In Costa Rica with LightHawk(A)
In late January, I was able to escape the War on Terror and other tensions by traveling in an official capacity to Costa Rica to attend a LightHawk http://www.lighthawk.org/ board meeting. Now, amid the guffaws from friends and colleagues, I am attempting to convince people that this was, in fact, a working trip. How else but on the backs of horses like Nano or Chico can you see the primary forest and visit a local Tica House for lunch while watching Toucans and King Vultures and Scarlet Macaws and Scarlet-rumped Tanagers and scores of other birds? LightHawk flies for environmental partners all over this country and Central America. On the rare occasions I am lucky enough as a Board member to tag along with them and see what they see, I gain the visceral knowledge only presence, sight and sound can evoke. It would be wonderful if everyone had a similar opportunity, for more reasons than I can count.
The Iguana Lodge on the magical Osa Peninsula http://www.iguanalodge.com/ is a long, long way from Boston, Massachusetts or San Francisco, California. In the cosmopolitan capitol of San Jose the terror barometer of the United States is far away, but bank guards clutch assault weapons as they scan the crowds of shoppers, tourists and office workers. The pedestrians, for their part, don’t seem to notice. Drug-related terror is, sadly, a way of life in Central America, as the countries provide a natural land highway from South American drug sources to users in the North. Costa Rica, with a stable government and great appreciation for their natural resources, balances economic, social and environmental issues better than most nations. But they are poor, like all Central American countries, and find staving off various assaults to be a huge challenge.
We flew with LightHawk volunteer pilots David Smith and Rick Durden across part of Costa Rica from and to the capital and around the Osa Peninsula, which contains the huge Corcovado National Forest. Along the flight routes, the tension between tourist development, huge private estates, corporate farming and the preservation of the integrity of the habitat and forests is obvious from the air. Palm oil, banana, pineapple and other plantations creep into wetlands and up hillsides into old growth (primary) forests. Developers from Canada or the United States purchase land and illegally bulldoze building lots in the theory that sooner or later they will find a corrupt official who will allow them to build. These red dirt lots glower out of the deep green forest like bloody scars. All this is easy to see from the air flying relatively low but almost impossible to pick up from the ground, where roads are few and bad.
LightHawk’s Costa Rican flying partners paraded through our Board meeting, briefing us on their activity and how LightHawk helps them through the gift of flight. The speakers represented tiny but courageous non-profits that accomplish awesome amounts of work. One, Fecon, has a terrific Spanish language web site at www.feconcr.org. The Green Macaw Project flew with LightHawk to create new park boundaries for protection of endangered Macaws. The Wildlife Conservation Society is working to hold back plantations and development to allow the revered Jaguar to maintain vital passage from the peninsula to the mainland. From air, the Leatherback Trust counts green and leatherback turtles by watching their wide “tracks” up the beach toward nesting sites. If the track doesn’t terminate in a messy patch up on the beach but goes back to the water it’s not a nest but a site rejection. On the Osa beach, five species of turtles lay eggs: the Green, Black, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, and occasionally the endangered Leatherback Turtles (just spotted this last season.) The Iguana Lodge actually runs a turtle nursery with volunteer help. Last year they released 15,000 babies.
As we rode an open truck “taxi” to the airport on the way home, the driver stopped in the middle of the dirt road to let us watch Spider and White-faced Monkeys playing in the trees. We were leaving a country caught in the middle between the plundering of unchecked globalization and the advantages of sustainable development. We vowed to return.