Two new clown tree frogs discovered in the Amazon [03/27/2017]
- Clown frogs are widespread throughout the Amazon region and get their name from their unique, bright coloration. - The two newly discovered clown frogs were previously considered to belong to other species, but researchers were able to show that they are their own distinct species after analyzing their DNA and the calls they make. - According to the international team of researchers who made the discovery, the conservation status of both clown frogs has yet to be determined — but it is likely that the species could already be considered threatened, especially given that both are reported to have particularly small distribution areas that are endangered by habitat destruction.
Crime and not enough punishment: Amazon thieves keep stolen public land [03/15/2017]
- Land grabbing and illegal ranching (even on public lands) has long been, and still is, big business in the Brazilian Amazon. Last year the Brazilian government launched its most ambitious crackdown ever. And some of the criminals caught up in the federal police net were members of Brazil’s richest families. - In June 2016, federal law enforcement pounced on a gang of land thieves. Antônio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJ Vilela, and Ricardo Caldeira Viacava, among others, were charged with clearing public lands — 300 square kilometers (74,132 acres) of forest, in total — an area 5 times larger than Manhattan, and of using slave labor to do it. - One of the gang’s innovations was to use sophisticated technology to work out just how much forest they could clear without being detected by monitoring satellites. Unfortunately for the offenders, they were spotted by Kayapó Indians who had their own sophisticated monitoring system (called radio!); they reported the crime to federal police. - But by October 2016, AJ Vilela was out of jail and awaiting trial. And unofficial reports from Pará state, gathered there by Mongabay in November, say that the gang is carrying on as before, illegally raising cattle on the public lands they illegally deforested. Question: why hasn’t the land been reclaimed by the government?
Suppliers of Lowe’s in the US and Walmart in Brazil linked to slave labor in the Amazon [03/13/2017]
- Slave labor-analogous conditions were revealed by investigation of logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A supply chain investigation of the timber harvested through these camps has found links to markets in Brazil and the U.S. - Major retailers with links to intermediaries that sourced wood from logging camps found to use slave labor practices include Lowe's, Timber Holdings, and Brazilian Walmart stories. Timber Holdings has used wood from Brazil in major renovation projects for New York's Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
Slave labor in the Amazon: Risking lives to cut down the rainforest [03/13/2017]
- Investigations show conditions analogous to slave labor as defined by Brazilian law are not uncommon at small logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A recent bust of one labor camp by a team headed by the Ministry of Labor led to the rescue several men living in substandard conditions. Interviews of the men and observations by Repórter Brasil indicate their lives were forcibly put at-risk at the camp. - Workers from other logging camps came forward to report instances of nonpayment, and being threatened by guns when they demanded their pay. - Although the job is life threatening and illegal, and wages aren't guaranteed, workers report often having no other choice but to work at the logging camps.
Investigation reveals slave labor conditions in Brazil’s timber industry [03/13/2017]
- The report was the culmination of an investigation into slave labor practices in the state of Pará’s timber industry led by the Integrated Action Network to Combat Slavery (RAICE). - The investigation found several conditions used by Brazilian law to define slave labor were occurring at logging camps, including forced work, debt bondage, isolation, exhausting working hours and life-threatening activities. - According to the report, workers at the camp often felt forced into illegal logging because of dire economic circumstances.
Big data timber exchange partners with FSC in Brazil [03/13/2017]
- BVRio pulls together data on the pricing, supply chain and certification of timber and wood products through its Responsible Timber Exchange. - Since opening in November 2016, the exchange has fielded more than 400 offers for 5 million cubic meters of timber. - The partnership with the Forest Stewardship Council is aimed at bolstering the market for certified forest products.
New bill aims to cut protection of 1M hectares of Brazilian rainforest [03/10/2017]
- State legislators presented the proposal early last month to President Michel Temer’s Chief of Staff, which included changes to five protected areas in the southern state of Amazonas. - When presenting the proposal, the legislators argued that the “protected” classification undermines the legal security of rural producers and economic investments that have already been made in the region. - Conservation groups worry that, if approved, the bid would put more than a million hectares of rainforest at risk to deforestation. - When surveying documents filed with Brazil’s National Department of Mineral Production, WWF reportedly uncovered a link between the proposed bill and applications for prospecting and mining in southern Amazonas.
Short film takes you into the Amazon with researcher who discovered a new frog species [03/08/2017]
- Back in January, biologist Jennifer Serrano and a team of researchers published a paper officially describing a new species of poison dart frog found in the Peruvian Amazon, which was given the name Ameerega shihuemoy, to science. - Finding Frogs, a short documentary by filmmaker Nick Werber, captures the sense of awe and discovery inherent in doing fieldwork like Jennifer Serrano’s. - In this Q&A, Mongabay speaks with Werber about his motivation for making the documentary in the first place, the difficulties of shooting a film in a humid environment like a rainforest, and why it’s so important for scientific discoveries to be more widely shared via media like film.
The changing face of Amazon development: from land grab to eco-lodge [02/23/2017]
- Ariosto da Riva was often described as “the last of the bandeirantes”, the violent adventurers who first penetrated the Brazilian Amazon in the 16th century in search of gold. Working with Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), he owned a million hectares of forest, pushed indigenous people from their lands, and brought in settlers. - His daughter, Vitória da Riva Carvalho, though wealthy, did not buy into his legacy. She is noted instead for her strong defense of the rainforest and for her world-renowned ecotourism destination, the Cristalino Jungle Lodge, located outside the town of Alta Floresta — which her father settled — in northernmost Mato Grosso state. - The evolution of the relationship between father and daughter helps trace the unfolding land conflicts that have smouldered and exploded in the Amazon between indigenous and traditional peoples on one side; and land speculators, land grabbers, loggers, settlers and soy growers on the other. - Today, most of the indigenous people who lived in the region where the Cristalino Jungle Lodge entertains its wealthy guests are gone — dead, pushed into indigenous reserves, or retreated elsewhere. But for now, the rainforest and much extraordinary biodiversity remains, with people like Vitória da Riva Carvalho as its stewards.
Judge halts excavation plans for largest-ever Brazilian goldmine [02/22/2017]
- The Belo Sun goldmine, to be Brazil’s largest, would use cyanide and other industrial processes to produce 5 million ounces of gold over 12 years. The company´s environmental impact assessment says it will process nearly 35 million tons of rock. The open-pit mine would leave behind gigantic solid waste piles covering many hectares, plus a huge toxic waste impoundment near the Xingu River. - A Brazilian judge suspended the project’s installation license this week, faulting the Canadian company that would be excavating Belo Sun with improperly acquiring federal land and potentially removing families from those lands to “reduce social costs.” - The proposed Belo Sun goldmine is within a short distance of the controversial Belo Monte dam, which has dislocated residents, caused deforestation, and harmed the environment, causing major fish kills on the Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. Residents are concerned that the addition of the nation’s biggest goldmine will do more severe harm. - Residents fear that a failure of the Belo Sun toxic waste impoundment dam would create a disaster on the Xingu River similar in scale to the Samarco Fundão dam collapse in 2015, which dumped roughly 50 million tons of toxic iron ore waste into the Doce River, polluting it for 500 miles, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and causing Brazil´s largest environmental disaster.
Protected areas found to be ‘significant’ sources of carbon emissions [02/17/2017]
- The researchers found 2,018 protected areas across the tropics store nearly 15 percent of all tropical forest carbon. This is because protected areas tend to have denser, older forest – thus, higher carbon stocks. - Their study uncovered that, on average, nearly 0.2 percent of protected area forest cover was razed per year between 2000 and 2012. - Less than nine percent of the reserves that the researchers sampled contributed 80 percent of the total carbon emissions between 2000 and 2012, putting this small subset of reserves on par with the UK’s entire transportation sector. - The researchers say their findings could help prioritize conservation attention.
Getting there: The rush to turn the Amazon into a soy transport corridor [02/15/2017]
- The development over the last 40 years of Mato Grosso state in Brazil’s interior as an industrial agribusiness powerhouse has, from the beginning, been hindered by a major economic problem: how to get the commodities to the coast for profitable export. - The first route of export from Mato Grosso was a costly and time-consuming southern one, with commodities trucked on a circuitous route to Santos in São Paulo state and Paranaguá in Paraná state on the Atlantic coast. - The paving of the northern section of BR-163, running south to north through Pará state, opened a much less expensive, faster route, with commodities now moved to Miritituba on the Tapajós River, then downstream to the Amazon, and on to Europe and China. - New infrastructure plans call for the channelization of the Juruena, Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers, creating a 1,000-mile industrial waterway. Two railways, one over the Andes, are also proposed. These schemes pose grave threats to the Amazon rainforest, biodiversity, indigenous and traditional communities, and even the global climate.
Counterintuitive: Global hydropower boom will add to climate change [02/14/2017]
- For many years new hydropower dams were assumed to be zero greenhouse gas emitters. Now with 847 large (more than 100 MW) and 2,853 smaller (more than 1 MW) hydropower projects currently planned or under construction around the world, a new global study has shown that dam reservoirs are major greenhouse gas emitters. - The study looked at the carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) emitted from 267 reservoirs across six continents. Globally, the researchers estimate that reservoirs contribute 1.3 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, comparable to those from rice paddy cultivation or biomass burning. - Reservoir emissions are not currently counted within the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) emissions assessments, but they should be, argue the researchers. In fact, countries are currently eligible under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to receive carbon credits for newly built dams. - The study raises the question as to whether hydropower should continue to be counted as green power or be eligible for UN CDM carbon credits.
Giant catfish clocks longest ever freshwater migration [02/08/2017]
- The dorado catfish uses the massive Amazon River as its roadway, beginning its journey at the river's headwaters. - It spawns in the far western Amazon, then drifts thousands of miles towards the estuary in the opposite direction. - After two to three years in the estuary, the catfish makes its way back towards the headwaters through the Amazon floodplain.
Audio: An in-depth look at Mongabay’s collaboration with The Intercept Brasil [02/07/2017]
- Branford is a regular contributor to Mongabay who has been reporting from Brazil since 1979 when she was with the Financial Times and then the BBC. - One of the articles in the series resulted in an official investigation by the Brazilian government before it was even published — and the investigators have already recommended possible reparations for an indigenous Amazonian tribe. - We also round up the top news of the past two weeks.
Scientists launch expedition to find missing monkeys [02/02/2017]
- Vanzolini's bald-faced saki hasn't been seen since scientists first discovered it in western Brazil in the 1930s. - Navigating along the Rio Juruá and its tributaries, the expedition will be the first comprehensive biological survey of the region. - Its international team of researchers hopes to uncover the saki, as well as other yet-undocumented species, while calling conservation attention to the river and surrounding rainforest.
Birds wanted: Recovering forests need avian assist [02/02/2017]
- Clearing swaths of rainforests can permanently drive away or kill off birds that are important partners in the regeneration of the forest, the study finds. - The study surveyed 330 sites in the Brazilian Amazon, turning up 472 species of birds. - The analyses demonstrate that recovering forests don’t have the diversity of birds needed to ensure their survival. - The authors say that their findings point to a need to preserve standing forests, even if they’re heavily degraded.
Brazil alters indigenous land demarcation process, sparking conflict [02/02/2017]
- In mid-January Brasília issued Ordinance 80, which moves decisions regarding indigenous land demarcation from Funai, the agency of Indian affairs, to the Justice Ministry. Large-scale landowners applauded the measure, while indigenous land rights activists are opposed to it. - Brazil’s population includes 900,000 indigenous people, of whom 517,000 live on officially recognized indigenous lands. About 13 percent of the country’s territory is set aside as indigenous lands — 98.5 percent of it in the Amazon. - The demarcation process has been fraught with controversy; demarcation of indigenous territory has been delayed for years by Funai, and in some places, by decades. Federal authorities argue that the shift of decision-making to the Justice Ministry will speed the resolution of land conflicts. - Ordinance 80 opponents say that the shift to the Ministry of Justice takes away Funai’s power to decide indigenous demarcation matters via consultations with technical experts and anthropologists, an authority that is enshrined in Brazil’s Constitution.
Introducing Mongabay news alerts [02/01/2017]
Now Mongabay readers can keep up-to-date on the latest conservation and environmental science developments by subscribing to our free topic-based news alerts.
Battle for the Amazon: As Sinop grew, the Amazon rainforest faded away [02/01/2017]
- Sinop, a city of 125,000 people in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon in Mato Grosso state, is a modern success story. Prosperous and booming, the small urban center services a region dominated today by industrial agriculture. - Few remember how the city came to be. As recently as the 1970’s, the Sinop region was mostly rainforest and occupied by indigenous peoples. - At the time, Brazil’s military government highly favored large-scale land speculators. These men gained dubious title to millions of acres of rainforest, divided it into lots, and sold it off to poor Brazilian settlers. Many settlers found their transplantation into the Amazon very difficult. - Indigenous and traditional people who lacked land titles were driven out, often violently. The story of Sinop is a story of development, exploitation and conflict that has continued to play out across the Amazon region — especially in the Tapajós River basin today.
First-ever underwater photos of newly discovered Amazon Reef have surfaced [01/30/2017]
- Extending from French Guiana to Maranhão State in northern Brazil, the Amazon Reef is a 9500-square-kilometer (or nearly 3,700-square-mile) system of corals, sponges, and rhodoliths (a colorful marine algae that resembles coral) located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean — a region currently threatened by oil exploration activities. - When the reef was discovered in April 2016, Fabiano Thompson of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, who was part of the team of scientists who made the discovery, told Mongabay that “The oceanographic conditions (biogeochemistry and microbiology) of this system are unique, not found in other places of the planet.” - The mouth of the Amazon River basin also provides valuable habitat for a range of species, including the American manatee, the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle, dolphins, and giant river otters, which are listed as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List.
‘Revolutionary’ new biodiversity maps reveal big gaps in conservation [01/27/2017]
- The research uses the chemical signals of tree communities to reveal their different survival strategies and identify priority areas for protection. - Currently, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory’s airplane provides the only way to create these biodiversity maps. But the team is working to install the technology in an Earth-orbiting satellite. - Once launched, the $200 million satellite would provide worldwide biodiversity mapping updated every month.
Court dismisses Ecuadorian government bid to shut down environmental NGO [01/26/2017]
- The San Carlos-Panantza copper project in the Cordillera del Cóndor, south of the Ecuadorian Amazon, has given rise to numerous conflicts between the Chinese mining company EXSA and the Shuar indigenous community, which both claim rights to the land. - Ecuador’s leading environmental group, Acción Ecológica, has raised concerns about the government’s actions in dealing with the conflicts that have arisen from the San Carlos-Panantza mine. - The Ecuadorian Government attempted to close Acción Ecológica, generating criticism from the international community. - On January 11, a hearing was held against Acción Ecológica at the premises of the Ministry of Environment; a day later, the request for dissolution was dismissed.
Primates face impending extinction – what’s next? [01/24/2017]
- Nonhuman primates are on the decline almost everywhere. - The third most diverse Order of mammals, primates are under the highest level of threat of any larger group of mammals, and among the highest of any group of vertebrates - 63% of primates are threatened, meaning that they fall into one of the three IUCN categories of threat—Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable. - This post is a commentary - the views expressed are those of the authors.
Guyana focuses deforestation prevention efforts on conservation and management [01/24/2017]
- Almost 90 percent of Guyana’s roughly 750,000 residents live in coastal areas outside of the forests, which contributes to the preservation of the country’s intact forest landscape. - Over the past two decades, deforestation rates in Guyana have ranged from between 0.02 percent to 0.079 percent – far less than many other tropical countries. - Gold mining appears to be the biggest threat to Guyana's forests, driving approximately 85 percent of the country's deforestation in 2014.
New species of poison frog discovered in Amazonian slopes of Andes in southeastern Peru [01/17/2017]
- The species was found in just nine locales in the buffer zones of Manu National Park and the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, at the transition between montane forests and the lowlands, from 340 to 850 meters (1,115 to 2,788 feet) above sea level. - The region that the Amarakaeri poison frog calls home is considered one of the most biodiverse on the planet for herpetofauna, but it is also threatened by human activities, including agriculture, gold mining, logging, and an illegally constructed road meant for the transport of fuel for illegal miners and loggers in the area. - Based on IUCN Red List criteria, the research team that made the discovery propose that A. shihuemoy likely qualifies as Near Threatened.
‘Day of Terror’: Munduruku village attacked by Brazil’s Federal Police [01/11/2017]
- On November 7, 2012, Brazil’s Federal Police launched the Eldorado Operation with a raid aimed at destroying an illegal gold mining barge at Teles Pires, a Munduruku village. During the attack, an Indian was killed by police — “executed,” according to a Federal Public Ministry (MPF) investigation. - The gold mining barge that was destroyed that day — and others in indigenous territory along the Teles Pires River in the Tapajós Basin — had been allowed to operate illegally by the government for years previously. - The income earned from the gold mining barges had recently been used to fund indigenous opposition to the Belo Monte mega-dam, and resistance to more than 40 dams proposed for the Tapajós Basin. The extreme violence of the Eldorado Operation has shaken Munduruku trust in Brazil’s government. - According to the Indians, the police told them to lie about these events, or face persecution. Mongabay’s videotaped eyewitness interviews have resulted in the MPF opening a new investigation into the Eldorado Operation; MPF is seeking US $2.9 million in damages for the Munduruku.
New maps show how our consumption impacts wildlife thousands of miles away [01/06/2017]
- The study identified 6,803 threatened species, pinpointed the commodities that contribute to threats affecting those species, then traced the implicated commodities to final consumers in 187 countries. - The maps revealed some unexpected linkages. - These maps can help connect conservationists, consumers, companies and governments to better target conservation actions, researchers say.
The end of a People: Amazon dam destroys sacred Munduruku “Heaven” [01/05/2017]
- Four dams are being built on the Teles Pires River — a major tributary of the Tapajós River — to provide Brazil with hydropower, and to possibly be a first step toward constructing an industrial waterway to transport soy and other commodities from Mato Grosso state, in the interior, to the Atlantic coast. - Those dams are being built largely without consultation with impacted indigenous people, as required by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, an agreement which Brazil signed. - A sacred rapid, known as Sete Quedas, the Munduruku “Heaven”, was dynamited in 2013 to build the Teles Pires dam. A cache of sacred artefacts was also seized by the dam construction consortium and the Brazilian state. - The Indians see both events as callous attacks on their sacred sites, and say that these desecrations will result in the destruction of the Munduruku as a people — 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries in the heart of the Amazon.
What to expect for rainforests in 2017 [01/05/2017]
- Will deforestation continue to rise in Brazil? - Will Indonesia continue on a path toward forestry reform? - What effect will Donald Trump have on rainforest conservation?
Battle for the Amazon: Tapajós Basin threatened by massive development [01/03/2017]
- The Brazilian Amazon has systematically been deforested, dammed and developed by the federal government, river basin by river basin. The most recent to be so developed was the Xingu watershed. The next target, where road and dam construction has already begun, is the Tapajós Basin. - Plans by agribusiness and the government call for the paving of the BR-163 highway (almost complete); the building of a new railroad, nicknamed Ferrogrão or Grainrail (just given approval); and the building of the Teles Pires-Tapajós industrial waterway, requiring dozens of dams, plus canals. - As Mato Grosso soy plantations creep north deeper into the Tapajós region, agribusiness hopes to benefit from the rapid development of transportation infrastructure that will provide a cheap, fast northern road, rail and water route to the Atlantic for the export of commodities. - Indigenous groups, traditional river communities, environmentalists and social NGOs oppose the mega-infrastructure projects, which they say will bring deforestation, cultural disruption, and quicken local and global climate change. The conflict is over no less than the fate of the Amazon.
The year in tropical rainforests: 2016 [01/01/2017]
- After 2015's radical advancements in transparency around tropical forests between improved forest cover monitoring systems and corporate policies on commodity sourcing, progress slowed in 2016 with no major updates on tropical forest cover, resistance from several governments in releasing forest data, and some notable backtracking on zero deforestation commitments. - But even without the pan-tropical updates, we know that deforestation increased sharply in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for the world's largest area of tropical forest. - Low commodity prices may have bought some relief for forests.
Protest against oil pollution ends with accords on pipeline inspection, remediation, compensation [12/28/2016]
- Protesters from Marañón, Corrientes, Pastaza, Tigre and Chambira watersheds began river blockade September 1. - Three Peruvian Cabinet ministers led negotiating sessions in the village of Saramurillo, on the Marañón River, which ended the night of December 15. - Government officials say accords do not conflict with agreements reached in recent years with other indigenous federations in affected watersheds.
What do experts have to say about Latin American wildlife trafficking? [12/23/2016]
- In Peru, the 67,874 animals have been confiscated from traffickers over the last 15 years. A national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking exists on paper, but it has not yet been approved by the government. - In Bolivia, wildlife trafficking threatens jaguar populations (between 2014 and 2016, 337 fangs were seized). Awareness campaigns have been launched by the Ministry of Environment and Water, local governments, and NGOs; however, a comprehensive strategy does not exist. - In Colombia, 5,060 wildlife traffickers have been detained so far in 2016. To identify confiscated wildlife species, the Humboldt Institute has generated DNA barcodes, a valuable tool not only for environmental and judicial authorities but also for the academic community. - In Ecuador, about 8,000 animals were seized in 10 years. State and private institutions have joined forces to address this problem and apply a landscape-management approach to the conservation of threatened wildlife.
Temer government set to overthrow Brazil’s environmental agenda [12/22/2016]
- A catastrophic setback to environmental and indigenous protections was narrowly averted last week when quick action from two federal deputies prevented the agricultural lobby from forcing passage of bills to authorize construction of three mega-industrial waterways in the Amazon and elsewhere. - The Congress will likely pick up the bills again after the recess in February. They would authorize building many dozens of dams and industrial waterways in three river basins — PDC 119/2015 on the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Juruena rivers in the Amazon; PDC 120/2015 on the Tocantins and Araguaia rivers, also in the Amazon; and PDC 118/2015 on the Paraguai River. - In 2005, a similar bill was passed, fast tracking the Belo Monte dam and bypassing proper environmental evaluation. Today, Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Amazon mega-dam has been charged with environmental crimes, ethnocide and is under investigation for corruption. - Another bill working its way through the National Congress would completely gut the environmental licensing process for most infrastructure projects, while still another would take away hard won protections guaranteed to Brazil’s indigenous people in the 1988 Constitution.
Wildlife for sale: More than 5,000 traffickers arrested this year in Colombia [12/21/2016]
- Five departments in the Colombian Caribbean supplied nearly half of the animals trafficked: Magdalena, Sucre, Bolívar, Cesar and Córdoba. - Official figures from the National Police confirm that 5,060 traffickers were arrested between January and September 2016. Police have also confiscated 6,878 Colombian sliders, 1,505 iguanas, 1,144 red-footed tortoises and 2,837 alligators or caimans. - Researchers at the Humboldt Institute have generated DNA barcodes to identify nearly half of the commonly trafficked bird species.
Wildlife for sale: Jaguars are the new trafficking victims in Bolivia [12/20/2016]
- Until 2009, the biggest threat to jaguars was habitat loss; today, they are endangered by Chinese demand for their fangs. - 337 jaguar fangs were seized between 2014 and 2016. The authorities estimate that at least 85 felines were killed in just two areas: Madidi National Park and the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Lands, both located in the department of La Paz. - Measured by the number of individuals, the most trafficked species in Bolivia are plateau lizards, water turtles and various species of parrots. - The hyacinth macaw is the most highly valued bird in the Bolivian market; people pay up to $1,000 for one individual.
Wildlife for sale: Is it possible to win the fight in Ecuador? [12/16/2016]
- The most trafficked wild animals are macaws, parrots, parakeets, monkeys, turtles and boas. - These species can be trafficked alive. Body parts like skin, fangs, claws and even tissues are also traded, especially abroad. - According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the illegal wildlife trade generates revenues ranging between $7 billion and $23 billion per year.
Resource wars: Brazilian gold miners go up against indigenous people [12/15/2016]
- Violence in the Brazilian Amazon is on the increase. Last year, Brazil ranked as the most dangerous nation for environmentalists worldwide. Indigenous people are especially at risk, with 137 killings in Brazil reported in 2015. - One cause of this violence arises from the conflict between indigenous people and small-scale mineral prospectors, especially gold miners, who lay claim to the same lands. - Lack of government action to demarcate indigenous lands, along with an inadequate federal law enforcement presence in the Amazon, have exacerbated the problem. - Many worry that violence will escalate if the federal government doesn’t step in to help mediate the claims made by indigenous groups and prospectors. However, some indigenous people see the small-scale prospectors as potential allies in the face of large-scale mining operations moving into the region and as the Tapajós Basin is progressively industrialized.
‘Where do you draw the line?’: Q&A with director of documentary about Amazonian community fighting oil extraction [12/14/2016]
- The documentary was filmed in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and in the community of Sani Isla, which lies deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon on the banks of the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon River. - Sani Isla is located between the borders of Yasuní National Park and the Cuyabeno Natural Reserve, a region that biologists have called one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. - The community is home to hundreds of indigenous Kichwa villagers who have fought the Ecuadorian military and one of the largest oil companies in South America for years in a bid to protect their ancestral lands and traditional way of life.
Wildlife for sale: An illegal activity out of control in Peru? [12/14/2016]
- In the last decade, 383 species have been trafficked in Peru, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). - Peru has about 64 species of animals in danger of extinction. Some of them can be found smoked, grilled or being slaughtered in the market of Belen, the river port of Iquitos. - Animals are not only eaten but are also sold as exotic pets. - Between 2000 and 2015, more than 11,000 animal body parts including feathers, eggs, shells, bones and skins were seized and 156 metric tons of wild meat were confiscated.
Companies need to do more to avoid deforestation, study finds [12/10/2016]
- The Carbon Disclosure Project tabulated the responses of 187 companies about their approaches to avoiding deforestation. - More than $900 billion in revenues is at risk from the decreased productivity and damaged reputations that accompany deforestation, according to the CDP's report. - Board-level involvement in the issue gives companies a statistically better shot at finding ways to avoid deforestation and the problems it poses to their businesses.
Brazil pledges ‘largest restoration commitment ever made’ [12/08/2016]
- Proponents of the pledge believe the restoration will help the country meet climate change and conservation targets as well as Brazil’s economy through the development of more productive agricultural lands and new jobs. - Twelve million hectares of forest land is slated for restoration, along with 10 million hectares of farmland and pastures. - The announcement follows a recent uptick in deforestation in the country, which contains 60 percent of the Amazon Rainforest. Deforestation levels in 2015-2016 were up 75 percent over the three-decade low reached in 2012.
Q&A with the creators of the ‘Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes’ story map [12/02/2016]
- Schultes first ventured into the Amazon rainforest in 1941 and spent the following decades researching how indigenous peoples use plants for a variety of purposes: as medicine, in rituals, and in more practical applications. - Throughout his career, Schultes collected more than 24,000 plant specimens — primarily in the Colombian Amazon — including at least 300 species that were then new to science. - The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes is a new “story map” created by an Arlington, Virginia-based NGO called the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) that lets anyone explore Schultes travels, discoveries, and photos through an interactive online resource.
Brazil: deforestation in the Amazon increased 29% over last year [11/30/2016]
- Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest jumped 29 percent over last year. - Deforestation from 2015-2016 reached the highest level since 2008. - Relaxed environmental regulation, dry conditions, and Brazil's economy may be factors in the rising rate of forest loss.
NYT explores life and impact of Chico Mendes, “a Fighter for the Amazon” [11/28/2016]
- The NYTimes has released a video looking back on Mendes’ life and untimely death, which, as the newspaper notes, is widely credited with having marked “a turning point in Brazil’s environmental consciousness.” - In the 1980s, the Amazon was being burned to make way for pastureland and other economic development projects at an alarming rate — the NYTimes video features one scientist showing off the latest remote sensing technology and noting that it allows researchers to track as many as 7,000 fires per day. - Two Brazilian men — a local rancher and his 23-year-old son — were convicted of murdering Mendes and sentenced to 19 years in prison in 1990.
Peru rainforest lost to illegal gold mining eclipses 10 Manhattans [11/24/2016]
- Most mining-related deforestation is occurring in southern Peru's Madre de Dios Department, but is moving northward. In addition to the loss of forest, gold mining activities have shifted the course and nature of rivers and released toxic levels of mercury into the surrounding environment. - In total, 62,500 hectares of forest were lost to illegal gold mining between 2012 and 2016. Researchers found forest loss from illegal mining activities peaked between 2010 and 2012, and has since been declining. They attribute this to an uptick in government interventions. - However, their analysis highlights several recent incursions into protected areas and primary forest. - Conservationists and scientists warn of the impacts of continued illegal mining, and say it's not likely to end any time soon.
Scientists discover the real vocalists behind the ‘singing snake’: tree frogs [11/23/2016]
- Natives from some parts of the Amazon region have long believed that a deadly pit viper, the bushmaster, can sing. - But the true vocalists behind the call are two species of large tree frogs that live in hollow tree trunks in the Amazonian forests. - The first frog is the little known Tepuihyla tuberculosa, and the second frog is a newly discovered species that has been named Tepuihyla shushupe.
Peru’s Manu National Park declared world’s top biodiversity hotspot [11/21/2016]
- The scientific study used 60 camera traps which photographed terrestrial species in 16 locations around the world. - Patricia Álvarez, Red Team-Network’s lead researcher, notes that Manu National Park exhibits an excellent conservation state. - There are 14 different ecosystems in Manu National Park, a defining characteristic of its high biodiversity.
Amazon oil spill impacts indigenous villages on Teles Pires River [11/21/2016]
- An oil spill was detected on November 13th on the Teles Pires River, a tributary of the Tapajós River, in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon. The spill occurred near the under-construction São Manoel hydropower dam. The spill’s cause or extent is as yet unknown. - Roughly 320 indigenous people were affected in villages near the dam site. Empresa de Energia São Manoel, the consortium building the dam, has sent more than 4,000 liters of fresh water to affected indigenous communities. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, is investigating. - Indigenous leader Taravi Kayabi described the spill’s impact on his community: “All this is a terrible sadness for our people. This region is sacred to us. Now, along with the land being flooded [due to the dam], they´ve dirtied our water. The fish have disappeared, too. People are getting sick with diarrhea. Everyone is worried about their health.” - The Teles Pires River already has three other dams, which have to date been subject to 24 lawsuits. Most of these cases focused on environmental impacts and violations of indigenous rights. The dams are part of the Tapajós Complex, a gigantic infrastructure project aimed at turning the Tapajós River and its tributaries into an industrial waterway for soy transport.
Large branches fall from the western Amazon rainforest canopy at a surprising rate [11/18/2016]
- Scientists determine how climate change affects forests by monitoring how carbon cycles through trees. - Airplane surveys show that when trees in the western Amazon lose their branches, they release almost as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as when trees die. - Branchfall is now an important factor in accounting for how carbon moves in and out of forests.
Gold mining invades new areas of Peruvian Amazon [11/11/2016]
- Gold mining – much of it illegal – is commonplace in several spots in southern Peru's Made de Dios Department. The practice has resulted in vast deforestation and river degradation, and released harmful levels of mercury into water sources. - A recent analysis of satellite data indicates gold mining is spreading northwards, with three operations spotted in the Amazonas and Huánuco regions. Two of these are mining illegally in protected areas. - So far, the researchers estimate around 44 hectares of rainforest have been displaced by these operations. They write that there's still time to stop them before they get larger.
New talks on oil pollution could end indigenous blockade of Amazonian river in Peru [11/09/2016]
- In a November 3 letter, Fernando Zavala, who heads the Cabinet, made lifting the river blockade a condition for the meeting. Photos posted by protesters on social media show river boats and barges moored along the riverbank, unable to go upriver or down. - Leaders of the communities involved in the protest were meeting November 6 and 7 to discuss the proposal. While the back and forth between indigenous communities and government leaders was under way, four more oil spills occurred in communities upstream from Saramurillo, bringing to 10 the total number since January. - After four spills in less than six weeks along a 50-kilometer stretch of pipeline, which the company blamed on vandals, Petroperú announced that it was declaring an emergency, planning to obtain drones to monitor the pipeline, and asking the government to assign "security forces" to patrol it.
‘A man schooled in the Amazon:’ Q&A with director of new feature film about the fight to save the rainforest [11/09/2016]
- Carter is the founder of Aliança da Terra (Land Alliance), a Brazilian non-profit organization that works directly with ranchers in the Amazon to reduce the environmental and social impact of their operations. - Wortman, who previously won an Emmy for his documentary Nefertiti Resurrected, intends to cast “real life characters,” such as John Carter himself, alongside professional actors in order to tell the true story of “Those fighting to save [the Amazon] and those fighting to take it.” - As much as it’s a Western and a love story, Wortman says the film is “a snapshot of what is going on in Brazil right now, which is the first wave that comes through. That’s why it’s called Frontier."
Quantifying the ecological impacts of the 20th century trade in Amazonian furs [10/25/2016]
- A study published this month in the journal Science Advances comprises the first systematic accounting of the history, scale, and repercussions of the Amazonian hide trade throughout the 20th century. - An international team of researchers used previously unanalyzed historical documents and unpublished shipping records cataloguing the quantity and scale of the wildlife trade to determine trends in the vulnerability of different wild animal species. - They found widespread collapse of giant river otter, black caiman and manatee populations in the aftermath of commercial hunting, while terrestrial species such as collared peccaries, deer, and even jaguars were found to be much more resilient to hunting pressure even during peak international hide exports.
Another pipeline spill reported in Peruvian Amazon as indigenous protests enter eighth week [10/25/2016]
- Hundreds of people gathered since September 1 in Saramurillo, an indigenous community on the bank of the Marañón River in Peru's northeastern Loreto region, have blocked transportation on the river to press for their demands. - The protesters are calling for a state of emergency to be declared in two districts of the lower Marañón Valley where a series of oil spills has affected five indigenous communities. - Underlying the protest, however, is a call for a national debate on whether oil drilling should continue in the Peruvian Amazon.
Failed economic development plans drive deforestation in Andean Amazon [10/20/2016]
- Cultivation of coca, the plant from which the drug cocaine is extracted, has long been considered a “deforestation multiplier” in the Andean Amazon rainforests of Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. - But a study published in the journal BioScience last month by a team of researchers with New York’s Stony Brook University found that most deforestation in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru isn't caused by coca cultivation. - The researchers hope that their study will help us learn from the past in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Lakes in community hands spur gains for people and fish [10/20/2016]
- In an 8-year study covering a 500-kilometer stretch of a tributary to the Amazon, a team of scientists from Brazil and England found that the often-overfished arapaima came back in community-managed lakes. - Protected lakes had populations more than 30 times those where commercial fishing was allowed. - The team estimates that each protected lake is worth about $10,000 per community in revenue from arapaima stocks annually.
The Guiana Shield, the ‘greenhouse of the world’ [10/19/2016]
- Covering 270 million hectares, the Guiana Shield encompasses Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Venezuela and small parts of Colombia and northern Brazil - Some experts are warning against 'commoditizing nature' in the case of the Shield - Indigenous populations could play a key role in the Shield's future health
Study finds Brazil isn’t counting all deforestation in official estimates [10/19/2016]
- A new study published in the journal Conservation Letters finds that, between 2008 and 2012, close to 9,000 square kilometers (about 3,475 square miles) of the Brazilian Amazon were cleared without being detected by the government’s official monitoring system. - Brazil’s Monitoring Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by Satellite Project (known as PRODES) has played a key role in Brazil’s recent efforts to rein in deforestation. - But when researchers with Brown University compared data from PRODES with two independent satellite measures of forest loss — from the Global Forest Change project and the Fire Information for Resource Management Systems — they found an area of deforestation roughly the size of Puerto Rico was not included in the PRODES monitoring.
Tree biodiversity critical to forest productivity, study finds [10/14/2016]
- A team of more than 80 researchers collected data in 44 countries covering nearly all major forest ecosystems. - In natural forests, they were able to show accelerating declines in productivity as the forest loses more tree species. - Based on their calculations, the value of tree species biodiversity is $166-$490 billion.
A cost-benefit analysis of securing indigenous land rights in the Amazon [10/12/2016]
- According to the report, the investments required to secure land rights for indigenous communities would be modest, but could generate billions of dollars in returns economically, environmentally, and socially — a boon not just for local communities but the global climate, as well. - According to the report, between 2000 and 2012 the annual deforestation rates in tenure-secure indigenous forests were significantly lower than outside those areas. - “The estimated economic benefits for a 20-year period are: $54–119 billion for Bolivia; $523–1,165 billion for Brazil; and $123–277 billion for Colombia,” the report states.
Brazil pledges to cut carbon, but government policies say otherwise [10/06/2016]
- Brazil's Paris Agreement target calls for a carbon emissions reduction of 37 percent by 2025, and 43 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. These reductions are dependent on the nation’s ability to meet its forestry goals. Brazil’s vast forests are vital for carbon storage and for curbing the worst impacts of climate change. - However, Brazil’s government is moving to relax environmental licensing regulations in order to fast track large-scale infrastructure projects, including industrial waterways, dams, highways and railways; and is pursuing a major agribusiness expansion — all of which could work to increase carbon emissions. - In addition, new studies show that Brazil will likely fall well short of the billions in funding needed to meet the country’s ambitious forestry goals which were declared in 2015, just before the Paris Climate Summit. - The continued curbing of Amazon deforestation is key to Brazil’s achievement of its Paris carbon cut targets, but recent news from the Amazon is bad: after years of decreased deforestation rates, forest loss in the Amazon is again on the upswing.
Brazil revises Amazon deforestation 6% upward [10/04/2016]
- The Brazilian government has revised upward its estimate for the extent of Amazon rainforest destroyed last year. - Figures released last week by Brazil's National Space Research Agency (INPE) put Amazon deforestation at 6,207 square kilometers for the year ended July 31, 2015. - The upward revision in the prior year's deforestation rate is not unusual.
New film documents real-life Avatar story [10/04/2016]
- Yasuni National Park is the home to the majority of the world’s Waorani people as well as other indigenous tribes and even a couple small tribes of uncontacted groups. - It is also home to vast underground reservoirs of crude oil, which Ecuador has exploited for decades, leading to widespread pollution and vast roads that open up the forest to colonizers, illegal loggers and pillagers. - The film deals with the complex history and politics of the region, while also highlighting how daily life has changed – and stayed the same – for the Waorani across Yasuni.
U.S. imports of Amazon crude oil driving expansion of oil operations [09/30/2016]
- Oakland, California-based non-profit Amazon Watch released the report this week to highlight the impacts of oil operations on Amazonian biodiversity and indigenous peoples, as well as on refinery communities in the U.S. and the global climate. - U.S. crude imports are in overall decline, the report notes. But imports from the Amazon are on the rise, so much so that the U.S. is now importing more crude oil from the Amazon than from any single foreign country. - “Existing and proposed oil and gas blocks in the Amazon cover 283,172 square miles, an area larger than the state of Texas,” per the report.
Amazonian bat identification takes flight with new interactive guide [09/22/2016]
- Often small and flying at night, the more than 160 bat species found in the Amazon can be challenging to identify in the field by researchers and amateur enthusiasts. - To make identification easier, a free, open-access, interactive, downloadable, digital Field Guide to Amazonian Bats — designed for use with tablets or smartphones — has just been published by the National Institute of Amazonian Research. - The dynamic digital format allows the guide to be continuously updated as new research data becomes available, making the format particularly suited to less explored regions of the world where the rate of new species discovery is high. - The Amazon bat field guide is to be followed by digital bat guides for Madagascar and East Africa.
Scientists say Amazon biodiversity could help fuel Fourth Industrial Revolution [09/20/2016]
- A team of researchers led by climatologist Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters published an article today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) arguing for “a new development paradigm” in the Amazon. - Nobre and his co-authors write that the dominant economic paradigm of today, which entails intensive use of the Amazon’s natural resources, has led to “significant basin-wide environmental alterations” over the past half-century. - Nobre is leading a multidisciplinary group comprised of science and technology experts who aim to set up public-private partnerships among key actors in Brazil and other Amazonian countries in order to bring together research and development centers, universities, and businesses to make economic use of the Amazon’s diversity of living plants, animals, and insects.
Interpol issues notice about illegal timber trading operation in Brazil [09/15/2016]
- The notice, issued on August 30, stems from an investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police that uncovered a technique employed by illegal timber traders in the country. - The method in question involves obtaining fraudulent forest management plans that declare a higher density of a high-value timber species within a timber concession than actually exists on the ground, allowing criminals to harvest timber from unauthorized areas and report it as if it was legal — in other words, to launder their illegal timber. - The Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA first notified the country’s federal police of suspected illegal logging activities carried out by a sustainable forest management project called JOVINO VILHENA - Fazenda Esmeralda, based in Santarém, Para State, Brazil, on February 6 of last year.
Global brands’ beef is putting South America’s tropical forests at risk: report [09/13/2016]
- A scorecard released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) graded 13 global fast food, retail, and food manufacturing companies based on a variety of criteria, including whether or not they have adopted deforestation-free purchasing commitments and and have established sufficient systems to monitor their supply chains for beef linked to deforestation. - Those consumer companies should be working with the meatpackers they buy from to ensure the ranches supplying their cattle are not associated with deforestation, but all of the companies graded by UCS could be doing more, the group says. - Even the top performers in UCS’s scorecard — Mars (37 out of 100 points), McDonald’s (48 out of 100), and Walmart (52 out of 100) — have a lot of room for improvement.
Operation license for Amazon’s Belo Monte mega-dam suspended [09/13/2016]
- A Brazilian judge has suspended the operating license of the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Amazon because the Norte Energia consortium, the dam’s builder and operator, failed to meet a key compensation commitment required by the federal government. - In exchange for the right to build and run the dam, Norte Energia originally agreed to install drinking water and sewage systems for the city of Altamira, with completion due in July 2014. The court allowed an extension to September 1, 2016, but the system is still not complete. - Norte Energia had argued that its commitment only extended to constructing water and sewer lines, not to connecting those lines to residences — a contention which the court has rejected. - The city currently dumps its sewage directly into the Xingu River, and waste is now building up behind the new dam. If the sanitation system isn’t quickly installed, officials worry that Altamira runs the risk of a collapse in sanitation due to the contamination of the city’s groundwater from domestic sewage.
Belo Monte dam compensation inadequate, say traditional fisherfolk [09/09/2016]
- The Norte Energia Consortium — the group of companies that built the Belo Monte dam — signed an agreement with the Brazilian government in 2011 to pay US $1 billion to Altamira residents, including indigenous people, in compensation for the impacts of the dam. But traditional fisherfolk complain they have not been adequately compensated. - The traditional fisherfolk say that the Amazon dam negatively impacted water quality and fish spawning in the Xingu River, and drastically reduced the area in which they could fish. Belo Monte also deprived them of the markets where they sold their fish — communities razed by the dam. - Belo Monte’s construction also forced them to move from rural villages to a gritty urban resettlement community in the city of Altamira with few amenities. The fisherfolk also no longer live on the river, and so must commute to the waterway to pursue their fishing livelihood. - Fisherfolk protests resulted in the creation of a new condition for Belo Monte’s operating license at the end of 2015. Norte Energia has been obliged to start a technical assistance project focused on improving fishing conditions on the Xingu River. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, is also studying the loss of income, along with the loss of identity and traditional practices to draft a compensation plan.
The alarming number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon [09/08/2016]
- The sharp decrease in the annual rates of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon is celebrated worldwide. The trend started in 2005 after a peak in deforestation the year before. - However, the figures are not so bright when it comes to forest fires, and few people are talking about that. - The number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon is alarming, and that was especially true in 2015, when a sharp increase in forest fires occurred.
Negotiations and protests ongoing in wake of oil spills in Peruvian Amazon [09/05/2016]
- While the meeting was under way in Nueva Alianza, at the confluence of the Urituyacu and Marañón rivers in Peru's northeastern Loreto region, a protest over oil operations was brewing downstream in San José de Saramuro, where the troubled northern Peruvian oil pipeline begins. - The recent events underscore growing discontent among indigenous communities living in a region where decades of poorly regulated oil production have left hundreds of contaminated sites, and where residents who depend on rivers for drinking water and fish for protein worry about long-term health effects. - The Peruvian government regulatory agency for energy and mining, Osinergmin, had registered 190 spills from Petroperú’s pipeline and privately operated pipelines in the country since 1997.
Rainforest destruction rises in the Brazilian Amazon [09/03/2016]
- Newly released data suggest that rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon has reached the highest level since 2009. - In the past week, Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, have independently released data from their near-real-time deforestation monitoring programs. - The revelations raise concern that Brazil’s historic progress in reducing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest may be waning.
Protected areas are effective conservation tools, but even they can’t keep out rising temperatures [08/30/2016]
- While there is plenty of good news about the effectiveness of protected areas in combating deforestation and related impacts, they “are not a panacea” and “the current reserve system alone may be insufficient to conserve biodiversity in the face of rapidly rising temperatures,” the authors of a study published this month in the journal Diversity and Distributions write. - The study finds that somewhere between 19 and 67 percent of Amazon protected areas will not have any temperature analogs by the 2050s, depending on the actual rate of warming and the amount of connectivity between protected areas. - Since many tropical plant and animal species are not likely to be able to tolerate rising temperatures, they will need to shift their ranges and track the movement of “suitable” climates across the Amazon.
New ‘sleeping beauty’ frog discovered in fragmented Peruvian forest [08/25/2016]
- The new species belongs to the Pristimantis genus and is named after the central Amazon mountain range in which it was found. - Scientists found two populations of the frog: one in Tingo Maria National Park and another outside the park in an area heaviy deforested for agriculture. - The surrounding region has become a hotbed of cattle ranching in recent years, yet has hasn't attracted conservation attention given to other areas of Peru.
Raging Amazon forest fires threaten uncontacted indigenous tribe [08/23/2016]
- Small groups of Guajajara Indians, the Awá’s neighbors in the Amazon, reportedly battled the blaze for days without the assistance of government agents until Brazil’s Environment Ministry launched a fire-fighting operation two weeks ago. - Some 50 percent of the forest cover in the territory was destroyed by forest fires started by loggers in late 2015, and the Environment Ministry has warned that the situation is “even worse this year.” - Despite illegal loggers having destroyed more than 30 percent of the forest in Awá territory, the land contains some of the eastern Amazon’s last remaining patches of rainforest.
Five tools are better than one: determining deforestation drivers from above [08/19/2016]
- In part II of our interview with Matt Finer of the MAAP project at Amazon Conservation Association, he explains some of the rapid advances in remote sensing data becoming increasingly available to research and conservation practitioners. - These advances have allowed the MAAP team to not only detect and monitor deforestation hotspots, but also determine the drivers of forest loss. - Adapting monitoring procedures and taking advantage of opportunities to use and integrate new tools has allowed the project to remain well-informed of the complex array of drivers causing forest loss in the western Amazon.
Why is Brazil regressing in its fight against deforestation? [08/12/2016]
- Last July, the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Blairo Maggi presented in Washington D.C. investment opportunities to expand Brazilian agribusiness. - Before deciding, investors are required to assess the risks of the investments. Given that the investments involve the Brazilian Amazon, investors certainly would focus special attention to environmental and social risks. - What analysts would find in the Amazon? - This post is a commentary — the views expressed are those of the author.
Illegal gold mining eats up more protected Peruvian rainforest [08/12/2016]
- Illegal gold mining has been ramping up in southern Peru for years, spurred by high gold prices and difficult enforcement. - Researchers discovered gold mining had entered Tambopata National Reserve late last year; by July, it had led to the deforestation of more than 350 hectares. - The deforestation has reached Tambopata's untouched tracts of primary forest. - Efforts by the government to stamp out the illegal mining have met with little success.
Promised US$1 billion in Belo Monte dam compensation largely unpaid? [08/12/2016]
- In a 2011 binding agreement with Brazil’s federal government, the Norte Energia Consortium agreed to pay US$1 billion to Altamira residents, including 9 indigenous groups, in compensation for the Belo Monte dam. Little has been paid to date, says the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an NGO watchdog group, while the consortium responds that it is meeting its obligations. - Belo Monte significantly impacted Altamira’s environment and people, requiring the diversion of 20 kilometers of the Xingu River, reducing the stream’s flow by 80 percent over a 100 kilometer stretch, and dislocating indigenous people and other area residents; 8,000 families were displaced by the dam. - According to critics, only 15 percent of required compensation to protect indigenous lands has been spent, while Norte Energia has failed to sufficiently secure entry points to indigenous lands, per their agreement, a failure that facilitated the entrance of illegal loggers who cut significant amounts of timber on Indian lands. - Promised Altamira garbage collection infrastructure has yet to be put in place. While an underground sewage system and water distribution system have both been completed by the consortium, no houses have been connected to the system. Norte Energia argues that it is the city’s responsibility to make the connections.
Using Big Data to combat the illegal timber trade in Brazil [08/10/2016]
- BVRio’s analysis found that more than 40 percent of the forest management operations in the Brazilian states of Pará and Mato Grosso between 2007 and 2015 were at medium to high risk of having involved severe breaches of the law. - Only 10 percent of the cases examined by BVRio showed no indications of irregularities. - BVRio is already looking to expand its Big Data tracking system to tropical forest countries in West Africa and Southeast Asia, starting with Ghana and Indonesia.
Peru’s new environmental policies: What are they and will they work? [08/05/2016]
- The new policies are the result of collaboration between Peru's government and NGOs. - Those involved say they provide a unifying strategy for the country’s forests as well as multiple policy objectives for climate change mitigation and adaptation. - The policies have been approved by the central government, but it isn't yet clear if they will be fully implemented at the regional level. - Another wildcard is Peru's new presidential administration, which appears to be focused on economic growth.
Identifying the drivers of Amazon deforestation through high-tech maps and stories [08/05/2016]
- The MAAP project scours remote sensing data for areas of new deforestation and revisits known deforestation hotspots to highlight activities that cause forest loss. - The project publicizes deforestation “stories” via a combination of several remote sensing technologies through its website. - The team’s reporting of “just the facts” has prompted conservation action from government agencies, civil society and the media.
Environmental licence for São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam denied [08/04/2016]
- Ibama, Brazil’s environmental agency has denied an environmental license for the proposed 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam on the Tapajós River in the Amazon — a decision seen as a victory by the Munduruku Indians and environmentalists. - The Amazon mega-dam would have required the flooding of Munduruku territory known as the Sawré Muybu — a land claim first recognized by Funai, the federal indigenous affairs agency, in April of this year. The Brazilian constitution forbids such uses of indigenous lands. - The decision will not likely end controversy in the region. The Brazilian government has major development plans for the Tapajós river basin, including 43 dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries, ten of which are considered priority, to be completed by 2022.
Tapajós dams may bring fish kills, species loss, mercury contamination [08/02/2016]
- Brazil plans to construct seven hydroelectric dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries — a part of the Amazon known for its exceptional aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. The São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower plant is the largest and first proposed dam. - An Environmental Impact Study (EIS) commissioned by the federal energy agency Eletrobrás in conjunction with the companies hoping to build the São Luiz do Tapajós dam says the project will cause a quick disappearance of habitat, loss of animals and reduction of their populations. Still, the EIS concludes the dam will cause little environmental impact. - In an independent analysis of the EIS commissioned by Greenpeace, scientists criticized the methodology and results of the document, noting that it failed to identify or misidentified - Because so little is known about Tapajós aquatic ecology, there is an urgent need for more studies before building begins, say experts. The hydroelectric project could jeopardize commercial fish species, the pink river dolphin, giant otter and black caiman. One fear is that the reservoir will concentrate dangerous levels of toxic mercury, poisoning fish and people.
Study: Drought impedes tree growth, shuts down Amazon carbon sink [07/21/2016]
- The Amazon Basin stores 100 billion tons of carbon, serving as a valuable carbon sink and buffer against climate change. - A new study finds that a major drought in 2010 hindered tree growth and caused sufficient tree death to result in the complete shut down of the Amazon carbon sink. - That effect was temporary, and in the years between droughts the Amazon returned to being a carbon sink, with growth outstripping mortality. - Scientists are concerned that as climate change escalates that the intensity of droughts in the Amazon will continue to increase, stalling tree growth and bringing more carbon sink shut downs.
Cattle driving big forest loss in Peru’s ‘under-appreciated’ Amazon [07/19/2016]
- Despite having some of Peru's highest levels of deforestation, its Central Amazon is often overlooked by conservationists and NGOs. - Cattle grazing in the area has ramped up over the past decade, leading to a deforestation hotspot almost the size of Connecticut that lost a quarter of its tree cover over 15 years. - Deforestation is infiltrating protected areas and the ranges of threatened, endemic species. - Recent data indicate 2016 tree cover loss rates may be more than triple those of 2015.
Huge cacao plantation in Peru illegally developed on forest-zoned land [07/16/2016]
- Since 2013, thousands of hectares of Peruvian rainforest have been cleared for a cacao plantation. Data indicate that clearing is continuing despite federal injunctions – and may be on the rise. - Researchers say much of the plantation was illegally cleared from primary forest, while United Cacao contends it developed legally. - However, the updated zoning evaluation finds the land on which the plantation is sited could never have been legally developed because its soil, climate, and topographic conditions make it suitable for forest, not agriculture.
NASA images show the Amazon could be facing an intense wildfire season this year [07/15/2016]
- Conditions created by the strong El Niño event that warmed up Pacific waters in 2015 and early 2016 altered rainfall patterns around the world. - In the Amazon basin, that meant reduced rainfall during the wet season, plunging some parts of the region into severe drought. - Per NASA’s Amazon fire forecast, the wildfire risk for July to October now exceeds the risk in 2005 and 2010 — the last time the region experienced severe drought and wildfires raged across large swaths of the rainforest.
Scientists compile list of all known Amazon tree species, say it could take three centuries to find the rest [07/14/2016]
- After sifting through more than half a million museum specimens collected in the Amazon between the years 1707 and 2015 (530,025 specimens, to be precise), the researchers were left with a list of 11,676 known tree species in 1,225 genera and 140 families. - Nigel Pitman, the Senior Conservation Ecologist at Chicago’s Field Museum and a member of the team, said in a statement that that number — 11,676 known species — suggests the 2013 estimate of 16,000 total species is most likely accurate, which would leave about 4,000 of the rarest Amazonian trees still to be discovered and described to science. - The scientists hope that the checklist they’ve compiled of Amazonian tree species will become a valuable resource for ecologists studying the rainforest.
Fish kills at Amazon’s Belo Monte dam point up builder’s failures [07/13/2016]
- In April, the Norte Energia consortium — builder of the now operational Belo Monte dam — was fined US$10.8 million for the death of 16.2 million tons of fish. Another flurry of fish deaths has occurred since then, and fishermen fear more to come. - Critics say the dam’s construction has had negative impacts on the Tabuleiro do Embaubal, one of the most important turtle breeding sites in the Amazon basin; 20,000 Giant Amazon River Turtles (Podocnemis expansa) lay their eggs there annually. - The dam’s builder and scientists agree Belo Monte will drastically curtail the annual floods that force the Xingu River over its banks and into the rainforests, harming aquatic connectivity and likely impacting genetic diversity and ecosystem health. Extreme drought due to climate change adds to that risk. - Indigenous and traditional fisheries suffered steep declines during the building of the dam, with fishermen and scientists noting the disappearance of important commercial fish species such as the piraíba. Those losses could continue in future.
Even reduced-impact logging in the Amazon may be unsustainable [07/13/2016]
- Brazil accounts for 85 percent of all native neotropical forest roundlog production, but the sustainability of timber harvests beyond the initial, typically selective rounds of logging, remains poorly understood, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE today. - A team of researchers with the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK studied 824 harvest areas in private and community-owned forests scattered throughout the 124-million-hectare (more than 306-million-acre) Brazilian state of Pará, which is the source of almost half of all timber production in the Brazilian Amazon. - They say their results show that managing yields of selectively-logged forests is crucial for the long-term health of forest biodiversity as well as the financial viability of local industries.
Amazon turtles imperilled by dams, mercury pollution and illegal trade [07/12/2016]
- The Brazilian Amazon is home to 17 turtle species, all of which are under pressure from overexploitation, the illegal wildlife trade, widespread hydropower dam construction, and mercury contamination. Deforestation, agricultural development and climate change are other looming threats. - The Brazilian government’s Amazon Turtle Program focuses its conservation efforts on the Giant Amazon River Turtle (Podocnemis expansa), plus the Yellow-spotted River Turtle (P. unifilis), and Six-tuberculed River Turtle (P. sextuberculata). The Wildlife Conservation Society works with these same species and is also conserving the Red-headed Amazon River Turtle (P. erythrocephala), and Big-headed Amazon River Turtle (Peltocephalus dumerilianus). - Amazon dams — especially mega-dams like the just built Belo Monte dam and the proposed Luiz do Tapajós dam — alter ecosystems and disrupt the annual flood cycles that inundate lowland Amazon forests, putting turtles and other species at risk. - Mercury contamination of Amazon rivers due to illegal gold mining is a major threat to turtles. Researchers say there is an urgent need for the Brazilian government to develop and implement guidelines for the assessment of mercury toxicity in Amazon reptiles, especially turtles.
Bolivian expedition discovers 1,000th bird species [07/08/2016]
- Madidi National Park is situated in northern Bolivia and is considered one of the most biodiverse protected areas in the world. - Identidad Madidi is a two-year biological expedition currently surveying the flora and fauna of Madidi National Park. - The 1,000th bird species – a dusky-tailed flatbill (Ramphotrigon fuscicauda) - was discovered through a recording of its call, and came as a surprise to the expedition's ornithologist.
Pre-Columbian Amazon settlement primarily ate fish — more sustainable? [07/08/2016]
- A study of the Central Amazon’s Hatahara settlement found that, circa 750-1230 AD, 76 percent of the animals people ate were fish and just 4 percent were mammal — very different from American / European prehistoric groups who ate more meat than fish. - Thirty-seven different fish taxa were identified in the Hatahara samples, indicating that the people of that time were exploiting a much more diverse spectrum of food species than today, perhaps making their fishing and dietary habits more sustainable. - One mystery: just one river turtle genus (Podocnemis) dominated the reptile diet, even though a diversity of turtle taxa can be found in the region. - While these results are intriguing, more study is needed at more locations (inland, interfluvial and wetland settlements) to arrive at a regional understanding of available animal resources and the diets of Pre-Columbian Amazon settlements over time.
Deforestation from illegal gold mining spreads to northern Peru [07/07/2016]
- Illegal gold mining is rampant in many areas of southern Peru, driven by rising gold prices. - Now, for the first time, researchers have detected gold mining-related deforestation in northern Peru. The deforestation occurred along the Santiago River in the buffer zone of a protected area, and near intact forest. - Most of the forest loss occurred between August 2014 and August 2015. However, satellite data indicate deforestation may be ongoing, with more tree cover loss detected in March 2016. - In addition to deforestation, gold mining has been linked to mercury poisoning, river alteration, and crime.
Western Amazonian and Andean forests don’t follow the ecosystem “rules” — here’s why that’s important [06/30/2016]
- To understand the tradeoffs between growth strategies, ecologists have developed the leaf economics spectrum (LES) theory, which posits a fairly straightforward relationship between resource acquisition and storage strategies in plants. - However, LES has never been studied on large geographically continuous scales — until now. - According to the PNAS study, leaf economics of forests are not nearly as straightforward as scientists believed them to be.
Forest degradation in Brazil can have just as drastic an impact on biodiversity as deforestation [06/29/2016]
- Though reducing deforestation is the chief objective of most conservation strategies in tropical rainforest countries — and rightly so — the condition of the remaining forest is rarely measured or controlled by policy initiatives. - A new study in Nature finds that in the state of Pará, which comprises 25 percent of the Brazilian Amazon, road building, selective logging, wildfires, and other disturbances have reduced biodiversity as much as clearing 92,000 to 139,000 square kilometers (about 35,500 to 53,700 square miles) of pristine forest. - Most alarmingly, it appears that those species that are under the greatest threat of extinction are suffering the most from human disturbances.
Communities brace for impact of Peruvian oil spill [06/29/2016]
- Three days after an oil spill was reported on their land, residents of the small riverside community of Barranca worry about environmental impacts while also fearing that they may be sidelined from cleanup jobs. - Residents who helped block the spill's advance the night of June 24 say they saw oil several kilometers down the ravine below the point where the Northern Peruvian Pipeline broke. - Petroperú has estimated the spill at 447 barrels, while the government's environmental oversight body has put it at 600 barrels.
Scientists are developing useful new tools for surveying elusive rainforest mammals [06/28/2016]
- A team of researchers used arboreal camera traps and traditional ground-based survey techniques to collect 1,201 records of 24 arboreal mammal species. Six of the species were detected only by the arboreal camera traps. - Previous research has shown that canopy-dwelling species might be more severely affected by human disturbance than terrestrial species, and cameras in the canopy could allow scientists to answer the question of whether or not arboreal mammals are being affected in a similar way. - Despite what you might expect, deploying arboreal camera traps doesn’t necessarily cost more than traditional survey methods.
Facing controversy, Peruvian palm oil firm seeks sale of its Amazon rainforest holdings [06/28/2016]
- A consortium linked to large-scale destruction of rainforests in the Peruvian Amazon is putting one of its palm oil companies up for sale. - According to a notice posted in The Jakarta Post, the Melka Group is planning to auction off its palm oil holdings in public auctions on June 30, July 7 and July 14. - Companies controlled by the Melka Group have been linked to clearance of primary forests and conflicts with indigenous peoples, who say their lands were converted without their consent.
Health officials in Peru: oil spill cleanup workers face ‘poisoning and burns’ [06/27/2016]
- In a preliminary report on the most recent crude oil spill in Peru's northeastern Loreto region issued on June 25, the Health Network of the Dátem del Marañón province said that contract workers and local residents involved in cleanup efforts lacked special equipment. - According to the report from the Health Network, which is part of the government health system, pumping of crude through the pipeline was halted at 10 p.m. on June 24, when Petroperú personnel arrived at the spill site. In press releases on June 25 and June 26, the company claimed pipeline operation had been suspended since February. - If the crude reached the stream called Barranca Caño, it could affect 725 people in the community of Barranca. • If spilled oil reached the Marañón River, it could affect many more riverside communities downstream.
Amazon oil spill puts Peruvian communities at risk [06/26/2016]
new oil spill from the pipeline that carries crude oil from the northern Peruvian Amazon across the Andes Mountains to the Pacific coast has raised fears of yet more pollution of the water and fish on which indigenous villages and riverside communities depend. The spill is the third major one since January along the 40-year-old […]
Amazonian catfish’s 5,000-mile migration endangered by dams [06/21/2016]
- Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii, a commercially valuable catfish species and an apex predator, grows to 3 meters long. Scientists have long suspected that it makes an extraordinary migration from the Amazon headwaters to the Amazon Basin and back. - Now researchers — using an innovative technique that examines the chemical composition of adult catfish ear bones — have found proof of the 8,000-kilometer journey. The fish can drift as far downstream as the Amazon estuary, then swim back to the headwaters stream where they began, or to other Amazon tributaries. - Unfortunately for the catfish, more than 400 dams have been built, are under construction, or are planned for the Amazon Basin and Andes feeder streams. Global research has shown that long homing migrations by fish are incompatible with dams. - The researchers are urging governments in six Amazon Basin countries to reconsider and redesign their Amazon dam plans, or risk losing this natural wonder — along with seeing negative impacts to the entire freshwater food chain.
Search warrant executed at Global Plywood over alleged Lacey Act violations [06/20/2016]
- A search warrant executed earlier this month at the premises of California-based Global Plywood and Lumber was issued on the basis of probable cause that the company had smuggled illegal timber into the United States in violation of the Lacey Act, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reports. - The warrant describes proactive collaboration between authorities in the U.S. and Peru to hold players in the illegal timber trade accountable, according to the EIA. - This is the latest in a string of Lacey Act enforcement actions taken by the US government since the law was amended in 2008 to prohibit the trade in illegally forested wood and wood products.
The prosecutor who lassoed deforestation [06/15/2016]
- The reporters found local characters reminiscent of the period in the 70s and 80s when the federal government encouraged the occupation of the Amazon through deforestation. - They discovered firsthand the distinct culture of the immigrants who colonized the Southeast of Pará. - And they revealed how the actions of one particular prosecutor catalyzed the adoption of a program so effective that it has become a major tool for working towards the goal of zero deforestation in the Amazon.
Watch video of an electric eel attack [06/06/2016]
- In a paper published in 1807, Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt claimed to have observed South American electric eels exhibiting a behavior that has not been recorded since. - Von Humboldt hired local fisherman to collect electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) for his research, which they did by a process he dubbed “fishing with horses.” - According to Kenneth Catania, a scientist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, subsequent investigators have been skeptical of Von Humboldt’s account, mostly because no similar eel behavior had been observed in the intervening 200-plus years — until now.
Dams threaten future of Amazonian biodiversity major new study warns [06/06/2016]
- An international team of biologists has studied the past and current impacts on biodiversity of 191 existing Amazon dams, and the potential impacts of 246 dams planned or under construction. - Researchers identified negative interactions between dam construction, mining, industrial agriculture, commerce and transportation, climate change, and human migration that would likely seriously impact biodiversity and ecosystem services. - Aquatic and terrestrial species that especially rely on fast-flowing river segments for habitat are greatly at risk, because such sites are the most targeted for hydropower projects. - Solutions that could better protect biodiversity include a move away from mega-dams and other big infrastructure projects toward smaller dams; more careful hydro project siting; more wind and solar projects; and a more rigorous planning process that carefully considers environmental, indigenous, social and financial costs.
10 reasons to be optimistic for forests [06/05/2016]
- It's easy to be pessimistic about the state of the world's forests. - Yet all hope is not lost. There are remain good reasons for optimism when it comes to saving the world's forests. - On the occasion of World Environment Day 2016 (June 5), the United Nations’ "day" for raising awareness and encouraging action to protect the planet, here are 10 forest-friendly trends to watch.
Dams flood 36,000 hectares of Brazilian rainforest [05/23/2016]
- The flooding is linked to two hydropower projects on the Madeira River in the western state of Rondônia. - Much of the flooding occurred in primary rainforest that was once part of a national park. - The deforestation has released millions of tons carbon dioxide. - Biologists say that the dams could be harming species of catfish that migrate long distances to breeding grounds, as well as changing nutrient flows in the river.
Proposed Amazon dam attracts illegal loggers, threatens local farmers [05/19/2016]
- Dam construction in remote parts of the Amazon is historically proceeded by increased lawlessness as illegal loggers and squatters flock to the project site to cut timber and make land grabs from longtime farmers and other settlers. - The proposed São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower plant on the Tapajós River has seen a rapid uptick in criminal activity, as loggers and squatters try to force residents from their lands, and make homesteaders take part in illegal logging schemes. - Federal and state law enforcement is overstretched in the region, with just 60 personnel to cover an area three times the size of Florida. So the homesteaders are poorly protected from threats and violence. - Rapid development of dams, canals, roads, railways and ports is aimed at turning the Tapajós basin into a major soy and grain transportation hub — a transformation likely to uproot the region’s long time small landholders.
Tapajós dam puts newly discovered species, indigenous people at risk [05/17/2016]
- The proposed Sao Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, in the state of Pará, will have a maximum generating capacity of 8,040 megawatts, and if it is ever built, will cost an estimated R$ 23 billion (US$ 5.8 billion). - The dam’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) identified eight mammals new to science and endemic to the region that will be flooded — these include a new monkey, marsupial, rodents and bats. - The EIA has been deeply criticized by conservationists and scientists, who loudly deny its conclusion that the dam will have no major environmental impacts. Critics also note the urgent need to evaluate not just the impacts of this single dam, but those of at least 6 others to be built in conjunction with it. - The fate of these new species, their habitat, and the indigenous and river people who rely on them for survival is unknown: Brazil’s economic crisis, president Rousseff’s impeachment, and a new conservative interim government has put infrastructure projects such as dams in limbo — for now.
Gold mining shifts course of Peruvian river, ‘will destroy’ ecosystems [05/16/2016]
- Gold mining is encroaching along the Malinowski River into Tambopata National Reserve, a protected area in southern Peru. - Researchers have been tracking deforestation associated with the illegal mining. Now they've found something else: mining has altered the course of the Malinowski River, as well as its water quality - River experts warn this will have devastating repercussions for the river's wildlife.
Keeping Amazon fish connected is key to their conservation [05/13/2016]
- Amazon basin fish species living in lakes, floodplain forests and river systems need a high degree of connectivity to stay genetically diverse and healthy, but this connectivity is threatened by proposed dams and increased drought due to climate change — both of which threaten rainy season flood cycles. - A new study finds that understanding the dynamics of Amazon metapopulations —subgroups separated from other subgroups in lakes and river systems, which periodically mix during flood seasons or migrations — is critical to conservation. - Unless Brazil’s federal government and communities take freshwater conservation seriously — protecting interlinked lake, floodplain and river systems — commercial fisheries, and even forest diversity (due to fish seed dispersal) could be seriously at risk.
Brazilian soy industry extends moratorium on deforestation indefinitely [05/09/2016]
- The Brazilian soy industry has indefinitely extended a landmark moratorium on rainforest clearing for soybean production. - The agreement, first signed in 2006 after a Greenpeace campaign, had previously been renewed on an annual basis, regularly raising fears among environmentalists that it might not be renewed despite its success in helping curb deforestation for soy production in the Brazilian Amazon. - Brazilian soy exports were worth $31 billion in 2015.
RSPO orders Peruvian palm oil plantation to stop development [05/05/2016]
- Plantaciones de Pucallpa is one of several industrial agriculture companies operating in Peru. It has been developing a palm oil plantation over the last several years. - Researchers and conservationists say its development of a palm oil plantation in central Peru has deforested primary forest, while an indigenous community alleges that much of this development is happening on its ancentral lands. - The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil issued a stop-work order to Plantaciones de Pucallpa in response to a complaint from the local Shipibo community. - The following week, a letter was issued by more than 60 groups in Peru and around the world recommending the removal of its parent company, United Cacao, from the London Stock Exchange due to the legal disputes surrounding the company's plantations in Peru.
Brazil is scaling back its protected area network and the short-term effect on forests might surprise you [05/05/2016]
- A team led by researchers at the University of Maryland created a comprehensive spatial database and documented all enacted and proposed PADDD events since 1900 to get a sense of how the program was impacting forests. - They identified 67 enacted PADDD events that affected 112,477 square kilometers (nearly 28 million acres) of land and eliminated 6 percent of Brazil's total protected areas. - “Contrary to previous research, we did not find a significant causal effect of enacted PADDD events on short-term deforestation rates,” the authors of the study write. “[R]ather, short-term deforestation rates in PADDDed forests appear correlated with broader patterns of deforestation.”
Brazil’s Congress moves ahead to end nation’s environmental safeguards [05/05/2016]
- A Brazilian Senate Commission is quickly, and surreptitiously, moving forward a constitutional amendment (PEC 65) that would end the need for environmental assessment approvals for public works projects in Brazil ranging from Amazon dams to roads and canals, and oil infrastructure. - PEC 65 would devastate Brazil’s environment and indigenous groups, taking away legal protections now guaranteed in the building of new infrastructure projects, say blindsided environmental groups who are mobilizing to stop the amendment’s passage. - Senator Blairo Maggi, who put forward the amendment, owns companies that produce and export soybeans, and that provide soy sector infrastructure (constructing terminals, highways and waterways). - Maggi would likely benefit financially from the building of a canal system able to transport soy products from Brazil’s interior along with dams proposed for the Tapajós basin — the first of which, the Sao Luiz do Tapajós dam, saw its environmental license cancelled in April by IBAMA, Brazil’s licensing agency.
Indigenous and forest community leaders tour the EU to call for conflict-free palm oil [05/04/2016]
- The delegation revealed new evidence of the involvement of European institutions in financing palm oil grown on illegally deforested lands and highlighted accounts of human and environmental rights violations compiled by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and the Environmental Investigation Agency, both UK-based NGOs. - Palm oil is used in thousands of products, from peanut butter and ice cream to household cleaning products, toothpaste, and shampoo. It is also one of the leading drivers of illegal tropical deforestation and social conflict. - A disproportionate amount of so-called “conflict palm oil” is destined for the European Union, research has shown.
Ethics, sustainability, and Amazon hydropower: mission impossible? [05/04/2016]
- The Inambari dam would have flooded 46,000 hectares and displaced thousands of people in the Peruvian Amazon. It was a project of EGASUR, a consortium led by Eletrobras, a Brazilian firm. The dam met great opposition and was cancelled in 2011. - Researchers analyzed the Inambari dam Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) commissioned by EGASUR and Eletrobras, and found that the EIA was guided less by the sustainable commitments expressed by the companies than by financial gain. - The scientists urge the incorporation of similar ethical analyses in large-scale infrastructure projects that have multiple stakeholders, and which can have large impacts on the wellbeing of the environment, communities, nations and the world.
Leonardo DiCaprio invests in company, donates shares to Amazon indigenous organization [05/03/2016]
- DiCaprio’s investment in RUNA is being called an innovative model for environmental philanthropy. - DiCaprio donated a portion of his investment to the Coordinating Organization of the indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA), an advocacy group dedicated to ensuring Amazonian indigenous peoples’ rights and conserving the forests in their traditional territories. - Indigenous Kichwa communities traditionally drink guayasa, a naturally caffeinated tree leaf brewed like tea, early in the morning and late at night.
Booming soy industry could threaten Brazil’s climate commitments, researchers warn [05/03/2016]
- Brazil was one of the 175 countries that signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement on April 22. - Brazil has become a major exporter of soy over the past decade, supplying as much as one-third of global trade in the commodity, and officials said last week that they expect a record soybean crop this year. - Thanks to increasing profits from soybeans, farmers not only have a greater incentive to expand their production and clear new areas, but they also have the investment capital they need to keep growing, researchers said — and at a time when the political will to enact new environmental protections is weakening.
Peru’s climate commitments threatened by advancing oil palm [04/28/2016]
- The Peruvian State declared oil-palm production as being in the national interest in the year 2000. - Loreto, the region with the most forest in Peru (44%) with 32,451 hectares is being affected by the large-scale production of oil palm. - Palmas del Shanusi and Palmas del Oriente had logged 16,800 hectares of primary forests by September 2015.
Illegal logging “mafia” arrested in Peru [04/27/2016]
- A joint action by the Ucuyali public prosecutor’s office and a specialized environmental police force arrested 19 members of the gang, including two police officers and two regional forestry officials with Ucuyali’s Dirección General de Fauna y Flora Silvestre. - Nearly 70,000 Peruvian Sol (a little over $20,000) were seized in the joint action, along with two trucks and a trailer loaded with illegal timber. - This is the first time that Peru has used laws against organized crime to combat the extraction and trade of illegal timber.
Conventional survey techniques underestimate Amazon biodiversity: report [04/25/2016]
- A study led by Stanford University scientists found that conventional surveying techniques have not only led to some Amazon animal populations being underestimated, but have even missed entire species altogether. - The researchers tapped the expert knowledge of local Indigenous hunters while performing a conventional line transect survey as a control study in order to reach that conclusion. - The researchers say their results suggest that sign surveys may be the most efficient method for management-oriented studies conducted in large, remote areas, particularly for studies focused on community-based wildlife management.
Amazon mega-dam suspended, providing hope for indigenous people and biodiversity [04/22/2016]
- Of the forty new dams proposed for the Tapajós watershed in the Amazon, the largest would be the São Luiz do Tapajós dam with an 8,040 megawatt generating capacity, which would flood almost 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) and deforest 2,200 square kilometers (849 square miles). - The vast Tapajós Basin dam complex would be a disaster to Amazon biodiversity, and wreck indigenous and river communities, but likely fail to meet its energy and investor goals due to escalating drought due to climate change, according to environmentalists. - This Wednesday, IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Resources suspended the São Luiz do Tapajós dam’s license, citing its threat to the Indigenous lands of the Munduruku Indians, a land claim just recently recognized by FUNAI, Brazil’s National Indian Foundation. The decision could still be reversed by the Brazilian government — as has happened with other Amazon dams. - IBAMA’s decision comes a week after Greenpeace published an extensive report that enumerates the dam’s many threats to wildlife — including turtles, caimans, giant river otters, and Amazon dolphins — and to the lifestyles and livelihoods of indigenous groups and people living along the Tapajós River.
Iriri River families fight to keep their Amazonian homelands [04/21/2016]
- Brazilian officials are establishing new ecological stations and conserved lands all across the nation, preserves where all human habitation is banned, despite the fact that people may have settled these areas long ago. - One such place is the 3.4 million hectare ecological station, Estaçāo Ecológica da Terra do Meio (EsecTM) on the Iriri River, where 15 Amazon families settled long before the preserve was created. The government wants to expel the colonos (settlers) and beiradeiros (river people). But their sustainable lifestyles may not only be of benefit to the local forests, but also a boon to the rest of the world. - Importantly, the river settlers have developed new crops, including drought resistant types of manioc, plus varieties with different dietary properties, that can be harvested throughout the year at different times. - Some of these new crops are not known to Brazil’s primary agricultural research institute, and could, if cultivated on a large-scale, help feed a hungry world under pressure from climate change and other stressors.
Major Brazilian supermarket chain will stop stocking Amazon-destroying beef [04/14/2016]
- Pão de Açúcar, which operates 832 stores across Brazil, has pledged to stop stocking its shelves with beef linked to Amazon deforestation or produced by enslaved workers by June 30. - Of the deforestation that occurred between 2008 and 2012, more than 60 percent is used as pastureland, according to the Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. - Environmental activists hailed Pão de Açúcar’s decision as a major victory for the Amazon, but cautioned that the hard work still must be done.
Brazil’s Cerrado region: A new tropical deforestation hotspot [04/08/2016]
- A vast tropical savannah comprised of interspersed grasslands and forests, Brazil's Cerrado is being converted for agricultural purposes at an alarming rate, researchers have found. - The researchers used satellite data to determine that cropland within a 45 million-hectare study area has doubled over the past decade, increasing from 1.3 million hectares in 2003 to 2.5 million hectares in 2013. - Crops are replacing the Cerrado’s natural vegetation so quickly, in fact, that the scientists say it could impact the region’s water cycle.
BNDES Speaks Out: giant Brazilian bank offers rare in-depth interview [04/06/2016]
- Founded in the 1950s, BNDES today is the largest development bank in the Americas. Through the decades, serving both the military dictatorship and elected governments, the bank helped elevate Brazil into the world’s top ten economies. - BNDES has predominantly focused its energy and investments on massive public works — dams, the power grid, highways, ports, canals, and other infrastructure construction projects, in both Brazil and across South America. - Criticisms of the bank are many: that it focuses on infrastructure at the expense of the environment, indigenous people and the poor, that it backs huge companies and mega-projects, while smaller programs could do more good for the people of Brazil. - A common critique is that BNDES lacks transparency, and is unwilling to open a productive dialogue with environmental and social NGOs. Here in a Mongabay exclusive, BNDES offers an in-depth interview, laying out its record and point of view.
Report from the Amazon #5: Iriri River folk may be forced from their homes to protect the environment they love [04/04/2016]
- In the early 2000s, the Brazilian government set up a 3.4 million hectare (13,000 square mile) ecological station, the Estaçāo Ecológica da Terra do Meio (EsecTM) along the Iriri River in the Amazon. - The colonos (settlers) and beiradeiros (river people) already living along the river aren’t part of the plan. So the government wants to expel them, even though the people live sustainably, and in harmony with the land. - If scientists study the ways of the colonos and beiradeiros, they may discover elements within their simple lifestyles that could not only aid people living across Amazonia, but tropical farmers around the world. - For example, the scientific team was fascinated by terra preta, rich black earth laid down by indigenous people long ago. It stays fertile, without enrichment, a valued trait where most tropical soils are thin and infertile.
BNDES: a bank loans billions to tame South America’s wild waters [03/29/2016]
- BNDES is funding Brazilian construction companies to build large Amazon basin hydroelectric projects. Critics argue these dams lack sufficient safeguards for the environment, local people and indigenous groups. - More controversial are the bank’s loans for international projects, part of a grand scheme known as IIRSA (Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America). Nearly 600 projects are under the IIRSA umbrella. - IIRSA is exploiting remote natural resources by linking them into the global economy via a vast energy, transportation and communication grid — a plan some say is aimed at making Brazil a major regional power. - BNDES is a key IIRSA funder and has made massive loans to Brazilian construction firms for international projects that some say could do irreparable harm to the continent’s biodiversity.
Report from the Amazon #4: Indigenous and non-indigenous cultures, once hostile to each other, now mingle [03/24/2016]
- A small team of fact-finding researchers heads up the Iriri River, stopping at the village of Tukaya in time to enjoy a festival with the Xipaya Indians and their non-indigenous neighbors, the beiradeiros (river people). - The two cultures, which once loathed each other, are experiencing a slow, contradictory, mixing of traditions. Older Indians sometimes deny and downplay their indigenous heritage, while younger ones embrace and celebrate it. Of course, the younger Indians have also wholeheartedly adopted some modern conveniences, like disposable diapers. - Likewise the beiradeiros: they once enjoyed more privileges than the much abused Indians, but now complain that those living in the federally declared indigenous reserves have more advantages than their riverine counterparts. The day ends symbolically with a festival, as Indians and river people — antagonists long ago — join together in a community dance.
Conservation giant puts $100M into Amazon protected areas [03/23/2016]
- The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has pledged another $100 million toward efforts to establish and support protected areas across the Andes-Amazon landscape. - The five-year commitment, announced yesterday, builds on the $358 million Moore has already invested in Amazon conservation areas and indigenous territories since 2001. - According to the foundation, the initiative will focus on three "priority strategies": creating and consolidating existing reserves and indigenous territories; supporting policy that incorporates forest protection into land-use planning; and securing funding mechanisms, management systems, and monitoring platforms for national parks.
Ecuadorean government aims to stop one road from going into Amazon [03/21/2016]
- One can only enter the province via plane or river boat; the local roadways don't connect to all parts of the province. - The government argues that the road project doesn't follow the technical and environmental norms, and as it is, it affects the water, soil, and vegetation in the area. - The environment ministry will design a management plan for the Kutukú-Shaimi Protected Forest.
BNDES funded Belo Monte dam — a mega-project with mega-problems [03/17/2016]
- Massive BNDES infusions of cash have made, and are making, gigantic hydroelectric projects and other major infrastructure possible in the Amazon Basin of Brazil, and in the Andes Amazon of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. - However, mounting evidence shows that some of these projects, while incredibly lucrative for the Brazilian companies that construct them, may be financially, environmentally and socially unsound. - A case in point is the just completed Belo Monte dam, a huge hydroelectric power station on the Xingu River, a major Amazon tributary. Belo Monte received one of the largest loans in BNDES history, but much about the project, from the way it was conceived to its implementation, to its environmental and social impacts, has been controversial — and critics say that the dam could end up being Brazil’s biggest BNDES-funded boondoggle.
Report from the Amazon #3: Iriri River offers up examples of sustainable and unsustainable business [03/16/2016]
- A fact-finding trip heads up the Iriri River and lands at the small river port of Maribel to talk with locals who are surprisingly willing to give up their homes for the establishment of a new indigenous reserve — provided the government follows through with resettlement and compensation promises. - At the confluence of the Nova River, a small family-run Brazil nut processing center operates legally and sustainably within the Iriri River Extractive Reserve — a conservation territory in which limited designated economic activity is allowed. Their 20-family business utilizes the forest without destroying it. - The research team stops to visit the ruins of Brazilian businessman Julio Vito Pentagna Guimarāes’s once vast cattle ranch, now returned to rainforest. He was notorious for his brutality and for committing one of the biggest Amazon land frauds ever. The government seized the ranch and turned it into an ecological station; he faces civil and criminal charges.
Toddler’s murder in Brazil unveils widespread violence against country’s indigenous [03/16/2016]
- What's remarkable about the attacks against the indigenous population, is the fact that the murder of an indigenous toddler has generated so little outrage within Brazilian society. - For many years in Brazil, a negative construct surrounded indigenous people: they were seen as lazy individuals, who didn't like to work. - Some critics argue that yet another type of violence faced by indigenous peoples is the failure of the government to act.
BNDES has long history of loans to gigantic construction companies [03/14/2016]
- Billions in BNDES loans fuelled the meteoric rise of the Four Sisters — a quartet of mega-construction companies that have dominated Brazilian politics for decades. These companies have been implicated in bribery, kickbacks, rigged bids, inflated contracts, social and environmental harm. This overwhelming Brazilian corruption led to a protest on March 13, 2016 in which more than a million people took to the street around the nation. - As the development bank experienced rapid growth, so too did the Four Sisters, into which it poured low interest subsidized loans for gigantic infrastructure projects both in Brazil and across South America — including Amazon dams, roads, railways, ports and more. - The Four Sisters — Odebrecht, OAS, Camargo Corrêa and Andrade Gutierrez — have long been accused of financial crimes, with former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht sentenced to 19-years for corruption last week. BNDES, though it has loaned billions to the firms, has not been charged with any offenses.
Gold mining in Venezuela: a “perfect storm” of illegality, deforestation and mafias [03/11/2016]
- The first scientific studies found large amounts of mercury in the blood, hair and tissue of settlers in riverside communities. - Mining in Venezuela dates back to 1829, when almost 486 kilograms of gold were extracted. Mercury has been used to extract it ever since. - Late last year President Nicolás Maduro, pressured by environmental groups, approved the Mining Development Plan 2016-2018, which handed over mining activities to the state.
Report from the Amazon #2: Newly created conservation unit could push long-time residents from their lands [03/11/2016]
- The recently created Estaçāo Ecológica da Terra do Meio (EsecTM, Terra do Meio Ecological Station) covers 3.4 million hectares (over 13,000 square miles), between the Amazon basin’s Xingu and Iriri rivers, and was created to discourage land grabs and violence. But the preserve has accidentally threatened the livelihoods and homes of families living there. - The Altamira Public Prosecutor is working to protect the lands of this small group of beiradeiros. She sent a fact-finding team upriver to determine if the families’ small-scale economic activities are negatively impacting the ecosystem, or if, as some scientists suspect, their lifestyle has reshaped and even benefited the environment. - If the 15 families are doing negligible harm, the prosecutor will ask the local judge to allow them to stay. A favorable decision could reverberate throughout the Amazon. It would legally challenge environmental protection as the sole land use priority inside Brazil’s ecological stations and other preserves, and recognize value of low impact human use there.
Mato Grosso leading the fight against climate change and deforestation (commentary) [03/10/2016]
- If we slow tropical forest clearing and degradation while promoting their recovery, humanity could potentially reduce global carbon pollution by a quarter or more, buying precious time to wean our energy systems from fossil fuels. - Mato Grosso provides important lessons on how this opportunity could be seized. - This post is a commentary - the views expressed are those of the author.
Giant development bank’s social and environmental safeguards called into question by critics [03/09/2016]
- After a period of rapid growth, Brazil’s BNDES is today the largest development bank in the Americas. It has poured billions of dollars into big infrastructure projects, including immense hydroelectric dams across the Amazon basin, seen by many critics and indigenous groups as causing great harm to local riverine communities and the environment. - From 2003-2011, President Lula da Silva used BNDES to make large loans to “Brazilian champions,” big companies such as the Four Sisters (a quartet of giant Brazilian construction firms), and Petrobrás (the state-run oil company). Those firms developed close ties with political parties, setting the stage for the now ongoing Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption scandal. - In recent weeks, former president Lula was detained by police over possible bribes and kickbacks channeled through inflated Petrobrás contracts, while the CEO of Odebrecht SA, Latin America’s largest construction firm, was given a 19-year sentence for bribery and money laundering. BNDES has loaned billions to Odebrecht, Petrobrás and other firms accused of wrongdoing, but investigators have made no accusations against the bank. Recently, BNDES responded to critics, making positive changes to improve transparency and responsiveness.
An indigenous community takes hostages in an effort to draw attention to oil spill in Peru’s Amazon [03/08/2016]
- The contamination on the Cashacaño River covered 4,000 square feet of Mayuriaga, in Wampis indigenous territory. - Despite being dubbed the "Mayuriaga oil spill,” the community did not end up in the official list of affected groups; those who needed emergency equipment or special attention. - In a press release published yesterday by the Air Force, it was said that the hostages "were being treated adequately and are in perfect shape, as is the helicopter."
Bringing field surveys into the modern, mobile world [03/05/2016]
- Open Data Kit, a set of free and open-source survey tools, can integrate GPS locations, photos, videos and audio files into customized forms, while also working off-the-grid. - Users can transfer data collected in the field from the mobile device to a server and upload to Excel, Google Maps, or more sophisticated statistical analysis software. - Open Data Kit requires electricity to charge mobile devices, as well as the physical presence of surveyors to conduct the interviews, but its use can simplify data processing.
A month since the oil spill, Wampis indigenous peoples criticize PetroPeru’s negligence [03/04/2016]
- On February 3, 1,000 more barrels of oil ended up on the Cashacaño River, affecting 4,000 square feet of the Wampis peoples' territory. - Many of the nearby communities have tried to clean up 2,000 barrels of oil amongst themselves, while the company responsible for the spill, PetroPeru, took too long to respond and send help. - Since April 2011, Peru's environmental agency has documented 20 similar problems.
Report from the Amazon #1: Altamira, a city transformed by the Belo Monte dam [03/04/2016]
- In January 2016, journalist Sue Branford travelled to Brazil to report for Mongabay on how plans for new Amazon basin dams are impacting local people and the environment - Her first stop was Altamira on the Xingu River, a staging area for the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric project now nearing completion. Long time residents lament the loss of the forests and grittiness of the town. - In Altamira, Branford joins a small research team for a trip to the Terra do Meio, one of the Amazon’s most remote areas. This is the first of six reports from her trip.