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Thursday, June 29, 2006 

29 June 2006

U.N Initiative Aims To Save Forests in Latin America,

Dominican Republic hosts meeting on reversing forest loss in region

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- An initiative to reverse forest loss in Latin America and the Caribbean has been presented at a June 26-30 United Nations-sponsored meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

In a June 27 statement, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the initiative is needed because Latin America and the Caribbean have registered the world's highest rate of forest loss over the past 15 years. The FAO said that from 1990-2005, the region's forest area declined from 51 percent to 47 percent of total land area, primarily due to conversion of forest land to agriculture. (See related article.)

The FAO said that despite the "grim picture" painted by these figures, experts say there are numerous examples of sound programs in which forests are being effectively managed and the benefits of forestry are being shared among local communities.

The initiative calls for collecting case studies of successful forest management in Latin America and the Caribbean region so that such success can be replicated elsewhere. Government institutions, private sector companies, local communities and individuals are being invited to nominate the examples of successful forestry management programs, said the FAO.

Among the scheduled participants at the 24th Session of the Latin America and Forestry Commission meeting in Santo Domingo were two officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service -- Ariel Lugo, director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Elizabeth Mayhew, the agency's Latin America, Caribbean and Canada program coordinator.

Founded in 1948, the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission is one of six regional forestry commissions created by the FAO to provide a policy and technical forum for countries to discuss and address forest issues.

Other topics being discussed at the Santo Domingo meeting include conservation of biological diversity, climate change and forest fires.

The FAO's senior forestry officer, Carlos Marx Carneiro, said that examining examples of excellence in forest management will provide a more accurate picture of how to save forests. Carneiro said the "destruction of tropical forests is not the whole story. We know from field experience and reports that in many places in Latin America and the Caribbean, forests are being managed well -- yet these successes are often not acknowledged."

The case studies of successful forest management will be collected in a book slated for publication in 2009, said the FAO. The agency said the initiative in Latin America follows the publication in 2005 of a similar FAO book on forestry in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act offers eligible developing countries an opportunity to relieve certain official debt owed the United States while generating funds to support local tropical forest conservation activities.

An official with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said in an interview that countries currently involved in the global program are Bangladesh, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, Peru and the Philippines. The official said many more countries are expected to become partners in the program. The U.S. State Department, USAID and the U.S. Department of Treasury are the three principal U.S. agencies involved in the program, said the official.

On a broader scale, the United States supports what is called the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds, which promotes conservation and sustainable use of nature in the Western Hemisphere. More information network is available on its Web site.

More information about Tropical Forest Conservation Act is available on the USAID Web site.
More about the Asia-Pacific case studies is available on the FAO Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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