Costa Rican: population changes and deforestation Costa Rica has two major forest types that currently cover almost half of the countries life zones, tropical moist and tropical wet. Originally Costa Rica was covered by a 99. 8% natural forest and by 1977 was reduced to just 31%. Most of this deforestation had occurred since the 1950 s (Hartshorn, et al. 1982). A study done by the Center on Sustainable Development (CEDES, 1998) indicates the rate of deforestation between 1986 and 97 had declined to an average of just 1% a year (Sanchez-Azofeifa, et al.

2000). A tropical moist forest mainly consists of evergreens and canopy trees, 40 - 50 meters tall with mostly wide crowns. These trees are generally branch less for the first 25-35 meters. The sub canopy trees such as palms trees grow to about 30 meters and are abundant except in lower cooler areas. The under story trees range from 8-20 meters tall and often have long drip tip type leaves. The shrub layer mostly consists of dwarf palms and broad leafed herbs.

The ground layer is mostly bare with scattered ferns with some woody lianas and epephyes (Hartshorn et al. 1982). The tropical wet forest contains the most forms of life species in Costa Rica. There are two major wet forests in Costa Rica on the northeast and one in the southwest. This type of forest is mainly tall multistatial, evergreens.

The canopy trees in these regions are 45-55 meters tall and with a round umbrella-shaped crowns (Hartshorn et al. 1982). These trees also are brach less the first 30 meters up. The sub canopy trees are generally 30-40 meters tall with round canopies and slender trunks. The twisted and crooked trees of the under canopy are 10 -25 meters tall with conical crowns. The shrub layer is mostly dwarf palms and some broad leaved herbs ranging from 1.

5-2. 5 meters tall (Hartshorn et al. 1982). At the time of the Spanish Conquests Arch Bishop Thiel estimated that there were about 27, 000 Indians in the Costa Rica region, other estimates figured there where about 80, 000 by 1563 (Seligson 1980). These indigenous populations were quickly decimated by smallpox measles and tragedies resulting from Spanish expansion (Bolanos 1981, Seligson 1980). Only two decades after Spain discovered Costa Rica the Indian population dropped to 7, 000.

One century later the Indian population had shrunk to 2, 000, and in an additional 40 years, to a mere 1, 000 Indians (Hartshorn et al. 1982) After the Spanish conquerors inhabited the lands of Costa Rica destroying Indian cities, enslaving them, and spread their disease, the Indian population was very low (A cota & Le Frank, 1980). The remaining Indigenous tribes today are restricted to small phisiolographic regions, scattered throughout the country. These tribes are still effected by people seeking natural resources on their lands. There are laws to protect the tribes, but there are also laws that allow miners to do environmental studies on their lands in search of mineral resources. The states allow this testing if it does not effect the tribes directly, but if the state is directly involved with the mining the indigenous tribes can be in danger (Hartshorn et al.

1982). The Costa Rican government has taken several steps toward conserving their forest. Currently, 29% of Costa Rica territory is under some degree of protection (Sanchez-Azofeifa 1988). There are more than 70 protected sites which include national parks, forest reserve, wildlife refuges, protected zones and biological reserves (Umana and Brandon, 1992). These actions have curbed deforestation, but the deforestation rates around these zones are still high. The problem with these protected sites is that Costa Rican government does not have a national environmental policy that integrates all sectors: rather each sector defines its own policies and objectives (Hartshorn et al.

1982). The population of Costa Rica in 1950 was 800, 875, this increase in population was do to an increase in health standards and an improved mortality rate. The 1970 brought a large decrease in the population rate due to improvements in education, and family planning. The average number of children per family decreased from 7.

3 in 1960 to 3. 5 in 1985 (Hall et al, 1993). The population is still increasing from other factors such as Nicaraguans seeking better economic conditions in Costa Rica. The major issue in the clearing of the Costa Rican rain forests has largely to do with major increases in population an the need for land expansion.

The government passed laws in the 1970 s that made owning land easy and encouraged the clearing of virgin forests. These laws gave people full legal rights to land if they maintained it for a minimum of 3 years (Hartshorn et al. 1982). Squatters clear enough land to maintain, and cut a larger boundary strip around the land to claim it.

Work Cited Baker, Randall. Environmental Management in the Tropics. Boca Raton: Lewis, 2000. Clay, W. Jason.

Indigenous Peoples and Tropical Forests. Cambridge: Cultural Survival, Inc. 1988. Hall, A. S. Charles, et al.

Quantifying Sustainable Development. New York: Academic Press, 2000. (Sanchez-Azofeifa, 2000) Hartshorn, Gary et al. Costa Rica: Country Environmental Profile: A Field Study.

San Jose: Tropical Science Center, 1984. (Seligson, 1980).