Let it Grow (Back): A Call for the Conservation of Secondary Forests as Medicinal Plant Habitat

  • Daniela J. Shebitz School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, Kean University, Union, NJ
  • Lindsey Page Agnew Middle School Science Teacher and Independent Researcher, California Public Schools.
  • Steven Kerns Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice; Department of Environmental Science and Policy, California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, CA
  • Angela Oviedo School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, Kean University, Union, NJ.
  • Juyoung Ha Kean University School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences
Keywords: Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES), Protected Areas (PA), Community conservation, Vismia macrophylla, Pentaclethra macroloba


Costa Rica is widely regarded as a global leader in conservation practices. In the Maquenque National Wildlife Refuge (MNWLR), within Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, a strong commitment to conservation has led to protecting highly biodiverse mature forests. However, a significant opportunity to strengthen conservation in this region is being overlooked at a great cost to the local community and environment: the protection of regenerating secondary forests. Secondary forests account for over 50% of global tropical forests and serve vital ecological and cultural functions. Within the MNWLR, many species in the secondary forests provide medicinal value to the rural communities where western medical care is difficult to access. Recent research, however, has shown that secondary forests in Costa Rica are re-cleared within 20 years, before they have accumulated the previously lost biomass and biodiversity. In this paper, we call for conservation and management strategies to incorporate community held knowledge about culturally significant species, and for there to be economic incentives for keeping secondary forests intact and for determining which forests are designated as Protected Areas. We discuss previous research with two trees that are common in secondary forests in the MNWLR (Vismia macrophylla and Pentaclethra macroloba), recognizing that these are some of the many species that have great potential to both the ecological and social communities. While our focus area is in the Northern Zone of Costa Rica, the integration of community use and local knowledge into conservation should be a global priority.

Author Biographies

Lindsey Page Agnew, Middle School Science Teacher and Independent Researcher, California Public Schools.

Lindsey Page Agnew is a science teacher in California. She strives to incorporate the process of research in her classroom and empower students to design solutions for environmental problems.

Steven Kerns, Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice; Department of Environmental Science and Policy, California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, CA

Steven Kerns is a Deputy Attorney General at the California Department of Justice. He is interested in restoration ecology, environmental security, and land use.

Angela Oviedo, School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, Kean University, Union, NJ.

Angela Oviedo is a recent graduate in Environmental Biology with an interest in urban and restoration ecology. Her goal is to foster a sense of awareness of environmental justice issues in the growing population of the NY metropolitan area.

Juyoung Ha, Kean University School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences

Juyoung Ha is an associate professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability with expertise on characterizing and analyzing soil and water to understand the impacts of geochemical cycling of the elements and heavy metal contaminants.



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How to Cite
Shebitz, D. J., Agnew, L. P., Kerns, S., Oviedo, A., & Ha, J. (2023). Let it Grow (Back): A Call for the Conservation of Secondary Forests as Medicinal Plant Habitat . Ethnobiology Letters, 14(2), 37–46. https://doi.org/10.14237/ebl.14.2.2023.1831