Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

If Costa Rica Can Do It, Surely So Can Oregon

By Andy Kerr

Column #8 - Go to next column

Length: 684 words

Printed: 7 November 1996, Wallowa County Chieftain

It has been said that Oregon cannot afford to have "locked up" so much land in Wilderness and National Parks. In fact, we cannot have afforded not to and must add more national parks and Wilderness areas to the list of blessings for Oregon.

Less than four percent of Oregon is permanently (legislatively protected) off-limits to most kinds of exploitation. Almost without exception, the land that has been permanently protected by Act of Congress is land on the low side of economic productivity. It's either above timberline in rock and ice, or is above the commercial timberline; forestlands where the trees are smaller and slower growing. Yes, these forests could be mined of their timber, but it wouldn't grow back in any reasonable economic or ecological timeframe.

Let's compare the first world state of Oregon with the third world nation of Costa Rica. The population is similar in number. The amount of permanently protected landscapes is similar.

The landscapes are similar. Both political entities have "rich coasts." Costa Rica has savanna lands that are somewhat analogous to our grasslands. Both contain both moist and dry forests as well as evergreen rain forests.

Costa Rica, like Oregon, suffers from deforestation. In the Central American republic, their forests are being logged off and converted to cattle pastures or banana or coffee plantations.

Oregon isn't suffering from deforestation? Yes, it is being de-forested. Our logged forests may be planted back with some of the same species that grew there originally, but the forest is being replaced by a tree plantation.

Ecologically, such tree farms are closer to a corn field than a forest.

Hydrologically, such deforestation in both has resulted in massive landslides and watershed destruction.

Aesthetically, there is no comparison between a wild natural forest and a tamed managed plantation.

But that's where the similarities end. Costa Rica's size is about one-fifth the size of Oregon, but has over five times as many people per square mile. Our average annual income is over eight and one-half times theirs.

Costa Rica is more rural than urban; Oregon is dominantly urban.

                                                                        Oregon                                      Costa Rica
               Population                                          2,842,321                                  3,187,085
               Per Capita Income                              $15,796                                     $1,851
               Area (sq. mi.)                                    96,386                                       19,575
               People/Square Mile                             29                                             162
               Urban/Rural (percent)                         45/55 percent                            71/29 percent
               Permanently Protected Area (sq. mi.)   3,592                                        3,241
               Portion Permanently Protected             3.7 percent                                10.2 percent

Yet, Costa Rica has permanently protected nearly three times the percentage of their land than has Oregon.

Costa Rica started later in the field of landscape preservation. Oregon's only national park, Crater Lake, was established in 1902; Yellowstone, the first US national park, in 1872. The Costa Rican National Park System was established in 1955, when a 1.2-mile zone around every volcano was declared to be a national park.

Despite being ahead in proportion of area preserved, Costa Rica's national parks and biological preserves (analogous to our wilderness areas) suffer from some of the same kinds of problems.

In both cases, the first national parks were established for tourism, which is now is overrunning the parks. As well, the protected areas aren't large enough to sustain the ecological functions of the forest across the landscape and over time. They are becoming ecological islands, not large enough to function on their own, as the land around them becomes developed. The best way to address the tourism explosion in national parks is to increase the supply to meet the demand by establishing more national parks. The second and third best ways are to reduce population, so they'll be fewer tourists, and to educate users to utilize the parks with less impact.

The best way to address the ecological limitations of parks and wilderness is to expand the existing ones and to establish new ones, along with specially managed corridors between them to provide for adequate movement of wildlife.

Surely, Oregon shouldn't be outdone by Costa Rica. We're both richer monetarily and in land. Oregon is not so poor we must destroy the wild, nor so rich that it can afford to.

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