A six-year, $5.5 million grant announced Wednesday will enable a Yale forest conservation and restoration initiative to further its efforts in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

The Arcadia Fund, which provides financial support for environmental conservation programs worldwide, awarded the grant to the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative after an eight-month application process. A joint initiative of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, ELTI aims to restore degraded lands and improve the lives of people who depend on those ecosystems, School of Forestry Dean Peter Crane said.

In addition to what Crane described as “absolutely crucial” funding for ELTI’s current projects, the grant money will also be used to develop an online training and certification program for students and professionals working in the tropics, ELTI Director Javier Mateo-Vega said in an email. He added he expects ELTI’s reach to increase significantly as a result.

The recent grant continues the forestry school’s relationship with the Arcadia Fund, which gave ELTI a $5.1 million award in 2006, said Tim Northrop, deputy director of the school’s Office of Development and Alumni Services.

The first grant allowed for in-person training but limited the number of people ELTI could reach, Northrop said. Through the online expansion, the grant renewal, he said, will grow the geography and scope of the training programs to reach more people.

Mateo-Vega said ELTI is a unique initiative because it provides applied training opportunities to individuals who have a direct impact on the management of tropical forests and landscapes. This training, he added, equips them with the information and skills they need to make well-informed policy decisions.

ELTI has trained 2,293 people in countries including Brazil, Singapore and the Philippines. Beginning next spring, the program will add over 40 courses, workshops and conferences in order to reach an estimated 2,500 more people, according to a Nov. 15 press release.

“[The grant] is a validation that we are on the right track and making an impact,” Mateo-Vega said.

Crane said programs like ELTI are important because they allow for collaboration between project workers and members of the local communities. ELTI’s focus, he added, is to “empower local people to manage and restore the environments.”

The grant, which will fund the program through 2018, will go into effect when the previous one expires in the spring of 2012.