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U.S. signs debt-for-nature swap with Brazil to protect forests

75 percent of birds and dung beetles remain even after a forest is logged twice.

The United States will cut Brazil’s debt payments by $21 million under a debt-for-nature that will protect the Latin American country’s endangered Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlantica), Caatinga and Cerrado ecosystems.

The agreement, announced Thursday, comes under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) of 1998, which to date has generated $239 million to protect tropical forests in Bangladesh, Belize, Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and the Philippines. The Brazil deal is the 16th signed under the TFCA.

Funds under the latest debt-for-nature swap will go towards “activities to conserve protected areas, improve natural resource management, and develop sustainable livelihoods for communities that rely on forests,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Remaining cerrado cover in Brazil according to Dr. Machado

The three ecosystems targeted are under greater threat than the better known Amazon rainforest.

The cerrado, a biologically-rich grassland that once covered an area half the size of Europe, is fast being transformed into croplands to meet rising demand for soybeans, sugarcane, and cattle. It is now disappearing more than twice as the rate as the neighboring Amazon rainforest.

The Mata Atlântica is Brazil’s most endangered rainforest, covering less than 8 percent of its original range. Logging and conversion for agriculture and cattle ranches have been the primary drivers of deforestation of the Mata Atlântica, which is found in some of Brazil’s richest and most populous states. The ecosystem, which ranks as a global biodiversity hotspot with more than 250 species of mammals, more than 750 species of reptiles and amphibians and nearly 1,000 species of birds, is home to some of Brazil’s most famous endangered species like the Golden Lion Tamarin.

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The Caatinga is a dry tropical forest characterized by scrubby vegetation in northeastern Brazil, one of the country’s poorest regions. Caatinga is under threat from clearing for cattle ranching and agriculture, as well as charcoal production and timber harvesting. The ecosystem is known for its rich bird life, including a number of endemic species like Lear’s Macaw (endangered) and Spix’s Macaw (now extinct in the wild).