Andre Ferretti took a boat down the Tagacaba River, clambered ashore over mangroves and hiked up a hill that overlooks a spectacular vista of pastures, mountains and the glistening waters of the Atlantic.
There he and seven other foresters and laborers hacked away the rough grass and planted hundreds of inch-high saplings.
The reconstruction of the Atlantic rain forest, one of the world's most diverse and endangered woodlands, had begun.
The project is a collaboration between Brazilian ecologists, who envision the return of jaguars, red-tailed parrots and other creatures, and US multinationals, who see a public relations victory in bringing back the trees.
The corporate investors also hope to benefit one day from the forest's air-cleaning capabilities.
With $10 million from General Motors and $5.4 million from the Texas-based American Electric Power, the Brazilians are buying 41,500 acres of pasture and deforested hills in southern Brazil.
"It's a real challenge to take a cattle pasture and put a forest on it," says Joe Keenan, one of the program's coordinators.
Less than 8 percent of the original Atlantic Forest remains. For centuries, since Portuguese explorers began cutting down deep-red Brazilwood trees shortly after their arrival in 1500, grass has been growing in areas once sylvan areas. Here in what is now being called the Itaqui Reserve, the forest was cleared in the 1970s when local government offered landowners tax breaks to raise Asian water buffalo.
Now the land belongs to the Sociedade de Pesquisa em Vida Selvagem e Educacao Ambiental (SPVS), a Brazilian non-governmental organization that received the US investment through its partner, The Nature Conservancy, based in Virginia. SPVS had tried to organize restoration projects before but, unable to afford the huge tracts of land required, aborted the projects.
In funding the land purchase and restoration program, GM and American Electric Power have an eye toward supplementing reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions they are making in their core businesses. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air through a process known as carbon sequestration.
Proposals to combat global warming have included a variety of provisions to help countries meet emissions targets. One approach is to give countries and companies credit for cutting emissions if they pay for reforestation projects or projects that help developing countries adopt energy-efficient technologies or build less carbon-intensive power plants. …