International Year of Forests closing ceremony (©UNICEF/Pirozzi)

Forest heroes honoured at closing ceremony

People who have made special contributions towards protecting forests and forest communities will receive the Forest Heroes Award at a special ceremony hosted by the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat to mark the conclusion of the International Year of Forests today at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

In addition to the presentation of Forest Heroes Awards, the ceremony will feature the winners of the 2011 Universal Postal Union letter-writing contest, which drew entries from more than 2 million children and youth worldwide, and the announcement of the winners of the 2011 children’s art contest “Celebrate the Forests”. There will also be film clips from the first-ever award-winning International Forest Film Festival, as well as the launch of the commemorative book Forests for People with 75 articles from 35 countries.

Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat and a member of the jury panel for the Forest Heroes Awards, said the well-being of forests was a concern for everyone. “Each of us, all 7 billion people on Earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to forests. We launched the UNFF Forest Heroes Awards for the International Year of Forests 2011 to identify and honour the countless individuals around the world who are dedicating their lives to nurturing forests in quiet and heroic ways. The programme aims to spotlight everyday people working to make positive changes for forests.”

Through many activities, the 2011 International Year of Forests helped promote awareness of the issues confronting the world’s forests and the people who depend on them. Forests cover 31 per cent of the world’s total global land area, store more than 1 trillion tons of carbon and provide livelihoods for more than 1.6 billion people. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

The UNFF Secretariat received 90 nominations from 41 countries and selected 15 finalists. After a long and difficult deliberation, the jury finally decided on the following regional winners: Africa’s Paul Nzegha Mzeka (Cameroon), Asia’s Shigeatsu Hatakeyama (Japan), Europe’s Anatoly Lebedev (Russian Federation), Latin America’s Paulo Adario (Brazil) and North America’s Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva (United States).

The jury decided to add a special award in recognition of the deceased couple José Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espírito Santo, two activists tragically murdered in Brazil while trying to protect their natural forests. Each hero embodied innovative approaches and grass-roots initiatives that make a direct impact on the forests to which they have dedicated themselves.

Through education, reforestation, and sustainable bee farming, Mr. Mzeka and his team have helped 30 communities in Cameroon to protect their watersheds and conserve community forests, and he still works tirelessly at the age of 77.

As an oyster fisherman, Mr. Hatakeyama understands the critical role of forests in maintaining clean water for his oyster beds and has become an iconic advocate of sustainable forests and farming practices in Miyagi, an area of Japan recently devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Working through the legislative system, as well as through outreach and education, Mr. Lebedev has successfully campaigned against illegal logging and destructive land practices in the Russian Federation that threatened indigenous communities and Siberian tigers.

Despite death threats and warring interest groups, Mr. Adario has dedicated himself to the protection of rainforests and the forest-dependent communities in the Brazilian Amazon.

As 11-year-old girl scouts, Ms. Tomtishen and Ms. Vorva worked to raise awareness about palm oil, which is linked to the destruction of rainforests and an ingredient used in girl-scout cookies. Now at 16, these inspiring girls are working to educate consumers and persuade multinational companies, such as Kellogg’s and Cargill, to change their supply-chain practices to help reduce deforestation.

While these Forest Heroes come from varied backgrounds, they share a common courage, passion and perseverance that serve as inspiration to anyone wishing to make a difference for forests.

Since its launch in February 2011, global observance of the International Year of Forests has been dedicated to raising public awareness of the vital role of people in sustainable management and catalysing actions in the development and conservation of all types of forests.

The international jury for the Forest Heroes Award comprised senior leaders in the international forest community: Ms. McAlpine; Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization; Frances Seymour, Director-General, Center for International Forestry Research; Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director, International Tropical Timber Organization; and Jan A. Hartke, the Clinton Foundation.

Source: UN Department of Public Information, News and Media Division

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