By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
While the world scrambles to find clean energy solutions, somewhere, every minute of every day, saws buzz through a forest, cutting down one of nature’s antidotes to carbon pollution.
Each year the world loses about 50,000 square miles of wooded lands, enough to fill an area the size of Pennsylvania. The rapid clearing of tropical forests accounts for nearly 20 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions (partly due to trees being burned) — more than all transportation vehicles combined.
Increasingly, though, companies and non-profits are trying to stem the loss of woodlands to curb global warming and save habitat and native economies.
On Tuesday, The Walt Disney Company announced it will invest $7 million to save and restore forests in the Amazon, the Congo and the United States.
The projects aim to fight climate change, improve the quality of life in local communities and save jeopardized wildlife from gorillas in Africa to songbirds in North America.
“Disney has always been a conservation leader,” said Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger, in a statement. “Now, more than ever, it’s essential to take swift action to preserve our most vulnerable natural environments for future generations and to be innovative in achieving that goal.”
Rainforest Management in the Congo and the Amazon
Disney is giving $4 million to increase protection of forests in the Tayna and Kisimba-Ikobo Community Reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Alto Mayo conservation project in Peru, two vital tropical forest regions.
The programs, managed by Conservation International, will help secure watersheds and save habitat for plants and animals, many of them threatened or endangered, including the gorilla and okapi in the Congo and the Andean spectacled bear and yellow-tailed woolly monkey in Peru.
The majority of Disney’s contribution will finance community management of these forests, help expand sustainable livelihood practices among local villages and provide for an analysis of the carbon-saving aspect of the project.
Both of these tropical forest efforts are expected to decrease carbon emissions by stopping slash and burn agriculture and to benefit local communities economically. CI estimates that Disney’s expenditure will prevent 900,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere over the next five years.
“This commitment by Disney represents the largest single corporate contribution ever made to reduce emissions from deforestation and will help build confidence in these activities that generate such compelling climate, local community and biodiversity benefits,” said Peter Seligmann, CEO and Chairman of Conservation International.
Reforestation in the Lower Mississippi Valley
Disney also is partnering with The Nature Conservancy to provide more than $2 million to support a pilot reforestation project in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
Working with private landowners in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, The Nature Conservancy expects to restore up to 2,000 acres of former forest land, planting trees in permanent easements to assure their longevity.
The reforestation will help alleviate carbon pollution and also expand the North American habitat of migrating songbirds and the black bear.
“Protecting forests is one of our most powerful tools in the fight against climate change,” said Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, in a news release. “This innovative project will give private landowners the support they need to join the global fight against climate change and restore local habitats for the betterment of both people and nature. We are proud to partner with Disney to protect critical habitat and ensure these incredible forests will be around for generations to come.”
Redwood Forest Management in Northern California
Disney also will invest $1 million in The Conservation Fund’s forestry work along California’s North Coast, where the group owns and sustainably manages two redwood forests in Mendocino County.
The project was set up to demonstrate that improved forest management, with selective harvests and verified carbon offset sales, can benefit the environment and the economy. Indeed, here in an area rich in natural resources, the well-being of humans, plants and animals are closely entwined: Healthy forests, watersheds and streams are needed to support Coho salmon, steelhead trout, spotted owl and other wildlife — and the people
that depend on them.
Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund, joined the other environmental leaders in issuing a statement of gratitude for the Disney gift:
“Across America, forests are shrinking; 35 acres here, 500 there,” Selzer said. “The decline is so incremental, it masks a crisis. In partnership with leading companies such as Disney, we are pioneering new approaches to forest conservation and climate change. We’re proud to collaborate with Disney on this critical effort.”
Disney’s forest preservation investment is part of the company’s plan, announced last March, to meet aggressive 3 to 5 year goals to reduce emissions, waste, electricity and water use, and to limit its impact on ecosystems.
In addition to the investment announced today, Disney has recently committed to planting close to 3 million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest and in the fire-ravaged areas in the mountains surrounding greater Los Angeles through contributions from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and local donations.
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