Forest Heroes Awards Crown UN’s International Year of Forests

NEW YORK, New York, February 10, 2012 (ENS) – The International Year of Forests 2011 declared by the United Nations General Assembly came to a close Thursday after a year’s worth of events and activities exploring the value of forests and ways people can protect them and contribute to their sustainable management.

By declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the General Assembly intended to create a platform to educate the global community about the great value of forests and the extreme social, economic and environmental costs of losing them.

Logging truck in Cameroon (Photo by World Resources Institute)

Forests cover 31 percent of Earth’s total global land area, shelter 80 percent of land-based biodiversity and provide livelihoods for more than 1.6 billion people.

Forests store more than one trillion tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming – more than the emissions from the world’s entire transportation sector.

More than a quarter of modern medicines originate from tropical forest plants.

“Each of us, all seven billion people on Earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to forests,” said Jan McAlpine, director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat, which coordinated activities throughout the year.

UNFF Director Jan McAlpine, left, with Forest Heroes Award winners: from left: Paulo Adario, Brazil; Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, USA; Paul Nzegha Mzeka, Cameroon; Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, Japan; and Anatoly Lebedev, Russia. (Photo by Rick Bajornas courtesy UN)

In a closing ceremony Thursday at UN Headquarters in New York, people who have made special contributions to protect forests in each region of the world were honored with a UNFF Forest Heroes Award.

“We launched the UNFF Forest Heroes Awards for the International Year of Forests 2011 to identify and honor the countless individuals around the world who are dedicating their lives to nurturing forests in quiet and heroic ways. The program aims to spotlight everyday people working who make positive changes for forests,” McAlpine told a news conference.

Michigan Girl Scouts Rhiannon Tomtishen, 15, and Madison Vorva, 16, were named Forest Heroes for the North American region for convincing the Girl Scout organization to stop selling cookies containing palm oil. Land clearance for oil palm plantations is linked to the destruction of Southeast Asian rainforests that has pushed the orangutan to the brink of extinction and threatens other native animals.

The Girl Scouts organization has directed its bakers to use as little palm oil as possible, and only in recipes where there is no alternative. The bakers will to move to a segregated, certified sustainable palm oil source by 2015. The Scouts will buy GreenPalm certificates to support the sustainable production of palm oil.

Shigeatsu Hatakeyama on his oyster beds (Photo courtesy Government of Japan)

A Japanese oyster fisherman, Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, received the award for the Asia region, for planting a forest in the hills of Miyagi, Japan, which helped maintain clean water for his oyster beds.

In 1989, Hatakeyama held his first “forests are lovers of the sea” campaign, cooperating with the mayors of communities along the Okawa River to plant trees. The new forest helped combat the discharge of pollutants from a marine product processing plant and sewage runoff. His efforts have resulted in a region-wide proactive movement to preserve the forest environment.

Hatakeyama said, “What’s important is people’s awareness. If people’s awareness can change, the environment will change. To that end, the theme for our work is figuring out how to plant that tree in each person’s heart.”

Paul Nzegha Mzeka was honored for his work helping 30 communities in the African nation of Cameroon to protect their watersheds and conserve community forests through sustainable bee farming, education and reforestation.

For the European region, Anatoly Lebedev was recognized for his work campaigning against illegal logging and destructive land practices in Russia’s Far East that threaten indigenous communities and Siberian tigers.

View of the Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park in Russia’s Far East (Photo courtesy Rufford Small Grants Foundation)

In Russia’s Far Eastern province of Primorsky Krai, informally known as Primorye, Lebedev is working to resolve the conflict between the logging company Roschinsky and local indigenous communities over illegal logging of Udegeiskaya Legenda national park, with the aim of conserving this valuable forest.

In 2007-2008, Udegeiskaya Legenda suffered from massive clearcuts. The illegal cutting was performed by the Roshchinsky, which received permission from Primorye’s Forestry Department, although the agency is not authorized to approve logging in the national park. Most of the world’s population of wild Siberian tigers is found in this area, but there is great demand from China for its timber.

This conflict has moved to national arbitration, and Lebedev is working with colleagues in Greenpeace Russia and in the national Association of Indigenous People of the North to conserve the forest.

Paulo Adario of Greenpeace Brazil received the award for Latin America for his dedication to the protection of rainforests and forest-dependent communities in the Brazilian Amazon despite death threats and warring interest groups.

“I am delighted to accept this award in the name all the people fighting daily to protect the forest they made their home, and in recognition of the important work carried out not just by Greenpeace, but by all those striving to defend the Amazon and other forests around the world,” said Adario.

“It’s also a clear message from the United Nations about the crises faced by our forests, and how their preservation is vital to maintaining the balance of our planet as well as preventing the threats to our future from climate change.”

For more than 15 years, Adario has led a team working deep within the Amazon rainforest as well as in the halls of Brazil’s Congress and the boardrooms of multinational corporations to defend the Amazon.

Greenpeace Brazil helped the Deni, an indigenous Amazon group, to demarcate their traditional homeland of 1.6 million forested acres. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace Brazil)

Among their accomplishments are the moratorium on international trading of Brazilian mahogany, the demarcation of their land by the Deni people, the creation of protected areas by Brazil, the soya moratorium and the cattle industry agreement in the Amazon – all of which are still in place today.

Adario said, “The destruction of our forests, marked by violence against indigenous peoples and traditional communities, is responsible for the accelerated loss of biodiversity and the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. In recent decades, Amazon deforestation has made Brazil the world’s fifth biggest climate polluter. Rainforest conservation is the fastest, cheapest and smartest way to tackle the climate crisis we have today.”

“Internationally, Brazil is selling itself as a defender of the Amazon; in practice, several new measures threaten to undermine the protection of the forests of Brazil,” warned Adario. “President Dilma’s government is reducing protected areas, large infrastructure projects are destroying the region and Dilma is absent from discussions that will weaken the Forest Code, and are being pushed ahead by the agribusiness lobby in National Congress.”

The Forest Heroes Awards jury added a special award in recognition of the deceased couple Jose Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espirito Santo, two activists murdered in Brazil while trying to protect their natural forests.

The closing ceremony featured the winners of the 2011 Universal Postal Union letter-writing contest, which drew entries from more than two million children and youth worldwide, and the announcement of the winners of the 2011 children’s art contest “Celebrate the Forests.”

Clips from films entered in the first-ever International Forest Film Festival were shown, and the commemorative book “Forests for People” was launched with 75 articles from people in 35 countries.

Sha Zukang, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, told ceremony participants that the International Year of Forests had “helped create a platform for dialogue and action.”

“Through various actors – starting with local communities and moving to national, regional and international levels – we heard about effective ways to sustainably manage forests,” said Sha. “We hope that the year inspired governments to redouble their efforts as well.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.