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U.S. Protects Forests, Highlights Climate Change Mitigation Role

Washington — Costa Rica’s trees again will benefit from an innovative U.S. program to promote conservation of the world’s tropical forests.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced October 15 that the governments of the United States and Costa Rica, the Central Bank of Costa Rica and the U.S.-based nonprofit Nature Conservancy have signed agreements that will provide more than $27 million over the next 15 years for tropical forest conservation in Costa Rica.

The agreements mark the second time Costa Rica is enjoying the advantages of a U.S. law — the 1998 Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) — that authorizes such pacts. Under its provisions, nations that commit to conserving and protecting their own natural resources are forgiven, as an incentive, some of their official debt to the United States.

The TFCA is administered by three U.S. government agencies: the State and Treasury departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Participating nongovernmental organizations include the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund.

The TFCA benefits both the United States and other countries, according to the State Department. The program offers the United States a way to advance its goal of protecting forests worldwide. Partner countries benefit by redirecting their debt payments from the U.S. government into local funds to provide a “steady stream of financing to support forest conservation projects.”

The 2010 Costa Rican agreements, combined with a previous TFCA program established in 2007, make Costa Rica the largest beneficiary of the program to date, with more than $50 million generated for the conservation, restoration and protection of tropical forests.

Funds will support the efforts of the Costa Rican government, working with the Forever Costa Rica project (a new public-private conservation initiative), to develop and sustainably finance an integrated system of protected areas, according to the Treasury Department.

Specific areas that will benefit include the Osa Peninsula, which encompasses the Terraba-Sierpe mangrove swamps, the Naranjo and Savegre rivers complex, one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse areas, and La Amistad International Park, home to one of Central America’s largest ecosystems.

The new agreements were made possible by the contribution of more than $19.6 million by the U.S. government and a donation of more than $3.9 million by the Nature Conservancy.

The new Costa Rican agreement marks the 17th TFCA deal for the benefit of 14 countries in Latin America, Central America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa: Bangladesh, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jamaica, Panama (two agreements), Paraguay, Peru (two agreements) and the Philippines.


Also on October 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report that highlights the important role forests play in offsetting the climate-changing effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report’s findings, which focus on U.S. forests, underscore the importance of fighting deforestation worldwide.

U.S. forests offset roughly 11 percent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions released each year in the United States, the USDA’s Forest Service found. It reports that 41.4 billion metric tons of carbon are currently stored in the nation’s forests. Due to increases in both the total area of forestland and the carbon stored per hectare, an additional 192 million metric tons of carbon are sequestered in U.S. forests each year.

The additional carbon sequestered is the equivalent of removing almost 135 million passenger vehicles from the nation’s highways.

“America’s forests play a critical role in combating climate change, collectively capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the USDA announcement. “Forest management on all lands can contribute significantly toward cooling a warming planet, and this new information will assist the public and policy-makers as we work to address this significant issue.”

U.S. national forests (those owned and managed by the U.S. federal government) contain an average of 77.8 metric tons of carbon per acre (.4 hectare): a greater density than on private (60.7 metric tons of carbon per acre [.4 hectare]) or other public forest lands (68.3 metric tons of carbon per acre [.4 hectare]). However, private forestlands store more total carbon than national forests.

The report found the average amount of carbon per acre varies regionally and by type of forest. In general, forests with larger trees and higher tree density store more carbon than forests with small trees and fewer trees per hectare.

“A strong accounting method serves as the crucial first step in assessing carbon sequestration potential in our nation’s forests,” said Ann Bartuska, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for research, economics and education. “Today’s report reflects a continued emphasis to remain on the cutting edge of forest carbon research and science.”

The new estimates are based on 2010 data from annual forest inventories that assess carbon storage state by state across the country’s federal, state and private forests. Researchers analyze tree species and ages, forest density, forest area and numerous other factors in quantifying carbon storage.

The Forest Service has provided these data to the Environmental Protection Agency annually for the past 18 years.

The Forest Service manages 77.2 million hectares of forests and grasslands across the United States. An additional 241.6 million hectares are managed primarily by private land owners, with states, local governments and other federal agencies managing the remainder.

Additional information ( ) about the report and the carbon process is available on the Forest Service website.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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