2020 the Vision

Don't let forests be held hostage


Peter Seilgmann: Chairman and CEO of Conservation International.

With some of California's last remaining stands of magnificent redwoods targeted for clear-cutting, legislators had no choice but to ante up an exorbitant asking price to protect these irreplaceable treasures.

Some critics labeled the recent $480 million dollar deal for Headwaters "extortion," based on the fact that millionaire financier Charles Hurwitz and other investors will reCOUP more than half of what they paid for Pacific Lumber by selling only 5 percent of the forests they originally acquired.

Extortion, hostage-taking whatever YOU call it - we could be confronted with the same no-option scenario with regard to forests worldwide unless we take action soon.

Our planet already has lost well over half its forests. And according to recent studies, we lose 31 million acres of tropical forest every year. These are habitats that claim the most abundant and diverse plant and animal species, which means they provide vast sources of current and yet undiscovered medicines, foods, and innumerable raw materials necessary to meet many basic human needs.

The global economic heyday of the past decade exacerbated the plight of tropical forests worldwide. Many corporations - particularly from Southeast Asia - quickly be. came flush with income to invest in new ventures. They frequently targeted Poor developing countries in the tropics to log, mine or drill within their forests.

Now that the global economic boom is going bust, logging investments in Most tropical developing countries have ground to a halt. We have a moment's reprieve to take steps to permanently protect some of the most biologically valuable and potentlallY vulnerable forests on Earth.

A sum comparable to what will be paid for Headwaters, redwood groves could rescue an enormous amount of our planet's richest storehouses of biological resources. This is partly because cash-poor developing countries have been tempted to sell trees dirt cheap. South America's Guyana, for instance, made less than $2 million in logging revenues in 1996, although more am 16 million acr~s of that country's forests - an area five times the size of Connecticut - are within concessions.

This kind of exploitation doesn't have to occur. Guyana's neighbor,, the similarly small and poor Suri-: name, is a case in point.

With the help of San Francisco's Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation, Suriname recently set aside for permanent protection 4 million acres of tropical forest. Money from the Goldman Foundation helped establish a $1 million trust fund to manage the new nature reserve. The contribution will also help put in place more economically and-environmentally sound development - such as ecotourism, bioprospecting, agroforestry and non-timber forest products.

Private donors as well as global financial institutions such as the World Bank need to recognize just how much difference the right kind Of investments can make.

We are at a critical juncture with regard to the future of the planet's natural resources. Scientists have determined that more than 50 percent of the world's terrestrial biological diversity is found within just 2 percent of the planet's land surface. Most otthese regions happen to also be in tropical developing countries. One of the few not in a developing country is the California Floristic Province, where such unique and vulnerable habitats as the Headwaters redwoods are found.

The California Floristic Province, which extends 1,100 miles from southwestern Oregon tP Baia California, is on a short and recently updated list of 25 global biodiversity hot spots. In addition to claiming such a vast percentage of all species diversity on Earth, another common denominator for the hot spots is they are each under extreme

We need not wait until the rest of the hot spots end up as hostages like the Headwaters redwoods. If we make investments to protect tropical forests today, we can avoid paying ransom for forest resources tomorrow.

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