Tracking deforestation and tree plantation expansion in a Costa Rican biological corridor using a Landsat time series
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Subjectsforest policies and programs
San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor
monitoring forest protection laws and conservation incentives
temporal image-object segmentation
We evaluated forest policies and programs to reestablish connectivity in a fragmented tropical landscape spanning approximately 2500 km2: the San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor (SJLSBC) in northern Costa Rica. National forest conservation programs have concentrated payments for environmental services (PES) within corridors to establish tree plantations and protect forests on private land; the corridor program was instituted in 1996 as part of a Forest Law that also banned deforestation country-wide. Despite the innovative nature of this program, agricultural pressures on the SJLSBC may have impeded its implementation. To effectively and efficiently monitor forest protection laws and conservation incentives, new remote sensing-based methods are needed that can overcome difficulties in distinguishing between tropical tree plantations, mature forests, and forest regrowth using low-cost moderate- (10- 100 m) to coarse-resolution (100-300 m) satellite sensors. The objective of this study was to accurately map changes in the area of these three forest types and agriculture in northern Costa Rica using Landsat imagery spanning a 25 year period (1986-2011). We used a combined hierarchical approach that integrates temporal image-object segmentation and machine-learning classification techniques to track forest cover change and distinguish between spectrally-similar forest types. Results indicate that, during the 15 years since its creation, the deforestation ban has been effective in protecting mature lowland forests. The area of secondary forest declined however, indicating that agricultural pressures on easily-clearable land are increasing. Tree plantations expanded rapidly over the time period analyzed, although the rate of increase has slowed. Agricultural intensification was notable during the period of study; pineapple cultivation expanded dramatically into former pastures and threatens to bisect the corridor zone by expanding down major river valleys. Although the SJLSBC program and national deforestation ban have protected mature forest and promoted tree plantation establishment, the expansion of intensive agriculture and long-term decline in secondary forest may lead to a semi- permanent loss of forest connectivity in this developing region.