Six years ago, the Bolivian government started charging logging companies $1 for each hectare in their forest concessions. The companies responded by abandoning nearly 17 million of the 22 million hectares in concessions. Apparently, the forest they abandoned wasn’t even worth $1 dollar per hectare to them. Something similar happened in Peru. The government tried to auction off 800,000 hectares of Amazon forest for concessions, but couldn’t find enough investors willing to offer the minimum prices of between $1 and $4 per hectare per year.
Situations like this got Jared Hardner and Dick Rice at Conservation International thinking that if they offered governments a small sum per hectare each year to conserve the forest, rather than log it, the governments might jump at the idea. The called their new idea "conservation concessions" because it works exactly like a normal logging concession – only nobody logs.
In a Scientific American article published last May called "Rethinking Green Consumerism" Hardner and Rice explain why they think conservation concessions are a good idea. They can provide a regular source of income, just like any other productive land use, some of which can go to local communities. It is easy for people who contribute to a conservation concession to know exactly what they are getting for their money. Leasing forests to international groups in the form of conservation concessions may be less politically sensitive than selling the forest to them.
Peru established the world’s first formal conservation concession, called "Los Amigos" in July 2001. Its 40 year lease covers 130,000 hectares of tropical forest. According to Hardner and Rice, Conservation International has also been negotiating with the governments of Guatemala, Guyana, and Indonesia to establish comparable concessions in those countries.
It is still too early to know if the conservation concession idea will really take off and provide all the benefits the authors claim. But it is certainly something worth keeping your eye on.
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