Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cuerici: Living in Balance with the Environment

Don Carlos, the owner of Cuerici, guided us through the oak forest today leaving us with a clear message of the importance of balance between income and conservation.  As a small farmer, his family depends on their trout farm along with berries and cattle for income, though they hope to eventually grow vegetables too.  These activities, particularly cattle farming, impact the environment.  As he explained, taking a purist approach to conservation eliminates the human aspect of it, a part of conservation critically important to those whose families lived on the land for generations. 
            For those interested in environmental issues living in suburban and urban areas, the new trend is to try to neutralize your carbon dioxide output.  For example, you could make up for taking a long, hot shower by riding your bike to work for the rest of the week.  Unfortunately, few succeed in going carbon neutral, struggling to give up certain luxuries like cars, microwaves, AC in the spring, …  Don Carlos successfully found his own way to balance his and his family’s needs (rather than luxuries) and conservation.  The answer for him lies in the large segment of preserved oak forest next to his property.
            As Don Carlos explained, due to the high value of their wood, many of his neighbors will allow furniture artisans or loggers to come into their forest and take down oaks or mahogany trees.  He left his untouched and also tries to restore the palm population, which almost disappeared due to heart of palm harvesting.  In order to coexist with the forest, we must understand it.  He worries that our generation’s lack of exposure to forests will result in careless use of the land and farming, which becomes particularly dangerous when using fire, as many farmlands are adjacent to forests. 
            Standing next to a 1,000-year-old oak tree, Don Carlos described how slowly these forests grow.  When he was a child, many of the full-grown oaks looked exactly the same.  At a minimum, it would take 50 to 80 years to regrow oak trees enough to harvest them, but for a whole oak forest to recover would take 800 years.  He tried to explain this to Swiss forestry engineers’ and the Costa Rican government’s project to harvest 20-30% of the basal area of oaks, but they claimed to know more than the person who lived with the forest for his whole life.  They focused solely on income and as a result, their pilot project failed.  As the oak trees are connected in a root network of stability, many more fell than the foresters intended and those that fell took down more trees.  Eventually, they abandoned the forest.  Today, a lot of the open undergrowth has been filled in with bamboo, which takes light and nutrients from any oak saplings trying to take hold. 
            I admire the how Don Carlos found a balance between supporting his family and conserving a forest.  Returning home, I will remember his story and guidance as I try to balance my activities with caring for the natural world.  Only through this balance can we find a way to integrate into the natural landscape.

Ariek Barakat Norford, Franklin and Marshall College

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