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ESF Site in Costa Rica Starts Focus on Community Empowerment

Partnership with Fundacion Neotropica benefits field station's neighbors

Representatives of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) met today (April 7) with the executive director of a Costa Rican environmental organization to finalize a partnership that will establish a Center for Education and Community Empowerment at the college's tropical field station.

The partnership agreement that was signed today on the ESF campus here involves the Fundacion Neotropica in the management and development of the Sundt Field Station, located on a 30-acre site donated to the College by an alumnus, the late Arthur Sundt, and his wife, Mary.

The Fundacion Neotropica is a not-for-profit organization that provides technical, scientific and financial support in the development and promotion of sustainable management of natural resources and the protection of biodiversity.

The new center will provide experiential, field-based education; serve as a base for ESF researchers and students in Latin America; and eventually be able to host up to 20 people year round.

The partnership is expected to have benefits for the field station's neighbors as well as ESF scientists and students.

"The Fundacion Neotropica is our in-country partner," said ESF Provost Bruce Bongarten. "The Fundacion will be responsible for oversight and significant programming that will result in community involvement in education, demonstration and research."

Bernardo Aguilar-Gonzalez, executive director of Fundacion Neotropica, said programming at the field station will be based on a model developed at the Alvaro Wille Center for Education and Community Empowerment, which the Fundacion has operated for more than 20 years on Costa Rica's Osa peninsula. The Fundacion has hosted some 9,000 American university students at the Osa site, he said.

"It will bring the best of the research and student body of this university and put it to work with the local communities while also taking advantage of the experience and expertise of our non-governmental organization," Aguilar-Gonzalez said.

The agreement states the partnership will address such topics as sustainable rural community tourism; environmental design; community mangrove conservation; sustainable artisanal fisheries; natural forest management; community environmental education, especially focused on youth and women; and the ecological footprint of tourism and consumption.

ESF Assistant Provost Valerie Luzadis said doctoral candidate Whitney Marshall is expected to spend extensive time at the field station over the next couple of years as she works on her dissertation, which focuses on developing a social-ecological model with community members that will contribute to the enhanced development of the neighboring communities and the new center. In addition, Luzadis said, ESF plans a four-week course in Costa Rica in May 2012 for students who want to study political ecology and sustainability. They will travel around the country and spend a week at the field station.

The field station, on property that once operated as a farm, is near the town of Coyolito. It was donated to the college in 2007 by Arthur Sundt, a 1959 graduate of ESF, and his wife, Mary. The Sundts used the property as a respite from the winters in Alaska, where they lived for many years. It contains a mix of dry tropical forest and pastureland and a wealth of animals and vegetation.