In the early Cuerici sun, the scales of the three trout shone; purple contrasted with green as trout laid tranquilly on grass. The trout had stopped flapping and looking at them I felt solemn and reverent. I would be fulfilling the pact with nature that all meat-eaters are supposed to fulfill: to take a life to sustain his own. For too long I had avoided this obligation, enjoying the bountiful nutrients of meat without facing the burden of killing. Now a sense of purpose coursed through me as I vowed to end the trout’s life quickly, and promised to not waste its sacrifice. I will not take this sacrifice for granted.
At the Cuerici Biological Station, part owner/manager Don Carlos and his family live simply. Trout farming and his position as manager of the station form the majority of his income. Don Carlos and his ownership group keep the majority of the forest around the station intact as part of their conservation and education effort. When they bought the land twenty-four years ago as a group of nature-loving friends, they had a vision: to spread their appreciation for the Costa Rican forest. The station hosts student groups throughout the year, and Don Carlos takes every group on hikes through the montane oak forest of Cuerici. He would point out the transition in flora as the elevation increases, explain the medicinal properties of different plants, and tell of the picky quetzals that only eat fruits in perfect shape. Then he might point out the centuries-old oak trees that are irresistible temptations to every logger because of their minimal branching and great height.
In forest Don Carlos and his family see not resources to be exploited or jungle blocking city and agriculture expansion; they see a fragile cradle of biodiversity to be lived in harmony with. They voluntarily sacrificed the chance at an affluent lifestyle for a simple one to conserve the forest. Yet, not everyone could be (and definitely should not be) expected to make the same kind of sacrifice and that is one of the issues facing Costa Rica today. Should individual landowners be expected to assist in conservation or should the government do it all? Should the government be allowed to relocate citizens from their home in the name of conservation? And how involved should locals be in conservation? These are some of the questions and there are no easy answers.
For Don Carlos, one of the answers is trout farming. The trout provide a source of income and is also a hobby. After twenty-some years of tinkering, Don Carlos has perfected his trout farming technique. Thousands of trout are raised organically, generation after generation, allowing Don Carlos to sell adult fish as food and young fish as progeny for other farms.
The trout was pan fried for lunch. After savoring every bite I can safely say it was the best meal I had in Costa Rica. It is a privilege, not a right, to be able to have meat. To me the same can be said of the forest. The need to treasure the sacrifice of the trout and the need to treasure the forest is the same. We are not given these resources, it is not a natural-born right that we are forever entitled to. We do not own the life of the trout nor do we own the forest. It is a privilege; it is a contract and we have to uphold our end of the bargain.