Seeding fertile ground in Costa Rica


Above: Seeding the butterfly garden at La Escondida model coffee farm

Thanks to York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), new life is springing up in a once-threatened area of Costa Rica – near Las Nubes, York’s very own rainforest.

Right: Tree planting in a coffee field

A fertile research area for York’s FES students, Las Nubes was donated to York in 1998 by Dr. Woody Fisher, a distinguished physician and conservationist. The forest, adjacent to Chirripó National Park and the Amistad Biosphere Reserve, is now part of the largest undisturbed rainforest in Central America.

The following account was submitted by Eileen Harrington (MES ’02) and Professor Howard Daugherty, Faculty of Environmental Studies, about a student project in the area, which is part of the Las Nubes Volunteer Program.

“The seeds that you have planted hopefully will land on fertile ground and lead to greater things in the future.” Those were the words of Luis Angel Rojas, president of the Comité de Conservación Forestal, just over a year ago.

Left: Student volunteers

Rojas was sharing his thoughts with a group of student volunteers from York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies during a final fiesta to celebrate their accomplishments in May 2002. Thirteen students had planted over 3,000 seeds in a tree nursery to be used by local farmers as shade trees in their coffee fields and for reforestation projects.

Twelve students returned to the area in May this year, delighted to find that most of the seedlings had been distributed free of charge and had been planted by farmers. The first task of the students was to replenish and expand the tree nursery. Their other projects were to clear a space adjacent to the nursery for a public park, improve the nature trails of the nearby Los Cusingos Neotropical Bird Sanctuary and La Escondida model coffee farm, and plant a hummingbird and butterfly garden.

Both years the students have left the sun, rain and mud of their field work to become thespians at a local elementary school. The groups presented original plays, games and songs that stressed the importance of protecting forest habitat in the region and creating ecologically sustainable agricultural systems.

Right: Professor Howard Daugherty with ornithologist Alexander Skutch

The York students, joined this year by two students from Guelph and another from the University of Toronto, also visited Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Whale National Marine Sanctuary in addition to York’s Las Nubes Rainforest Reserve.

Birgit Dettenkofer-Armstrong, a York student majoring in political science, remarked, “The Las Nubes Volunteer Program taught me about the incredible biodiversity of Costa Rica and about the benefits that this program is providing for communities and local farmers.”

Daugherty added, “This program offers students an opportunity to learn some tropical ecology, to live within a Latin American context where rural sustainability issues are faced on a daily basis, and to do volunteer work side-by-side with local people. It is truly an enriching and rewarding experience.”

The students also had the once in a lifetime experience of helping Alexander Skutch, world renowned ornithologist who homesteaded Los Cusingos over 60 years ago, celebrate his 99th birthday. In the photo above, Skutch is looking at a letter of greeting from York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden and a signed copy of Robert Bateman’s Birds, a gift from the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation.