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WWF, WCS and CI Applaud Passage of Congo Basin Forest Partnership Act

Washington, DC - The Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Conservation International (CI), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) applaud Congress for passing the Congo Basin Forest Partnership Act (CBFP) [H.R. 2264], which cleared the House Tuesday with strong, bipartisan support. WCS, CI, and WWF now call on President Bush to sign the Act into law.

This legislation authorizes up to $18.6 million in U.S. funding to support the conservation of eleven key forest landscapes in six Central African countries, with an emphasis on building a network of well-managed national parks and protected areas. The U.S. funding is part of a broader partnership to promote the conservation and sustainable management of the Congo Basin's forests that was launched by Secretary of State Powell and African government leaders at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

The bill's quick passage through both the House and Senate reflects the efforts of Congressmen Clay Shaw (R-FL), Ed Royce (R-CA), John Tanner (D-TN) and Tom Udall (D-NM), among others, who are co-chairs of the newly formed International Conservation Caucus (ICC).

"These Central African landscapes represent our 'last Edens," said John F. Calvelli, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "WCS applauds the ICC, the leadership of Chairman Ed Royce, and the Congress in swiftly authorizing this crucial conservation legislation." "Thanks to this bipartisan effort, Americans can know that they are helping to conserve one of the world's last great wilderness areas," said Nicholas P. Lapham, Vice President for Policy at Conservation International. "The Congo Basin forests play a key role in stabilizing the global climate and harbor a rich diversity of threatened species, including elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas."

"The passage of this legislation is one of the most significant achievements during WWF's 30 years of work in the Congo Basin," said Richard Carroll, Director of WWF's Africa Program. "This legislation authorizes the greatest amount of U.S. government support ever for conservation in the Congo Basin. It is a testament to the historic collaboration among the governments in the region, conservation organizations and the U.S. government."

CI, WCS, and WWF are all active partners in supporting conservation in the Congo Basin. WCS has assisted in the designation of parkland and established regional models for successful landscape management. WCS scientist Mike Fay's 2,000-mile-long "Megatransect" across the area, as documented by National Geographic, is among WCS's long-term studies that have helped attract world attention to the need to safeguard this vital region.

WWF, in addition to managing a wide variety of conservation programs, played a central role in catalyzing the Yaounde Declaration, a joint commitment to forest conservation signed by the heads of state of the Congo Basin countries.

CI is leading several efforts and supporting partners in others to implement planning for entire landscapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

The Congo Basin hosts some of the most charismatic biodiversity in the world, ranging from forest elephants, bongos and chimpanzees to forest buffalos and western lowland gorillas. The bonobo, or pygmy chimpanzee, is also found in this region, where it is restricted to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our closest living relative, the bonobo, is considered one of the most endangered apes in the world.

Biodiversity in the Basin faces serious threats, most notably logging and bushmeat hunting. Logging feeds the bushmeat trade as roads built to gain access to forestlands become access routes for hunters. The widespread slaughter of wild animals in the Congo Basin creates "empty forests," which diminish opportunities for local communities and threaten the forests' long-term viability.