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The Children's Eternal Rainforest (or “BEN” after the Spanish “Bosque Eterno de los Niños”) is owned and operated by the Monteverde Conservation League (MCL), a Costa Rican non-profit conservation organization whose mission is "to conserve, preserve, and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity."
Throughout the 30 years of its history, the MCL has promoted conservation through land purchase, environmental education, reforestation and restoration of degraded land, sustainable development, ecotourism, and scientific research.
By 1985, agricultural development in the Monteverde Zone was threatening much of the remaining Pacific slope forest. A group of community members, recognizing the urgent problem, founded the MCL in 1986. The MCL's attention quickly shifted from the Pacific to the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide because of a deforestation crisis threatening the Peñas Blancas Valley. Several Monteverde residents and Canadian researchers started a fund-raising campaign to purchase claims and protect the Valley, including successful fund raising through the World Wildlife Fund in Canada and the US and Debt-for-Nature swaps.
In 1987, Sharon Kinsman, a U.S. biologist who had worked in Monteverde, traveled to Sweden to talk about rainforests. Teacher Eha Kern invited Kinsman to give a slide presentation at her school. The students came up with the idea of raising money to save rainforests, and they raised money to purchase six hectares of rainforest bordering what had already been purchased by the MCL. Kern and her late husband Bernd formed the Swedish non-profit Barnens Regnskog (Children's Rainforest) in 1987 to raise and channel funds for MCL's land purchase campaign. The land purchased was called Bosque Eterno de los Niños to honor the Quaker settlers who had protected their forest watershed as Bosqueterno, S.A. and the children's contributions. Between 1988 and 1992, Barnens Regnskog raised $2 million for land purchases. They also obtained grants from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) to support other MCL projects.
Over the years, sister organizations were established in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Many smaller groups, schools, and individuals -children and adults- from more 44 countries all over the world also raised money in numerous creative ways to expand the BEN.
Most land purchase occurred between 1989 and 1993; however, land purchase and protection has been a priority throughout the history of the organization, and as a result the BEN has continued to grow. By 2016, the BEN has grown to nearly 23,000 hectares, including 217 separate properties spread across three provinces (Puntarenas, Guanacaste, and Alajuela).
Protection and Maintenance
As soon as the MCL acquired land, it had to protect it from various threats. The MCL hired its first full-time forest guard in 1987, and then added more guards. As of 2016, the MCL has 10 Maintenance and Protection personnel to cover nearly 23,000 hectares. Squatters are no longer much of a problem, but there are still serious problems with illegal poaching, logging, capture of live animals, and removal of plant material such as orchids and palms, particularly on the Caribbean side of BEN. Maintenance work is also essential for the BEN: the changing outside borders of the BEN have to be clearly marked and posted, and facilities, infrastructure, and trails must be maintained.
The MCL works closely with other organizations and individuals, such as SINAC, other private reserves, the police, firefighters, Red Cross, COVIRENAS volunteers, and individuals, to carry out the complicated work of protecting the BEN and its natural resources.
The League launched its Environmental Education Program (EEP) in 1986 by working in local schools and taking children on field trips. The goals were to ensure the long-term survival of the BEN by helping people in areas around the BEN understand the importance of protecting it while improving their own land use practices in adjacent areas. The league continues its environmental outreach efforts in Monteverde as an active participant in CEAM (Monteverde Commission on Environmental Education).
In 2012, a five-year grant provided for an environmental educator to work with schools on the Caribbean side of the BEN. Our full-time environmental educator works with nearly 20 schools around La Tigra de San Carlos, focusing on topics including water resources, recycling, biodiversity, animal welfare, and the importance of wetlands.
Since its inception in 1986, the MCL has been actively involved in reforestation projects and has planted over 1.6 million trees on properties located in the communities surrounding the BEN.
The Bosques en Fincas (“Forests in farms”) project in the early 1990’s worked with local landowners to plant native trees, whether by reforesting parts of their farms or by using native species as windbreaks. This project was instrumental in restoring connectivity between isolated forest patches on the Pacific slope near Monteverde, an area that today forms part of the Bellbird Biological Corridor.
Although reforestation is not currently a major priority, the MCL maintains a small tree nursery at Finca Steller (near La Tigra). The trees produced are either planted in the BEN, or sold at cost to neighbors interested in reforesting with native species.
Payment for Environmental Services
In the early 2000’s, Environmental Service Payments (or PSA, after the Spanish “pagos por servicios ambientales”) emerged as an alternative form of income for the MCL. PSA refer to initiatives that compensate landowners for protecting their forests and rehabilitating degraded areas.
As of 2015, the MCL received about 50% of its net annual income from PSA contracts, both through the Costa Rican government (FONAFIFO) and through private contracts with hydroelectric companies. This is an important but potentially fickle source of income, and the League is seeking ways to diversify its income in order to ensure long-term financial stability.
The MCL has identified the following immediate priorities for donations and growth:
- Endowment fund. The MCL is committed to investing the money in this fund, and using only the 5 to 10% annual interest to support the annual operating budget.
- Land purchase and protection. Donations in this category are used as follows: 50% for land purchase; 40% for land protection (including salaries, legal costs, vehicles, etc.), and 10% for the MCL’s endowment fund.
- Environmental education. To cover the salary of our full-time environmental educator in La Tigra (the 5-year grant ends in August 2016) and to support field trips and quality programming.
- Research. The BEN is one of the world’s premiere natural laboratories, yet it is virtually unstudied. Donations to this fund will help change that.
- General. For use where the BEN needs it most.
History written by Leslie Burlingame