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Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica by William Allen

2001; 310 pp. $35 Oxford University Press

Restoration, at times, seems like a rich- nation indulgence. In most poorer nations, it's not on the agenda. Costa Rica is mid-ground. Green Phoenix is the first thorough account of precedent-setting work in Guanacaste Province. A 39-square-mile reserve becomes a 463-square-mile conservation area that not only protects but also actively returns degraded land (including Ollie North's infamous airstrip) to tropical deciduous forest.

I can't think of any other accomplishment in the tropics that equals Guanacaste.There are many subtexts: the persistence and imagination of Dan Janzen, the brilliant University of Pennsylvania biologist, and his wife Winnie Hallwachs; the crucial roles of Costa Rican scientists and politicians, including President Arias; the validation of the beauty and need for tropical deciduous forests that are neither Anglo-European pastoral nor rainforest charismatic; and the discovery of what it takes to return artifactual grassland back to tropical forest, giving tapirs and howler monkeys more room to roam.

"On the misty slope of Volcn Cacao, beyond the barbed-wire fence that lined the road, the enormous tree stood alone amid a vast cattle pasture. The tree, a member of the genus Nectandra, a kind of small-fruited avocado, was easily 100 feet tall. Its narrow trunk rose high and naked before splitting into branches that bore leaves. This broad green crown radiated brightly, like an emerald, seemingly in defiance of the waves of gray fog that passed down through it and around it from the top of the mountain. In this patch of phantom forest, all but this one had been cut and burned to make way for the green gauze of grass that now rolled halfway up the volcano. It was an eerie sight, made all the more so by the blackened hulks of dead trees lying in the pasture. Although the forest was physically obliterated, its spirit seemed to linger."


ISBN: 0195161777

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