Comprehensive history of the Costa Rican National Park system, generally considered a global model of ecological preservation. During the past 40 years, Wallace (the novel The Vermilion Parrot, Bulow Hammock, etc.) tells us, Costa Rica has lost almost half of its forest cover--much of it not even cut for timber, but burned for pasturage for low-grade export beef. At the same time, measures to protect the forest were begun by an unusual combination of activists--Olof Wessberg, an immigrant Swedish fruit-farmer; Daniel Oduber, Costa Rican president from 1974-78, who had a special interest in natural history, and Marlo Boza, who at age 27 became chief of the new National Park service. Wallace narrates a lively history showing how these men guided their Third World country into being more prowilderness and biocentric than the US or Europe, principally as Oduber began to acquire every type of landscape and ecosystem possible in order to create a national repository of bio-diversity. Wallace vibrantly illuminates these varied habitats, such as this lowland rain forest: ""The air has a burning clarity at the same time it is loaded with jungle smells and humidity. Thunderheads that loom out to sea every afternoon seem carved of translucent stone, and the deepest shadows under the trees have a kind of luminosity."" Elsewhere, his detailed discussions of the evolution and workings of the Costa Rican park service are clear and interesting. Some of the nation's conservation issues, he points out, are duplicated in the US--e.g., the question of how to deflect pressure from miners, loggers, ranchers, and government agencies--while others particularly afflict Third World countries with limited land and growing populations. Costa Rica, Wallace explains, is working through the dilemma seen in Africa, where impoverished people press from all sides upon the parks for hunting and farming sustenance. An eloquent case study with worldwide lessons.