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WWF Lauds Paraguay for Slashing Deforestation 85 Percent

WASHINGTON - The World Wildlife Fund today congratulated the Republic of Paraguay for its efforts in reducing deforestation rates by 85 percent. This was achieved through the implementation of the Zero Deforestation Law which prohibits the transformation and conversion of forested areas in the eastern region of Paraguay.

Before the law came into force in December 2004, Paraguay had the second highest deforestation rate in the world. Through satellite monitoring, WWF has verified that deforestation in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest, a habitat for endangered species such as the Jaguar and Harpy Eagle, has decreased from between 217,453 -- 420,079 acres, an area larger than Rocky Mountain National Park, annually before the implementation of the law, to a current level of approximately 40,000 acres annually, a reduction of more than 85 per cent.

"At a time when governments are getting into the debate on the role of deforestation in greenhouse gas emissions and therefore climate change, Paraguay is already setting an important precedent in tackling the problem," said Leonardo Lacerda, Conservation Manager with WWF's global forest program in presenting the Paraguayan Government with a Leaders For A Living Planet award.

The Atlantic Forest is one of the world's most ecologically important regions, known for its high biodiversity and high level of species endemism. For instance, over 90 per cent of all amphibians and 50 per cent of all plants here are found nowhere else on earth. But it is also one of the world's most endangered tropical forests. The main threat is the expansion of agriculture frontier into forest areas in particular, the expansion of cattle ranching and soy production. In many areas, over 95 per cent of the natural forest has been lost.

To deal with this problem, WWF and partners, promoted the passage of the Zero Deforestation Law, together with an awareness campaign, and advocacy work to implement a Social Pact with producers in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest. The pact, which has been signed by agricultural businesses and local governments, and by the President of Paraguay, Mr. Nicanor Duarte Frutos, requires signers to implement a program that will conserve and restore the forest. To achieve this, WWF is focusing its efforts in the development of viable economic alternatives, working at local and national level with decision makers for the sustainable use of natural resources.

"Paraguay provides an example and an inspiration for those countries fighting against deforestation all around the world," said Carter Roberts, CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "WWF congratulates the Government and people of Paraguay for this unprecedented initiative, and hopes that neighboring countries of the Atlantic Forest, Argentina and Brazil will follow with similar steps to save this unique forest."

At the same time, WWF urges the Paraguayan government to extend the law until such time as measures for responsible soy cultivation and sustainable forest management are developed together with a commitment to restore priority forest areas. WWF recognizes the success of the Zero Deforestation Law, and is concerned by mounting pressure from the farming lobby and loggers to not extend the law beyond its current expiration date, December, 2006. An extension of this law will help guarantee the development of long-term sustainable agriculture, protect water sources, provide jobs and improve the quality of life in rural communities while at the same time protecting the Atlantic Forest's unique biodiversity.

"WWF recognizes the Zero Deforestation Law represents a great beginning for the conservation of Paraguay's Atlantic Forest. However, if this law is not extended, all of the conservation that has been accomplished will be put at risk," said Mr. Lacerda. "WWF hopes that Paraguayan people and the private sector understand the need to extend this law. We stand ready to help Paraguay in this cause, and to that end we will be participating in the Responsible Soy Roundtable that will be held in Asuncion in the coming days."