Conservation International, a US-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) has announced that it has obtained an exploratory lease for 200,000 acres (81,000 hectares) of pristine forest in the South American nation, creating the world’s first “conservation concession.”

Under the terms of the concession announced on 25 September, the forest was leased by the Guyanese government at market rates, to be protected rather than used to extract timber, which is what usually occurs in this lush nation, the size of Britain, 75% of which is forested. Conservation International now plans to use this new market mechanism to protect millions of acres of forest around the tropics over the next few years.

Conservation International says that in the case of governments such as Guyana’s granting timber concessions can seem like a good money earner, especially as four-fifth’s of the vast forests there are state owned, but in reality there is very little financial benefit. All too often logging companies receive tax holidays, or find ways to evade taxes, the organisation says, whereas a conservation concession is a guaranteed steady stream of hard currency unaffected by international timber markets or local currency fluctuations. Conservation International says that it will also employ people locally to manage the forest.

The governmental Guyana Forestry Commission has stated that the conservation concession in Guyana will be similar to a standard Timber Sales Agreement, in that it will follow the same legal model for size, fees, and stewardship. However, unlike a traditional timber lease there will be no destructive forest development, which Conservation International says will allow Guyana to preserve a portion of its forest in a natural state while receiving compensation for the environmental services it provides to the world by leaving the area of forest intact.

“Guyana’s natural resources are of global importance for conservation,” said Dr. Richard Rice, chief economist for the organisation’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. “Its forests are among the least disturbed in the world and contain species of plants and animals found no place else on the planet. Preserving these resources in their natural condition offers people around the world a service Guyana has been unable to sustain through traditional market mechanisms.”

CI and Hardner & Gullison Associates, a private-sector partner, developed the idea of conservation concessions after determining that environmentally rich countries could gain more from preserving its natural resources than from granting concessions to timber and mining companies.

“Conservation concessions should not be considered a substitute for the creation of parks and protected areas, but simply an alternative which allows conservationists more flexibility,” said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International.

“Conservation concessions will offer countries an alternative to the current situation in which the only people willing to pay for the rainforest are those who want to cut the forest down.”

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