The noble Act of Reforestation in Guanacaste

The province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica has the distinction of containing most of the remaining Tropical Dry Forest in all the Americas. Technically, a dry forest receives less rainfall than a wet forest, and typically has a dry season that spans about eight months, as anyone who lives here can attest. Although it is rich in biodiversity, it remained largely unnoticed as it shrank in size. Its use as pasture land expedited its decay and ironically, when the cattle were removed, the decay escalated as the jaragua grass that had been planted to feed the cattle overran local fauna and became fuel for dry season fires, which further diminished the forest. Enter Daniel Janzen, an American entomologist working in the area who realized the magnitude of rich life here and the futility of trying to discover and study it if it would become only a memory in a few short years. This is where the book “Green Phoenix” by William Allen begins. A team of Costa Rican and American scientists and volunteers soon ventured out of the classroom and into the political, ecological and social world arenas to not only preserve the quickly vanishing forest but to boldly propose to regrow the forest, to connect the tiny islands into a corridor resembling its original status. The notion was initially considered outlandish, but the determination and passion of those involved pressed the idea ahead, against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Allen does a good job of portraying the main characters and their character flaws in this book, as well as how all the participants are able to put aside their egos for the cause. The project is a group effort but to succeed, they needed a spokesperson to pitch the cause. The result was that “The Janzen Story” (part Crocodile Dundee, Part “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, part “Nutty Professor”) started to overshadow the story of the project to everyone’s dismay, especially Janzen, who came to distrust most reporters.

Allen also includes some incredible detail about the delicate and intricate balance between the entire eco-structure, how plants, trees, birds, mammals and insects are interdependent on one another. A breakthrough revelation was the discovery that this same interdependency occurs between the rain forest and the dry forest through migratory mammals, birds and even insects. He also does a wonderful story detailing the work of many others involved, including the huge help Arias provided almost immediately after becoming the president of Costa Rica.

The project is a model success story, one that will finally succeed in reclaiming the forest to its pristine form, “in about one hundred to one thousand years,” in the words of Daniel Janzen. Throughout their endeavors, the team is confronted with hurdles, from poachers, gold miners, squatters and even hostile land owners near the park. But they persevered, and along the way they learned to be creative. The final result can be viewed in about three centuries, but until then, Costa Ricans can be very proud about what they have preserved and returned to Nature for future generations.


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