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Private lands surround and span gaps between all protected areas in Costa Rica. Natural resource management practices in these critical buffer and corridor areas will directly shape the character and outcome of conservation in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. This article examines the decision making process of landowners in response to recent real estate development in Costa Rica"s Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor region. Interviews with landowners and key informants shed light on common values and weaknesses in the decision making process. We investigated the effects of decision process strengths and weaknesses on trust building and landowners" abilities to pursue their common interests. The article concludes by evaluating several alternatives through which decision processes and trust networks could be strengthened.
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Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
ISSN: 1659-2751
G. Basso
y Q. Newcomer
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, CT 06511.
UGA Costa Rica & Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
Recibido 17 de noviembre 2008. Aceptado 16 de junio 2009.
Private lands surround and span gaps between all protected areas in Costa Rica. Natural resource
management practices in these critical buffer and corridor areas will directly shape the character
and outcome of conservation in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. This
article examines the decision making process of landowners in response to recent real estate
development in Costa Rica‟s Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor region. Interviews with
landowners and key informants shed light on common values and weaknesses in the decision
making process. We investigated the effects of decision process strengths and weaknesses on
trust building and landownersabilities to pursue their common interests. The article concludes
by evaluating several alternatives through which decision processes and trust networks could be
Key words: Biological corridor, decision-making, land development, trust.
Alrededor y entre las áreas protegidas en Costa Rica existen terrenos privados. Las prácticas del
manejo de recursos naturales en estas áreas de amortiguamiento y corredores críticas afectaran
directamente la caracterización y resultado de conservación en uno los países con la más diversa
biodiversidad en el mundo. En este artículo, examinan el proceso de toma de decisiones de
hacendados como respuesta al desarrollo reciente de bienes raíces en el camino del tapir, un
corredor biológico, en Costa Rica. Entrevistas con hacendados y colaboradores clave revelen
información sobre los valores comunes y debilidades en el proceso de toma de decisiones.
Investigaron los efectos de las fortalezas las debilidades del proceso en construyendo confianza y
las capacidades de los hacendados de perseguir sus intereses comunes. También evaluaron varias
alternativas para reforzar el proceso de toma de decisiones y redes de confianza.
Palabras clave: Corredor biológico, proceso de toma de decisiones, desarrollo de bienes raíces,
Costa Rica has employed innovative means to forward socioeconomic development through a
combination of government policies and market-based incentive programs which encourage
conservation management on privately-held lands. This study focuses on land management in
Costa Rica‟s Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor (PTBC). Problems associated with rapid and
widespread development in the PTBC can be addressed in a creative manner that preserves the
functional integrity of ecological systems at a broad landscape scale.
Contact: Georgia Basso (
2 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
This paper (a) provides a contextual overview of the corridor; (b) analyzes trends and conditions
that have contributed to the PTBC‟s current state and the problems it faces; and (c) evaluates
several alternatives to forward the common interestsustainable development that integrates
socioeconomic and conservation goals across the region. Whereas the paper focuses on the
PTBC case study, we present a general approach to problem solving in community-based natural
resource management with transferability to other settings.
For as long as people have been settling frontier regions en masse, real estate development
booms have changed land use patterns in rural regions across the globe. Culturally driven land
management practices accompanying social shifts alter natural resource identification,
exploitation, and accumulation patterns (Landis, 1938; Firey, 1960). Current trends show that
wealthy individuals are using disposable income to move out of cities and into open space and
natural settings (Slattery, 2003; Walker and Fortmann, 2003), in many cases purchasing vacation
homes in these areas. Real estate development and the subsequent influx of outsiders alter the
rural landscape and impact existing social networks. Outcomes of widespread real estate
development in rural communities include elevated land prices, local landowner emigration,
ecological and social fragmentation, and cultural friction (Glick and Clark, 1998; Natural
Resources Council of Maine, 1992; Walker and Fortmann, 2003). Although development is
typically promoted as a means of invigorating rural economies, local landowners often feel a
sense of loss, fear, and helplessness when caught in the midst of real estate booms (Slattery,
2003; Walker and Fortmann, 2003).
Costa Rica‟s real estate market is one of the fastest growing in Latin America (Latin America
Business Chronicle, 2007). Over the last ten years land prices have risen dramatically, more than
doubling or tripling in some areas (Koutnik, 2005). In 1997, an ocean view lot in the PTBC sold
for US$ 30,000. Today a lot of similar size and quality sells for over US$ 400,000
. Despite this
dramatic rise in prices, Costa Rican real estate is still highly sought after. More online searches
are made for “Costa Rica real estate” than for real estate in any other Central American country
(Figure 1) (International Real Estate Market News 2008).
Anonymous. Cost for ocean view lot [interview]. August 7, 2007. Personal communication.
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 3
Costa Rica
Figure 1. Highest, medium, and lowest searches for real estate online (Source: International Real
Estate Market News, 2008).
Costa Rica‟s booming real estate market is evident in the PTBC. Over the last 20 years, the
corridor has been transformed from rural agrarian communities to an area filled with gated
communities. One long time resident reflected, “When I came to Dominical there wasn‟t a road
into the town. I have seen so much change in this place. It is like a different world now
Prior to this shift, the PTBC region was home to about 1,000 Costa Rican landowners. Most
landowners were ranchers or farmers, they had large land holdings (>70 hectares), and long land
tenure (>50 years). Today the corridor is inhabited by over 10,000 people, many of whom are
(Redondo-Brenes, 2007). The influx of foreigners primarily consists of second
homeowners from North America who have small land holdings (<1 hectares) and short land
tenure (<10 years). While the influx of foreigners is a trend throughout the entire corridor,
development is heaviest in the coastal areas
. One local resident said, “Americans are buying the
culture here, and changing it. Some types of tourism are okay, but when Gringos come in and
build these huge condos, things change. This type of tourism I don‟t like”
In addition to this demographic shift, the PTBC has also experienced a significant change in
forest cover. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s deforestation for agricultural production was
widespread. In the 1980s the negative effects of deforestation became apparent. Solórzano et al.
(1991) estimated that the depreciation of Costa Rican forests, soils, and fisheries between 1970
Anonymous. Transformation of the corridor [interview]. June 13, 2007. Personal communication.
Ewing, J. Inhabitants of the corridor [e-mail]. March 3, 2008. Personal communication.
Anonymous. Types of tourism [interview]. May 30, 2007. Personal communication.
Costa Rica
4 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
and 1989 was more than 184 billion colones (about 6 billion US dollars)
- greater than one
year‟s gross domestic product. In the 1990s, new environmental regulations and a decrease in the
profitability of agriculture and livestock contributed to reforestation of 90 % of agricultural lands
in the PTBC (Ewing, 2007; Newcomer, 2007). Today the corridor‟s dense forest cover and the
plethora of wildlife it supports draw tourists and land investors.
Corridor-based tourism and development industries profit from increased forest cover, however
they also pose the largest threat of undoing the last twenty years of forest regeneration and
expanded connectivity across the region. Individualistic economic and power motives coupled
with ineffective government threaten efforts to steer land development in a more sustainable
direction. Rampant development is not inevitable, however, and alternative models for
sustainable real estate development are emerging in Costa Rica
. Strengthening the decision
making process and reinforcing existing trust networks can help reduce the negative social and
ecological outcomes associated with uncontrolled development.
The Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor is one of Central America‟s most diverse regions.
Stretching for 50 km along Costa Rica‟s central-southern Pacific coast (Figure 2), the PTBC
connects the Osa Peninsula and watershed of the Golfo Dulce with Los Santos Forest Reserve
and the Talamanca mountain range (Rodríguez, 2000). The PTBC is formally recognized as a
component of Costa Rica‟s national network of biological corridors.
6 Currency statistics.
Gohmann, C. Real estate development [e-mail]. December 5, 2007. Personal communication.
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 5
Figure 2. The Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor and surrounding areas in Costa Rica‟s
central-southern Pacific coastal region (Source: Redondo-Brenes, 2007; INBio, 2006;
ASANA GIS layers).
One broad goal of the PTBC is to harmonize conservation and development, capturing social and
economic benefits from the sustainable management of the region‟s natural resources
(Newcomer, 2002). The original idea for its establishment began in 1987 when a small group of
community members met to discuss possible strategies for conservation on private lands.
Following this initial meeting, larger community groups discussed alternatives for integrating
agriculture, tourism, and conservation to stimulate the local economy. In 1994, the Corredor
Biológico Paso de la Danta was founded to coordinate these efforts (Newcomer, 2002). La
Asociación de Amigos de la Naturaleza (ASANA) is the grassroots conservation organization
that formalized and continues to administer the PTBC initiative.
Newcomer (2002) identified three groups that participated in early stages of the PTBC:
community organizations (including local, national and international NGOs), key local
individuals, and government agencies. In recent years, real estate developers and foreign land
owners have emerged from “key individual” roles and represent new participant groups.
Following a dramatic influx of foreign land investors, today the PTBC is inhabited by
approximately 10 000 people in 55 communities (Redondo-Brenes 2007). Dominical and Uvita,
6 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
the corridor‟s two main urban centers, are experiencing rapid growth in population and land use
We examined the attitudes and organizational dynamics of landowners and key informants in the
Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor. From May to August 2007, Basso collected both
qualitative and quantitative data in 14 communities (CoopeSilencio, Hatillo, Playa Guapil,
Laguna, Plátano, Dominical, Escaleras, Playa Hermosa, San Josecito, Uvita, Ojochal, San
Buenaventura, Coronado, and Tres Ríos) using a mixed methods approach. Because this was a
preliminary study, Basso adopted a nonprobability sampling technique, interviewing at least
three willing landowners in each of the fourteen communities. A total of 52 Costa Rican and 47
foreign landowners participated in this study. Participants included 15 key informants: four
influential land developers, three ASANA board members, three scientific experts, and five large
One on one, open-ended interviews and surveys provided the primary sources of data. Open-
ended interviews allowed participants to express their perceptions of events while allowing the
interviewer to pursue relevant lines of questioning. Interviews were semi-structured to ensure the
same topics were covered with all participants. Interviews were conducted with a total of 55
landowners representing all five stakeholder groups. Structured surveys were used to collect
quantifiable information on perceptions of real estate development and the corridor‟s
environmental condition. A total of 44 landowners, representing each of the five stakeholder
groups, participated in the surveys.
In addition to open-ended interviews and surveys, results of this study are also based on
ethnographic field notes and a literature review. Ethnographic notes were taken during
community meetings, including zoning planning and ASANA board and general member
meetings. From 2001 through 2004, Newcomer conducted both random (n=190) and targeted
census (n=46) surveys with landowners across the PTBC to discern land management patterns
and motives for private forestland conservation (Newcomer 2007). Both qualitative and
quantitative findings from this research are considered in the current analysis.
Decision process
Decision making is an on-going process of human social interactions that plays into nearly all
land management situations. A sound decision process can help resolve conflict and develop a
“working specification” of shared values (Clark, 2001). Decision process does not follow a rigid,
step-by-step progression; however, as Clark (2001) described, the process of decision making
can be understood by examining the effectiveness of its seven interconnected stages and
associated standards (Table 1): 1) information gathering; 2) debate concerning the nature and
status of the problem(s); 3) discussion about a plan (new rules) to solve the problem(s); 4)
invoking an action plan; 5) applying the new rules; 6) assessing progress; and 7) terminating the
plan when it no longer applies. Each stage can be viewed in pre decision, decision, and post
decision phases (Lasswell, 1956). In practice, the quality and visibility of each stage can vary
dramatically. The ability of leaders to uphold standards at each stage affects participants‟
satisfaction with both the process and the outcomes (Clark, 2001).
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 7
Table 1. An overview of decision process stages and standards, and observations on the
decision-making processes in the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor.
Decision Process Stages
Summary of Findings
Information gathering
Trustworthy information is wanted,
particularly landownership maps and
developers‟ social and environmental
Current information is overly complex,
unreliable, and inaccessible.
Illegal development is advantaged by lack
of information.
Debate concerning
Forums for open dialog are lacking among
conservation organizations, real estate
developers, and local residents.
Powerful voices of developers are often
heard above individual, scattered voices of
residents, scientists, and other concerned
Discussion about a plan to
solve the problem
Zoning plans are being discussed; however,
inclusive arenas where all participant
groups have a voice do not exist.
Participant representation at planning
meetings is unbalanced. Community
leaders, government officials, and regional
conservation NGOs attend while
landowners and developers are generally
not included.
Invoking an action plan
The zoning plan is the only “action plan”
under serious discussion. It is unclear
whether zoning is the most timely and
effective way to deal with uncontrolled
development, particularly because other
laws have been unable to terminate such
Applying new rules
Unclear whether zoning laws will work in
practice and help with the problem of
uncontrolled development.
Lack of enforcement presence or
meaningful actions.
Assessing progress and
terminating the plan
No schedule for evaluating the corridor.
Unclear on who is responsible for
successes and failures.
Source: Clark (2002).
8 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
Effective decision making with advancement toward a common objective relies, in large part, on
trust. Fukuyama (1995) notes, “Trust arises when a community shares a set of moral values in
such a way as to create expectation of regular and honest behavior.” In the absence of trust
people must rely on formal rules and regulations to ensure cooperation. Such rigid social
structures can limit innovation and can stifle the decision process (Fukuyama 1995). In the
absence of widely respected informal social norms that take into account common interests of the
broader community, resource management becomes driven by individualistic motives and is
unsustainable over time (Firey, 1960).
In community based natural resource management, obvious technical problems (e.g., unregulated
development, species decline) often receive more focus than more subtle, complex problems
(e.g., insufficient and inaccurate information, cultural friction, non-inclusiveness). Yet these
subtle processes underpin the more visible, technical problems (Clark et al., 2006).
Understanding the subtleties is critical for creating effective, sustainable alternatives. Upgrading
the decision making process by building mutual respect and trust among those involved is a
necessary first step toward addressing the technical problems associated with unchecked
development in the PTBC. Increasing trust and respect among participant groups will help
balance the disparity in distribution of other values (e.g., power, wealth) among corridor
residents (Dobyns et al., 1971; Lasswell, 1971).
Although results from this study suggest weaknesses exist in all stages of the decision process,
weaknesses in information gathering and inclusive debate stages are perhaps the most
problematic. Effectiveness in other decision stages (invoking, assessing and terminating an
action plan) is compromised by lack of open discussion of reliable information. Lack of clear
regulatory guidelines and enforcement capacity are two central, technical bottlenecks to
achieving conservation goals.
Landowners’ values and concerns
Converging values are an important component of trust building and the development of
effective organizations or gatherings of people (Fukuyama, 1995; Kumar et al., 1995). As
defined by Clark (2002) a value is simply a desired object or situation. Diverse PTBC
landowners share some key values and interests around which trust and collective activity could
be forwarded.
Table 2. Landowner responses to the open-ended question “List the three things that you enjoy
the most about living here”.
Number of people who stated the value
Values stated
Costa Ricans
23 (85 %)
28 (88 %)
Relaxed, peaceful lifestyle
9 (33 %)
10 (31 %)
My work
4 (14 %)
0 (0 %)
Open space
3 (11 %)
3 (9 %)
Living among Costa Ricans
0 (0 %)
14 (44 %)
Freedom from US government regulation
0 (0 %)
8 (25 %)
n=59: 27 Costa Ricans and 32 foreigners.
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 9
Although landowners‟ values overlap in some areas (Table 2), current trends in the PTBC
threaten the most widespread shared values among Costa Ricans and foreign landowners.
Development is pushing out both nature and Costa Ricans and rising cultural tensions undermine
the region‟s relaxed, peaceful atmosphere. Drawing on shared values and strengthening trust
networks could help landowners collectively address situations which compromise the common
interest (Clark, 2002).
Both Costa Rican and foreign landowners were asked how they felt about real estate
development in the corridor and why they felt as they did. In total, 71% of the 66 participating
landowners said that real estate development in the corridor seriously concerned them (Figure 3).
Seriously concerning
A positive occurance
Figure 3. Landowners‟ perspectives on current real estate development in the PTBC (n=66: 30
Costa Ricans, 36 foreigners).
Environmental destruction was the most frequently cited reason for concern among both Costa
Ricans and foreign landowners. For Costa Ricans secondary reasons include being pushed off
their land and the positive response that development provides good jobs. Secondary responses
among foreign landowners include the lack of law enforcement and real estate developers
treating the corridor solely as a business pursuit.
Table 3. Landowners‟ concerns with real estate development in the Path of the Tapir Biological
Number of people who stated reason
Costa Ricans
Environmental destruction
12 (46 %)
18 (78 %)
Ousting Costa Ricans from their land
10 (36 %)
6 (17 %)
Helps Costa Ricans economically
7 (23 %)
2 (5 %)
Lack of rules
6 (19 %)
13 (46 %)
Sole profit motives
4 (12 %)
11(36 %)
0 (0 %)
6 (17 %)
n=63: 29 Costa Ricans, 34 foreigners
10 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
Information flow and organizations
Good decisions rely on factual information that is complete, dependable, and available to all
participants (Cherney et al., in press). Well structured situations, or arenas, can provide people
the opportunity to assume meaningful roles in receiving, processing, and disseminating
information and more fully participate in the decision making process. The quality and
accessibility of information can mean the difference between successful management programs
and those plagued by conflict and which ultimately fail (Clark, in press).
When asked what forms of support landowners felt they were lacking, information availability
and communication networks were the most common responses. Interviews indicated land
ownership maps, developers‟ social and environmental performance, and clear guidelines for
development permitting were not readily accessible within the corridor. Therefore, it was
difficult for investors and landowners to draw on these sources when making investment choices
or attempting to report illegal activity. Newcomer (2007) found many PTBC landowners he
interviewed (n=192) did not have any contact with extension agents from government agencies
(36.5 %) or representatives of local conservation organizations (47.4 %). Of the landowners who
did know these potential information brokers, a large portion reported having only moderate or
low trust in them (40.1 % for government representatives, 28.7 % for local conservation
Study participants expressed concern and frustration with the lack of reliable information. A real
estate agent and longtime corridor resident said, “People come down here and want to do right;
they just don‟t have the information to do it.” Another investor stated, Procedures change, new
requisites are established and communication is sketchy or non-existent. The results: frustration
with the process and distrust/contempt with the incompetence of the bureaucracies and their
staff.One of the corridor‟s largest developers said, “To us (developers) it is like a black box.
We never know what the law is.” Another landowner commented on conservation tools, stating,
“The problem with conservation easements is that no one knows it‟s a tool.” Only 4.7 % of
randomly surveyed landowners (n=190) reported knowing about conservation easements, and
9.5 % reported knowing about Costa Rica‟s Certified Sustainable Tourism (CST) program
(Newcomer, 2007).
Weaknesses in information gathering and sharing can lead to uncertainty and inaction (Clark, in
press). Local landowners frequently expressed uncertainty and a sense of helplessness with
regard to development. One landowner said, I have questions when I see what I see on the
ridges, the development starting. I wonder where the corridor actually is. You see the top of the
mountain being developed where you thought the corridor was protecting it and you start to
think, well, what is protected?” The lack of information and feeling of helplessness may
contribute to the general sense of unsustainable development‟s inevitability.
Information is disseminated through arenas. Arenas are simply gatherings of individuals who
realize that the outcomes of their decisions affect one another (Cherney et al., in press). The
organizational structure of arenas (e.g., hierarchy, leadership, relationships, task orientation)
influence how information is understood and acted upon (Clark, in press). For example,
traditional vertical systems can block information flow and create loyalties that limit information
sharing (Weber et al., 2005; Clark, in press). In contrast, an integrated web of horizontal,
cooperative relationships among government, citizens, communities and nongovernmental
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 11
organizations can enhance information flow and influence long-term problem solving success
(Weber et al., 2005).
Landowners in the PTBC are involved in organizations through which information dissemination
could occur, however these organizations tend to focus on day-to-day issues rather than longer-
term land management planning concerns. Furthermore, these organizations are not horizontally
integrated, i.e., they do not typically engage people across all participant groups.
Costa Rican and foreign landowners in the PTBC expressed concern with real estate
development for ecological, social, and cultural reasons, however weaknesses in the decision
process hinder their ability to halt destructive practices. Upgrading the decision process and
drawing on existing trust networks are first steps in addressing the technical problems associated
with development. Alternatives presented in this section explore the feasibility of various options
given the conditions in the corridor and country (Annex 1). The first alternative reflects
consequences of upholding the status quo. The second, third and fourth alternatives collectively
address current weaknesses in the decision process by (1) increasing the presence of reliable
information through cost effective means, (2) creating situations that open cross sector dialog,
and (3) proposing action plans based on realistic expectations given the enforcement capacity,
history, and current situation in the corridor.
1. Continued uncontrolled, unsustainable development (i.e., do-nothing, status quo).
Continuing “business as usual” favors the greatest short-term economic profit, however such
gains will be concentrated among a small group of individuals. This alternative is not a viable
long-term strategy to achieve sustainable real estate and tourism development within the PTBC.
Costa Rica is a world-renowned destination among tourists and land investors. The country‟s
slogan, “no artificial ingredients, promotes the eco-image Costa Rica desires to project and
achieve. Generating US$ 1.9 billion of revenue in 2007, tourism is Costa Rica‟s leading industry.
The country‟s economy is directly linked to the quality and quantity of the natural environment,
and Costa Rica has proclaimed it will be carbon-neutral by 2021.
Firey (1960) defined resource management congeries as systems marked by calculated
opportunism and conscious individualism in which social norms and biophysical restraints have
little influence on how resources are used. In a congeries scenario, both the resistance and
resilience of ecological systems are compromised as emphasis is placed on individual gain while
less concern is given to the collective well-being (Newcomer, 2007). Congeries are not
sustainable over time as they are driven by processes that run counter to the processes that
sustain life (Firey, 1960).
Resource management congeries are increasing obvious in the PTBC as ecological impacts from
land development create visual, water, and soil contamination (Osa Municipal Council, 2007)
This environmental destruction is difficult to hide from the eyes of tourists and investors. In an
article on development (22 February 2007) The Tico Times quoted Carlos León from Fundación
Neotrópica: The problem is enormous, said León, deforestation and erosion have caused the
sedimentation of waterfalls and the destruction of the coral reefs in Marino Ballena National
Park. (Vargas Morera, 2007). One disenchanted corridor resident said, “Developers use all of
12 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
these cute terms like sustainable development, but just look at the rivers”
. Uncontrolled
development in Costa Rica, where the country‟s reputation and economy are built on
environmental leadership, will inevitably affect the long-term economic progression of real
estate and tourism development.
2. Create new arenas inclusive to all participant groups to build trust and strengthen information
gathering, dissemination, and discussion phases of the decision process.
Addressing environmental problems and creating sustainable solutions requires collective action,
civil society involvement, and a long-term interest in the collective well-being (Brunner et al.,
2002; Agranoff and McGuire, 2003; Diamond, 2005; Klyza et al., 2006). In deciding to conserve
natural resources, Firey (1960) noted resource consumers acknowledge a moral obligation to
greater society as well as non-human life. Firey (1960) stressed, viable resource system
and no viable social order can be built on self-interest alone.” Willing conformity to social norms
dictated by moral obligation sustains social and ecological order.
Individuals in the PTBC have common values and concerns around which collective action could
be forwarded. For example, stakeholders across participant groups are concerned with
development and value the corridor‟s natural environment for aesthetic, economic, spiritual and
other reasons. Newcomer (2007) found 232 of 233 landowners he surveyed (including real estate
developers, both large and small landowners, and landowners of diverse economic means and
education levels) felt it was important to protect forests on privately owned land to safeguard the
region‟s water resources.
Relationships built around trust create expectations for regular, honest behavior (Fukuyama,
1995). To date in the PTBC, profit motives have generally been seen as conflicting with
environmental concerns and have outweighed developers‟ attention to environmental concerns.
However, open dialog and strategic planning with conservation leaders could create powerful
motivation for a shift in behavior. Isolated incidences of partnerships between large developers
and conservation leaders are emerging, and if successful will likely provide incentive for others
to engage in such collaborations.
Sustainable development does not impose itself on the landscape; it respects the surrounding
cultural and environmental conditions (Firey, 1947; Burch, 1971; Kellert, 2008). Respect for
local knowledge and preserving cultural history is one aspect of information transfer that could
be improved among participant groups initiating and being affected by development in the
PTBC. Such historical context could be documented by ethnographers in collaboration with local
and international universities and ASANA‟s socioecological center, and made available on-line.
Additionally, ASANA has potential to advance collective action on a broader scale. ASANA has
a proven role as a communication facilitator among local and national organizations. They are a
trusted, reputable organization within the corridor. Inconsistent funding, high turnover of board
and staff members, and shifting conservation objectives have limited ASANA‟s role as a
communication facilitator. Seeking out creative partnership ventures with national and
international NGOs and alliances with local cooperatives (e.g., CoopeAgri, CoopeUvita,
CoopeSilencio) could help to utilize their strategic position to advance communication between
stakeholder groups and broaden their influence.
Anonymous. Terms used by developers [interview]. June 15, 2007. Personal communication.
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 13
Drawing on joint values to advance constructive dialog between stakeholders has strong potential
to create vibrant partnerships. According to Weber et al. (2005), vibrant partnerships consist of
trust, common purpose, and mutual dependency. Development of these three elements enables
partners to work together. Vibrant partnerships are associated with (1) increased levels of trust,
bringing about a greater willingness to share information, (2) minimization of strategic behavior
for personal benefit at the expense of others, (3) lower monitoring costs, and (4) increased
likelihood of self-enforcement (Fukuyama, 1995; Weber et al., 2005). Individuals from diverse
corridor stakeholder groups have shown a willingness to work together. If key individuals and
organizations could draw on this willingness and expand the presence of vibrant partnerships,
conservation strategies would begin to reflect long-term, stable approaches rather than the “crisis
mode” patches seen currently.
3. Improve information transfer about sustainable development best practices, developers‟
performance and PTBC goals and objectives.
Information is a critical resource for addressing existing environmental problems and can help
prevent future problems by informing planning and design. Without sound information, conflict,
uncertainty, and inaction take hold (Clark, in press). Observing patterns of information flow in a
given system helps to identify bottlenecks in decision-making (Machlis et al., 1997).
A wide variety of factors have contributed to ineffective information transfer in the PTBC:
administrative capacity constraints in grassroots NGOs (e.g., ASANA) and government field
offices (e.g., MINAE);
infrastructure limitations (e.g., lack of reliable telephone lines and internet access);
lack of trusted information brokers;
lack of knowledge about clear guidelines for sustainable development;
overly complex regulatory and permitting documents;
changing regulations;
inconsistent and ineffective enforcement;
language barriers; and
lack of basic and applied research to provide baseline and time-series data.
Although knowledge gaps are wide in the PTBC, a strong outcry to fill them exists across
stakeholder groups.
Effective, contemporary conservation strategies will rely on recognizing both the obvious and
subtle forces that motivate developers. A government mandated, publicly available, developer
“name and shame” strategy (e.g., the low-cost, highly-effective Toxics Release Inventory
legislation in the United States) has strong potential because local stakeholders and investors
care about and are already seeking information regarding developers‟ social, environmental, and
economic performance. In interviews and surveys, PTBC developers frequently expressed
concerns about public image. A widely available document ranking developers according to their
social and environmental performance would use public pressure and consumer choice to
motivate developers to improve their practices.
Given past failures and current corridor conditions, focus should be placed on cost effective,
user-friendly means of information compilation and dissemination. Internet is a low-cost, high-
impact information dissemination tool. Corridor stakeholders frequently said the Internet was
their primary information source. Foreign investors are likely to begin their real estate search via
14 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
Internet. Self-reporting tools and Internet-based information could work well in the corridor,
although access to both print and electronic media will be limited for the poor and more rural
residents. Infrastructure expansion, affordable technology, and increasing computer literacy will
advance the utility of this information-sharing tool.
ASANA has yet to utilize fully the Internet as a powerful information dissemination tool. Their
current web page does not display development information, it is only in English, and is difficult
to find through Internet search engines. Alternatively, a bilingual (Spanish-English) or multi-
lingual (including German, French and Italian) web page hosting development-related
information, such as best practices, alternative material suppliers, simple checklists for
permitting processes and local laws, scientific research findings, and socio-cultural history
accounts, could help to more broadly disseminate critical information to landowners with access
to the Internet.
4. Restructure incentives to promote ecological and socioeconomic goals via market
Voluntary conservation programs can reduce regulatory burden, create more effective
compliance, and encourage innovation by offering flexible alternatives to command and control
regulation (Steelman and Rivera, 2006). Using information-based tools (e.g., a real estate
certification system) would give investors the power to make decisions based on developer
performance. Voluntary reporting uses product quality and best practices as compliance
indicators, stimulates competition, and could be far more effective than the current system,
which attempts to enforce compliance with weak and sporadic wrist, slaps.
Currently there is dangerously misplaced faith in the ability of zoning laws, once established, to
control development in the PTBC. When asked what his favorite aspect of living in Costa Rica
was, one of the corridor‟s largest developers replied, “The government. It is toothless, which is a
good thing to me.” Costa Rica‟s environmental legislation is among the most comprehensive in
the world, but limited enforcement capacity renders these laws as little more than paper
documents. Wealthy developers traditionally evade the system or pay inconsequential fines.
Several country and corridor conditions indicate that a voluntary real estate certification program
could be effectively instituted. Costa Rica is world-renowned for innovative conservation
strategies. The Certified Sustainable Tourism program (CST) run through the Costa Rican
Tourism Institute (ICT) is an example of one such strategy (ICT, 2007). Corridor developers
have expressed interest in legitimizing green market claims. A new real estate certification
program would likely receive political support.
Certification programs require funding and resources beyond what ASANA has the capacity to
provide. However, there are a number of well established, international conservation NGOs with
proven certification track records in Costa Rica. Rainforest Alliance, for example, has Costa
Rican coffee, timber, and hotel certification systems and has built numerous, flourishing
partnerships within the country‟s NGOs and private sectors (Rainforest Alliance, 2004). A well-
established NGO like Rainforest Alliance may be amenable to partnering with ASANA to pilot a
real estate certification program in the PTBC.
Quality of the decision process affects every natural resource management scenario. Integrating
transferable lessons - or prototypical elements from other case studies - is a proven way to
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 15
enhance outcomes in complex management scenarios (Backhouse and Clark, 1995). Although
this paper focuses on the PTBC case, the general approach to problem solving we describe has
broad application for community-based natural resource management.
Other than the business as usual scenario, the alternatives presented above incorporate a variety
of tools that have helped improve the decision making process and have contributed to successful
outcomes in other complex natural resource management scenarios (Glick and Clark, 1998). As
with any tool, utility rests on appropriate application. Rather than elevating one alternative above
all others, a flexible, integrated approach will be most effective in improving the decision
process in the PTBC. The alternatives proposed in this paper, emphasizing upgrading decision
processes, strongly align with the prototypical elements identified by Glick and Clark (1998).
Glick and Clark (1998) assessed four case studies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE),
a biologically diverse region that shares several striking similarities with the PTBC. Among the
fastest growing rural areas in the United States, GYE has experienced tremendous development
pressure in the past 20 years. Glick and Clark (1998) examined how ecological and
socioeconomic impacts associated with increased development were being addressed. They
found uneven power distribution, cultural tension, limited land-use planning, and a lack of law
enforcement all contributed to the problem. Glick and Clark (1998) extracted four case studies
from the GYE region that contrast the pervasive lack of trust and lack of cooperation among
stakeholders. Each case had distinct characteristics but all shared five common elements:
1. Collection and dissemination of good information before major management decisions were
2. Creation of arenas where information could be discussed and used in an effective manner;
3. Actions that gave stakeholders a voice and opportunity to play a greater role in resource
management decisions;
4. Identification of shared goals across participant groups; and
5. Continual evaluation and modification of actions to reflect changing conditions.
Incidences reflecting adoption of these elements are already emerging in some areas in PTBC.
For example, near the town of Dominical conversations are taking place between conservation
leaders and one of the corridor‟s largest real estate developers. Conversations have deepened
trust between these parties, furthered mutual understanding of business and conservation goals,
and shed light on common values. Additionally, several local businesses, including Hacienda
Barú and La Cusinga EcoLodge, have demonstrated the economic benefits to be gained from
adhering to sustainability standards.
Historic approaches to corridor-based conservation should be examined and revised on a
continual basis. As Ghazoul (2007) writes, “…a broadening of conservation goals and
approaches will be necessary in increasingly human-dominated landscapes.” In light of shifting
demographics and increasing population in the PTBC, limited resources demand a re-
examination and strategic prioritization. Since the corridor‟s inception, ASANA has served as
the central steering organization. This organization traditionally has maintained a large focus on
environmental education in schools. While this activity should not be abandoned, contemporary
environmental threats require immediate initiation of strategies that engage strategic stakeholders
and address practices driving land-use change and environmental degradation. As the central
steering organization for the corridor, ASANA must consider how best to address both short and
long-term concerns, and find new partners to broaden programming capacity.
16 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
A strategic approach to initiating prototypes in the PTBC should target priority areas within the
corridor. Taking on too much too quickly has been the historical downfall of previous initiatives.
Site selection and prototype objectives should be informed by research that identifies common
concerns, shared values, and stakeholder groups. Given the widely-shared value placed on water,
for example, habitat restoration goals might be designed into projects that emphasize protection
of local water resources.
In addition to strategic location and project design, the process of initiating prototype programs
could be enhanced by strategically selecting participants. Given the rapid rate of development in
the corridor, the most crucial actors need to be brought into the conversation first. Prototype
programs should seek to engage the corridor‟s largest landowners and real estate developers as
well as residents with sustainable land use planning and environmental expertise.
Addressing subtleties of the decision-making process will improve the likelihood of successfully
integrating conservation goals into community and regional land management efforts in the Path
of the Tapir Biological Corridor. Building trust and improving information sharing among broad
constituencies directly addresses factors contributing to market failure, and lays the groundwork
for innovative market-based incentives that can help achieve widely accepted, long-term
sustainable land management goals. Improving conditions for market-based natural resource
conservation at the local/regional scales also depends on clear, future-oriented regulatory
guidelines, widespread information transfer, and effective enforcement capacity at the
regional/national scales.
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 17
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20 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
Annex 1. Proposed alternatives to forward the integration of real estate development and
conservation goals in the Path of the Tapir.
Proposed Actions
Likelihood for Implementation
Alternative 1. Business as usual
Developers must comply with existing
laws regarding permitting, land use,
and, if applicable, the municipal plan
Minimal fines assessed for breaking
Easiest scenario in terms of effort, as no further
action is required
On-going tension with growing civil society
concerns and alternative development models
will challenge long-term viability of business-as-
Political Climate
Stable democracy attracts foreign investment
Rampant development runs contrary to national
efforts seeking carbon-neutral, sustainable
Institutional Framework
Property laws support foreigners owning land
Uncertainty about development regulations will
continue to frustrate investors
Cultural Acceptability
Increased ecological awareness and speed of
communication (Internet and digital
photography) pose a threat to the most egregious
Observed tension toward foreigners could
increase with growing income disparities
Alternative 2. Create decision making arenas
Create effective forums for open
dialogue among conservation
organizations, real estate developers,
and concerned local residents
Increased organizational coordination
among ASANA, local cooperatives,
operators, and key influential
individuals including real estate
Collect and disseminate information
about historical and current sense of
Individual incidences of constructive dialogue
exist in the PTBC. Furthering this low-cost,
high-value alternative should be relatively easy
to accomplish.
Political Climate
Stable democracy supports freedom of speech
and information sharing
Institutional Framework
ASANA has a proven role as communications
facilitator among local and national
Cultural Acceptability
Pay-the-fine approach is common; at best,
developers abide by compliance only vs. beyond
compliance standards
Long-time and new PTBC residents share many
common concerns; initiatives led by trusted
individuals and institutions would likely be well-
Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22 21
Alternative 3. Increase information transfer
Clarify PTBC goals and disseminate
information in Spanish and English
Provide multi-lingual information for
developers and land buyers (e.g., best
practices, alternative material suppliers,
checklists and guidelines for permitting
processes and local laws)
Create a government mandated
best/worst actors ranking among
corridor real estate developers;
publicize widely
Trusted organizations or government agencies
must take the lead as the primary information
Even low-cost alternatives for increasing
information dissemination will require initial
investments (website development, research,
Political Climate
Voluntary self reporting tools could effectively
disseminate information with minimal regulatory
History of questionable relationships between
politicians and developers casts doubt about
political support for creating or enforcing
mandatory schemes
Institutional Framework
ASANA is the likely organization to initiate
institutional support for voluntary action, but
requires significant funding to effectively carry
out widespread information dissemination
Involvement from national or international NGO
and/or Costa Rican government is necessary
Cultural Acceptability
New PTBC residents bring conservation values
and experience
Mandatory reporting scheme would likely meet
resistance from developers
Alternative 4. Develop market based incentives
Initiate certification program for
sustainable real estate development
Highly publicize sustainable real estate
developments for ecological, economic,
and aesthetic design attributes
Develop collaborations among NGOs,
government agencies, and developers to
produce information about the long-
term economic, ecological, and social
benefits of sustainable building
Accompany new incentives with
increased enforcement of existing laws
and consequences for violation
Growing recognition of existing sustainable
tourism certification (CST) and voluntary
certification schemes make a voluntary CSD
(certified sustainable development) program a
favorable alternative
Political Climate
Costa Rican government supports certification
programs and market solutions to address
environmental concerns
Institutional Framework
Funding for increased monitoring and law
enforcement is not likely to increase at the pace
of development in the PTBC
Expanding the ICT‟s CST program to include a
new category certifying real estate developments
would build on existing brand recognition and
institutional frameworks
22 Basso and Newcomer / Tierra Tropical (2009) 5 (1): 1-22
Cultural Acceptability
The largest real estate developers in the PTBC
expressed interest in working with an advisory
board to implement large-scale land
conservation programs, demonstrating early
interest in voluntary conservation
Investors and new residents are eco-conscious
individuals with disposable income; a market
niche exists for certified, sustainable product
... The Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor (PTBC) is located on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica and connects the coastal ecosystems of the Osa Peninsula in the southeast, with the montane forests of the Talamanca mountain range to the north [36,37]. One of the main objectives of the PTBC is to facilitate the movement of fauna between the Osa Peninsula and the Talamanca mountains [36,37]. ...
... The Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor (PTBC) is located on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica and connects the coastal ecosystems of the Osa Peninsula in the southeast, with the montane forests of the Talamanca mountain range to the north [36,37]. One of the main objectives of the PTBC is to facilitate the movement of fauna between the Osa Peninsula and the Talamanca mountains [36,37]. The corridor is named after the endangered Baird's tapir, which lives in the Talamanca mountains and the Osa Peninsula, but was extirpated from the intervening area of the corridor in 1957 [35]-it is hoped that tapirs will soon inhabit the PTBC once again. ...
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... In the heavily populated highlands of the country a fairly comfortable and temperate climate is maintained during most if not all of the year, and based upon its 'peaceful democracy' boasting no military presence, its citizens live free of armed conflict. Costa Rica's commitment to health care, safety and other social concerns allows both residents and tourists to live in relatively secure surroundings (Hall et al. 2000, Basso and Newcomer 2009). Fortunately, many who call this comfortable, amenity-rich country home also show a commitment to nature conservation and educational attainment, particularly in rural spaces of tropical mountain areas (Kappelle and Horn 2005, Sarmiento 2007) Costa Rica's real estate is amongst the fast growing markets in the world, and is the fastest growing market in Central America (Figure 1). ...
... Just as natural resource exploitation alters the physical topography of the land, so shift social demographics and cultural identities. One current trend in Costa Rica is that of wealthy individuals using disposable income to move into open, rural settings, many purchasing property to be used primarily as a retirement or seasonal home (Basso and Newcomer 2009, Moss 2006). The real estate development and influx of non-resident Costa Ricans (outsiders as some will say) not only alter the rural landscape, but also impact existing social networks and power relations. ...
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Channels research has consistently argued that asymmetric channel relationships are more dysfunctional than those characterized by symmetric interdependence. The authors propose that the degree of both interdependence asymmetry and total interdependence affect the level of interfirm conflict, trust, and commitment. Using survey data from automobile dealers, they demonstrate that, with increasing interdependence asymmetry, the dealer's trust in and commitment to the supplier decline while interfirm conflict increases. In addition, they demonstrate that relationships with greater total interdependence exhibit higher trust, stronger commitment, and lower conflict than relationships with lower interdependence. The effects on conflict are consistent with those predicted by bilateral deterrence theory, and the effects on trust and commitment are in accord with the authors’ bilateral convergence predictions.
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My PhD Dissertation which examined the effectiveness of the Payment for Ecosystem Services program in Costa Rica as a mechanism to implement a biological corridor in southwestern Costa Rica.
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