Global environmental concern and action have increased markedly over the past few decades. Rather than resulting in uniform environmental values across the globe, we argue that distinct environmentalisms are socially constructed in different places through the complex interactions between the global environmental values and locally unique historical, political, and environmental factors. We analyze forest-related mental and cultural models—including both beliefs and values—using text analysis of transcripts and field notes from 67 qualitative interviews in five villages adjacent to La Amistad International Park in Costa Rica. We find that global environmental discourse has played a key role in framing the way rural people think and talk about forests. Conservation-oriented discourse has largely replaced earlier frontier views of forests as resources to be exploited and converted to agricultural lands. We find that the new forest beliefs and values are genuine, but also that they are sometimes superficial and lack motivating force. Local people are exposed to influential environmental discourses that see forests as something to be protected for heritage values and as a source of national development through ecotourism and bioprospecting, which often place forest conservation in opposition to their livelihood needs. This conflict has produced mediating discourses that acknowledge forest conservation as good while creating a legitimate place for rural landowners and their livelihood needs in the forested landscape. The result is unique local forest beliefs and values that are different from both earlier local beliefs and global and national environmental discourses.

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