Bawa, K. S., Hespenheide, H. A., and Hartshorn, G. S. (eds.), La Selva: Ecology and Natural History of a Neotropical Rain Forest. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 297–298.Google Scholar
  25. McDade, L. A., and Hartshorn, G. S. (1994). La Selva Biological Station. In McDade, L. A., Bawa, K. S., Hespenheide, H. A., and Hartshorn, G. S. (eds.), La Selva: Ecology and Natural History of a Neotropical Rain Forest. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 6–14.Google Scholar
  26. McGarigal, K., and Marks, B. (1994). FRAGSTATS: Spatial Pattern Analysis Program for Quantifying Landscape Structure. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-351, USDA Forest Service.Google Scholar
  27. Montagnini, F. (1994). Agricultural systems in the La Selva region. In McDade, L. A., Bawa, K. S., Hespenheide, H. A., and Hartshorn, G. S. (eds.), La Selva: Ecology and Natural History of a Neotropical Rain Forest. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 307–316.Google Scholar
  28. Moran, E. (1988). Social reproduction on the agricultural frontier. In Bennett, J. W., and Bowden, J. R. (eds.), Production and Autonomy: Anthropological Studies and Critiques of Development. University Press of America, Lanham.Google Scholar
  29. Müller, E. (1998). Land use policy and secondary forest management in the northern zone of Costa Rica. In Guariguata, M. R., and Finegan, B. (eds), Ecology and Management of Tropical Secondary Forest: Science, People, and Policy. CATIE, Turrialba.Google Scholar
  30. Perz, S. G., Aramburú, C., and Bremner, J. (2005). Population, land use, and deforestation in the Pan Amazon Basin: A comparison of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, and Venezuela. Environment, Development, and Sustainability 7:23–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pfaff, A. S. P. (2000). From deforestation to reforestation in New England, United States. In Palo, M., and Vanhanen, H. (eds.), World Forests from Deforestation to Transition? Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp. 67–82.Google Scholar
  32. Rodríguez, J. M. (2004). Informe Final: Bosque, Pago de servicios ambientales e industria forestal. Costa Rica: Informe del Estado de la Nación. Comisión Nacional de Rectores and Defensoria de los Habitantes. San José, Costa Rica.Google Scholar
  33. Rudel, T. K. (2001). Did a green revolution restore the forests of the American South? In Anglesen, A., and Kaimowitz, D. (eds.), Agricultural Technologies and Tropical Deforestation. CABI Publishing, New York, pp. 53–68.Google Scholar
  34. Rudel, T. K., Bates, D., and Machinguiashi, R. (2002). A tropical forest transition? Agricultural change, out-migration, and secondary forests in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92:87–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sánchez-Azofeifa, G. A., Daily, G. C., Pfaff, A. S. P., and Busch, C. (2003a). Integrity and isolation of Costa Rica's national parks and biological reserves: Examining the dynamics of land-cover change. Biological Conservation 109: 123–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sánchez-Azofeifa, G. A., Harriss, R. C., and Skole, D. L. (2001). Deforestation in Costa Rica: A quantitative analysis using remote sensing imagery. Biotropica 33: 378–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sánchez-Azofeifa, G. A., Quesada-Mateo, C. A., Gonzalez-Quesada, P., Dayanandan, D., Bawa, K. S. (1999). Protected Areas and Conservation of Biodiversity in the Tropics. Conservation Biology 13: 397–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sánchez-Azofeifa, G. A., Rivard, B., Calvo, J., and Moorthy, I. (2003b). Dynamics of tropical deforestation around national parks: Remote sensing of forest change on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. Mountain Research and Development 22: 352–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Saunders, D. A., Hobbs, H. J., and Margules, C. R. (1991). Biological consequences of ecosystem fragmentation: A review. Conservation Biology 5: 18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sayer, J. (1991). Rainforest Buffer Zones: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers. Gland, Switzerland: IUCNGoogle Scholar
  41. Schelhas, J. (1991). A methodology for assessment of external issues facing national parks, with an application in Costa Rica. Environmental Conservation 18: 323–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schelhas, J. (1996). Land use choice and change: Intensification and diversification in the lowland tropics of Costa Rica. Human Organization 55: 298–306.Google Scholar
  43. Schelhas, J. (2001). Ecoregional management in southern Costa Rica: Finding a role for adaptive collaborative management. In Buck, L. E., Geisler, C. G., Schelhas, J., and Wollenberg, E. (eds.), Biological Diversity: Balancing Interests Through Adaptive Collaborative Management. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp. 245–259.Google Scholar
  44. Schelhas, J., and Greenberg, R. (1996). Forest Patches in Tropical Landscapes. Island Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  45. Stonich, S. C., and DeWalt, B. R. (1996). The political ecology of deforestation in Honduras. In Sponsel, L. E., Headland, T. N., and Bailey, R. C. (eds.), Tropical Deforestation: The Human Dimension. Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 187–215.Google Scholar
  46. Templeton, S. R., and Scherr, S. J. (1999). Effects of demographic and related microeconomic change on land quality in hills and mountains of developing countries. World Development 27: 903–918.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vandermeer, J., and Perfecto, I. (1995). Slicing up the rainforest on your breakfast cereal. The Humanist 55: 24–30.Google Scholar
  48. Watson, V., Cervantes, S., Castro, C., Mora, L., Solis, M., Porras, V., and Cornejo, B. (1998). Making Space for Better Forestry. Costa Rica Country Study. Policy that works for forests and people series no. 6. Centro Cientifico Tropical and International Institute for Environment and Development, San José and London.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USDA Forest ServiceTuskegee UniversityTuskegeeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Atmospheric SciencesEarth Observation Systems Laboratory, University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations