I first met Alvaro when I worked in The Nature Conservancy’s Central America program almost 20 years ago. We were all working on Corcovado in the larger Osa Peninsula where the future of the park was a battle waged between extractive pressures and conservationists. I remember it like it was yesterday. A soldier for conservation. Unforgettable face, tough as nails, devoted to parks, and a pillar in the conservation community. His love for these places was palpable. You could feel his legacy when you sniffed the air in Monteverde, and marveled at its oaks laden with orchids and epiphytes and the occasional quetzal. Or when you strolled the beach at Corcovado and saw jaguar tracks in the sand.
Among the greatest achievements of the conservation community stand the glorious systems of National Protected areas that are the backbone of our work all over the world. Costa Rica’s parks system stands as one of the gold standards for how these systems can work. People from around the world come to visit. And many of them came to Alvaro Ugalde who schooled his counterparts around the world in how to do likewise. And for this he was honored by WWF with the J. Paul Getty Award in 1983.
At the end of the day conservation comes down to people. The very best people are like gold - heroic individuals, fighters, steadfast in their commitment to our natural world. They remind us of the extraordinary degree to which we all depend upon nature, and they’re dogged in connecting the dots between local communities and governments and civil society and business. Alvaro Ugalde epitomized those qualities. He inspired so many of us in our work, and we shall miss him.Carter Roberts