The Creation and Management of Protected Areas in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Global Environment 3 (2009): 96–119
At present, nature conservation depends heavily on protected areas to limit the destruction caused by human activities such as land clearing, logging, and urban development. Yet despite their importance and widespread use, the general public and policy makers frequently maintain a simplistic and static conception of protected areas. Often, the mental model of protected areas consists of a “one-size-fits-all” park – a fenced off area of land designed to protect “nature” from humans. In reality, however, protected areas are multifaceted, fluid entities that result from a confluence of people’s ideas about what these areas are expected to accomplish and for whom they serve. Although protected areas sometimes do take the “fenced-off” approach, they take many other forms reflecting societal trends in conservation practice. History belies the idea of one standard type of protected area for all places and all times.
The area around Monteverde, Costa Rica, offers a distinctive case study of the development of protected-area conservation. Beginning in the 1950s with the arrival of American Quaker settlers, residents have created a protected area network that has grown and expanded to reflect the changing constituencies of the region: agriculturalists, biologists, international conservation groups, and tourists. The protected areas now safeguard local watersheds, protect endangered species and biodiversity, and provide the framework for a dynamic tourism-based economy.
Many scholars look at Monteverde’s protected-area experience, particularly the development of nature-based tourism, as evidence of the area’s success in conserving its natural resources and improving standards of living. However, it is problematic to use Monteverde as a direct model for successful conservation and development. The protected-area network grew out of a half-century of conservation initiatives driven by various local and international constituencies. Monteverde residents themselves have painted a balanced picture of the area’s challenges, including successful conservation and a rise in living standards as well as rapid and unplanned tourism development, socioeconomic imbalances, and threats to the ecological integrity of the region. The Monteverde experience underscores the possibilities and challenges inherent in achieving multiple conservation and development goals through protected areas.
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