Special feature by Roberta Ward Smiley
My husband, Dan and I came to Costa Rica over 29 years ago because we wanted to have our own farm and couldn’t afford to buy land in the US. After having a dairy and then beef cattle for 15 years on the 40 hectares we bought in 1983 we witnessed, first hand, the environmental destruction these agricultural practices caused. We sold all of the cattle in 1998 and left all the land to regenerate back to native forest. Within one year I observed many birds that I’d never seen before. This led me into the forest with a bird book and binoculars to “learn the birds.”
Something amazing happened to me being in that forest day after day and it changed my life forever. I learned the interconnectedness of everything in the tropical forest, the interdependence each living being has for all others and realized that we humans are also a part of this interconnectedness. I watched the birds and began a very disciplined spiritual practice. Within four years I had identified more than 160 species of birds, just here in the La Reserva regenerated forest. But more than that the birds taught me something I never expected to learn, they weren’t depressed, worried, sad or stressed. They just awaken everyday, sing their song, forage for food, build their nests, take care of their babies, and on and on, each day. It made me ask, what’s the problem with human beings?
One day in 2004 while standing at the base of Papa Loco, a 400+ year Kapok (Ceiba) tree at La Reserva, and my great friend, a “revelation” came to me. It was an immediate knowledge. People in the northern zones of the world don’t realize how quickly the native tropical trees grow. In their latitudes trees grow less than 1 foot/year. I realized that if we could “get planting” (this became my organization’s motto) right away, like an army of people around the world, within 5 years we would have millions of hectares of forests restored all around the tropical belt of the Earth that would be sequestering the CO2 we humans are so intent on emitting. In 2005 I founded the La Reserva Forest Foundation, better known as LRFF, not only on this premise but in the knowledge that by returning native tropical forests we’d be giving back to ALL life, not just humans. We’d provide habitat for so many species endangered by habitat loss and/or trapped in remnant forests left after deforestation.
At about the same time someone loaned me Al Gore’s book, “An Inconvenient Truth“. I was astounded and hopeful because here was someone worried about the same thing and was getting it out there to millions of people. Al’s spiritual take on the climate crisis is what impressed me especially because this was my driving force. I am not a religious person, don’t belong to a church, this is my very own path, one I’ve been following for many years and it has no name.
I would very much like to add to the active solutions for climate change the Restoration of Our Earth’s Environment. I call it working at the root of the problem. If we can just restore some percentage of the world’s tropical forests, or any of the resources we’ve exploited from her in the past thousands of years, we will be repaid with a healthy environment for all future generations to thrive in.
LRFF has planted 70,000 trees in the past 3 years. We’ve done this entirely with private landowners. In 2011 we planted 35,000 native trees of more than 110 native species in a continuous biological corridor along the Rio Sol in Guatuso, Costa Rica with the Maleku indigenous people. They are already seeing the return of many species to the newly planted areas that haven’t been seen in many decades. Many of the participants have exclaimed over trees they haven’t seen since they were children.
Within the forest shade, no matter how hot it is in the cleared areas where the sun and rain are pouring down, it is markedly cooler and more humid. This is a quick experiment I’d like to do just to show people the difference and how that connects to the whole world. The more we restore the closer we return to the natural balance we’ve lost due to our unawareness of the interconnectedness I mentioned.
When our intentions are pure it’s a win/win situation. People learn best from direct experience and this is what we’ve seen time and time again in our projects. The people participating are as inspired as I was all those years ago, learning the birds.