The Nature Conservancy Contributes to $10 Million U.S. Debt-for-Nature Swap - U.S. and Panamanian Governments Protect Globally Important Watershed Around Canal


(Note: The Nature Conservancy derives a substantial portion of its income from taxpayer dollars -- i.e., "grants" -- and uses those vast monies to make, as this article says, "private contributions". Your taxpayer dollars are being used to feed the beast! The blatant posturing about 'giving' money by TNC -- money which is, in truth, your taxpayer dollars -- and then 'creating a new debt instrument', makes a mockery of how taxpayer dollars are spent. Also note that the 'counsel' -- attorneys -- are allegedly working 'pro bono' on this. Yeah ... right...)

July 10, 2003


Arlington, Virginia - Today, with the commitment of $1.16 million from The Nature Conservancy, the United States and Panamanian governments signed an historic agreement to help protect more than 300,000 acres in the Panama Canal watershed.

Due to a private contribution from the Conservancy, Panama's debt to the United States will be reduced by $10 million over the next 14 years. The government of Panama will then spend the $10 million on projects to strengthen protection of the 320,000-acre Chagres National Park, potentially improving conservation throughout the larger 500,000-acre Chagres River Basin. The area is rich forest habitat for hundreds of rare species, while the watershed provides freshwater to the Panama Canal, a major contributor to Panama's economy, and to Panama's two largest cities.

"Panama's unique geographical position as a bridge between two continents supports rich variety of plant and animal species from North and South America," said Steve McCormick, president of The Nature Conservancy. "We are proud to contribute to the protection of such a biologically and economically important watershed."

"This agreement would not be possible without the important financial contribution by The Nature Conservancy, one of our civil society partners in the Tropical Forest Conservation Act," said John B. Taylor, treasury under secretary for international affairs, U.S. Treasury Department.

"The TFCA is based on the ingenious concept of exchanging debt for conservation, thereby meeting several goals at the same time," Taylor said. "Under this debt-swap agreement, Panama will have its dollar-denominated debt payments reduced by $10 million. A new debt instrument will then be established to generate $10 million to endow a forest fund that promotes the conservation, maintenance and restoration of Panama's tropical forests."

The upland rainforests and numerous rivers of the basin support a tremendous amount of plant and animal life, including endangered species such as the harpy eagle (the world's largest eagle and Panama's national bird), jaguars, capybaras, the russet-crowned quail-dove, mantled howler monkeys, anteaters and 560 species of birds. The tropical forests also contain a known 1,125 plant species, including 200 rare species.

Four of the six rivers providing water for the Panama Canal flow through the Chagres Basin, helping to provide the 52 million gallons of freshwater needed for each of the approximately 36 ships that pass daily through the Canal. The Canal fees are a major source of revenue for the country so Panamanians depend on the Chagres National Park and the larger region to help provide water crucial to maintaining the Canal.

The watershed also provides fresh drinking water to Panama City and Colon.

Unfortunately, numerous threats endanger the future of the watershed. Its close proximity to two large cities creates growing pressure from urban and industrial development, as well as expanding demands on the basin's resources due to agriculture, ranching and farming. Deforestation of the tropical forest areas also threatens important plant and wildlife habitat.

Under the terms of the agreements, the United States government will provide $5.6 million toward the transaction and The Nature Conservancy will contribute $1.16 million.

In return, the Panamanian government will make payments totaling $5 million over the course of 14 years to Fundacion Natura, a Panamanian non-governmental organization (NGO) for management and dispersal.

Fundacion Natura, working with a NGO-driven advisory board, will fund conservation or community compatible development projects that strengthen protection of Chagres National Park and help abate environmental threats in and around the park. The government of Panama will also make payments on the remaining $5 million to create a permanent endowment providing sustainable funding to the park after the funds from the agreement expire.

In a separate agreement, The Nature Conservancy signed a Letter of Intent with the Panama Canal Authority in January 2003.

Under that letter, the Panama Canal Authority will contribute matching funds to provide additional resources for conservation efforts in the Canal's watershed.

"By working with the two governments and local partners, the Conservancy was able to get the most conservation bang for our buck," said Mirei Endara, Panama program director for The Nature Conservancy. "This transaction means that almost $10 will be spent on preservation initiatives for each $1 funded by the Conservancy."

Stuart Irvin and Rene Boas Peres of Covington & Burling acted as counsel to The Nature Conservancy, working pro bono on this transaction. In addition, Panamanian legal counsel was provided pro bono by Ramon Ricardo Arias and Cristina Lewis of Galindo, Arias, & Lopez.

The debt-swap mechanism is provided for under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998, also known as the Portman Bill.

The TFCA is intended to help countries with significant tropical forest simultaneously reduce their debt to the U.S. Treasury while protecting their tropical forests.

This is the third debt-for-nature swap by the U.S. government under the TFCA made possible through a financial contribution from The Nature Conservancy.

The first project was in Belize during 2001, and the second was in Peru during 2002 with the Conservancy's partners World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International.