Costa Rica — The Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) announced that the country has been able to reduce the impact of forest fires so far in 2008 to 23,417 affected hectares, compared to 32,422 hectares in 2007.
MINAEs report indicated that the reduction in forest fires in the past five years has permitted the regeneration of areas that will become forests and the protection of water sources and biodiversity present in those sites.
The total reduction in burned forest this year compared to 2007 is above 9,000 hectares (some 22,500 acres), both within national parks and other protected areas and inside private woodlands which have been impacted the most this year, totaling 15,500 affected hectares.
In addition to the work conducted by the National Insurance Institute’s (INS) Firefighters Corps and MINAE to prevent and control forest fires in protected areas, companies such as Peninsula Papagayo the concessionaire of the Papagayo Tourism Development, which includes 900 hectares of protected forest has its own support brigade that has helped the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG) and communities surrounding the Tourism Development.
The Peninsula Papagayo’s forest fire brigade has 13 firefighters, four paramedics and a physician, properly equipped to provide attention to key areas and carry out constant monitoring and prevention activities in places such as the Horizontes Forestry Station, the Santa Rosa National Park and the Iguanita National Wildlife Refuge.
Regarding the cause of some of the fires, the MINAE study found that the conflagrations were mostly initiated by individuals as they engaged in agricultural or pasture burns; others were caused by campfires that were not properly put out; and at least 27 fires were the result of arson.
In the dry season of 2008 (beginning of the year), a total of 460 hectares burned within protected wildlife areas. The most affected conservation areas included the national parks of Santa Rosa, Barra Honda and Guanacaste; the Border Corridor National Wildlife Refuge; the Corral de Piedra Wetland; and the protection areas of Cerro La Cruz and Cerros La Carpintera (both in the San Jose area).
The months of March and April were the most critical for forest fires in Costa Rica this year. And now that a new dry season is about to begin (the Costa Rican summer runs from mid-December to April), the incidence of forest fires is expected to increase again particularly in the scorching flatlands of Guanacaste, home to the vanishing and fire-prone dry tropical forest. There, fires get started that end up affecting a large portion of the province (a total of 32,000 hectares), reason for which officials are already taking precautions to keep the losses as low as possible.
Officials are now engaged in prevention measures, including the construction of 1,105 kilometers of fire barriers such as scraping of dry vegetation along roads, auxiliary highway buffers, and firebreaks.
In Guanacaste in the past few years, forest fires have caused significant damages to historical monuments and natural treasures. A 2001 fire consumed the Casona de Santa Rosa a 300-year-old hacienda homestead that played an important role in the anti-slavery expansion war of 1856 against U.S. filibusters.
And last April 1, a fire in Cerro La Pita (within the Santa Rosa National Park) affected natural savannah grasslands, areas of natural regeneration, and charral grasses. Fortunately, this fire was promptly addressed thanks to the fact that Environment Minister Roberto Dobles had ordered a permanent alert during the dry season in Guanacaste which allowed the National Conservation Areas System (SINAC) and the National Forest Fires Commission (CONIFOR) to fight the fire quickly as they were already conducting constant patrols in the area to keep fire damage to a minimum.