Reforesting the Tropics

Monkey Jumping in Rainforest Canopy
The face of the forest – a flying monkey
soars through the canopy.

Editor’s Note: By the mid-1990′s, thanks to tireless efforts of groups such as the Rainforest Action Network, the World Wildlife Fund, and countless others, headway was being made in the battle to reverse tropical deforestation. But that was then. About ten years ago, starting in Europe, enthusiasm for biofuel began to grow, and this enthusiasm quickly spread to the tropics where entrepreneurs began to raze the forests to grow oil palms and sugar cane. The momentum picked up as global warming alarm somehow translated itself into the notion that biofuel was better than petroleum – with most of the well-intentioned proponents of this notion completely unaware of the havoc they were encouraging in the tropics.

Today where the timber barons have been slowed if not stopped, the biofuel barons are rampaging unchecked, and global warming concerns have left mute the organizations that should have been fighting this new cause for deforestation with the same vigor they fought the old. Even the figures are hard to find – we have checked with press officers for these groups and they claim there is no way to differentiate between deforestation for timber, for cattle ranches, or for biofuel.

World production figures for biofuel tell another story. Biofuel, primarily ethanol and biodiesel, is expected to reach nearly 100 billion barrels per year by 2020. At 5,000 barrels per square mile per year – which is a very good yield – that is nearly 500,000 square miles of land, and most of this land is going to be where tropical rainforests once stood. Right now, less than 3.0 million square miles of tropical rainforest remains, down from nearly 8.0 million 150 years ago. We can’t afford to lose any more.

Tropical deforestation not only causes loss of wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and soil erosion. Deforestation, especially in the tropics, also causes local and regional droughts. There is evidence that tropical deforestation disrupts the monsoon cycle, which could spread drought and extreme weather throughout the world. There is even a growing concern among climatologists that tropical deforestation may be a much bigger factor than industrial CO2 emissions in any alleged climate change we are experiencing.

This is why stories such as this one, by Steve and Debbie Legg in Costa Rica, are encouraging and can serve as a model for other people and other nations. Using the sustainable harvests from newly planted forests to fund additional reforesting is a business model that encourages reforestation instead of deforestation, and can be an alternative to biofueled deforestation. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Costa Rican Resort Raising Funds for Reforestation
by Steve & Debbie Legg, June 20, 2007

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn…..

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

That simple Emerson quotation is premise of the reforestation program developed by Steve and Debbie Legg owners of Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat.

Clear Cut Rainforest in Peru
This devastating clear cut in Peru is
an example of how the trouble begins.

Just over a year ago, the Legg’s purchased a 26 acre dairy farm in Monterrey, Costa Rica. They built 3 cabins and opened to guests in January 2007. A vacation at Leaves and Lizards is an ecological and cultural experience. Guests may learn about the Meso-American Biological Corridor, the consequences of deforestation, spend the day with a Costa Rica family, become informed about the circle of life in the rainforest by their expert guides and eat food cooked with methane gas produced from the manure of their pigs and cows. Many of the guests that have had the pleasure of staying at Leaves and Lizards inquire about reforesting opportunities. Some have even purchased farms in need of reforesting. Others just want to do something to help reverse deforestation.

Proper reforestation takes planning and follow through. These are the steps necessary for a successful reforestation plan:

1 – Clean-up and soil preparation; if the farm has natural grass, clean-up is done once before planting. If the farm has exotic grasses like Brazilian or Gigante, it will take several clean-ups. These invasive grasses have been planted as pasture grass on cattle farms. They choke out and kill baby trees or other native grasses and plants.

2 – Designing the new forest, ordering and careful transport of trees to the planting location. The design includes a variety of native trees. Teak, not native to Costa Rica, is commonly used as the pioneer forest. It grows rapidly, has large leaves that provide shade that the native trees need to grow. The teak can be harvested later to provide additional funding for future projects.

3 – Making sticks for tree supports, digging holes, planting and organic fertilizing of trees. In the San Carlos area of Costa Rica tree planting season is in May and November. These are the rainiest months.

4 – Eliminating weed competition and pruning; once a month for the next 24 months.
It is possible to just let the land go back to “back to nature,” however, that takes longer and the new forest will have less biodiversity.

The endpoint of thoughtless and rampant deforestation
is shown in this photo of the Malagasy Republic, where
erosion has claimed entire mountainsides.

Biodiversity is short for Biological + Diversity, defined as the number of organisms in an ecosystem, region or environment. Rainforests are highly biodiverse; they cover only about 2% of the land mass on the earth, but contain 50% of all life on the planet. In 2.5 acres of primary rainforest there may be as many as 480 different species of trees. Brazil has the highest level of biodiversity in the world with 59,851 known different species of plants and animals. Sadly, they also have the world’s highest deforestation rate. Brazil is responsible for 27 % of the earth’s yearly deforestation. The earth suffers 80,000 acres of deforestation daily!

A good reforestation plan includes ways for the new forest to support itself. For example, two trees are growing side by side, but in nature only one of those trees will reach old age, the other less dominate one will eventually be crowded out by the larger tree, the smaller tree can be harvested and the wood used to provide funding for the farm up keep, and further reforestation projects. Another tree is planted in its place. This is growing what Fred Morgan at Finca Leola ( calls a perpetual forest.

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. – Greek Proverb

The reforestation project at Leaves and Lizards ( offers people a chance to buy trees for reforestation as a gift, memorial or as part of a vacation package. One package gives the supporter the opportunity to plant and care for the baby trees. Supporters receive yearly photographs, documenting the growth of the trees they sponsored. The Legg’s work with Hector Ramirez from Reforest Costa Rica ( Hector’s knowledge and expertise of the local flora and fauna, as well as the connections he has in the community, prove to make this program a great success. Local farmers trust him and he is educating farmers about the need to protect their remaining forests and reforest to protect water sources.

As an ecologically and socially responsible resort, community involvement is the philosophy of Leaves and Lizards. Monterrey is a tiny, close knit community, perched in the mountains above La Fortuna. La Fortuna sits in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano and has experienced rapid growth as numerous tourists flock to the area hoping to get a glimpse of one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The community of Monterrey has watched Fortuna outgrow its resources and since the opening of Leaves and Lizards, Monterrey has looked to the Legg’s for guidance in planning for future tourism. Steve and Debbie believe tourism should be a support to the community, remain in the background and not take over the community. Local leaders are taking proactive measures to ensure the preservation and continuation of the quality of life in this tranquil hamlet. The first meeting of the “city association” took place in February 2007. The association facilitates community improvements including road repair, handling of garbage, recycling and water usage.

Many of the tours offered at Leaves and Lizards promote rural tourism. Farmers and other locals show off their farms, waterfalls and forests to the guests at Leaves and Lizards. Residents of Monterrey have helped plant native trees and plants that produce fruit to attract wildlife to the resort for guests to enjoy.

Funds raised by Leaves and Lizards will help pay for farmers and individuals who are buying land to reforest to plant trees. This program may indeed be the seed of a thousand forests.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. – William Blake, 1799, The Letters

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