By Christopher Michaels
Nature and Culture International, a Del Mar-based nonprofit, and the city of Solana Beach are joining forces to preserve a pristine area of tropical forest in Southern Ecuador equal in size to the 2,000-acre city.
The Solana Beach Living Forests Carbon Offset Program was unanimously approved by the City Council on Feb. 11. Residents and the council were extremely enthusiastic about the program, which allows residents and businesses to offset their carbon footprint - the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when consuming energy - by purchasing endangered forest for $50 an acre.
"It's timely, it's progressive, it's very Solana Beach," resident Gerri Retman said.
Believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, the municipal carbon offset program will be administered by NCI, which was founded by local developer Ivan Gayler in 1997.
NCI will hold the land title and ensure 100 percent of the tax-deductible donations go toward the acquisition and management of tropical deciduous forest in Southwestern Ecuador.
Logging and corn-based ethanol continue to threaten what little remains of this type of forest in Ecuador, which generous estimates put at less than 5 percent.
"If we don't act to save this forest, within two years it will be gone," Gayler said.
At the recommendation of Councilmember Lesa Heebner, the council decided to partner with this particular conservation group because of its local ties and upstanding track record.
With just two staff members stateside and dozens of experts and workers on the ground in-country, NCI has preserved millions of acres in southern Ecuador, northern Peru and Mexico in the past 12 years.
The most recent feather in the organization's cap: the creation of a new 2.4 million acre reserve in the Peruvian Amazon.
The Nanay-Pintuyacu-Chambira Regional Conservation Area, established in Loreto, Peru, in December set up a sustainable-use regime for the three river basins identified in the name. NCI staff members continue to work with communities living along these rivers to better manage the area's natural resources.
"There's a huge struggle going on for the whole soul of the Amazon," said Byron Swift, NCI's Washington, D.C.-based president. "The reserve is important to us all and we can help the focus for good to be a little stronger."
Gayler emphasized NCI undertakes projects that are locally requested - whether it's ecotourism, increasing fishing stocks, or in the case of Loreto, regional conservation - and never proposes projects that do not address local needs.
The origins of NCI's work in Peru go back to 2003 and the work of the late James Clements, an active field birdwatcher, author and conservationist from Southern California, Swift said.
Clements was conducting research there and persuaded the then-president of Loreto of the importance of protecting areas for increasing tourism. Those efforts led to a new perspective on conservation that has continued with the current president, Swift said.
Providing the financial means behind NCI are organizations such as the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which is pledging about $800,000 a year, and individuals.
When sent overseas, these funds can go a lot further than if they are spent stateside.
"This is one of our most effective programs due to the multiplier effect," Swift said.
That's why Solana Beach can purchase 2,000 acres of pristine habitat for as little as $100,000 - a fraction of the price of an average home lot in coastal North County.
Resident Vicki Cypherd put it another way: "For the cost of dinner out, we can buy an acre of land. I am so excited we are doing this."
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