VENTURA, Calif., April 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Paso Pacifico, Carbonfund.org, the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), and the Rainforest Alliance announce an innovative reforestation project, Return to Forest, aimed at combating climate change, conserving biodiversity and supporting local communities in Nicaragua. This exciting project is using carbon finance to restore hundreds of acres of moist and dry tropical forest in Central America's most critically endangered ecosystems and was awarded the highest standard "Gold" rating of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) Standards. Deforestation causes up to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Responsible reforestation projects thus carry great potential for mitigating climate change. Nicaragua, a country that has forestland covering about 40 percent of its area, lost about 20 percent of its forests between 1990 and 2005, much of it the result of cattle ranching and agriculture. For the past three years, Paso Pacifico, a California-based nonprofit conservation organization, has been working to restore and protect natural ecosystems in Nicaragua. "Small developing nations are often ignored within the climate change debate," said Sarah Otterstrom, executive director for Paso Pacifico, "yet they are a key piece of the solution. Paso Pacifico's efforts in Nicaragua capitalize on the great ability of tropical forests to reduce greenhouse gases while also contributing to its sustainable development." The organizations Return to Forest project is using carbon finance to reforest about 1,000 acres (406 hectares) of land in the southwestern region of Nicaragua to mitigate climate change while supporting local communities and conserving biodiversity. The Rivas Isthmus in southwestern Nicaragua is a rural area that is home to a wealth of biodiversity including sea turtles, yellow-naped parrot, and spider monkeys. It is also a region where nearly a quarter of the population lives in extreme poverty. Through the planting of some 70 varieties of native tree species, Paso Pacifico and Carbonfund.org aim to restore a biological corridor in the region and will offset the emission of an estimated 170,000 tons of CO2 over the next 40 years. The Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit conservation organization based in New York, served as the third-party independent certifier to evaluate the project proposal to standards that ensure support for local communities, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. "By earning the highest rating to the CCB standards, Paso Pacifico and Carbonfund.org have proven this project is designed in a way that will conserve biodiversity and support local communities while mitigating climate change," said Jeff Hayward, verification services manager at the Rainforest Alliance. "Carbon finance holds great promise in helping restore endangered ecosystems such as Central America's tropical forests, and the Rainforest Alliance congratulates both organizations on the launch of this ambitious project." The project organizers also aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting alternative livelihoods through activities such as sustainable agriculture and ranching. In addition, the program supports forest-based activities, including sustainable tourism and the harvesting of non-timber forest products. Paso Pacifico is involving local residents in reforestation efforts, providing employment opportunities and offering training on sustainable agriculture and tourism, among other things. "Paso Pacifico's Return to Forest project is just the sort of high-quality multiple benefit forest carbon project that the CCB Standards aim to identify," said Joanna Durbin, director of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. "Local farmers are closely involved in the project design and implementation and they benefit directly from the carbon revenues, not by degrading native forests but by restoring them, bringing global climate benefits as well as improving habitats for endangered wildlife." Carbonfund.org, a Maryland-based nonprofit carbon offset and climate change solutions provider, assisted with creating the project and is the primary funder of the project. Carbonfund.org is facilitating the purchase and the sale of the carbon that will be sequestered through the project. "Return to Forest is a landmark project for Carbonfund.org. It's not only offsetting 170,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, but also restoring tropical dry forests which are an endangered ecosystem," said Eric Carlson, executive director of Carbonfund.org. "The project also gives back to the local community and is creating opportunity for more eco-tourism. We're very proud to celebrate this accomplishment with Paso Pacifico, the Rainforest Alliance and the CCBA. The partnerships formed between these organizations should serve as model for future reforestation projects that will both positively impact the local community and help mitigate global climate change." About the organizations: Paso Pacifico is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that works to protect Central America's Pacific slope ecosystems. The non-profit implements projects in environmental education, sustainable agriculture, forest restoration and wildlife conservation. Through these actions Paso Pacifico is creating western Nicaragua's first biological corridor. For more information, visit www.pasopacifico.org. Carbonfund.org works to reduce the threat of climate change by promoting cost-effective carbon reductions and supporting renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects globally that reduce and offset carbon dioxide emissions. For more information, visit www.carbonfund.org.