A Forest Reborn

Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014 12:34 pm

Any biologist will tell you that a fragmented forest doesn’t pack the biological punch of a pristine woodland.

It can be difficult to restore what has been lost, but with the right plan, a stitched-together forest can again provide the kind of habitat some species will use. A bonus: in an age of record carbon emissions, the forest can help clear the air and filter pollutants before they reach water supplies.

Karin Stein ’84 is in the middle of that type of effort in Costa Rica. She’s teaming with her brother Jurgen ’86 and sister Sofia ’89, who attended Grinnell for two years, to reconnect the family’s 2,500 acres with other land in a reforestation to create a biological corridor running between Costa Rica’s highest mountain, Cerro Chirripó, and the Caribbean Sea.

As it stands, “It is a hugely endangered ecosystem,” Karin says.

It is the latest in a series of eco-efforts in Costa Rica that go back to at least 1996, when the family formed a private foundation there to fight illegal logging. The Grinnellians’ father bought the family’s land in 1974.

An ecologically rich environment is at stake, and local residents depend on the landscape for more than a nice view: the Bananito and Banano Rivers currently supply drinking water to about 80,000 people.

Karin ’84, Jurgen ’86, and Soia Stein ’89

Part of the Steins’ land is connected to one of Central America’s largest protected areas, La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982 that spans parts of Costa Rica and Panama. “Much of the corridor already exists,” and the family has 200 acres available for reforestation immediately, Stein says.

There are 37,000 acres already protected, but the goal is to have a seven-kilometer area with 3,700 acres more preserved to connect the pieces.

“As we see how climate change is impacting our planet, the importance of the corridor becomes more tangible,” Sofia Stein says. The larger habitat would give the incredibly diverse flora and fauna of the area a better chance to adapt and survive. With 100 species of bats alone, the area is among the most diverse in the region, she adds. Among other species are jaguar, ocelot, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, and bare-necked umbrella bird that call the area home.

Karin Stein, who lives near Grinnell with husband and Grinnell professor Jonathan Andelson ’80 and is a widely known vocalist and guitarist when she isn’t planting trees, says the reforestation project will be involved, but it will only become more difficult as time elapses and various pressures on the land increase.

With their father moving out of managing the farm, the pressure on this family of environmentalists is to protect this land not far from the ocean, Karin says. The family doesn’t want the land to succumb to oil palm plantations, which have famously robbed the endangered orangutans of Indonesia much of their habitat, in part to keep microwave popcorn consumers around the globe happy.

Karin says the Grinnellian family hopes to involve other Grinnellians, and dozens of others, in the project.

The family dreams of a project in which “the Grinnell spirit comes to life and where Grinnellians can make their own carbon footprint lighter; where they can come and see the fruit of their participation; explore; bring family and students; regain hope and be rejuvenated; make their businesses greener; or carry out scientific studies.

The place is magical and ecologically very important for Central America, and the possibilities are endless.”

For more information, visit Fundación Cuencas de Limón.