Costa Rica is a country known for its high levels of biodiversity and its complex, lush, tropical rainforests. While this appropriately describes most of the country, it does not capture the climate, essence, or forest of Taboga. The lowlands of the province of Guanacaste (in the country’s northwest) experience a completely different climate from most of the rest of the country – one defined by an extensive dry season (from November to May) during which rain seldom falls. Indeed, much of the flora of the area is adapted to this tropical dry forest ecosystem and many plants enter a period of dormancy while they wait for the rains to return in May. Walking among the leafless trees, I sometimes feel like it’s early winter back in North America. The only difference is that instead of snow on the ground, it’s 99 degrees and I’m sweating through my shirt, pants, hat, binoculars, and anything else that might touch my body.
Coincident with this dry period, the area experiences a fire season. Wildfires here are often started by people and of relatively low intensity when compared with the infernos of western North America. That being said, they still are, of course, potentially very dangerous. On March 1st, 2019, a wildfire jumped into the forests of Taboga. Farmers on adjacent properties were burning sugar cane when flames leapt the firebreaks and entered the Palmichal, a unique area in the southeast of Taboga typified by many native Royal Palms (Attalea rostrata)(See satellite photo). Fortunately, the region’s volunteer forest firefighters, part of the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), were quick to react and they quelled the fire before it affected the forest (and monkey habitat) on a large scale.
I know what you’re thinking: what if there’s another fire in Taboga and the volunteers are not so quick to respond or are otherwise occupied? Will it mean the destruction of precious tropical dry forest and the unique blend of flora and fauna that call Taboga home? To that, I would ask you not to fret and to rest easy for it just so happens that two of our long-term team members, Alexander Fuentes and Juan Carlos Ordoñez, are volunteer firefighters. Still not satisfied? Well, how about this: on Saturday December 7th, the whole Capuchins at Taboga team was invited to participate in a workshop where we learned how to operate certain equipment so that we may be able to help in the event of another fire on the reserve. Sounds fun, right? Well, it was. I mean, if you like coiling and uncoiling hoses and doing wind sprints. And also we got to spray trees with a fire hose.
After watching the twelve official volunteers (including our own Alex Fuentes) run drills connecting water pump to nozzle through eight hoses, the rest of us got a chance to learn from some of the best around. We learned about proper techniques for holding a high pressure fire hose and what it takes to be a good lookout for your partner. We also got to run drills where we saw how quickly we could straighten out, connect, and coil back up six hoses (Our quickest time was 5 minutes. The pros do it in 3, so we are feeling pretty good about ourselves). After, we learned how to properly create a firebreak using hand tools.
As the sun began to drop in the western sky and its golden light played blithely on the waving, amber grass and verdant forest, we looked with approval at our two meter firebreak and we all (I assume) thought the same thing: we need to do more cardio. All that sprinting made us sore for days.
The good news is that if there is another fire in Taboga (and let’s hope there isn’t), we all know a little bit more now about handling firefighting equipment and will be more comfortable lending a hand and holding a hose if we are called upon. Until then, we know what we have to do: wind sprints every morning from 4-5 AM, then go watch monkeys.
By Evan Farese