SEATTLE (AP) _ Researchers and environmental activists are setting strategy in Seattle this weekend to combat what they see as literally a life-and-death problem: the rapid disappearance of the Earth's rain forests.

''The forests are like the lungs of the planet ... and we know now that the burning of particularly rain forests contributes as much as 25 percent of the carbon dumping into the atmosphere,'' said Randall Hayes. ''And whether you live in Iceland or Seattle or the middle of the Amazon, the 'greenhouse effect' is going to affect you.''

''By 2050, virtually all large tracts of rain forest will be gone,'' said Hayes, director of the California-based Rainforest Action Network and a conference participant. ''So essentially we're the last generation on Earth that will have a chance to save the tropical rain forests. If we don't, we'll have to live with the effects - if we can.''

While the devastation of tropical rain forests has received much notice in recent years, the conference also will consider what deforestation means to the lush, temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest.

''If we stopped the import of tropical timber, that would put more pressure on the Pacific Northwest. So we need a more integrated plan to tackle this issue as a whole,'' Hayes said.

''I think it's really important that we take a global look at forestry and get out of the in-our-backyard syndrome,'' agreed Pam Crocker Davis, a conference organizer and former director of the state Audubon Society.

''To make the connection between what it happening in the tropics and what is happening here is critical,'' she said.

The conference at the University of Washington is titled ''Decade of the Rain Forest: Strategies for Tropical & Temperate Survival.'' Its value is in bringing together a wide variety of participants, including non-professionals, Hayes said.

''Citizen watchdog groups are going to be key (in saving the forests),'' he said. ''We've learned that we clearly cannot leave this in the hands of the federal government and we can't leave it in the hands of the industry.''

But the effort needs to go in myriad directions, he noted.

''We don't want to win the tropical rain forest battle and have the end result of having the forests in the United States and Canada be annihilated,'' he said.

Conference organizers lay out some stark figures to drive home their point: An estimated 2.4 billion acres of tropical rain forest survive in the world, but it is disappearing at a rate of about 1 percent per year - or about one acre per second, they say.

In the western United States, less than 3.2 million acres remains of the original 15 million acres of old growth.

The weekend gathering will feature presentations and panel discussions on topics ranging from climate and forest management to the spiritual value of forests.

On Monday and Tuesday, representatives from environmental and other groups will gather on Whidbey Island to actually plot strategy, said Marcia Rutan of the Chinook Learning Center, a prime sponsor of the conference.

Among the strategies Hayes sees would be a national wood-conservation policy, including such things as wood recycling and developing alternative materials to use in place of wood.

Another possible step is support for legislation that would ban tropical wood imports unless the nations producing those woods put together plans to save pristine rain forests, he said.