What's Happening at Finca la Isla del Cielo, Costa Rica

Finca La Isla del Cielo is a spectacular 145-acre farm located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica near the town of Dominical. Due to the efforts of the current owner, international ecologist Diane Firestone, over the last twelve years to re-establish the farm’s natural forest ecology and wetland habitat, species diversity has increased. Over 40 acres of mixed tropical hardwoods and semi-hardwoods have been planted, providing valuable wildlife habitat and long-term sustainable forestry. Additionally, wildlife corridors with permanent ponds have been nurtured and connected to the neighboring private biological reserve, Hacienda Baru.

Now, Ms. Firestone has generously donated the property along with several buildings to Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium in California, in order to establish the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology. The College has a strong reputation for its emphases on social responsibility, intercultural understanding, international perspective, environmental awareness, and concern for the ethical implications of knowledge and action. After several attempts to find suitable ecologically-minded buyers for the farm, she has concluded that this donation to Pitzer will be the best solution for maintaining its current balance of preservation and development. She believes that under Pitzer College’s stewardship the farm will have a wider educational impact on a broader audience, and through that process her vision for the farm will be realized. An ecological easement is being recorded to preserve the existing biodiversity of the property and limit non-educational development in the future. Ms. Firestone also intends to continue her involvement with the property and Pitzer College through participation in the Center’s Board of Friends.

(L to R) Cheryl Baduini, Don McFarlane, Paul Faulstich, Diane Firestone, Ethel Jorge, Melinda Herrold-Menzies, and Carol Brandt.

The new Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology will be home to programs in Pitzer’s science, language, and international studies curricula, and provide new opportunities for faculty research and student engagement in an intercultural context. Given the location and offerings of the Finca la Isla del Cielo property, the connections and resources within the surrounding communities, the interests of faculty at the College, and Ms. Firestone’s vision, the Center will feature local and collaborative resource management, a focus on human and tropical ecology, the study of the intersections of reforestation with sustainable agriculture/permaculture practices on the farm, and community-based education including intensive language and culture studies.

Moreover, Ms. Firestone has completed extensive research into innovative uses of bamboo for construction and other purposes. Consequently, the farm also includes a significant bamboo plantation that could produce an annual harvestable crop of timber bamboo between 7,000 and 10,000 poles per year. Pitzer will manage the bamboo plantation to preserve the health, beauty, and financial investment that the plantation represents, including annual thinning and the potential harvest of bamboo for use in construction on site or for sale.

President Laura Skandera Trombley and Diane Firestone

Ms. Firestone has said, “I am very pleased and proud to witness the farm enter this next phase of its evolution. As a steward of the land for the past twelve years it has always been my vision to see a greater number of people benefit from the beauty of Finca La Isla del Cielo and the teachings it has to offer. Pitzer College brings a wealth of experience and diversity of talents to the farm that, combined with their enthusiasm and dedication to excellence, will create fantastic new learning opportunities there. As I have come to know Pitzer over the past several months I find them to be a group of open-minded and visionary individuals with a concern for the community around them and for the environment. I look forward to joining this dynamic group and lending my support to the establishment of the Center and assisting Pitzer’s integration into the community.”

The Restoration Legacy - Words offered by Jack Ewing on March 19, 2005 at the formal act of transfer of the property known as “Isla del Cielo” donated by Diane Firestone to Pitzer College.