March 3, 2009

Conservation Effort Seeks To Protect Rainforest In Papua New Guinea

Conservationists said on Tuesday that Papua New Guinea has created its first conservation area to save an untouched rainforest larger than Singapore and to protect rare animals such as a bear-like tree kangaroo, Reuters reported.

Environmentalists hope conservation of the remote eastern Huon Peninsula will also lock away 13 million tons of carbon "” possibly even tradeable carbon offsets to help fund local communities.

Lisa Dabek of Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, who runs the zoo's tree kangaroo conservation program with support from U.S.-based Conservation International and National Geographic, told Reuters it was a "spectacular" example of a "pristine forest."

"What's also amazing is these are forests that even the local landowners, in some places, have never gone into themselves," she added.

The YUS Conservation Area covers 187,000 acres from the coast up to peaks of nearby 13,000 feet.

For the last 12 years, Dabek has worked with villagers in the area to develop a community program to protect the forests.

Bruce Beehler of Conservation International, who's been going to Papua New Guinea since 1975, said the YUS Conservation Area doesn't have any really commercially interesting forest.

It's very rugged, montane," he said.

According to a new law passed by the government, Beehler said ministries are required to sign off on any area deemed to be of conservation value. He added that the YUS had no timber or minerals of great importance.

The conservation plan includes some 35 villages representing 10,000 people that have pledged to create a safe zone for forests and wildlife, particularly for the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo.

The safe zone will also set the rules that decide the conservation area and in return will receive aid for education, health and alternative livelihoods.

Beehler says villages have bought into this model because a lot of it has to do with the fact that the PNG government at the national level doesn't offer them a lot of alternatives for development.

However, he said many villagers agreed to the plan because they had heard about or seen other areas stripped by miners or loggers, destroying livelihoods and cultures.

Beehler said practically all of the villagers knew somebody who'd been hurt through that pillaging process.

Additionally, there are another six or seven groups in the country seeking to create conservation zones under the new law, he added.


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