IMAGE: JAGUARS IN LAKE
Jim Beveridge
Two jaguars, a mother and her cub, cool off in a lake within a Guatemalan rainforest.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/3/2007 4:28:07 PM ET 2007-01-03T21:28:07

Guatemala, Washington and conservation groups are teaming up to target more than $24 million to preserve threatened tropical forests over the next 15 years, the biggest debt-for-nature swap since the U.S. enacted the Tropical Forest Conservation Act in 1998.

Under the deal, announced Monday in Guatemala City and Washington, the United States will forgive $15 million of Guatemala’s debt and Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy will donate $1 million each.

Guatemala will use the money and the interest it generates to preserve tropical forests and other areas that are home to hundreds of species of songbirds and waterfowl that migrate between the United States and the Central American nation.

“The areas protected in this agreement lie in the heart of Mayan civilization, and they are home to jaguars, scarlet macaws, harpy eagles and countless other species,” president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, Steve McCormick, said in a statement.

IMAGE: SCARLET MACAW
Pierre Howard
Guatemala's native rainforest species include the scarlet macaw, one of which is seen here.
Authorities have designated more than $19 million to finance non-governmental projects, and the remaining funds will create a permanent conservation trust to generate interest income for further grants.

The funds will be used primarily on four priority areas:

  • The Cuchumatanes Region — home to five priority species of amphibians.
  • The Maya Biosphere Reserve — hometo the Maya Forest.
  • The Motagua/Polochic System — "one of the most biologically important regions in Guatemala with many species found nowhere else in the world," the donors stated.
  • The Western Highlands Volcanic Chain — a migratory bird route and home to many plant and animal species unique to Guatemala.

The Tropical Forest Conservation Act has created 11 agreements and resulted in more than $125 million being dedicated to protect tropical forests in countries like Panama, Jamaica, Colombia and Peru.

Additional background is line at www.nature.org

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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