Corporations, Nature Conservancy Rescue Brazilian Forests

Published December 1, 2005

As part of a multi-million-dollar Atlantic Forest restoration project along Brazil’s southern coast, representatives from General Motors and American Electric Power on October 13 dedicated a visitor’s center for environmental education in Brazil’s Cachoeira River Natural Reserve. The firms have provided $15.4 million as start-up funding for the restoration project.

The restoration project is the result of a partnership between General Motors, American Electric Power, The Nature Conservancy, and the Brazilian environmental group Society for Wildlife Research and Environmental Education (known by its Spanish initials SPVS). The project aims to restore and protect 30,000 acres of the Brazilian rainforest.

Cooperation Is Key

“GM has been a longtime partner with The Nature Conservancy, and this rainforest restoration project is particularly important to us,” Elizabeth A. Lowery, vice president of environment and energy for General Motors, observed in an October 13 news release. “Today, we are happy to dedicate this new visitor’s center that will highlight the importance of Brazil’s rainforests and encourage others to join us in the protection of this natural resource.”

The restoration project was launched five years ago, after SPVS failed to find sufficient funding to complete prior reforestation plans. The education center will provide the local community and visitors to the region with educational resources and activities related to the restored rainforest.

The center will house training rooms, exhibits, interactive modules, and kiosks illustrating the program’s contribution to environmental awareness and action. In addition, a nature trail has been developed to enable visitors to experience the reserve and the habitats it protects. It will also provide offices and support for the restoration operations.

“AEP has a long history of involvement with reforestation and forest protection projects, both in the United States and South America,” said Dennis Welch, AEP senior vice president of environment and safety, in an October 13 news release. “The rainforest is a critical element in our global ecosystem. We are proud to partner with GM, SPVS, and The Nature Conservancy to help preserve this portion of the Brazilian rainforest and at the same time provide economic and social development opportunities for local communities.”

Forest 90 Percent Depleted

The restoration project is designed to return cleared and over-harvested rainforest to its natural state while providing sustainable development, Welch said.

In the year 1500, Portuguese colonists began clearing the hardwood forests along Brazil’s Atlantic coast, called the Atlantic Forest. The plentiful forests provided high-quality hardwood for European furniture and the construction of boats and buildings for local villages. Certain species of trees provided valuable trade goods, such as high-quality red dye.

In place of the cleared forests, settlers cultivated crops and tended herds of Asian water buffalo. Eventually, more than 90 percent of the Atlantic Forest was converted into farmland.

Restoration a Long Process

Reforestation is expected to require approximately 40 years of dedicated stewardship. Currently, foresters are planting pioneer species of trees to set the stage for later plantings of other important species. After the pioneer trees establish the prerequisite shade, second-generation species will be planted. Finally, conditions will be conducive for a third generation of species that will ultimately dominate the restored forest.

“Right now we are just getting the pioneer species down,” head forester Silvia Ziller explained in a Nature Conservancy report on the project. “We are forming small islands [in and around the pastures] with trees so they can spread from the island, and we can have an initial cover where we will plant the trees that we really have to grow later on. As we get cover, we can put other species in.”

“This is more than buying a chunk of forest,” explained Joe Keenan, manager of The Nature Conservancy’s Atlantic Forest Program, in a Nature Conservancy information primer. “It is a turning point. It is the first time that a lot of resources have been put on the table and a company like GM has said we are going to turn the tide and bring back the Atlantic Forest.”

Multiple Uses Essential

Creative land management is central to the project. “Nature Conservancy managers understand that it is unwise to simply leave protected land alone,” said Jane Shaw, a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center.

“Protected land must be managed, and the Conservancy has pioneered ways of using lands that earn money for long-term management,” Shaw said. “Thus, The Nature Conservancy has eco-tourism (at Pine Butte Reserve in Montana), conducts sustainable logging (in Virginia), and allows cattle ranching (in New Mexico). Although it may be best known for its conservation easements, it has been a creative land manager, and for that it deserves our respect.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

Information on the Atlantic Forest restoration project is available on The Nature Conservancy Web site at

More information on forest and rainforest recovery efforts is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and choose the topic/subtopic combination Environment/Forests.