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Ecuador’s tropical forests store a lot of carbon. But they’re being cut down at a rapid rate.

Local landowners often clear-cut trees to make room for palm oil farming or cattle grazing, which for many people provide a critical source of income.

“That’s not to say that they don’t love the forest and want to keep it there,” says Peter Pinchot, co-founder of the company Whole Forest. “But when it comes between that and sending their kids to school or to the doctor, there is no question that the forest is going to disappear because the human need is very high.”

Pinchot wants to make preserving forests economically viable.

Whole Forest makes furniture, flooring, and other wood products using trees sustainably harvested from northern Ecuador. The company has conserved more than 2,700 acres of forest. It cuts down just two or three trees per acre every 20 years, so the forest remains healthy and keeps growing.

The company provides about 100 well-paying local jobs and a source of income for landowners who sell their trees.

“So they have a strong economic interest in keeping the forest there,” Pinchot says.

He hopes the model will be replicated elsewhere so people don’t have to choose between protecting trees and making a living.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media