Reforestation is not just planting trees in the ground. More than net increase in forest cover, reforestation is a complex political endeavor undertaken by both humans and non-humans and a popular climate change mitigation tactic. However, little research has examined the dynamics between selection of specific reforestation strategies, health, and community resilience, particularly with attention to entanglements between the lives of both human and non-human forest dwellers. This ethnographic work, based on six months of in-person fieldwork and six months of digital ethnography, examines reforestation and forest relations in Costa Rica’s Monte Verde zone, a region which experienced widespread deforestation, followed by reforestation which continues today. This work is oriented around five key themes: 1) reforestation design, 2) connections between reforestation strategies and health, 3) relationships emergent through reforestation, 4) achieving sufficient reforestation, and 5) how relations with forests change as they mature, in the context of capitalism, ecotourism, and conservation.
In this research, I argue that the range of motivations for participation in reforestation in the region inform selection of reforestation strategies and, in turn, the composition and relations of the forest that emerges. I examine the complex linkages between reforestation strategies and health, threading together a narrative of emic understandings of forest-health connections. Though scholarly work generally considers how nature, writ broad, affects human health, here I also consider how human health affects reforestation, examining the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on reforestation programming in the Monte Verde zone. In this work, I place non-human members of the forest community as active members of reforestation efforts in the region, pointing to the intimate relational entanglements that emerge through certain reforestation approaches as a central mechanism through which good health, well-being, and resilience may be generated in the Monte Verde zone.
I argue that while all forests are designed – that is, generated through practices that move from the present state towards a preferred state – not all forests are designed with care, through intimate practices oriented towards maintenance, continuity, and repair. Examining reforestation through the lens of care reveals nuanced textures of human-forest relations: which species are cared for, and which species are culled. Achieving “sufficient” reforestation, I argue, is less about achieving particular goals for ecosystem or human health and is rather a compromise negotiated between stakeholders. In this, I draw parallels between the work of care and the work of producing resilience, arguing that an orientation towards care rather than towards sufficiency may be better able to produce resilience in the context of the region’s reforestation programs. Using the metaphor of the analog and the digital, I examine how forest relations shift through digital media, ecotourism, and the losses of climate change.
In this work, I draw attention to conflicting narratives around reforestation practices – whether planting strategies affect the end forest, whether care is necessary for tree survival, whether foreign tree planters risk tree survival, whether specific species are a threat or kin, whether ecotourism harms or benefits the region – using these spaces of contention to add texture to a process often glossed as simply placing trees in the ground. This works links design, care, and resilience theory through a more-than-human political ecological lens, formulating a narrative of the intimacy, regeneration, and belonging that may – or may not – be formed through reforestation efforts.
Maryann R. Cairns
Eric G. Bing
Anthropology, Ecology, Health Sciences
Number of Pages
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Brown, Megan, "Making Forests, Making Communities: An Ethnography of Reforestation in Monteverde, Costa Rica" (2022). Anthropology Theses and Dissertations.
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