On April 22, Earth Day, a substantial tract of primary and secondary cloud and evergreen forest in northcentral Costa Rica will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
It takes many more anniversaries to grow a forest, of course, but the protection enjoyed by this particular area in the Tilarán mountains near Monteverde is thanks to the serendipitous linking of a conservation group founded in 1986 to purchase forest remnants and a novel idea that began in a Swedish primary-school classroom.
The Monteverde Conservation League began its campaign to halt severe deforestation in the Tilarán range by creating a privately managed reserve. With a mission to “conserve, preserve and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity,” its aim was nothing if not ambitious.
As with many conservation projects, good intentions were not enough, and huge funding was necessary to bring the idea to reality. Enter one young Swedish schoolboy.
Back in 1987, young Roland Teinsuu’s school group was studying tropical environments and wildlife, and the topic interested him enough to ask how he and his classmates could help those distant exotic animals and their habitat. His question was answered by Sharon Kinsman, a visiting tropical biologist who had worked in Costa Rica. She told Teinsuu’s class about the conservation efforts and fundraising campaign in Monteverde. The class set to, and through recycling, lemonade and “rain-forest cookie” sales, $1,500 was raised to buy six hectares of cloud forest, and the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (CERF) was born.
The concept caught on, spreading to schools, volunteer groups and private enterprises in the United States, England, Germany and Japan. Today, CERF incorporates 54,000 acres (22,000 hectares) – the country’s biggest private reserve – and receives donations from some 50 countries.
The Children’s EternalRain Forest is impressive even in a country filled with spectacular natural assets. Ranging from 450 to 1,800 meters in elevation, it holds six of 12 life zones made up of cloud and evergreen forest and aseasonal rain forest. It borders other conservation initiatives, including ArenalNational Park and several private reserves, to embrace more than 110,000 acres (50,000 hectares) of protected land.
The rugged terrain scored with deep gullies and extensive watersheds makes the area a vital water-generating resource, further illustrating its need for protection.
Because of its many microclimates and altitudes, the reserve is home to a bewildering array of species: the emblematic umbrella bird, resplendent quetzal and three-wattled bellbird being just three of the 425 bird species who share habitat with 101 reptile, 60 amphibian and 121 mammal species, totaling more than half the known land vertebrates in the whole country. The figures go on with 658 reported butterfly species and more than 3,000 plant species, nearly 10% of them endemic. If you are into number crunching, this is the place to be.
Little is known about much of CERF’s flora and fauna, which led the conservation’s league to build two biological stations to accommodate research scientists and students.
San Gerardo, a two-mile hike from the trailhead shared with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, at 1,200 meters, and Poco Sol, near the eastern boundary, at 720 meters, provide rustic but comfortable lodgings with study and research facilities.
General visitors are welcome, too, and extensive trails will satisfy hikers, wildlife lovers and birdwatchers.
Environmental education is a big part of the league’s mission.At its Bajo del Tigre visitor center just outside Santa Elena, school parties come to listen to environmental talks, hike the trails with experienced nature guides and have some hands-on fun in the specially built Casa de los Niños (Kids’ House) filled with colorful (but tough) exhibits for youthful experiments.
Never forgetting who helped bring CERF into existence, the league hosts an annual contest in the United States, rewarding the top three fundraising schools with an allexpenses-paid, weeklong trip to the Children’s EternalRain Forest for each school’s chosen “student ambassador.” Results for 2006 are scheduled to be announced tomorrow during the league’s official anniversary celebrations.
Donations from the schools will focus on the Land Purchase and Protection 20th Anniversary Campaign to raise $1.5 million by the end of 2007. The money will fill in gaps in the reserve by buying farmsteads within its boundaries and helping establish biological corridors. The project is urgent; land around the popular tourist destination of Monteverde has become prime for development, fetching nearly $10,000 an acre, creating further financial challenges for the Monteverde Conservation League.
One of its more bizarre initiatives is down at the popular, newly revamped Productores de Monteverde (Monteverde Cheese Producer) roadside café and shop at Chomes, along theInter-American Highway
Bob Law, vice-president of the conservation league, thought up the idea of a MegafaunaPark, sculpting concrete recreations of prehistoric species and currently endangered animals in the area, such as the jaguar and tapir. Along the two-kilometer trails, giant armadillos and giant ground sloths lurk in the undergrowth, encouraging visitors to protect their environment and, with luck, provide donations to the cause. An agreement with Productores de Monteverde splits profits 50-50 with the league’s education and reforestation projects.
Whatever it takes, Swedish rain-forest cookies or T-rex, the Children’s EternalRain Forest definitely sparks innovative dedication among its supporters.
The official 20th-anniversary celebration of the Monteverde Conservation League and the Children’s EternalRain Forest is set to take place April 22, featuring cultural activities, tree planting and announcing of the results of school fundraising winners. For information on the league or CERF, call information coordinator Tory Broadus at 645-5003 or 645-5200, or visit www.acmcr.org or its U.S. sister organization www.mclus.org.