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Forest Conservation Act: More duplicative funding

By Cheryl K. Chumley
web posted November 8, 2004

Any piece of legislation that unites in sponsorship key leading political figures of one party with a substantial amount of perceived partisan members of the other party should be viewed as fodder for scrutiny.

So it was with education's No Child Left Behind Act that brought together the likes of Pres. George Bush and the very liberal Massachusetts senator, Edward Kennedy. And so it should be with the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, a 1998 measure trading financial assistance for conservation efforts that recently received quiet reauthorization through 2007. Introduced in the House as H.R. 4654 and the Senate as S. 2787, the measure passed into Public Law 108-323 on October 6, on the heels of support from more than 30 Republicans and Democrats, six of the latter of whom belong to the nearly socialist Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Given this perhaps odd alliance, it's understandable then to wonder what this act entails.

"The Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 was first funded in 2000 to provide eligible developing countries opportunities to reduce concessional debts owed the United States while generating funds to conserve their forests," the State Dept. reported on October 8.

That means the United States forgives debts and gives money to certain nations that promise to engage in forest conservation. Countries already served by this measure are Bangladesh, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Colombia, Belize and the Philippines. Just enacted, too, was an agreement with Jamaica that includes a $6.5 million grant from the United States as well as another $1.3 million contribution from the Nature Conservancy; partnerships with Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, Kenya and six or seven others are on the horizon.

The recently passed reauthorization allows for congressional appropriations to the tune of $20 million in 2005; $25 million in 2006; and $30 million in 2007. The importance of preserving rainforests to the ecosystem of the world at-large aside for the moment, what America stands to gain from this funding measure -- which is further suspect in that it often works in partnership with such highly extreme environmental groups as the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society -- is negligible. While the basic debt-for-forest-swap idea of providing tropical rainforest countries the financial incentive to refrain from cutting trees, and therefore from harming the global economy and its interest in maintaining the "vast majority of the world's plant and animal genetic resources" that are contained within these land areas, as the U.S. Forest Service says, the particulars of the act's inception seem more in line with U.N. agenda than U.S. interest.

The Tropical Forest Conservation Act "permits the United States to enter into debt swaps with other countries to protect globally and regionally important tropical forests. These forests sequester carbon dioxide and help mitigate climate change," the White House said June 2001, on a press release detailing the president's initiatives on global warming.

The problem with this act stemming from such a premise, though, is that climate change theories are largely unproven -- an admission even granted by those who staunchly advocate for further global oversight of the environment, via the likes of U.N. treaties and internationally-accepted policies.

With this in mind, then, where should the United States draw the line in regards to funding efforts to combat climate change? America already participates in several international agreements aimed at protecting the environment in general and tropical forestry lands in specific; witness, the ratified Convention on Climate Change that binds our nation to "sustainable management" policies regarding protection of "biomass, forests and oceans," and the International Tropical Timber Agreement that, at root, places control of the world's timber market in the hands of the United Nations.

Perhaps if America were to withdraw support for these U.N. methods of restraining perceived environmental hazards, this congressional forest preservation act wouldn't seem so duplicative. As it stands now, though, the United States is funding forest initiatives for other nations to extraordinary extent -- not only through existing and various U.N. programs and actions, but also, since 1998, with millions upon millions of dollars generated by our own congressional and administration proposals.

That such contributions will continue past the 2007 mark is assured; around the same time the Tropical Forest Conservation was being reauthorized, the United Nations was already, albeit indirectly, calling for more foreign assistance to prevent forestry decimation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"With proper mechanisms to finance sustainable forest management, it will be possible to reverse the deforestation trend and conserve forest ecosystems," said Merilio Morell, a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization expert, on October 20.

Cheryl K. Chumley is a freelance columnist for several Internet news sites and may be reached at ckchumley@aol.com.

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