York’s Las Nubes Rainforest wins further protection

 Las Nubes group

Above: From left, FES Prof. Brent Rutherford; Rosa Elena Montero, small reserves manager, Tropical Science Centre; FES Dean Joni Seager; Las Nubes benefactor Dr. M.M. (Woody) Fisher; Eden Chinchilla, administrator, Los Cusingos; and FES Prof. Howard Daugherty, Las Nubes project director, at the Los Cusingos Community Centre in Costa Rica

When a small entourage of York faculty and administrators, including Joni Seager, dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, arrived to survey the lush wonders of the University’s Las Nubes Rainforest for the first time, the beauty alone was a gift to the senses. The government of Costa Rica made it a gift to last with the formal announcement that the biologically sensitive land-corridor would be protected and made part of the country’s larger scheme of protected areas.

 Las Nubes Rainforest

Above: View of the Las Nubes Rainforest in southeastern Costa Rica

The move to protect the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor and make it part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor was announced by Enrique Ramirez, executive director of Costa Rica’s Tropical Science Centre (TSC), during a visit to the region, March 5-12, by members of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), a representative of Timothy’s World Coffee, and Dr. M.M.(Woody) Fisher, the Toronto physician who donated the rainforest to the University in 1998.

The corridor, named after Skutch, who died a year ago after a lifetime’s research in the area (see story in the June 28, 2004, issue of YFile), connects the Los Cusingos Neotropical Bird Sanctuary in the lowlands of southeastern Costa Rica with the highlands of Chirripó National Park and La Amistad Biosphere Reserve. The establishment of the corridor is the result of joint research and policy efforts by the TSC and York’s FES.

Las Nubes group

Right: From left, Valerie Grant, Harriet Lewis, Woody Fisher, Joni Seager and Luis Angel Rojas at a dinner hosted by local farm families in Las Nubes

Fisher and his partner Valerie Grant were among a group making the trip to see the wonders of the region where York’s own Las Nubes brand of sustainable coffee is produced. Joining Seager on the trip were Michael Perz, coffee buyer and quality manager for Timothy’s; Suzanne Macdonald, York associate vice-president research & innovation; Harriet Lewis, university secretary & general counsel for York; FES Professor Brent Rutherford; and FES Professor Howard Daugherty, director of the Las Nubes project. FES alumna Christina Polzot (MES ’04) organized the trip.

Seeing the beauty of the rainforest and sanctuary first hand was a highlight of the visit, which was mounted to evaluate the progress of York’s rainforest project and to consider what directions York activities might take in the future and how to strengthen the partnership with the TSC.


Left: Suzanne Macdonald and Brent Rutherford enjoy a typical Costa Rican lunch hosted by the coffee farmers’ cooperative

At a dinner hosted by local farm families featuring typical Costa Rican dishes, coffee farmer Luis Angel Rojas welcomed the visitors and thanked both York and Timothy’s for their support of local farmers and their efforts at protecting the region’s biodiversity. Rojas emphasized that, thanks to the project, economic conditions for coffee farmers have improved and he noted the special friendships that have been made between FES students and local communities.

The agricultural cooperative of southern Costa Rica, COOPEAGRI, hosted a visit to sustainable coffee farms adjacent to Las Nubes where representative Roger Zuñiga explained the ecological, economic and social underpinnings of the production of Las Nubes sustainable coffee. Alfredo Monge Esquivel, president of COOPEAGRI, talked about how the cooperative was able to invest more in social programs because of the marketing arrangement between York and Timothy’s. Victor Hugo Carranza, general manager of the cooperative, indicated that the cooperative has undertaken an aggressive program to secure certification from fair trade officials, the Rainforest Alliance, and other sustainability organizations for additional farms in the corridor.

Cupping Las Nubes

Right: From left, Harriet Lewis, Brent Rutherford, farmers cooperative volunteer Marcos Wimmer,  Woody Fisher and Michael Perz enjoy a coffee-tasting event

Perz led a “cupping” or tasting at the COOPEAGRI laboratory in San Isidro de El General, the main city in the region, of Las Nubes and other specialty coffees produced by cooperative farmers . Perz announced that Las Nubes will be the only Costa Rican coffee that Timothy’s will market in Canada. Increased sales of Las Nubes Coffee and the donations from Timothy’s to the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation will go to support FES/TSC activities in the Las Nubes project.

The group also visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, owned by the TSC, which is a model for highland research in the tropics as well as international ecotourism.

At a final dinner hosted by the TSC, Ramirez expressed a strong sense of solidarity with the Faculty of Environmental Studies and York. Seager said the Las Nubes Rainforest and York’s relationship with the TSC offer an exciting opportunity for graduate student research and cooperation with local communities in biodiversity and sustainable development. Macdonald echoed her comments saying, “I’m very excited about the opportunities for our students to explore the amazing biodiversity of Costa Rica and for York to work collaboratively with our Las Nubes partners on research related to the sustainability of this important region.”

 Howard Daugher and Woody Fisher

Above: From left, Alfredo Monge Esquivel, president of COOPEAGRI, and Howard Daugherty listen to remarks by Woody Fisher during a reception for the visiting group of York faculty and administrators