USA: Disney invest in rainforest conservation


It was announced last week that the Walt Disney Company - made famous by cartoon characters inspired by wildlife - are investing $7 million in forest projects (to help protect wildlife!). The investment, in partnership with Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and The Conservation Fund, will benefit forests in the Amazon, the Congo and the US.

"Disney has always been a conservation leader," said Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger. "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."

The burning and clearing of tropical forests is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions – or more than all the world's cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined. It should be noted the figure of 20 per cent has been put in a bit of doubt by a recent report in Nature Geoscience, which puts it at 12 per cent (subject to big annual variations).

In partnership with Conservation International, $4 million will go to the Tayna and Kisimba-Ikobo Community Reserves in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Alto Mayo conservation project in the Peruvian Amazon.

The protection of these forests will not only reduce carbon emissions, but secure vital watersheds and habitat for a wide-variety of plants and animals, many of them threatened or endangered. These include the gorilla and okapi in the Congo and the Andean spectacled bear and yellow-tailed woolly monkey in Peru.

Disney funds will also support local communities so they can manage the forest within the project areas, which makes the management and conservation of forests a source of income to local villagers and improves their livelihoods. The funds will also be used to complete project design, conduct forest carbon analysis studies and finance the verification of emissions avoided through successful implementation of the projects.

These projects will reduce carbon emissions by improving forest protection through reducing logging and the impact of slash and burn agriculture. Communities in the area, which are working with Conservation International and its local partners to design and implement the projects, will benefit economically by preserving the environment.

In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Disney is providing more than $2 million to support the development of an innovative reforestation project in the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Nature Conservancy will work with private landowners in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas to plant trees and restore up to 2,000 acres of former forest land. Restoring these native hardwood forests will expand the local habitat of migrating songbirds and the black bear. In addition to planting trees, conservation easements will be purchased on the lands to ensure the forests are permanently protected.

This forest restoration program is considered a pilot project that could be significantly expanded in scale in future years.

"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. "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."

Disney also will invest $1 million in The Conservation Fund's sustainable forestry work along California's North Coast. The Conservation Fund owns and manages two redwood forests in Mendocino County and over the past five years the Fund's work has bolstered the local economy and begun to revive watersheds that are home to huge amounts of wildlife.

"Across America, forests are shrinking; 35 acres here, 500 there," said Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. "The decline is so incremental, it masks a crisis."

Disney's 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 this investment, Disney has over the last year 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.

"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.