Ranchers near active Turrialba Volcano could get bought out by Costa Rica government

November 6, 2015

LA CENTRAL, Cartago — Farmers and ranchers who have been forced to evacuate their land because of recent activity at Turrialba Volcano could expect a check from the government soon.

Director of Turrialba National Park Miguel Salazar announced that the conservation area would seek funds to purchase 1,000 hectares from landholders in and around the park. He made the announcement during a news conference Friday held at a school recently evacuated because of eruptions here.

The school sits in the shadow of the volcano that shut down Juan Santamaría International Airport several times during the last year because of volcanic ash. The hillside rising up across the street from the aptly named El Volcán school was ashen and the trees bare, a sharp contrast from the almost neon green of the surrounding pasture.

The national park is closed to the public but private landholders retain rights to farm and graze in the park under emergency restrictions. Salazar said that out of the 1,256 hectares that make up Turrialba National Park, 78 percent is privately owned.

The park director said that many landowners have had to abandon their plots within the park because of the proximity to the volcano. Salazar said the new proposal seeks to compensate those landowners.

On Monday, the National Emergency Commission and the National Animal Health Service recommended the evacuation of more than 200 heads of cattle within a 5 km radius of the volcano’s crater. Farmers with property in the area have restricted access to their crops. Ash from the volcano can harm the cow’s lungs and kill the grass they graze on.

Zach Dyer/The Tico Times
Rancher José Ángel Coto outside La Central, Turrialba, Cartago on Nov. 6, 2015. Zach Dyer/The Tico Times

Vulcanologist Guillermo Alvarado told reporters at the news conference that since the first major eruption at Turrialba on Nov. 1, 2014 the volcano has been very active. Alvarado said that ash analyzed from the volcano led experts to believe that magma is close to the surface. Whether that magma starts to cool or build up pressure into another major eruption is anyone’s guess.

Jimmy Morales, a rancher who rents land near the volcano to graze his 10 cattle on, said he was looking to relocate away from the crater but hasn’t been able to find a suitable plot he can afford.

“If I can get another spot someplace else, I’d leave. Better to prevent, right?” Morales said.

José Ángel Coto, a rancher with 50 head of cattle from the nearby town of La Picada, said he’d like the government to buy him out.

Another reason behind the proposal to buy back land inside and nearby the park is to help ranchers avoid the costs associated with evacuation orders, including transportation, renting pasture and veterinary visits. Coto said that since the eruptions started in November 2014 he’s had to evacuate his cattle several times to lower altitudes to escape the ash. He said he’s lost eight head of cattle from disease and other complications from having to relocate them so often.

Coto said he’s been renting pasture elsewhere or depending on friends to board his animals until he can return to his own land.

“I think it’s a nice idea,” he said of the buyout program. “I’d be willing to negotiate. We don’t know when this volcano is going to calm down.”

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