(Press Release dated September 12, 2006)

Officials of the United States and Guatemala today signed an agreement that launches a ten-year partnership for the conservation of significant natural and cultural resources of El Mirador National Park, Guatemala. The official Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Dirk Kempthorne, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Carlos Fión, Chief of Staff to the President of Guatemala, and Salvador Lopez, Director of Culture for the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The Department of the Interior's International Technical Assistance Program (DOI-ITAP) will provide independent technical expertise to the Guatemalan Government and its partners on numerous aspects of natural and cultural management. The initial focus of the partnership will be protecting the natural and archaeological resources and to promote sustainable development at the El Mirador National Park, an important emerging tourist destination in Guatemala.

Funding for DOI activities at El Mirador will come from the Global Heritage Fund, a U.S. non-governmental organization that has contributed its expertise to investigations and conservation programs in this region. Strong public-private partnerships are also forming to support the efforts at El Mirador. The Guatemalan business community will heavily fund much of the investigation, conservation and protection measures to be conducted on the site in partnership with Global Heritage Fund and FARES, the Foundation for Anthropological Research and Environmental Studies (FARES).

"The United States and Guatemala have a strong relationship," Kempthorne said to members of the Guatemala delegation at a signing ceremony held in his office. "Both nations balance encouraging tourism with protecting natural resources. Both nations encourage public-private partnerships in conservation. I am pleased to be signing this Memorandum of Understanding."

El Mirador National Park, which archaeologists consider to be the "Cradle of Maya Civilization," is located within the largest tract of virgin tropical forest remaining in Central America and is home to the largest and earliest cities of the Maya world. La Danta, the largest temple at El Mirador, is the largest known pyramid in the Western Hemisphere.

Important archaeological findings in this region, led by Idaho State University archaeologist Dr. Richard Hansen, have re-written the history of Maya civilization, pushing their history back by 1,000 years. Recent national publicity including the National Geographic documentary "Dawn of the Maya" has prompted a rapid increase in tourism in the area. As the park currently offers little to no visitor infrastructure or education, the DOI-ITAP partnership with Guatemala will help ready the park for expected growth in tourism to this area.

"GHF has been working for five years to support the work of FARES for the conservation of major temples and pyramids at Mirador, and to develop a sustainable plan for responsible development of El Mirador National Park. The active involvement of DOI-ITAP professionals will be critical to the long-term protection of Mirador," said Jeff Morgan, Executive Director of Global Heritage Fund (GHF). Our work is to ensure the best legal protection and conservation science for Mirador, to build consensus among stakeholders, and to establish a strong network of private and public-sector support to save the last remaining tropical forests and most ancient Maya archaeological sites in Central America. The threats from fire, and other challenges ahead, are as difficult as ever and we call on all Guatemalans and international agencies to help support the enhanced protection and conservation of El Mirador National Park."

Dr. Richard Hansen, President of FARES and Mirador Project Director, was recently awarded Guatemala's highest honor bestowed on a civilian for his work to save the cultural patrimony of the Republic of Guatemala, one of the richest and earliest civilizations in the world.

"Global Heritage Fund congratulates Dr. Hansen and the Republic of Guatemala on their groundbreaking work which led to this exceptional new partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Over 25 years of scientific and conservation work gives hope that Guatemala will be the next Egypt for exploration, science, conservation and planned, sustainable development of the world's earliest cities and monuments," said Jeff Morgan.

The Foundation for Anthropological Research and Environmental Studies (FARES) is a non-profit research institute dedicated to the scientific study of humanity and environment through conservation, education, and responsible development. FARES conducts scientific archaeological research and environmental studies in the Mirador Basin area of northern Guatemala and the preservation of the tropical forests in northern Guatemala and the Mesoamerican Lowlands. Dr. Hansen and his Guatemalan and international colleagues have dedicated their lives to the exploration, conservation and permanent protection of the Mirador, believed by most experts to be the Cradle of Maya Civilization featured on Discovery, ABC 20/20, CNN and National Geographic 'Dawn of the Maya.' Mirador contains five distinct forests, abundant wildlife and the oldest and most monumental examples of the earliest Maya cities from 300-800BC. Within Mirador, Dr. Hansen has discovered one of the world's largest pyramids in the world—La Danta—and five ancient Maya cities—Tintal, Wakna, Xuhnal, Nakbe and El Mirador—larger than Tikal, a nearby national park generating over $200 million a year in tourism revenues for Guatemala. See www.miradorbasin.com.

Global Heritage Fund is the leading international conservancy preserving endangered world heritage sites in developing countries. Its mission is to enable successful, long-term preservation of humankind's most important archaeological sites and ancient townscapes, creating new opportunities for economic growth. Global Heritage Fund uses its Preservation by Design methodology to develop comprehensive Master Conservation Plans, provide early matching grants and training, build local institutions and promote sustainable tourism development to further permanent protection for global cultural treasures. Global Heritage Fund is a registered non-profit international conservancy based in Palo Alto, California.

At the very heart of GHF's conservation efforts is the Global Heritage Network (GHN) of experts and conservation technology backed by GHF's Leaders in Conservation, Senior Advisory Board, and Trustees for Global Heritage, a distinguished network of philanthropists and foundations committed to preserving and protecting these endangered one-of-a-kind archaeological and world heritage sites. For more information see www.globalheritagefund.org.

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