Wednesday, September 1, 2010


A hundred years ago, this was pure jungle. Very Wet Tropical Forest (just shy of rainforest). There were no towns and no roads, although indigenous people lived here. Mostly there were trees.

There were a lot of kinds of trees. Up to 140 different species in the same hectare. Now we've cut most of them down. It's hotter than it used to be, and it rains less, and there's much more erosion. The river is more dangerous. Now we have roads and pastures and pineapples. We've kept a few patches of forest, though, especially around the streams. We're proud of our majestic trees. This one's a Ceibo.


What story would an economist tell about our trees?

Are trees luxuries? A good trunk might be worth a thousand dollars, but instead of cutting it down my friend is proud of his Ceibo.

Are trees public goods? This Almendro is protected by decree of the government. Both Ceibos and Almendros are threatened species, and the endanged Great Grean Macaw depends on the Almendro.

Are trees a crop? San Marcos has thousands of hectares of tree farms, often non-native species like this teak. Monoculture is a problem, but at least it stops erosion. Strangely, it's often these tree farms, and not the primary forests, which receive "environmental service payments" from the government.

Who owns the trees? Many trees can't be cut down without government permission, and even if they fall down they sometimes rot on the ground because the paperwork required to take them out is too much trouble. If we de-regulated trees, we'd avoid that waste. We might even encourage more planting. But maybe we'd also have more trees cut down. We'd release the sequestered carbon (some of it--some might stay in furniture and houses, and some might be re-sequestered by new trees). We'll accelerate the desertification of Cutris. Tough choice.

Illegal logging is one of the top crimes in Cutris. Hey buddy, do you have a license for that log? When we catch tree thieves, the wood--on the road or still in the forest--is given to a nearby educational institution. They front the money to bring it to school property and store it there for up to six months as the paperwork is processed. Then they sell it. San Marcos's high school doesn't have the money or a full-time guard to watch the wood. But the high school in Boca de Arenal makes a lot of money. They might spend $2000 to haul the wood, but then they sell it for $30,000.

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