The Monteverde cloud forest: A natural treasure under stress
A tropical cloud forest is a specific type of rainforest that occurs at relatively high elevations. They grow only in small areas on tops of mountains. Not every mountain in the tropics has cloud forests on top of it. The cloud forest ecosystem has developed only in certain places where the trade winds, altitude, and weather patterns are just right. Low cloudbanks form over the mountains such that the forest is actually immersed in clouds much of the time. When this happens, the relative humidity is 100% making cloud forests exceedingly wet places. Large amounts of water are deposited directly onto vegetation from clouds and light mist; the highest elevations of the forest are almost always dripping water from the leaves. This constant supply of above ground water makes cloud forests excellent habitat for epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants). In the area surrounding Monteverde, Costa Rica, there are at least 878 species of epiphytes, including 450 orchids. Tree trunks are almost always covered with mosses, bromeliads, ferns, and other plants. While making them special, the rarity of cloud forests also make them extremely vulnerable to human disturbance.
Development and Settlement of the Monteverde Preserve
Quakers escaping the army draft for WWII first settled the area of Monteverde. In 1951 they bought 3,750 acres and founded the community of Monteverde (which means green mountain in Spanish). The Quakers recognized that they depended on the cloud forests to provide them with a stable, clean, water supply. To protect their water supply, they set aside over 1/3 of their property as a watershed and prohibited the cutting of trees there. For 20 years the Quakers built up a community of farmers. Occasionally they would have to remove squatters from areas that they were protecting. In 1970, George Powell became the first biologist to do extensive work in Monteverde. He convinced a group called the Tropical Science Center (TSC) in San Jose to take an active role in administering and protecting the original piece of cloud forest that the Quakers were protecting. The Quakers leased the original 1,275 acres to the TSC for one colon per year (about 3 cents) and this led to the formation of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.
Illegal hunting (poaching), of animas and plants has been a big problem in all tropical forests, including the cloud forest. Poachers exterminated whitetail dear from the Monteverde area before the Preserve was established. Ocelots, macaw, and resplendent quetzals have been killed for sport and food. Plants such as orchids are stolen for collectors, and some, including a small species of palm tree, have been collected for the delicious pulp, or palmetto, found in centers of their stalks.
Squatters are people who settle on a piece of land without owning or renting it. Squatting is Legal in Costa Rica, to prevent rich people from owning all of the land. To get possession of land, a squatter needed to find a piece pf land, clear it, and make a living on it. By doing that, they would obtain legal rights land even if someone else owned it. The main problem with this is that between 1950 and 1995 the population grew from 860,000 to 3,500,000. Unfortunately, most of the land in Costa Rica has been developed, so the squatters started to move into the rain forests.
Not all threats occur within the forests. The Clearing of lands outside of the Preserve threatens plants and animals within. Coffee growers, dairy farmers cleared the forest surrounding Monteverde. The quetzals spend significant portions of their feeding time on fruits outside of Monteverde. Also the bellbirds travel to at least four different location during any given year.
1 They breed on Monteverde’s Atlantic Slope from March to June
2 Cross the continental divide to the Pacific side of mountains
3 September to November again crossed continental divide to lowland rainforests in southeastern Nicaragua
4 November to December they fly back across Costa Rica to lowland Rain Forests on country’s Pacific Side.
This means that no single preserve can protect all the habitats of the bellbird, and if one habitat disappeared then it could wipe out an entire population. The mountain forests on the Pacific side have almost been totally destroyed by humans, only 4620 acres remain, and it’s in poor condition.
Efforts of Conservation
Children’s Rain Forest
In 1987 Monteverde Conservation League (MCL) member Sharon Kinsman gave a talk to 5th and 6th graders in Sweden. She described Monteverde, threats, and conservation efforts. The Children decided to raise money to help with conservation, and sent a check to MCL that bought a small area of the forest. This area was called the Swedish Children’s Rain Forest. Next throughout Sweden children started raising money, they raised more than one million dollars. This also started in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Japan and Netherlands. This collective efforts bought 40,000 acres, called the International Children’s Rain Forest.
Laws to help preservation
Until recently, if a squatter was not evicted within 30 days, then they earned legal status to stay on the land. After one year they could claim legal ownership to the land that they had settled, even if someone else owned the land. In February 1996 the Costa Rican government passed new regulation concerning squatters in forested lands. Owners of forested lands could register with the government. Registered lands then become protected from squatters and police are required to remove squatters within 5 days of their being reported by landowners.
Steps are beginning to be made by the athorities, in order to preserve the Monteverde Cloud forest. However,we cannot just set aside a small area and hope to protect all animals and plants living there. Instead, we must study the biology of animals and plants and create systems of preserves for all of their needs.
Collard, Sneed, “Monteverde: Science and Scientists in a Costa Rican Cloud Forest”, Franklin Watts Publishing, New York, 1997.
Emsley, Harry N, “Rain Forests and Cloud Forests”, Harry Abrams Inc, New York 1979
Matthiessen, Peter, “The Cloud Forest” The Viking Press, New York, 1961.
The Washington Post, “Danger in the Clouds” August 22, 1988, vIII, pg A4.
“Ecology and conservation of a tropical cloud forest”, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000.
Hamilton, Lawrence, “Tropical Montane Cloud Forests”, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1995.
Return to Topic Menu
It is 10:00:47 AM on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Last Update: Wednesday, May 7, 2014