The Bush administration, Costa Rica, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy will today announce a “debt-for-nature” swap that could herald something bigger in the future. The United States will write off $12.6 million in debt owed it by Costa Rica. In exchange, Costa Rica will protect some of the most valuable rainforest wildlife habitat in the world.

Costa Rican red-eyed tree frog. Photo: obooble via flickr

Photo: obooble

This follows the Bush administration’s support for an even bigger swap with Guatemala. Of course, the sums involved and the area conserved are relatively puny compared to the global forest destruction caused by the Bush administration, especially through its support for tropically grown biofuels that require deforestation to be grown.

But the Bush administration has always had two sides to its tropical forest policy. Although it’s happy to help Cargill, ADM, and other agrigiants despoil the last remaining tropical forests, it’s also expressed quiet backing for carbon ranching — allowing polluters to get global warming credit for protecting forests instead of cleaning up pollution at their own facilities. They like it because saving carbon through protecting forests is generally a lot cheaper than cleaning up industrial pollution, and we should like it because that means we can keep a lot more carbon out of the atmosphere a lot quicker — and save the forests, their wildlife, and their indigenous people at the same time.

Of course, the Bush administration’s quiet backing of this concept is completely worthless right now until the Bush administration backs strict, mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas pollution. Until they do, polluters will have no incentive to actually go ahead and protect those forests (or clean up their own pollution). But that support — and today’s forest conservation actions — signals that forest conservation may provide some common ground between Democrats and the White House on stopping the climate crisis.