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Protection For Resource-Rich Cloud Forests Urged

New UN Report Urges Protection For Resource-Rich Cloud Forests

Forests continually bathed by cloud and fog are home to thousands of rare and endangered species and serve as a key water resource, but they are being threatened by climate change, agriculture and road-building, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP) report.

In the first comprehensive report on cloud forests, the Nairobi-based agency says contrary to previous estimates, most of these fragile systems are found in Asia, not Latin America. It estimates that 60 per cent of the world's 400,000 square kilometres of cloud forests are found in Asia, 25 per cent in Latin America and 15 per cent in Africa.

The document, entitled "Cloud Forest Report," is being launched at a 9 to 20 February meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Noting that these relatively small areas play a disproportionately important economic role, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer voiced hope that the study "will not only trigger improved awareness of the need to conserve cloud forests, but lead to new partnerships and initiatives to conserve and restore them."

These forests capture water from clouds and fog by condensation and provide that water to neighboring lowlands and to such cities as Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Quito, Ecuador, Mexico City, Mexico and Dar-es-Salaam, according to the report

"Cloud forests are fantastically beautiful and lush, with orchids, mosses and ferns growing across every surface," says the report's co-author, Philip Bubb of UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre. "Each tree branch is like a garden in itself."

UNEP says cloud forest tourism can be a valuable source of income for local people and thus a reason to conserve these habitats. It cites efforts to provide employment in forest tourism, including trips to see the mountain gorillas in the cloud forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and other s

But the agency warns that commercial goals can also lead to harmful activities, such as logging, charcoal production, the introduction of faster-growing foreign vegetation -- or more profitable but illegal plants -- the hunting of rare animals and the building of tourism facilities like golf courses.

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