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WWF Hails 'Giant Step' Forward in Amazon Conservation

BRASILIA-One of the world's most ambitious conservation efforts has taken a major step forward with the declaration of two new major protected areas, comprising 9.4 million acres of rain forest, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.

Part of the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) initiative sponsored by Brazil, the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund, the new protected area includes the 8.3 million acre Terra do Meio Ecological Station and the 1.1 million acre Serra do Pardo National Park in the eastern sector of the central Amazon. Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva signed the decree creating the new parks late Thursday.

"Conservation in the Amazon takes a giant step forward with this decree," said Carter Roberts, WWF's Chief Conservation Officer. "With these two critical pieces in place, Brazil is creating a mosaic of contiguous protected areas, reserves and indigenous territories connecting the savannah ecosystems of the south to the rain forests of the central Amazon. ARPA's ambitious vision is being realized."

The two new parks, totaling an area nearly twice the size of Massachusetts, are both located in the Amazonian state of Para-the same area where Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun, was murdered Feb. 12 because of her outspoken efforts on behalf of landless peasants and wildlife in the Amazon.

"Strict protection should help brake the runaway deforestation and land tenure conflicts in which Sister Dorothy was such a courageous advocate, both for the poor and for conservation," added Roberts. "We congratulate President Lula for his leadership in moving this forward."

Social and environmental organizations have been pressing for the creation of these new protected areas in the Terra do Meio region for several years as a way of easing conflicts over logging and land use, protecting the rights of local residents and conserving the irreplaceable biodiversity of the Xingu river basin.

Threatened species include jaguars, macaws and harpy eagles-wide-ranging animals that all require large areas of rain forest for their survival. With Terra do Meio and Serra do Pardo, "Brazil now has an ecological corridor in place comprising nearly 100,000 square miles of strictly protected areas, sustainable use reserves and indigenous peoples' territories," said Matthew Perl, WWF's Amazon protected areas program director.

WWF assisted the parks' creation by providing scientific and technical advice in their design and by supporting stakeholder consultations to ensure that the rights and needs of local inhabitants were incorporated into the conservation planning.

Both parks will now be implemented through ARPA - a 10-year plan to create a 190,000 square mile network of protected areas and sustainable use reserves spanning an area one and a half times larger than the entire U.S. National Parks system. The key to effective implementation of this vast network of parks will be a $240 million conservation trust fund set up by the World Bank, the Brazilian government, the Global Environment Facility, and WWF, among other donors.

Phase one goals for ARPA include the establishment of 25 million acres of protected areas and 23 million acres of sustainable use reserves by the end of 2006. With the latest additions, ARPA now includes nearly 22 million acres of protected area and more than 13 million acres of sustainable use reserves.