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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

City looks to Ecuador to cut ‘carbon footprint’

Donations would help save tropical forestland, Friday, November 6, 2009.

Solana Beach city officials are seeking to preserve a tropical forest 3,500 miles away, as part of an effort to lessen the city's effect on the environment.

City officials are suggesting that residents and businesses make “carbon offset” donations earmarked for conservation in Ecuador. The money will go through a tax-exempt nonprofit, Del Mar-based Nature & Culture International, in what may be the first such partnership of its kind.

There is no cost to taxpayers, and no one will be required to donate money.

All the money collected will pay for forestland in southern Ecuador. Nature & Culture International will handle the land purchase and ongoing preservation. An Ecuador-based nonprofit will own the land.

The goal is to buy enough forestland to equal the size of the 2,016-acre city, which would cost about $100,000, Solana Beach Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said.

Heebner said she proposed the arrangement early this year to augment local efforts to reduce the city's “carbon footprint,” a term that represents its projected effect on climate change.

“Global warming is a global issue,” Heebner said. “It's not just in our own backyard.”

The City Council voted unanimously last week to approve a formal agreement that allows the nonprofit to solicit donations using the city's name. Solana Beach will promote the nonprofit through its Web site. Nature & Culture International will list the city as a conservation Partner.

Mike McColm, the nonprofit's international director, said the program is a cost-effective way to help the environment.

“For the price of buying a fraction of a lot on (Highway 101) in Solana Beach, we're going to buy an area the size of Solana Beach of critically important tropical rain forest,” McColm said.

Del Mar resident Ivan Gayler, who founded Nature & Culture International in 1997 and is chairman of its board of directors, said Ecuador is renowned for its biological diversity. For example, it has more than 1,600 species of birds, compared with 600 in the continental United States, he said.

When the City Council first discussed the idea in February, 14 residents wrote to the city expressing support for the partnership. Officials received one letter from a resident who opposed the idea, saying that fundraising for an international cause is “outside the purview of the city.”

Solana Beach officials say the program could one day help the city meet state environmental mandates. A state law known as AB 32 requires cities to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Heebner said the city has approached elected representatives in Sacramento about the possibility of counting the Ecuador program toward the city's carbon-reduction goal.

“There's only so much that a small city like Solana Beach can do. We don't have fleets of cars; we don't have landfills,” Heebner said. “We're hoping that a city the size of ours can do something like this and have it count toward our goals.”

Solana Beach is known for its environmental initiatives. For example, the city collects plastic bags in a partnership with Trex, a manufacturer that uses them in weather-resistant decking. The city also provides incentives for environmentally friendly construction projects by placing them first in line for permit processing.

Nature & Culture International's 2008 budget was $3.4 million, according to its annual report. Its main source of revenue is from foundations; it also receives government funding and donations from individuals, among other sources.

All of its board members are unpaid and receive no money for expenses, according to Internal Revenue Service filings.

Last year, the organization helped establish the Alto Nanay-Pintuyacu-Chambira Regional Conservation Area, which set aside 2.4 million acres of primate habitat in the Peruvian Amazon, according to its 2008 annual report.

The organization has a three-person staff in the United States and employs 90 people in Ecuador, Peru and Mexico. It focuses on the conservation of threatened ecosystems in the dry forests, cloud forests and rain forests of the Latin American tropics.

Former Solana Beach Mayor Doug Sheres is on the board of directors. Sheres said he became involved because “the work that they're doing is remarkable, and unlike anything I've seen anywhere else.”

For more information, go to and click on “Solana Beach Fund.”

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