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Costa Rica ponders ways to sustain reforestation success

Costa Rica ponders ways to sustain reforestation success

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rica went from having one of the world’s highest deforestation rates in the 1980s to a nation centered on ecotourism, luring world travelers with the possibility of moving between marine reserves and cloud forest in a single day.

But the Central American country known for lush jungle and rich biodiversity now faces a dilemma as one environmental priority – reforestation — runs headlong into another — reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The program that has paid landowners for 25 years not to cut down trees depends almost entirely on fuel tax revenue, which stands to fade away by 2050 as Costa Rica converts public and private transportation to electricity in pursuit of net-zero emissions. That has the government hunting for alternative funding options.

Those could include new taxes or a tweaked mix of existing ones. Tourists who flock to see toucans, sloths and brilliantly colored frogs might someday see a charge on their hotel bill to aid forest conservation. And Costa Rica will continue to pressure developed countries — the planet’s biggest polluters — to compensate countries doing more than their share to store carbon.

Costa Rica reforestation got a boost last year with President Rodrigo Chaves’ announcement of $16.4 million from the World Bank for forests that are reducing carbon emissions. The program will bring in a total of $60 million by the end of 2025, money Costa Rica hopes can double the amount of protected forest.

The money is one step toward the international community doing its part to preserve valuable forest, said Jorge Mario Rodríguez Zúñiga, director of the National Forestry Financing Fund, known by its Spanish initials FONAFIFO.

“If it benefits the world, it’s only fair that the world contributes to its protection,” he said, adding that he hopes that one day soon he will be able to say that all privately held forest in Costa is receiving some incentive.

Demand for agricultural land once took a heavy toll on Costa Rica’s forest cover, which fell to 21% of the national territory in the 1980s as nearly 125,000 acres were cleared each year. Even as Costa Rica invested heavily to establish national parks, the government realized that something had to be done to conserve privately held forest as it moved to promote ecotourism.

A forestry law passed in 1996 created the Payments for Environmental Services (PSA) program, with funding from the gas tax. It paid landowners about $60 per 2 1/2 acres (1…

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