BURBANK, California, November 2, 2009 (ENS) – The Walt Disney Company, which for 60 years has portrayed the glories of nature in film, today announced a $7 million investment to protect forests in the United States, in the Peruvian Amazon and in the Congo Basin.

The company said the projects it will support “safeguard ecosystems that benefit climate and quality of life on the planet” by avoiding deforestation, reforesting logged and burned-over areas and improving forest management.

“Disney has always been a conservation leader,” said Disney President and CEO Robert Iger. “Now, more than ever, it’s essential to take swift action to preserve our most vulnerable natural environments for future generations and to be innovative in achieving that goal.”

The investment is being made in partnership with three nongovernmental organizations – Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund.

In partnership with Conservation International, Disney is providing $4 million to the Tayna and Kisimba-Ikobo Community Reserves in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Alto Mayo conservation project in the Peruvian Amazon.

The protection of these forests will reduce carbon emissions and secure vital watersheds and habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals, many of them threatened or endangered, the company said in a statement today. Habitat for the gorilla and okapi in the Congo and the Andean spectacled bear and yellow-tailed woolly monkey in Peru will be conserved.

The majority of Disney’s funds will go towards financing community management of the forests within the project areas and expanding sustainable livelihood practices among local villages.

The funds also will be used to complete project design, conduct forest carbon analysis and finance verification of carbon emissions avoided through successful implementation of the projects.

The projects will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by reducing logging and the impact of slash and burn agriculture.

“This commitment by Disney represents the largest single corporate contribution ever made to reduce emissions from deforestation and will help build confidence in these activities that generate such compelling climate, local community and biodiversity benefits,” said Peter Seligmann, CEO and chairman of Conservation International.

“In addition, as climate talks gain momentum in the U.S. and abroad, Disney’s leadership points the way to the key role tropical forest conservation must play in emerging climate change policies,” said Seligmann.

In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Disney is providing more than $2 million to support the development of a reforestation project in the Lower Mississippi Valley.

The Nature Conservancy will work with private landowners in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas to plant trees and restore up to 2,000 acres of native hardwood forests. The restored forests will expand the local habitat of the black bear as well as migrating songbirds.

Conservation easements will be purchased on these lands to ensure the replanted forests are permanently protected.

This forest restoration program is a pilot project that could be expanded in the future, the company said.

“Protecting forests is one of our most powerful tools in the fight against climate change,” said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “This innovative project will give private landowners the support they need to join the global fight against climate change and restore local habitats for the betterment of both people and nature.”

Disney also will invest $1 million in The Conservation Fund’s sustainable forestry work along California’s North Coast. The Conservation Fund owns and sustainably manages two redwood forests in Mendocino County, demonstrating that improved forest management, supported by selective harvests and verified carbon offset sales, can benefit both the economy and the environment.

Over the past five years, the Fund’s work has bolstered the local economy and begun to revive watersheds that are inhabited by Coho salmon, steelhead trout, the California spotted owl and other wildlife.

“Across America, forests are shrinking; 35 acres here, 500 there,” said Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “The decline is so incremental, it masks a crisis. In partnership with leading companies such as Disney, we are pioneering new approaches to forest conservation and climate change.”

Disney’s forest preservation investment is part of the company’s plan, announced last March, to meet three to five year goals to reduce emissions, waste, electricity and water use, and to limit its impact on ecosystems.

Building on 20 years of work by Disney’s environmental affairs department, the targets were formulated by an Environmental Council of senior executives from across the company.

In addition to the investment announced today, Disney has over the last year committed to planting close to three million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest and at home in the fire-ravaged areas of the mountains surrounding greater Los Angeles. Funding for these treeplanting projects will be provided through contributions from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and local donations.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.