SAN JUAN- LaSELVA BIRDING TRAIL
PROPOSED BY THE
FRIENDS OF THE GREAT GREEN MACAW, INC

 

Friends of the Great Green Macaw, Inc (FGGM), a 501c3 US-based not-for-profit organization, is working in the field of wildlife conservation in the northeast region of Costa Rica. Friends of the Great Green Macaw has worked with Costa Rican landowners to protect habitat for the endangered Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua) and biodiversity since its inception in Dec. 2000. The mission of Friends of the Great Green Macaw is: To protect, preserve and rehabilitate the population of the Great Green Macaw and its habitat in Costa Rica, and to preserve the biodiversity that is found within the same habitat.

The vision of this project is to increase connectivity and protection of critical habitats through the development of economic alternatives for local landowners within the San Juan - La Selva Biological Corridor. Friends of the Great Green Macaw (FGGM) believe links between conservation of habitat for biodiversity on private lands, and the development of economic alternatives such as sustainable eco-tourism can be made.

For this project we will use the definition of eco-tourism presented by the International Eco-tourism Society: “responsible travel to natural reserves, which conserves the environment and betters the state of local communities.”

In continuing our efforts to protect the Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua) and the biodiversity of its region, FGGM is proposing the development of the Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva. This project will provide an economic incentive for land owners and communities through eco-tourism. Local private owner and community members will then have a direct interest in protecting habitat for threatened species and biodiversity, and will thus take an interest in supporting the creation of the proposed Maquenque National Park and San Juan – La Selva Biological Corridor (SSBC).

Geographic area of project

This project will take place in northeastern Costa Rica; within the Cerro Silva-Indio Maiz-La Selva Corridor, part of the Southern Region of the Mesoamerican Biodiversity Hotspot as defined by Conservation International. This Bird Route will include sites from the Braulio Carrillo National Park in the Central Volcanic Mountain range of Costa Rica, north to the San Juan River which creates the boarder between Nicaragua and Costa Rica (see attached map). It will stretch to the eastern and western most regions of the proposed SSBC (246,608 hectares) (see attached map).

Justification

The lowland tropical wet and rain forests of the northeastern region of Costa Rica are rich in biodiversity and are in need of preservation. Over 60% of all bird species in Costa Rica are found in this region (515 documented / 850 estimated species) (SSBC Committee, 2003) (Stiles and Skutch, 1989). Additionally, endangered species such as the great green macaw, jaguar, Baird’s tapir, west – Indian manatee, and gaspar fish reside here. This zone is the only remaining area in Costa Rica where the Great Green Macaw is found. It is estimated that less than 200 individuals of this species remain in Costa Rica (Powell etl, 1999). Currently there are very few protected areas within the SSBC. This project aims to increase the amount of wildlife habitat under protection in this region through the creation of private reserves, to protect the biodiversity of the ecosystems within the SSBC.

Currently, there are few economic reasons for landowners to protect habitat for biodiversity. The people of this zone of Costa Rica believe that there are more immediate economic benefits from agricultural and forestry practices, than for protecting habitat. However, the direct and in-direct income from eco-tourism is considerable and favors conservation of the environment (Budowski, 2001, Haysmith and Harvey 1995). By providing an economic alternative based on bird watching this tourism trail will create new economic opportunities for landowners and communities, which can directly reduce pressure on natural resources, and increase the amount of habitat under protection for biodiversity within the biological corridor. These property owners will then become more environmentally conscious as their projects succeed in bringing in both wildlife and tourism dollars. This advancement will also help to teach the younger generation the importance of caring for the environment and wildlife habitat.

Secondly, a majority of tourists that come to Costa Rica come to observe wildlife. Specifically, over 50 % of the tourists that come to the northern zone of Costa Rica come just to observe birds (W. Rojas, Tourism Board of Sarapiqui, pers. Comm. 2003). However these tourists only visit a few locations within the region. There are many opportunities to expand eco-tourism and low – impact rural tourism in this area of Costa Rica as demographic trends from the US show a strong desire for “authentic” experiences, which include small hotels, using local guides, buying local souvenirs and crafts, and eating the local foods (Fermata, 2002).

Similar trails have already proven to be successful at protecting habitat and stimulating eco-tourism in the US (see Great Texas and Great Florida Birding Trails). Right now, new Bird and Wildlife Trails are being developed all across the United States (www.greatamericantrails.com). With Bird Watching the fastest growing recreational activity in US, combined with Costa Rica, a country known worldwide as an excellent place for observing wildlife and for its fine treatment of tourists, you have the best location for the first Bird Route in Central America.

Description of project

This mapped eco-tourism route is not a hiking trail, rather it is a route that connects reserves and other sites within the SSBC where tourists can stop to observe birds and wildlife. This trail will be instrumental in bringing tourists to Maquenque National Park, giving the communities within the buffer zone of this national park and the SSBC an economic benefit.

The distance of the route will be determined by which sites are included within the Bird Route. Many of these sites will be near the towns of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, La Virgen de Sarapiqui, Golfito, Boca Tapada, Pital and Trinidad. It is important that this trail cover different habitats to protect different species of birds. For this reason the trail will cover many miles of road and river. To facilitate access to sites and to increase options for the visiting tourists a number of loops will be developed within the route. These loops will then guide the visitor to different sites and habitats, and also facilitate access to food, lodging and gas.

The sites included within the Great Bird Route are sites which will follow an established Code of Ethics which promotes the sustainable use of natural resources and sustainable tourism. This code will protect this Bird Route from large and /or potentially environmentally degrading tourism projects. The owners of participating reserves and sites will pay a small fee to be included within the route and will sign a contract that will allow access to visitors and will designate their property to the conservation of biodiversity. These owners will also be encouraged to include their reserve within the Costa Rican Private Reserve Network. In return, the owners site will be included and promoted as a site within the Costa Rican Bird Route: Section San Juan – La Selva.

Each site will be independently managed and each can choose to include an entrance fee. Currently we do not have the financial ability to directly help develop each site, however with appropriate funding FGGM and collaborating agencies can help train landowners and distribute information on creating an eco-tourism site.

Participating landowners who designate part of their land to protection will be compensated for their land use by the entrance fees paid by visiting tourists. These landowners also have the opportunity to enroll their property into a government sponsored incentives program, providing an additional monetary incentive for habitat protection. For example, the German institute GTZ has pledged US $10 million for environmental service payments in the northern zone of Costa Rica.

This trail will also create economic benefits for communities as well. Currently, the main means of income in this zone are subsistence activities such as logging, seasonal fruit production, and cattle ranching. We believe this trail can augment these activities. By associating communities with sites along the Bird Route, visiting tourists will pass through a given community and use local services the communities provide such as guides, restaurants and bed and breakfasts, etcetera. We do not want to fully change all of these communities to tourism based communities, but rather provide communities with new work opportunities that are more secure and are less damaging to the local environment.

In our first phase, ten chosen introductory sites will be connected through a mapped transportation tour, and a Bird Route site guide and map will be developed promoting each site and its unique features. All information will also be made available over the internet at the www.greatamericantrails.com.

Until now, private reserves have had a difficult time promoting their reserves. With the comprehensive promotion of reserves together as the Bird Route, each site will have the opportunity to be properly promoted to reach its full potential as an eco-tourism site.

Based on current trends we believe that visitors will continue to come to Costa Rica to view wildlife and birds. According to ORCA, the trade association for the outdoor tour industry strongly favours a continued growth in nature based tourism (Fermata, 2002).” The highest percent of Costa Rica visitors are between the age of 30 and 60, the same age range that has shown a 10% annual increase in nature tourism activities (ICT, 2000, Fermata, 2002). And recently, wildlife watching has increased by far more that 10% annually (Fermata, 2002).

Our principal tourism market is international bird watchers and wildlife observers. Sixty-two percent of the visitors to Costa Rica in 2000 participated in wildlife observation and 49.9% participated in bird watching (ICT, 2000). We will promote the trail for self guided tours and also for groups and tour companies. With the site guide and map and the marked road signs, this trail gives the eco-tourist the ability to personally select the sites and types of habitats they would like to visit, and also gives the opportunity to take a tour to visit a number of sites.

Our secondary market will be adventure tourists and young international travelers. To this demographic group of eco-tourists the trail provides opportunities to visit private reserves that are “off the beaten path”. It also gives them the opportunity to visit rural Costa Rican communities and the possibility work with the community on local projects.

With accompanying community outreach programs, and the successful demonstration of the economic success of the Bird Route for property owners and communities, we will seek new sites to be added to the Bird Route in the second phase of our project. In this moment, we will create the opportunity for more landowners to protect their forests by entering their properties into the Bird Route, thus increasing the amount of habitat under protection within the SSBC.

This trail will be sustained by the continual use by eco-tourists. A marketing and promotion plan will be developed and implemented, with additional funds, to secure that visitors continue to visit this Bird Route. This marketing and promotion plan will be a major part of sustaining this project in the long term; and will be outlined in our Strategic Plan for the continuation of the Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva. This plan will also outline how the trail may be expanded or improved, be evaluated, and what the rolls of different organizations will be in the future.

While the San Juan – La Selva Biological Corridor Committee is focusing on the creation of Maquenque National Park, FGGM are taking the lead on developing a method to increase connectivity through this proposed biological corridor via economic development in rural communities. Friends of the Great Green Macaw, Inc is asking for $65,000 for the implementation the proposed “Creation of the Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva.” The timeline is 2.5 years.

General Objective

Obtain the basic financial requirements for the creation of the
Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva

Specific Objectives

Note: Objectives 1 -4 will be completed in the first year as part of Phase 1. We will complete objective 4 in phase 2, the second year and 6 months.

1. Conduct study of current and potential tourism activities and trends within the SSBC

Results:
a. Study of tourism within the SSBC conducted and results implemented and distributed.

2. Create, open and promote a mapped eco-tourist route that connects bird and wildlife watching sites within the SSBC, and guides visitors to these biologically important reserves.

Results:
a. Information of possible sites collected
b. Code of Ethics for Bird Route established
c. First 10 sites and communities within Bird Route designated
d. Bird Route between first 10 sites defined
e. Workshops and information on sustainable tourism development conducted
and distributed respectively.
f. Map and Guide for the Costa Rican Bird Route: Section San Juan – La Selva.
g. First 10 Bird Route sites officially opened.
h. Promotion methods and types defined in “Promotion Plan for the Costa Rican Bird Route: Section San Juan – La Selva
i. Bird Route promoted in methods identified in “Promotion Plan”.

3. Educate landowners and 12 identified communities about the following:


• Importance and benefits of the creation of this Bird Route
• tourism site development
• naturalist training
• wildlife Identification and environmental information.

Results:
a. Presentations to 12 identified communities, about the creation of the Bird Route and about tourism site development completed.
b. Naturalist Training and Wildlife Identification workshops completed.
c. Environmental education packets for the 12 identified communities created

4. Evaluate success of Bird Route, sites, education programs and promotion

Results:
a. Methods of evaluation defined and implemented
b. Evaluation findings documented in “Evaluation of the Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva. Year One”

5. Expand Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva in second phase of Bird Route and define methods for the continuation of the Ruta de Aves.

Results:
a. Identify and install at least 5 new Bird Route sites
b. Great Northern Bird Route Map augmented and re-distributed
c. Road Signs for new sites installed
d. New sites officially opened
e. Methods for the continuation of the Bird Route, defined and documented in “Strategic Action Plan for the continuation of the Great Northern Bird Route”

Experience of Organization

It is important to point out the Friends of the Great Green Macaw is a very young organization, as we were founded in December of 2000. Or mission is to protect, preserve and rehabilitate habitat for the Great Green Macaw and for the biodiversity found within its habitat.

Friends of the Great Green Macaw is under the leadership of a Board of Directors. This Board consist of President: Andrew Rothman (Wildlife Biologist), Vice President: William Volker (Wildlife and Nature Education), Secretary: Russ Rothman (Advertising agency owner), Treasurer: Jeff Keukenbecher (CPA Miecher and Associates), Voting Member: Carl Leopold (Son of Aldo Leopold, Professor University of Cornell, Voting Member: Steve Mahler (Director of youth environmental camp).

We have befriended and worked with a number of conservation organizations in Costa Rica. We became the first international organization in the Costa Rican National Great Green Macaw Commission and are also a member of the San Juan – La Selva Biological Corridor Executive Committee (Northern Costa Rica Strategic Alliance

We have already begun to initiate the Costa Rican Bird Route: Seccion San Juan - La Selva. We have begun to collect data on the types of habitat and birds at sites, what each site offers to their visitors, and site access. We have more site visits planned. We are in contact with our US consultants (see description of collaborators), and with them we are almost ready to begin site promotion via the Internet and also define the route of the Trail.

Description and list of potential project collaborators

We have the support of the SSBC Executive Committee for this project as well as the Costa Rican Minister of the Environment. We will directly work with these supports as well as with the following groups:

Fermata,Inc. and The Great American Trails Co.: These nature based tourism corporations have had much success in creating and implementing bird and Bird Routes in the United States. They are interested in helping us create a “Pilot” trail in Costa Rica that may be replicated throughout Central America. They will act as consultants for this project.

ABAS (Associacion por el Bienestar Ambiental de Sarapiqui) and ASCOMAFOR: We will work with these local conservation groups to develop and implement community workshops and education programs. They will also assist us with making contact with local sponsors and local landowners, and assist with determining the Bird Route route.

La Tirmbina Biological Reserve and VIDA - Association of Volunteers in Research and Environmental Development: Both of these groups have experience presenting educational information to local adults and children. We will work with these two groups to develop and present information on wildlife identification and habitat protection.

This project will initially be implemented by FGGM and the aforementioned groups, yet many other organizations will be involved in a collaborative effort to fully develop this project. They are:

CCT, Red de Reservas Privadas, APREFLOFAS, FUNDECOR, MINAE – Conservation areas, CEDERNA, ANASA, Russell Advertising, Costa Rica Tourism Institute, Centro Ensenaza de Sarapiqui, INA- Puerto Viejo, local community leaders, and municipalities and tourism boards, and all of the participating Bird Route sites. Many of these organizations have pledged their assistance and support, but in what exact form has not fully been identified. Some organizations have yet to be identified and or contacted.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


BUDOWSKI, GERARDO. 2001. Ecoturismo en America Latina: actualidad y derroteros. Ciencias Ambientales, Universidad Nacional, San José, Costa Rica

COMITÉ EJECUTIVO CORREDOR BIOLOGICO SAN JUAN – LA SELVA. 2002. Propuesta por la creación de Parque Nacional Maquenque. Presentado a CI/ CEPF

FERMATA, INC, 2002. Contacta Mary Jeanne Packer a [email protected]

HAYSMITH, LESLIE Y J. HARVEY (eds.). 1995. El ecoturismo y la conservación de la naturaleza en Centro America. Programa Paseo Pantera. Gainesville, FL, USA

INSTITUTO COSTARRICENSE DE TURISMO. 2000. Pagina web: www.hostelpangea.com

POWELL, GEORGE., WRIGHT, P. et al. 1999. Resultados y recomendaciones para la conservación de la lapa verde (Ara ambigua) en Costa Rica. Centro Científico Tropical, San José, Costa Rica

ROJAS, WILLIAM. Cámara de Turismo de Sarapiqui. Conversación Feb. 3, 2003 @ Selva Verde Lodge, Chilamate, Heredia, Costa Rica

STILES, F. GARY Y A. SKUTCH. 1989. Guía de Aves de Costa Rica. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Heredia, Costa Rica

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