Protecting forest lands in developing countries often meets with strong resistance. Rather than create parks or reserves, many governments feel compelled to choose commercial development because of their urgent need for the revenues generated from logging and mining.
Conservation International, a private nonprofit foundation based in Washington, D.C., is overcoming this resistance with cash. By purchasing the development rights that governments normally sell to timber and mining companies, CI is protecting huge expanses of publicly owned tropical rain forests. It is currently finalizing plans to buy the logging rights to 200,000 acres of pristine rain forest in southern Guyana.
Surprisingly, the going price for these development rights is extraordinarily cheap: only a few dollars per acre. Their value as wildlife habitat is far higher in the environmental community than the going market price for their timber or minerals.
CI has long favored using business strategies to protect the environment. It aggressively supports ecotourism as an alternative to traditional development and extractive industries. CI hopes that by paying the government for the development rights local people will ultimately benefit through job creation in more environmentally sensitive industries.