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Saving The Congo Basin Rainforest

In 1999, the Yaoundé Forest Summit launched a major conservation effort for the Congo Basin Rainforest. As a result, 13 million acres have been set aside as wildlife preserves. Nevertheless, the rainforest remains threatened by increased logging and poaching. To address these and other issues, the Congo Basin Forest Summit will be held in Brazzaville February 3rd and 4th.

The World Wildlife Fund says the Congo Basin “covers more than one million square miles…and stretches from the Mountains of the Moon in the eastern DRC to the Gulf of Guinea. Dr. Richard Carroll, Director of the WWF’s Africa Program, explains the importance of the rainforest.

"One, it’s the second largest contiguous forest in the world after the Amazon - so, it’s extremely important globally for climate change mitigation, production of oxygen, etc. What green plants and green areas do for the planet. But it also harbors large intact forests with intact large mammal populations, extremely high biodiversity," he says.

He says the Brazzaville summit will build on what was accomplished at the Yaoundé meeting, which included representatives from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Gabon.

"Well, this is the fifth anniversary of the original Yaoundé summit, as we call it. The first ever gathering of the heads of state of the six Congo Basin countries for the purpose of conservation and sustainable use of the forest of the Congo Basin. And at that original Yaoundé summit in March of 1999, the heads of state as a conclusion came up with the Yaoundé Declaration, which in which (they) committed to some really far-reaching and precedent-setting commitments for forest conservation," he says.

He says the 1999 summit issued the Yaoundé Declaration, which called for far-reaching commitments on forest conservation. These included establishing numerous national parks and controlling illegal logging and the bushmeat trade.

"The institutional structure that was established after the Yaoundé summit to implement the declaration is now going to be formalized as the first-ever conservation treaty amongst the countries in the Congo Basin. So we really now have unprecedented collaboration between these countries," he says.

One of Dr. Carroll’s colleagues lives and works in the rainforest, deep in the rainforest. David Greer is the park advisor for the World Wildlife Fund’s Dzanga-Sangha project in the Central African Republic. A big part of his job is to advise the CAR government on how to stop poaching – the bushmeat trade. He spoke to us by satellite phone.

He says, "One of the main problems is not necessarily the auto-consumption of bushmeat just to get by, just to survive. But the major problem is there are no jobs available, so in order to increase their standard of living to try to get money to buy houses and clothes and medicine and these types of things, they need to exploit the forest behind what’s going to just feed them. So, they need to develop a commerce, so to speak and that’s the main thing that we’re trying to get a grasp on here."

Each poacher can set hundreds of traps, often using snares made out of wire and moped brake pedal cables. The snares easily kill small animals, and can maim or mortally wound large animals like gorillas.

The rainforest is said to be home to half the remaining elephants in Africa, as well as hundreds of species of birds.

Mr. Greer says it’s important to control logging to protect the Congo Basin. He says this can be done by teaching logging companies the importance of animals and insects, establishing good relations with indigenous peoples and using safer logging techniques.

"The animals and the insects, for example, are part of the dynamics that propel the forest to continue. If you don’t have, for example, animals to disperse seeds and insects to pollinate flowers and so forth, then you’re not going to have a forest that’s regenerating. The forest itself is a huge watershed supplying rain throughout the entire region, supplying areas that are less fertile," he says.

He says northern CAR is one such area.

To help protect the rainforest, the Congo Basin Forest Partnership was established. It includes nearly 30 governmental and non-governmental organizations. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was one of the leading supporters of the program at the 2002 Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Various governments have donated millions of dollars for its work.

The Congo Basin Forest Summit be held February 4th and 5th in Brazzaville.