Earth has more trees now than 35 years ago [08/15/2018]
- Tree cover increased globally over the past 35 years, finds a paper published in the journal Nature. - The study, led by Xiao-Peng Song and Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland, is based on analysis of satellite data from 1982 to 2016. - The research found that tree cover loss on the tropics was outweighed by tree cover gain in subtropical, temperate, boreal, and polar regions. - However all the tree cover data comes with an important caveat: tree cover is not necessarily forest cover.
Brazil austerity policies devastating to rural communities: analysis [08/14/2018]
- Since taking power in 2016, Michel Temer has drastically cut Brazil’s social programs, especially impacting poor rural families. These austerity measures also adversely affect the natural world, with one social program linked to sustainability eliminated, and with struggling rural families less likely to protect, and more likely to exploit, natural resources to meet minimal economic needs. - In 2013, the Bolsa Familia benefit program benefited 14 million Brazilian families, with its success recognized internationally. In 2016, President Temer committed to reducing the number of people receiving Bolsa Família aid by 10 percent. By July 2017, 1.5 million fewer people received the benefit than in July 2014. - Launched in 2011, the Bolsa Verde program’s goal was to give financial incentives to people in poverty who were behaving in an environmentally conscientious way. Traditional river-dwellers, indigenous populations, Quilombos (communities of runaway slave descendants) and other rural communities benefited. The Temer administration has zeroed out the program’s budget. - Other social programs seeing draconian funding cuts are the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), a federal initiative that buys produce from small-scale family farmers and then offers it to public institutions such as schools and hospitals; and the National Cisterns Program, which brings cutting edge rainwater management and storage technologies to poor communities in need.
Ruralists in Brazilian congress put nation’s protected areas at risk [08/14/2018]
- Bill PL 3,751 / 2015, moving through the Brazilian congress, would set a five-year deadline for the resolution of land issues and disputes, such as land ownership conflicts, in protected areas. If issues were not resolved within that timeframe, a protected area could have its protected status removed. - There are currently more than 100 protected areas that have not had their permanent status implemented, and they would all be at risk. If this bill was applied retroactively to these areas, over 17 million hectares (roughly 66,000 square miles) — over half of all currently protected areas in Brazil — would be threatened. - In a letter published in Science, Brazilian scientists denounced the bill, calling it an attack on the networks of conserved lands that support biodiversity and arguing that the legislation conflicts with the Brazilian constitution. - The bill has passed in the Brazilian Environment Committee and awaits a vote in the Finance and Taxation Committee. Though presidential elections could delay the process, it is likely the committee vote will occur in 2018. Analysts think passage is likely, which could threaten preserved areas in the Amazon, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, Pantanal, and Caatinga.
Trase.earth tracks commodities, links supply chains to deforestation risk [08/13/2018]
- Launched in 2016, Trase is an innovative Internet tool, available to anyone, which tracks commodities supply chains in detail from source to market, and can also connect those chains to environmental harm, including deforestation. Until the advent of Trase, knowledge of supply chains was sketchy and difficult to obtain. - The Trase Yearbook 2018 is the first in an annual series of reports on countries and companies trading in such commodities as soy, sugarcane and maize, which also assesses the deforestation risk associated with those crops, making it a vital tool for environmentalists, governments, investors and other interested parties. - The Yearbook shows that in 2016 the Brazilian soy supply chain was dominated by just six key players – Bunge, Cargill, ADM, COFCO, Louis Dreyfus and Amaggi – accounting for 57 percent of soy exported. In the past ten years, these six firms were also associated with more than 65 percent of the total deforestation in Brazil. - Trase shows that zero-deforestation commitments (ZDCs) have so far not resulted in greatly reduced deforestation risk for the commodities companies and countries making them. Between 2006 and 2016, soy traders with ZDCs, as compared to non-committed firms, were associated with similar levels of deforestation risk.
Death foretold? A courageous Amazon peasant couple resists illegal loggers [08/10/2018]
- The Terra do Meio (Land in the Middle) is a continuous mosaic of protected areas, 20 indigenous territories and 10 conservation units covering 28 million hectares in the heart of the Amazon and intended as a buffer against illegal deforestation and land theft. As big as Colorado, it represents one of the world’s largest areas of conserved tropical rainforest. - Today, this vast conserved area in Pará state is under great pressure from organized crime and illegal loggers, with the Riozinho do Anfrísio Extractivist Reserve one of the most assaulted by illicit timber harvesters in all of Amazonia. The Areia settlement, created by the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INCRA) in 1988, lies adjacent to the reserve. - Areia’s residents have suffered for decades from threats of violence and murder from the illegal loggers, with many locals abandoning their land or giving in to the criminals. Organic farmers Osvalinda Maria Marcelino Pereira and Daniel Pereira have resisted, holding onto their plot, with Osvalinda founding the Association of the Women of Areia. - Hounded by hired gunmen and threatened with death, the two have become isolated and are now seeking outside support for their cause. Federal agencies have offered little help, and there are allegations that the illegal loggers are being shielded from prosecution. Similarly desperate situations are occurring among peasant farmers across Amazonia.
Camera trap videos help protect biodiversity of Bigal River Biological Reserve in Ecuador [08/09/2018]
- Bigal River Biological Reserve is located in the southern buffer zone of Ecuador’s Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, a less-explored national park that the biological reserve helps to protect, according to Thierry Garcia of the Sumac Muyu Foundation, which founded and manages the reserve. - As part of its Bigal River Conservation Project, the Sumac Muyu Foundation has maintained camera traps in the reserve since 2014 and has collected hundreds of hours of footage showing big mammals like jaguars and tapirs as well as rare birds and other species going about their business in the foothill forests. - The main goals of the camera trap program run by the Sumac Muyu Foundation include documenting the mammals present in the reserve and which parts of the reserve they tend to roam, as well as monitoring those mammal populations and studying variations in their behavior due to natural forest dynamics or human pressures.
In Ecuador, a pipeline cuts a trail of misery through indigenous land [08/09/2018]
- The construction of an oil pipeline without the necessary permits has led to the destruction of the ancestral forests of the Siona indigenous community in San José de Wisuyá on the shores of the Putumayo River between Ecuador and Colombia. - The project has had far-reaching effects on the community’s long-held cultural traditions and practices, including the loss of medicinal plants and pollution of water sources. - For more than two years, the community has sought reparations from the companies that constructed the oil pipeline, but the state ombudsman and the Ministry of Environment have yet to provide a definitive resolution.
Fire, more than logging, drives Amazon forest degradation, study finds [08/06/2018]
- Forest degradation has historically been overlooked in accounting and monitoring carbon stocks. - A recent study combined ground-based inventory, satellite and LiDAR data to record the loss of carbon due to forest degradation in areas exposed to logging, fire damage, or both, in the arc of deforestation of the southeastern Amazon. - The study revealed that fire damage causes greater losses than logging, and fire-damaged forests recovered more slowly than logged forests. - Accurate depictions of both deforestation and degradation are necessary to establish emissions baselines used to inform programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).
Chinese / Western financing of roads, dams led to major Andes Amazon deforestation [08/01/2018]
- International development finance institutions (DFIs) invested heavily in large-scale infrastructure projects that triggered significant deforestation in the Andes Amazon especially within the nations of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia between 2000 and 2015, according to recent research published by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. - Using satellite data, the study analyzed 84 large infrastructure projects and determined that the area around them experienced tree cover loss at a rate of over four times the average seen in comparable areas without such projects in those countries. That’s a forest carbon-sink loss equivalent to the combined annual CO2 emissions of Colombia, Chile and Ecuador. - Infrastructure now accounts for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet DFIs want to increase future lending from billions to trillions to meet global demand. This could imperil national Paris Climate Agreement goals (which in countries like Brazil are linked to preventing deforestation), and also could add to potentially catastrophic global carbon emission levels. - The study isn’t merely academic: More than $70 billion in infrastructure projects, supported by development banks and the private sector, are planned for the Amazon basin between now and 2020. The researchers hope lessons learned from past infrastructure projects and highlighted in their study will improve future project oversight to help curb deforestation.
Tracking the shift of tropical forests from carbon sink to source [07/31/2018]
- Improved maps of carbon stocks, along with a better understanding of how tropical forests respond to climate change, are necessary to meet the challenge of keeping the global temperature below a 2-degree-Celsius (3.6-degree-Fahrenheit) rise, according to scientist Edward Mitchard of the University of Edinburgh. - Currently, tropical forests take up roughly the same amount of carbon as is released when they’re cleared or degraded. - But climatic changes, which lead to more droughts and fires resulting in the loss of tropical trees, could shift the balance, making tropical forests a net source of atmospheric carbon.
Deforestation skyrockets in the Amazon rainforest [07/25/2018]
- Deforestation is mushrooming in the Brazilian Amazon, according to Imazon. - Imazon’s data shows deforestation hit 1,169 square kilometers in June 2018, the highest level since the NGO began monthly tracking in April 2007. - While month-to-month data from short-term deforestation tracking systems is notoriously variable, June’s number comes on the heels of 634 square kilometers of forest loss in May. - Scientists have warned that Brazil seems to be reversing course after a historic drop in deforestation.
Temer’s deforestation policies put Paris goals at risk, scientists warn [07/24/2018]
- A letter in the journal Nature Climate Change penned by ten prominent Brazilian scientists is making a splash in major Brazilian media outlets. They warn that weak environmental governance by the Temer administration and the bancada ruralista, agribusiness and mining lobby, is resulting in policies that are increasing deforestation. - The scientists especially singled out Temer, noting that: “the President of Brazil has signed provisional acts and decrees lowering environmental licensing requirements, suspending the ratification of indigenous lands, reducing the size of protected areas and facilitating land grabbers to obtain the deeds of illegally deforested areas.” - The scientists say that these policies are undermining attempts to reduce deforestation and the CO2 emissions that clear cutting causes. As a result, Brazil may need to spend US$2-5 trillion additionally to curb its carbon emissions by other means in order to hit the nation’s Paris Climate Agreement targets. - The warning comes as Brazil gears up for October national elections. Environmental issues rarely have a great influence on Brazilian voters, but the scientists hope that knowledge of the severe and costly consequences of the current government’s policies could help better inform Brazilians as they go to the polls.
Soy giant Louis Dreyfus pledges deforestation-free supply chain [07/16/2018]
- The Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), a global commodities trader, has announced a plan to eliminate the destruction of native vegetation from its soy supply chain in Brazil and across Latin America. Particularly important to environmentalists, LDC pledges to avoid buying soy from producers who have caused new deforestation in the Cerrado biome. - The Amazon Soy Moratorium, instituted in 2006 via an agreement between Greenpeace and global commodities companies, has been credited with vastly reducing the cutting of forests to make way for soy planting there. But the companies, until now, have resisted making a similar commitment in the Cerrado, where soy-caused deforestation is rampant. - Many environmentalists are hailing LDC’s new deforestation commitment, though they note that the pledge has yet to be backed by implementation and timeline details. - Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, has also just announced the planned launch this year of a certification system that will only source soy from areas that have been certified as deforestation-free. From 2025 onward, the company also plans to transition to sourcing only from “zero deforestation areas.”
Extractive industries threaten a million square kilometers of intact tropical forests around the globe [07/12/2018]
- According to a recent report, mining companies currently have claims on 11 percent of all intact rainforests left in the world, meaning 590,000 square kilometers (227,800 square miles) of pristine tropical forest ecosystems are at risk. That’s an area larger than France. - Oil and gas concessions, meanwhile, cover 8 percent of tropical intact forest landscapes (IFLs). That’s another 408,000 square kilometers (157,529 square miles), roughly the size of the US state of California. - The report, issued by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) last month, assesses the threats from extractive industries to the 5.2 million square kilometers, or just over 2 million square miles, of tropical IFLs left in the world. In total, nearly one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of those intact tropical forests are potentially threatened by extractive activities.
Brazil’s political storm driving Amazon deforestation higher [07/09/2018]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was dramatically reduced between 2005 and 2015, surged in 2016, then fell in 2017. Preliminary figures from IMAZON suggest the trend has now reversed, with deforestation up 22 percent between August 2017 and May 2018, compared to the same period the prior year. But, so far, official confirmation from INPE of this surge is lacking. - Experts say the source of the uptick lies with land-grabbers emboldened by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, which has won many recent legislative and administrative victories, drastically cutting environmental and indigenous agency budgets, and pushing bills to shrink conservation units and erode indigenous land rights. - A recent Forest Code Supreme Court ruling may have further encouraged wealthy land-grabbers, when it granted billions in amnesty, forgiving fines against many guilty of illegal deforestation. Today, Pará’s Triunfo Xingu Area of Environmental Protection and the Indigenous Territory of Apyterewa are especially threatened by land-grabbing. - So is Pará’s Jamanxim National Forest; land thieves there hope congress will pass a bill to dismember the preserve, along with other Brazilian conservation units. Environmentalists worry that the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president, dubbed “Brazil’s Trump,” in October could send deforestation rates soaring.
Smartphone app helps indigenous communities fight deforestation [07/02/2018]
- Using a system called ForestLink developed by Rainforest Foundation UK, members of the Masenawa community documented the presence of an illegal gold mining camp in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. - The police then responded by destroying the mining equipment at the camp and arresting five people suspected of participating in illegal mining. - The biodiverse Madre de Dios region of the Amazon has been besieged by illegal gold mining, which has caused widespread deforestation.
Leprosy prevalent among Amazon’s armadillos, study finds [06/29/2018]
- Researchers have found a high prevalence of leprosy among nine-banded armadillos in Brazil’s western state of Pará. - They also surveyed 146 people in the region and found that people who ate armadillos more than once a month showed higher signs of exposure to leprosy infection compared to people who consumed armadillos less frequently or not at all. - Overall, the study found that frequently handling armadillos, such as hunting or cleaning or cooking armadillo meat, puts people at higher risk of getting infected with leprosy.
Plant response to rising CO2 levels may alter rainfall patterns across tropics [06/28/2018]
- Stomata – the tiny pores through which plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen and water – are closing up everywhere on earth as atmospheric CO2 levels rise. This change in plant structure results in more water being stored within plants, and less being released to the atmosphere. - In a recent study scientists posit that the reduction in water released by stomata through transpiration will result in changing rainfall patterns across the tropics. Researchers used climate models to test the hypothesis, noting that while reduced transpiration will occur everywhere, tropical climates in different regions respond differently. - In South America, rainfall patterns are strongly influenced by changes in the amount of water that local plants release to the atmosphere. So if plants there retain more water, deeper droughts could result, consistent with most models. But Africa and Southeast Asia are protected from this atmospheric drying effect. - Forests in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea are encircled by humid air over warm oceans. Reduced transpiration means more warm air rising from the islands, which draws in moist ocean air, increasing rainfall even as plants release less moisture. Some scientists dispute the study conclusions, noting that climate models poorly simulate water cycling.
Could El Niño and climate change spell the end for tropical forests? [06/25/2018]
- NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) allowed scientists to study the response of the world’s tropical rainforests to the 2015-16 El Niño in more detail than every before, potentially providing insight into the longer-term response of tropical forests to escalating climate change. - During the El Niño, OCO-2 recorded a sudden global surge in CO2 emissions (above 400 ppm for a full year, the highest in modern history), an effect significantly enhanced by tropical forest emissions in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all responded to the El Niño by temporarily shifting from carbon sink to carbon source. - However, each region responded differently: El Niño brought extreme drought to South America, and trees there stopped absorbing CO2. In Southeast Asia, major forest fires raged in extremely dry conditions, quickly releasing stored carbon. In Africa, rainfall was normal, but high temperatures drove increased ecosystem respiration. - Scientists worry that a tipping point could be reached where tropical forests collapse, but more study is needed. Given the great uncertainties as to how tropical forests will respond to a warming world, taking action now to keep forests standing and healthy may offer the single best hope for mitigating negative impacts, say researchers.
Winning farmer support to reduce deforestation (commentary) [06/24/2018]
- It is critical to win farmer support for strategies to address deforestation if they are to succeed; in Brazil, farmers are economically powerful, increasingly sophisticated as a political block, and they own or control half of Brazil’s native vegetation. - They have grown weary of being vilified as criminals, of unmet promises of positive incentives for shifting to sustainable production systems, and of the chronic challenges of changing and inefficient regulations. To gain the support of conservation-minded, responsible farmers for the deforestation agenda, a new narrative and set of actions is needed that recognizes, applauds and rewards them for their efforts as it effectively includes them in dialogues. - A shared agenda is needed between environmental groups and farm sectors in Brazil to help restore collaboration; there is strong potential to build that collaboration around core issues faced by the farm sector–transportation infrastructure and inefficient and changing licensing procedures. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
New study provides blueprint to translate satellite data into conservation action [06/21/2018]
- A new paper offers a protocol to help conservation practitioners integrate forest-monitoring technology with policy to reduce illegal deforestation. - Public and private entities can more easily access the latest satellite-based remote-sensing technology to rapidly detect new deforestation, prioritize areas for action, identify the causes, and get the information to policymakers without delay. - The study calls for increased use of satellite technology to improve the monitoring, understanding and communication of deforestation events, as well as increase engagement between government institutions and civil society.
US/China trade war could boost Brazil soy export, Amazon deforestation [06/21/2018]
- President Donald Trump is pressing hard for a trade war with China. So far, he has imposed $50 billion in tariffs on the Chinese, and threatened another $200 billion; the Chinese are retaliating. An all-out U.S./China trade war could have serious unforeseen repercussions on the Brazilian Amazon, including increased deforestation, intensified pressures on indigenous groups, and escalated climate change. - The concern is that China will shift its commodities purchases, including beef and soy, away from the U.S. to Brazil. The Amazon and Cerrado biomes are already major exporters of both commodities, and are creating a boom in infrastructure construction to bring those products to market. Even without a trade war, experts expect Brazil to edge out the U.S. this year as the world´s largest soy producer. - The U.S. tariffs may already be prompting a shift in trade. Trump first threatened China with tariffs in January. By April, U.S. soy sales to China were down 70,000 metric tons compared to the same period last year. Data also shows a surge in Brazilian Amazon deforestation between February and April of 2018, compared to 2017, a possible response by Brazil soy growers eager to profit from a trade war. - If the U.S./China trade war results in a significant surge in Brazilian commodities production, deforestation rates there could soar. Scientists worry that Amazon deforestation, now at 17 percent, could be pushed past a 20-25 percent climate tipping point, converting rainforest to savanna, greatly swelling carbon emissions, and potentially destabilizing the regional and even global climate.
Oil palm plantations in Amazonia inhospitable to tropical forest biodiversity: Study [06/18/2018]
- According to a study published in the journal PloS One late last year, the Brazilian Amazon has about 2.3 million square kilometers (nearly 900,000 square miles) of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, making it one of the largest areas in the world for potential expansion of the palm oil industry. - Researchers investigated the responses of tropical forest mammals to living in a landscape made up of a mosaic of 39,000 hectares (more than 96,000 acres) of mature oil palm plantations and 64,000 hectares (a little over 158,000 acres) of primary Eastern Amazon forest patches in the Brazilian state of Pará. - They write in the study that their results in the Amazon “clearly” reinforce “the notion that oil palm plantations can be extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, as has been shown in more traditional oil palm countries in South-East Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.”
Community evicted by accused murderer seeks justice for Gabriel Filho [06/18/2018]
- Under Brazil’s 1988 constitution, all private land must serve a social function. So unused property without a social function can legally be occupied and claimed by landless communities. However, this law has created major land conflicts between large-scale landowners, who lay claim to vast properties, and landless communities seeking land. - One egregious case occurred in Tocantins state. Families began occupying, and homesteading on, an abandoned piece of land in 2007. Almost immediately, two landowners claimed the property, and began battling in court for ownership. The landless settlers stayed on the land, expecting the government to settle in their favor. - In 2010, according to witnesses, one of the landowners shot a community member through the heart, but a trial date has still not been set. In April, the alleged murderer convinced the courts of his land claim and the residents of Gabriel Filho (named for the murdered community member), were evicted, and denied access to their homes, crops and livestock. - Federal and state officials responsible for resolving the land dispute have stonewalled, and failed to take action on the community’s behalf. Legal experts say that Brazil’s landless movement typically receives little support in its land claims from government agencies or the justice system, and has gained limited sympathy from the general public.
Latam Eco Review: Paddington Bear Captured on Camera in Peru [06/15/2018]
Among the top articles from our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 4 – 10 was one about a golden spectacled bear named after Paddington Bear that was caught by a camera trap for the first time in Peru. In other news, the debate on hydroelectric plants intensifies in Colombia, and […]
Hunting, fishing causing dramatic decline in Amazon river dolphins [06/13/2018]
- Both species of Amazon river dolphin appear to be in deep decline, according to a recent study. Boto (Inia geoffrensis) populations fell by 94 percent and Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) numbers fell by 97 percent in the Mamirauá Reserve in Amazonas state, Brazil between 1994 and 2017, according to researchers. - Difficult to detect in the Amazon’s murky waters, both species are listed as “Data Deficient” by the IUCN. But researchers maintain that if region-wide surveys were conducted both species would end up being listed as Critically Endangered. - The team noticed scars from harpoon and machete injuries on the dolphins they caught. Interviews with fishermen confirmed the team’s suspicions: dolphins were being hunted for use as bait. The mammals also get entangled in nets and other fishing gear, are hunted as food, eliminated as pests, and suffer mercury poisoning. - Researchers believe the passage and enforcement of new conservation laws could save Amazon river dolphins, and halt their plunge toward extinction. But a lack of political will, drastic draconian cuts to the Brazilian environmental ministry budget, and continued illegal dolphin hunting and fishing make action unlikely for now.
Field Museum honors Peruvian organization for its conservation work with indigenous groups [06/05/2018]
- The Instituto del Bien Común, a Peruvian organization that works with indigenous communities, has received this year’s Parker/Gentry award for conservation from the Field Museum of Chicago. - The organization has mapped more than 7,000 indigenous territories in Peru, which serve as a baseline for the Peruvian government on indigenous land. - The group was also involved in the effort to designate Yaguas National Park, the country’s newest protected area, in January this year.
Taller, older trees fare better during Amazon droughts, study finds [06/01/2018]
- A new study finds that droughts will likely be harder on shorter, younger trees than on taller, older ones. But, conversely, smaller trees seem to be better at coping with higher temperatures. - They discovered that photosynthesis in forests comprised of trees that are shorter than 20 meters is three times more sensitive to rainfall inconsistency than forests where trees average 30 meters or more. The researchers think this is because taller trees are older, and older trees have deeper roots that allow them to tap into moister soil. - In the past few years, there’s been a noticeable drying trend in parts of the Amazon, one that scientists fear will only intensify as climate change ramps up.
Raid fails to stop gold mining, death threats on Amazon’s Tropas River [05/31/2018]
- Garimpeiros, gold miners, began arriving in large numbers on the Tropas River in the Tapajós basin in the 1980s. Driven out by Munduruku Indians, they returned in 2010, invading land occupied by 21 riverside indigenous communities. Despite protests by the Ipereg Ayu Movement, the Munduruku’s resistance group, the government has largely failed to act. - Today, the river is polluted as never before, and the indigenous people feel threatened. After repeated complaints by the Ipereg Ayu Movement, the federal authorities made a raid on a few mines in May, destroying some mining equipment. But the Federal Police failed to dislodge any miners currently occupying Munduruku territory. - The mine owners, in retaliation, took their protest to Brasilia. There, a federal deputy is urging passage of a bill to stop IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, from destroying seized mining equipment onsite, forcing the agency to turn it over to local authorities, many who are sympathetic to miners, and who could return the equipment to the miners. - Another bill could open all indigenous land in Brazil to large-scale mining. Many Munduruku remain defiant, and have led Tropas River patrols in an attempt to negotiate with mine owners and force them to leave. Analysts fear that, if the miners are not forced off indigenous lands and out of Crepori National Forest, violence could be inevitable.
Bolivia’s Madidi National Park home to world’s largest array of land life, survey finds [05/30/2018]
- A two-and-a-half-year biological survey of Madidi National Park in Bolivia added 1,382 species and subspecies of plants and animals to the list of those living in the park. - The team believes that 124 species and subspecies may be new to science. - WCS, the organization that led the study, said the 18,958-square-kilometer (7,320-square-mile) park is the world’s most biodiverse protected area.
Dutch support soy transport mega-project, posing major risk to Amazon [05/29/2018]
- For more than a decade, the Netherlands has vigorously supported Brazil in development of the Northern Corridor, a mega-infrastructure transportation initiative that would transport soy and other commodities from Matto Grosso state via new road, rail and port projects to the Tapajós River in Pará state, then downriver to the Amazon, and to the Atlantic for export. - Although the Netherlands government publically says these projects will be constructed in a “sustainable” manner and reduce fuel used in transport, analysts — and even the Dutch government itself — say that the new harbors, roads and railroads would contribute significantly to deforestation, land grabbing and rural violence by bringing many new loggers, cattle ranchers, soy growers, and settlers into the Amazon region. - Internal documents from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, obtained through a FOIA request, show that the ministry is fully aware of these negative environmental and social impacts, but sees them as a mere public relations, or “reputation problem.” - Internal memos uncovered by Platform Investico, a Dutch collective of investigative journalists including Mongabay contributor Karlijn Kuijpers, alerted the public to Dutch participation in Brazil’s Amazon transportation infrastructure initiative and the environmental and social harm it could do. In response to these revelations, the Dutch Labor Party has requested a debate in parliament about Dutch involvement in the Northern Corridor.
Illegal loggers ‘cook the books’ to harvest Amazon’s most valuable tree [05/24/2018]
- A new study finds that illegal logging, coupled with weak state-run timber licensing systems, has led to massive timber harvesting fraud in Brazil, resulting in huge illicit harvests of Ipê trees. This process is doing major damage to the Amazon, as loggers build roads deep into forests, causing fragmentation and creating greater access. - To reduce document fraud, the Brazilian federal government this month required that all states register or integrate their timber licensing systems within a national timber inventory and tracking system known as Sinaflor. While this should reduce fraudulent paperwork, onsite illicit timber harvesting practices remain a major problem. - Better oversight of forest management plans and more onsite inspections of timber operations are needed to curb illegal logging practices and to prevent harvesting on public lands and in indigenous reserves. The high value of Ipê wood — selling for up to $2,500 per cubic meter at export — makes it very profitable for illegal loggers. - Ipê wood is largely shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Analysts say that buyers all along the timber supply chain turn a blind eye toward fraud, with sawmills, exporters, and importers trusting the paperwork they receive, rather than questioning whether the lower prices they pay for Ipê and other timber may be due to timber laundering.
Brazil has the tools to end Amazon deforestation now: report [05/18/2018]
- A coalition of environmental NGOs known as the Zero Deforestation Working Group has developed a practical plan called “A Pathway to Zero Deforestation in the Amazon.” First proposed at the COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany, last November, the NGOs propose workable strategies for ending deforestation quickly in Brazil, while also yielding significant economic and social benefits. - Deforestation continues, the report says, because cleared land is worth more than forested land in the Amazon, so there is a strong economic incentive to buy up large amounts of forestland and clear it. Also, enforcement of Brazilian forestry laws remains weak. Finally, markets have been slow to make, and implement, commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains. - Deforestation solutions require a new development vision for the Brazilian Amazon, say analysts, with policies that promote the sustainable use of forest products, and policies that end the expansion of agro-commodities into native forests, and promote agribusiness growth on the nation’s surplus of 15-20 million hectares of already deforested and degraded land. - Law enforcement to curb illegal land grabbing also needs to happen, especially on the 70 million hectares of public land in Amazonia not allocated for specific uses. Also, government must start tracking cattle from point of origin with indirect suppliers, where deforestation occurs, to slaughterhouses. A key step to a solution: open talks between agribusiness and environmentalists.
Brazilian Amazon oil palm deforestation under control, for now [05/17/2018]
- Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP), launched in 2010, aims to prevent primary and secondary forest clearing for new oil palm plantations in Legal Amazonia. As part of the plan, a bio-physical suitability zoning map excluded legally protected parks, indigenous reserves and intact forest areas from those areas available for oil palm cultivation. - With 31.2 million hectares (120,463 square miles) of degraded land existing in Legal Amazonia that could be put into oil palm production without severe ecological consequences, it was thought at the time that there would be no need for deforestation by the industry. A recent study gauges SPOPP’s success from 2006 to 2014. - The study surveyed oil palm cultivation over a 50,000 square kilometer area in Pará state, finding that 90 percent of production expansion over that time occurred on former pasture, not forest. In fact, direct conversion of intact forest to oil palm declined 4 percent from 2006-2010, to less than 1 percent from 2010-2014 in the study area. - Researchers fear that major deforestation due to an oil palm production boom could occur in the near future if transportation infrastructure is markedly improved, and if Brazil’s economy, political and institutional stability increases. The study didn’t address escalating conflicts between Amazon oil palm plantations and traditional communities.
Study links malaria to deforestation in the Amazon [05/15/2018]
- A study published recently adds evidence to the argument that deforestation aids the spread of malaria. - Researchers compared deforestation patterns to malaria rates in nine states in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that places with the highest incidences of malaria were impacted forest patches between 0.1 and 5 square kilometers in size. - The researchers write that these forest patches contain the shaded, watery, forest-edge habitat preferred by the mosquitos that transmit malaria. - To keep malaria from becoming an even bigger threat, the authors call for better monitoring of mosquito populations, land planning, and income generation schemes for forest-dwelling communities.
Attack of the turtles: ruralists assault environmental laws, Amazon [05/15/2018]
- With the Brazilian public focused on the October elections, and many members of congress gone home to organize runs for office, the bancada ruralista, rural lobby, has launched a raft of amendments, attached to unrelated bills, that would undo many of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protections. There is a strong chance of passage. - These stealth measures are known as “jabutis” or “turtles.” Two jabutis, attached to an energy bill, could lead to the privatization of Brazil’s electricity sector, and to allowing the ownership of land by foreigners, currently forbidden in Brazil, for the purpose of building dams, transmission lines, and other energy facilities. Passage could greatly benefit China. - Another rider, attached to a bill giving emergency humanitarian assistance to Venezuelan refugees, would abolish a legal requirement to consult with indigenous communities about new energy projects to be built beside roads and railways that already cross their lands. The rider would immediately impact the Waimiri-Atroari Indians in Roraima state. - Another jabuti would benefit Cerrado agribusiness by classifying all proposed irrigation projects as “projects of public interest,” making them easier to approve, with less rigorous environmental impact studies. Another jabuti would simplify the environmental licensing process for small hydroelectric dams, potentially harming both the Amazon and Pantanal.
Damming the Amazon unfettered after Brazilian purge (commentary) [05/14/2018]
- In January 2018, two key Brazilian officials, Paulo Pedrosa, executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), and Luiz Augusto Barroso, the head of Energy Research Enterprise, an MME agency responsible for energy planning, announced a shift away from destructive Amazon mega-dam construction. - They said the reason for the shift was the heavy environmental and social impacts of such dams. - After the appointment of Moreira Franco, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, both MME officials were replaced. Franco is under investigation in the lava jato (car wash) corruption probe. Amazon dams are particularly prone to corruption. - There has been no mention since January that any planned Amazonian dams listed for construction by 2026 will be cancelled. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
A forgotten people: traditional Amazon hamlet fights for its territory [05/09/2018]
- In the early 20th century, rubber tappers established traditional communities along the middle reaches of the Xingu River in the Amazon. In the late 20th century these communities endured the threats of illegal loggers and land thieves. - In the early 2000s, São Sebastião do Xingu residents were told that a group of elite landowners had bought the land on which their hamlet stood, and that the community would be forced to vacate, which it did, moving upstream. Then, in 2005, the people were told again they would have to move to make way for Serra do Pardo National Park. - This time, the residents of São Sebastião resisted and stayed on the land, despite intense pressure from the Brazilian government to leave. They argued that they were not properly informed of the government’s plan to establish the park, that their livelihoods are sustainable, and that they live in harmony with the local ecology, rather than harming it. - São Sebastião residents continue to negotiate to stay on their land with officials from ICMBio, the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation. And while those talks have been painfully slow, the traditional people hope that the conflict will be resolved soon, and that they will be able to keep their homes and territory.
Pleistocene climates help scientists pick out targets for conservation in Brazil’s forests [05/08/2018]
- A team of scientists looked for places in the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest that have had stable weather patterns for a long time — going back to the Pleistocene Epoch — but that don’t fall within the boundaries of existing parks or reserves. - They measured the efficiency of the current network of protected areas in these areas, and they also came up with a prioritization scale for conservation efforts that incorporated the locations of intact forest landscapes. - The team reports that protected areas in the Amazon are four times as efficient at safeguarding these “climatically stable areas” as protected areas in the Atlantic Forest.
New film shines light on cattle industry link to Amazon deforestation [05/01/2018]
- Approximately one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been cut down, and nearly 80 percent of this deforestation is attributable to the cattle industry, says a new nearly hour-long documentary, “Grazing the Amazon.” - Many ranchers are outspoken in their justification for deforestation, possibly because they feel safe from prosecution under Brazilian law because of the bancada ruralista, the powerful agribusiness lobby that has a huge influence in congress and on the Temer administration. - One of the major problems driving deforestation is “cattle washing,” illicit techniques for raising cattle on newly deforested land by falsifying records, or shifting the cattle from illegal pasture to legal pasture, before sending them to slaughterhouses. Better recordkeeping could help to illuminate and limit this practice. - Government and/or banking sanctions and incentives are also badly needed to motivate cattle ranchers to move away from deforestation, and to support already proven techniques for sustainable livestock production in the Brazilian Amazon.
3,000 indigenous people gather in Brasilia to protest ruralist agenda [04/30/2018]
- From 23-27 April, 3,000 indigenous people from a hundred groups all across Brazil came together in Brasilia for the 15th annual encampment to demonstrate against government policies and to demand justice. While last year’s event saw police crowd control with teargas, this year’s was peaceful. - This year’s encampment, like last year’s, was among the largest ever, catalysed by rising violence against indigenous leaders and activists, and by what participants see as the repressive and authoritarian policies of the Temer government and Congress, both of which are dominated by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby. - Among other demands, the demonstrators called for demarcation of ancestral lands, guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, but not yet carried out in many indigenous areas. Protestors also asked the government to obey International Labour Organization Convention 169, which Brazil signed, and assures pre-consultation of groups impacted by large infrastructure projects. - Indigenous women had an exceptionally strong presence at this year’s encampment, and there was further collaboration with traditional riverine group representatives, who in the past were sometimes indigenous opponents. Now, indigenous and traditional people are joining together to prevent the loss of their lands and cultures, and to preserve their way of life.
Save intact forests for humanity’s sake, urge experts [04/20/2018]
- The world’s largest forests can help solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, but only if we move to safeguard them, argues a New York Times op-ed by Tom Lovejoy and John Reid. - Lovejoy and Reid make a case for protecting the planet’s last “intact forest landscapes” for the role they can play in addressing critical social and environmental challenges. - They argue that while the extent of intact forests have declined by 7 percent so far this century, there are “practical and affordable” options for protecting them. - “aving forests more than just a nice thing to do; it’s a survival skill we’re going to need over the next hundred years or more,” Reid told Mongabay in an interview.
Brazil’s actual forest-related CO2 emissions could blow by Paris pledge [04/19/2018]
- Brazil is reporting its CO2 emissions within U.N. guidelines, but those rules ignore significant sources of national greenhouse gas emissions ¬by disregarding carbon emitting processes related to forests, say scientists. None of this underreporting is likely unique to Brazil, but it is perhaps more acute there than in other nations due to Brazil’s vast forests. - The U.N. doesn’t require Brazil and other developing nations to count certain greenhouse gas emissions in detail, especially sources it classifies as non-anthropogenic. This, for example, includes CO2 released from wildfires. However, most fires in the Brazilian Amazon are set by people clearing land, so those CO2 emissions are largely human-caused. - Forest degradation, methane emitted from reservoirs, and carbon released from soils where forests are converted to croplands or pastures go partly or totally untallied in emission reports, sometimes because data is lacking, or because the UN hasn’t included the source in its reporting criteria. Another problem: low-resolution satellite monitoring allows small-scale deforestation to go undetected, so is unreported. - As a result, Brazil’s actual carbon emissions are almost certainly higher than the figures reported to the United Nations — how much higher is unknown. But, experts say, that if this missing carbon were added to Brazil’s reported emissions, the nation would likely not meet its 2025 Paris Climate Agreement goal.
Colombia grants ‘historic’ protections to rainforest, indigenous groups [04/13/2018]
- In a move described as “unprecedented,” Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday that the country intends to add 8 million hectares (80,000 square kilometers or 31,000 square miles) to its protected areas. - Santos also signed a decree granting indigenous communities the ability and autonomy to govern their own territories. - He said the government will be spending the next two weeks defining the bounds of the new protected areas, and that residents of local indigenous communities will be granted land titles giving them the autonomy to manage them. - Norway has committed $250 million towards Colombia’s initiative.
Brazil’s high court curbs executive power to dismember protected areas [04/12/2018]
- Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) ruled that MP 558, a Provisional Measure, was unconstitutional, making it unlawful for the executive branch to use the administrative decree to reduce seven conservation units by 100,000 hectares — five of those units were in the Tapajós basin. - In addition, the STF ruled that in future it would be unconstitutional for the executive branch to use MPs to alter the boundaries of already established conservation units. Such reductions can only be approved by the legislature. - MPs can continue to be used in setting other policies, some harmful to the environment. Past MPs approved the building of new coal burning power plants, and for dramatically revising the Terra Legal program, revising it not to benefit the landless poor, but wealthy elites and land grabbers, say critics. - In another win for conservationists, environment minister José Sarney Filho created five new Brazilian conservation units last week, covering 1.2 million hectares. Two were created in Bahia state, in the Cerrado savanna biome; and three in Maranhão state, in the Caatinga tropical dry forest biome.
NGOs denounce Tapajós basin intimidation, violence, Brazil inaction [04/04/2018]
- Thirty-eight national and international civil society organizations (CSOs), including social movements and NGOs, have condemned the Brazilian government and the builders of four Teles Pires River dams in the Amazon. The groups denounce the dam consortium for acts of intimidation against indigenous groups, especially involving the newly built São Manoel dam. - This dam was built by the Sao Manoel Energy Consortium, headed by the Brazilian subsidiaries of China Three Gorges Corporation, Energia de Portugal, and state company Furnas. The CSOs/NGOs say the Temer government sent in a national police unit as a “private security firm” to defend the dam builders and intimidate indigenous groups. - The CSOs/NGOs also say the government is in violation of numerous laws regarding the São Manoel dam, including a failure to properly consult with indigenous communities, threats made to those groups, incomplete environmental impact studies, and failure to implement agreed to “conditions” made by authorities in return for dam authorization. - Elsewhere, riverside communities on the Tapajós River, frustrated with government delays to meet a legal obligation to demarcate their lands, took action to mark the borders themselves. Illegal loggers and miners responded with threats of violence. The Brazilian government has done nothing so far to protect these traditional communities.
New study discovers 81 lost human settlements in the Amazon rainforest [04/02/2018]
- By looking at satellite images of a previously unexplored part of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a team of archaeologists has identified 81 pre-Columbian human settlements. - The team also found that the settlements weren’t near major rivers, but closer to smaller streams and creeks, challenging a commonly held belief that pre-Columbian people tended to live close to fertile floodplains of large rivers, leaving the rest of the forest relatively untouched. - The researchers’ computer model predicted that the southern rim of the Amazon likely supported up to 1 million people in pre-Columbian times, a population that’s much larger than previous estimates.
Colombia scraps Amazon highway plans due to deforestation concerns [03/23/2018]
- The Marginal de la Selva highway is part of $1 billion infrastructure project that would have opened a trade route for heavy land cargo to pass from Venezuela to Ecuador through Colombia without having to enter the treacherous Andes mountains. - Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos declared earlier the controversial project will not be completed, citing rampant deforestation and potentially irreversible environmental impacts to a sensitive ecological corridor near three national parks if the highway were developed as planned. - Conservationists are lauding the President’s announcement, calling it “extraordinary news for deforestation mitigation and restoration efforts” to restore the region’s ecological integrity.
Brazil ignored U.N. letters warning of land defender threats, record killings [03/23/2018]
- United Nations rapporteurs sent two letters to the Temer administration in 2017. The first warned of threats to human rights activists in Minas Gerais state. The second condemned the record number of environmental and land defender killings in Pará state last year. Brazil ignored both letters. - The State Public Ministry (MPE), the independent public prosecutor’s office in Minas Gerais, had requested the inclusion of six laborers and their families in the Protection Program of Human Rights Defenders, of the Secretariat of Rights of the Presidency in May, 2017. - The laborers say they were threatened by representatives of Anglo American Iron Ore Brazil S.A., a subsidiary of London-based Anglo American, a global mining company. In March Anglo American Brazil reported a mineral duct rupture which contaminated the Santo Antônio and Casca rivers, and riverside communities. - 908 murders of environmentalists and land defenders occurred in 35 countries between 2002 and 2013. Of those, 448, almost half, happened in Brazil. In 2018 so far, at least 12 Brazilian social activists and politicians have been slain — twice as many as compared to the same period in 2017.
Brazilian lawmakers funded by donors guilty of environmental crimes: report [03/21/2018]
- The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has 513 members. Of those, 249 received a total of 58.9 million reais (US$18.3 million) in official donations during the 2014 election from companies and people who committed environmental crimes, including illegal clearing of forests, says a recent report by Repórter Brasil. - Receiving these donations is not a crime, but it does provide insight into how environmental offenders are connected to, and potentially influencing, lawmakers and their decisions. Of the 249 deputies who received tainted donations, 134 are members of the Bancada Ruralista, the pro-agribusiness rural caucus that dominates the chamber. - Since the 2014 general election, Brazil’s election laws have been tightened. In 2015, the Federal Supreme Court passed a decree that made it illegal for companies to donate to candidates and political parties. These new rules will be in effect for the October 2018 presidential election. - Analysts still worry that money from those who have committed environmental crimes will go right on flowing to politicians — possibly illegally or utilizing newly discovered campaign finance law loopholes — risking the possibility of influence peddling.
Pearl Jam invests in Amazonian reforestation to offset emissions from current Brazil tour [03/20/2018]
- Rock band Pearl Jam has partnered with Conservation International (CI) in purchasing carbon offsets for the estimated 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that will be generated by its Brazilian tour dates taking place this month. - Proceeds from the offset purchase will be used to support a tropical forest restoration project that aims to plant 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon by 2023, said to be the largest reforestation effort in the world. - “As a band, it’s important for us to recognize the environmental impact of our tours and do what we can to mitigate that,” Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said in a statement.
Camera traps nab crop-raiding animals near farms in the Amazon [03/14/2018]
- A team of scientists from the U.K. and Brazil used an array of 132 camera traps to snap more than 60,000 photographs around 47 farming communities in the Amazon. - They also conducted 157 interviews with local farmers about the animals that they found most frequently in their fields. - The researchers found that the animals that were most destructive to crops were also among the ones nabbed most frequently by their cameras.
Tropical deforestation: the need for a strategy adjustment (commentary) [03/08/2018]
- Ecologist Dan Nepstad is the founder and executive director of the Earth Innovation Institute. - In this commentary, Nepstad makes the case for building stronger government support to end deforestation in tropical countries. - Without this support, it may not be possible to further curb tropical deforestation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Jaguar numbers rising at field sites, WCS says [03/07/2018]
- WCS reports that jaguar numbers have risen by almost 8 percent a year between 2002 and 2016 at study sites in Central and South America. - The sites cover around 400,000 square kilometers (154,440 square miles) of jaguar habitat. - Despite the promising findings, WCS scientists caution that habitat destruction, hunting in response to livestock killings, and poaching for their body parts remain critical threats to jaguars.
Analysis: the Brazilian Supreme Court’s New Forest Code ruling [03/07/2018]
- Last week Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge by environmentalists, upholding the constitutionality of most, though not all, of Brazil’s New Forest Code – legislation crafted in 2012 by the powerful bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress. - The 2012 code is weaker than the old Forest Code, which was approved in 1965, but never well enforced. - Many environmentalists have expressed concern that the high court ruling endorses legislation that prioritizes the economic importance of industrial agriculture over basic environmental protections. - Conservationists also say that the decision rewards those who have illegally infringed on environmental laws at a time when pressures on forests are growing more intense, especially in the Amazon. This story includes a chart that provides a detailed analysis of the environmental pros and cons of the Supreme Court decision.
Amazon forest to savannah tipping point could be far closer than thought (commentary) [03/05/2018]
- In the 1970s, scientists recognized that the Amazon makes half of its own rainfall via evaporation and transpiration from vegetation. Researchers also recognized that escalating deforestation would reduce this rainfall producing effect. - A 2007 study estimated that with 40 percent Amazon deforestation a tipping point could be reached, with large swathes of Amazonia switching from forest to savannah. Two newly considered factors in a 2016 study – climate change and fires – have now reduced that estimated tipping point to 20-25 percent. Current deforestation is at 17 percent, with an unknown amount of degraded forest adding less moisture. - There is good reason to think that this Amazon forest to savannah tipping point is close at hand. Historically unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015 would seem to be the first flickers of such change. - Noted Amazon scientists Tom Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre argue that it is critical to build in a margin of safety by keeping Amazon deforestation below 20 percent. To avoid this tipping point, Brazil needs to strongly control deforestation, and combine that effort with reforestation. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Brazil high court Forest Code ruling largely bad for environment, Amazon: NGOs [03/01/2018]
- In a tight decision, the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) upheld the constitutionality of much of Brazil’s 2012 New Forest Code, that had been created under the powerful influence of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. The upheld 2012 New Forest Code is a weaker body of environmental regulations than the 1965 code created under Brazil’s military government. - The court ruling made constitutional a declared amnesty for those who illegally cleared their Legal Reserves (lands, by law, they must not clear) before 22 July 2008, eliminating required fines and tree replantings. It allows for the reduction of Legal Reserves in states or municipalities largely occupied by indigenous reserves or protected areas. - The STF decision also allows for the reduction in size of APAs (Areas of Permanent Protection), even when considered fundamental by environmentalists for maintaining water supplies and preventing climate disasters such as floods and mudslides. - The ruling allows farmers who have already illegally cleared protected APAs, to get authorization to clear even more land, and approves farming activities on steep slopes and hilltops. Environmentalists were critical of the high court decision, while agribusiness praised it.
Andes dams twice as numerous as thought are fragmenting the Amazon [02/28/2018]
- A new study identified 142 dams currently in operation or under construction in the Andes headwaters of the Amazon, twice the number previously estimated. An additional 160 are in the planning stages. - If proposed Andes dams go ahead, sediment transport to the Amazon floodplains could cease, blocking freshwater fish migratory routes, disrupting flow and flood regimes, and threatening food security for downstream communities, impacting up to 30 million people. - Most dams to date are on the tributary networks of Andean river main stems. But new dams are planned for five out of eight major Andean Amazon main stems, bringing connectivity reductions on the Marañón, Ucayali and Beni rivers of more than 50 percent; and on the Madre de Dios and Mamoré rivers of over 35 percent. - Researchers conclude that proposed dams should be required to complete cumulative effects assessments at a basin-wide scale, and account for synergistic impacts of existing dams, utilizing the UN Watercourses Convention as a legal basis for international cooperation for sustainable water management between Amazon nations.
Norsk Hydro accused of Amazon toxic spill, admits ‘clandestine pipeline’ [02/27/2018]
- Norsk Hydro’s Alunorte aluminum refining facility in Barcarena municipality, Pará state, has been accused by Brazilian authorities of contaminating the local waters of several communities with toxic waste that overflowed earlier this month from a holding basin. - The firm denied the allegation, but has agreed to provide water to local residents, and is investigating. - The government also accused the company of having a “clandestine pipeline to discharge untreated effluent,” an allegation that the Norwegian state firm has since admitted to being true. - Officials have yet to determine the full cause, scope or consequence of the spill, while locals complain that this isn’t the first time. According to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, Norsk Hydro has not paid fines set at R $17 million to date (US $5.27 million), after a toxic overflow in 2009 put the local Barcarena population at risk.
Detecting disasters on community lands in the Amazon: film highlights indigenous struggle [02/27/2018]
- For decades, indigenous communities across the western Amazon have protested the contamination of their water, soil and other natural resources by oil companies. - A short film, “Detecting Disasters,” explores the use by the Kukama Kukamiria and other indigenous groups of small drones to strengthen their case to officials and reduce future damage to their health and that of their forest resources. - The successful, consistent use of drones and other new technologies by remote communities requires overcoming several basic challenges, including adequate electricity, training time, and availability of parts to make repairs.
Belo Monte legacy: harm from Amazon dam didn’t end with construction (photo story) [02/26/2018]
- The controversial Belo Monte dam, operational in 2016 and the world’s third biggest, was forced on the people of Altamira, Pará state, and is now believed to have been built largely as payback to Brazil’s construction industry by the nation’s then ruling Workers’ Party for campaign contributions received. - The dam was opposed by an alliance of indigenous and traditional communities, and international environmentalists, all to no avail. Today, the media coverage that once turned the world’s eyes toward Belo Monte, has gone away. But that hasn’t ended the suffering and harm resulting from the project. - Tens of thousands of indigenous and traditional people were forced from their homes, and had to give up their fishing livelihoods. Meanwhile, the city of Altamira endured boom and bust, as workers flooded in, then abandoned it. The Belo Sun goldmine, if ever built, also continues to be a potential threat. - In this story, Mongabay contributor Maximo Anderson and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim document the ongoing harm being done by the giant dam. Belo Monte, today, stands as a warning regarding the urgent need to properly assess and plan for mega-infrastructure projects in Amazonia.
Drought-driven wildfires on rise in Amazon basin, upping CO2 release [02/22/2018]
- Despite a 76 percent decline in deforestation rates between 2003 and 2015, the incidence of forest fires is increasing in Brazil, with new research linking the rise in fires not only to deforestation, but also to severe droughts. - El Niño, combined with other oceanic and atmospheric cycles, produced an unusually severe drought in 2015, a year that saw a 36 percent increase in Amazon basin forest fires, which also raised carbon emissions. - Severe droughts are expected to become more common in the Brazilian Amazon as natural oceanic cycles are made more extreme by human-induced climate change. - In this new climate paradigm, limiting deforestation alone will not be sufficient to reduce fires and curb carbon emissions, scientists say. The maintenance of healthy, intact, unfragmented forests is vital to providing resilience against further increases in Amazon fires.
Brazil’s fundamental pesticide law under attack [02/20/2018]
- In 2008, Brazil became the largest pesticide consumer in the world – the dual result of booming industrial agribusiness and ineffective environmental regulation. - In 1989, the country established one of the then toughest pesticide laws in the world (7,802/1989), which included the precautionary principle in its pesticide evaluation and registration standards. However, limited staffing and budget has made the law very difficult to implement and enforce. - With its increasing power after 2000, the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, has worked to overthrow that law, an effort thwarted to date but more likely to succeed under the Temer administration and the current ruralista-dominated Congress. - Lax pesticide use regulation and education have major health and environmental consequences. Farmers often use pesticides without proper safety gear, while children are often in the fields when spraying occurs. Some experts blame pesticides partly for Brazil’s high cancer rate – cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of death.
Protected areas with deforestation more likely to lose status in Brazilian state [02/18/2018]
- A recent study finds that ineffective protected areas stand a lower chance of surviving if deforestation has occurred within their boundaries. - The research took place in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon. - The team of scientists also found that protected areas that work are less likely to be carved up for development. - The authors argue that removing safeguards, even from degraded areas, does not take into account the benefits that we may derive from existing protected areas, including carbon storage and clean water.
Cattle invade Colombian national park [02/08/2018]
- An analysis of satellite data shows incursions into La Paya National Park in southern Colombia. - The data indicate La Paya lost around 9,500 hectares of rainforest between 2001 and 2016. - Researchers say satellite imagery show evidence that these clearings are being used for cattle pasture. - Conservationists worry deforestation will continue to rise with the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC rebel group, whose presence in the country’s forests kept logging and agriculture at bay for decades.
Carbon pricing could save millions of hectares of tropical forest: new study [02/05/2018]
- Recently published research in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that setting a price of $20 per metric ton (about $18/short ton) of carbon dioxide could diminish deforestation by nearly 16 percent and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by nearly 25 percent. - The pair of economists calculated that, as things currently stand, the world stands to lose an India-size chunk of tropical forest by 2050. - In addition to carbon pricing, stricter policies to halt deforestation, such as those that helped Brazil cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent in the early 2000s, could save nearly 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles).
Fang trafficking to China is putting Bolivia’s jaguars in jeopardy [01/26/2018]
- Residents in Bolivia’s Sena community say that they can sell a jaguar canine for about $215 on the Chinese market. - According to Bolivian authorities, the fangs are valued in the Asian market at prices as high as cocaine. - Between 2013 and 2016, 380 jaguar canines were seized by Bolivian authorities, which correlates to 95 jaguars killed. - Residents say an influx of Chinese companies to build roads and bridges in Bolivia is contributing to increased trafficking of jaguar parts. However, authorities deny these claims.
Pope set to visit site of deforestation, indigenous struggle in Peru [01/19/2018]
- Pope Francis plans to visit Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian region of Madre de Dios Friday morning on his trip to South America. - He will speak with indigenous communities in a coliseum. - Madre de Dios had the second-highest rate of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon in 2017, with 208 square kilometers (80 square miles) of forest cover loss as a result of farming, logging and mining.
New satellite data reveals forest loss far greater than expected in Brazil Amazon [01/18/2018]
- The Brazilian Amazon lost 184 km2 of forest in December 2017, 20 times more than was recorded in December 2016 (9 km2). - The massive increase reflects Brazil’s use of a more accurate satellite monitoring system that incorporates radar, which can see land cover at night and through clouds, and suggests prior deforestation rates were likely underestimates. - As the cost of radar and other satellite data decreases, continuous monitoring will enable officials and civil society to more accurately monitor and quantify forest loss over a broad range of spatial scales.
Record Amazon fires, intensified by forest degradation, burn indigenous lands [01/18/2018]
- As of September 2017, Brazil’s Pará state in the Amazon had seen a 229 percent increase in fires over 2016; in a single week in December the state saw 26,000 fire alerts. By year’s end, the Brazilian Amazon was on track for an all-time record fire season. - But 2017 was not a record drought year, so experts have sought other causes. Analysts say most of the wildfires were human-caused, set by people seeking to convert forests to crop or grazing lands. Forest degradation by mining companies, logging and agribusiness added to the problem. - Huge cuts made by the Temer administration in the budgets of Brazilian regulatory and enforcement agencies, such as FUNAI, the nation’s indigenous protection agency, and IBAMA, its environmental agency, which fights fires, added to the problem in 2017. - The dramatic rise in wildfires has put indigenous communities and their territories at risk. For example, an area covering 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres), lost tree cover within the Kayapó Indigenous Territory from October to December, while the nearby Xikrin Indigenous Territory lost roughly 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) over the same period.
Ancient human sites may have distorted our understanding of the Amazon’s natural ecology [01/16/2018]
- Scientists have traditionally based their knowledge of the Amazon rainforest on surveys from fewer than 1,000 plots of land, which they had assumed were representative of the rest of the forest. - Research now shows that many of these sites were occupied and modified by ancient peoples, and the trees are still regrowing from those disturbances. - These recovering trees absorb carbon at a faster rate than mature trees, so estimates of how well the rainforest can absorb carbon dioxide may be too high.
Peru declares a huge new national park in the Amazon [01/12/2018]
- Yaguas National Park is located in the Loreto Region of northern Peru and covers more than 868,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest – around the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. - Peru’s newest national park is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals. - Yaguas National Park holds around 550 fish species, representing two-thirds of Peru’s freshwater fish diversity – more than any other place in the country, and one of the richest freshwater fish assemblages in the world.
Study: Amazon dams are disrupting ecologically vital flood pulses [01/10/2018]
- Flood pulses are critical to the way the Amazon, its tributaries and other tropical rivers function – and these seasonal flood pulses are a huge driver of ecological productivity and diversity. - Floodplain forests depend upon annual flood pulses to bring nutrients and sediment from river channels out into the surrounding terrestrial habitat. - Reductions to flood pulses, brought by Amazon dams both large and small, could lead to shifts in tree species diversity and composition, with implications for carbon storage and emissions. - Unreliable flood regimes, as created by dams of all sizes, significantly impact Amazon river systems and species’ life cycles, population dynamics, food sources, and habitats above and below the water line.
Brazil 2018: Amazon under attack, resistance grows, courts to act, elections [01/09/2018]
- While forecasts are always difficult, it seems likely that Brazilian President Michel Temer will remain in power for the last year of his term, despite on-going corruption investigations. - Elections for president, the house of deputies, and most of the senate are scheduled for October. Former President Lula has led the presidential polls, though right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro has grown strong. Lula’s environmental record is mixed; Bolsonaro would almost certainly be bad news for the environment, indigenous groups and the Amazon. - During 2018, Temer, Congress and the bancada ruralista (a lobby representing agribusiness, cattle ranchers, land thieves and other wealthy rural elites) will likely seek to undermine environmental laws and indigenous land rights further. Potential paving of the BR 319 in the heart of the Amazon is considered one of the biggest threats. - However, grassroots environmental and indigenous resistance continues to grow, and important Brazilian Supreme Court decisions are expected in the weeks and months ahead, which could undo some of the major gains made by the ruralists under Temer.
Scientists surprised by orchid bee biodiversity near oil palm plantations [01/04/2018]
- A recent study finds orchid bee diversity is supported by forest patches along rivers near oil palm plantations in Brazil. - The study lends evidence that remnant patches of forest support the movement and survival of plant and animal species in deforested landscapes. - Brazil’s new forest code revisions greatly reduce or eliminate the requirement for some agricultural producers to maintain river forest patches.
Rainforests: the year in review 2017 [01/04/2018]
- 2017 was a rough year for tropical rainforests, but there were some bright spots. - This is Mongabay’s annual year-in-review on what happened in the world of tropical rainforests. - Here we summarize some of the more notable developments and trends for tropical forests in 2017.
Brazil announces end to Amazon mega-dam building policy [01/03/2018]
- Brazil’s government this week announced a major shift away from its policy of building mega-dams in the Brazilian Amazon – a strategy born during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and vigorously carried forward down to the present day. - The Temer government claims the decision is a response to intense resistance from environmentalists and indigenous groups, but while that may be part of the reason, experts see other causes as well. - The decline in political influence of Brazil’s gigantic construction companies caused by the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation is likely a major cause of the change in policy. So is the current depressed state of Brazil’s economy, which makes it unlikely that Brazil’s huge development bank (BNDES) will invest in such multi-billion dollar projects. - While environmentalists and indigenous groups will likely celebrate the shift away from the mega-dam policy, experts warn that many threats to the Amazon remain, including pressure by Brazil’s ruralist lobby to open up conserved areas and indigenous lands to agribusiness, along with threats posed by new road, rail, waterway and mining projects.
Brazil 2017: environmental and indigenous rollbacks, rising violence [12/27/2017]
- The bancada ruralista, or ruralist lobby, in Brazil’s congress flexed its muscles in 2017, making numerous demands on President Michel Temer to make presidential decrees weakening environmental protections and revoking land rights to indigenous and traditional communities in Brazil – decisions especially impacting the Amazon. - Emboldened ruralists – including agribusiness, cattle ranchers, land thieves and loggers – stepped up violent attacks in 2017, making Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for social or environmental activists. There were 63 assassinations by the end of October. - Budgets to FUNAI, the indigenous agency; IBAMA, the environmental agency; and other institutions, were reduced so severely this year that these government regulatory agencies were largely unable to do their enforcement and protection work. - In 2017, Temer led attempts to dismember Jimanxim National Forest and National Park, and to open the vast RENCA preserve in the Amazon to mining – efforts that have failed to date, but are still being pursued. Resistance has remained fierce, especially among indigenous groups, with Temer sometimes forced to backtrack on his initiatives.
Selective logging reduces biodiversity, disrupts Amazon ecosystems: study [12/22/2017]
- Reduced-impact logging, also called selective logging, which gained popularity in the 1990s, aims to balance biodiversity impacts with global demand for timber by extracting fewer trees. But the success of this approach is coming under increasing scrutiny. - A new study in the Brazilian Amazon found that dung beetle communities, and their important role as “ecosystem engineers,” is severely disrupted by even low-level timber extraction, with sharp reductions in species richness. - Multitudes of studies on birds, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates around the globe demonstrate the same finding: that even low-levels of timber extraction have significant impact on species diversity. - This extensive research suggests that selective logging techniques should be shelved in favor of “land-sparing” timber extraction strategies, which create a patchwork of highly logged sites and intact forest reserves.
Amazon dam impacts underestimated due to overlooked vine growth: study [12/20/2017]
- New research on the rapid growth of lianas – native woody vines – on the artificial reservoir islands of the Balbina dam in the Amazon finds that forest communities there underwent a transformation as a result of severe habitat fragmentation, resulting in the altering of the carbon sequestration and emission balance. - Some tree species are severely impacted by this extreme form of habitat fragmentation and die, while native lianas — woody vines that climb to reach the forest canopy — thrive and rapidly fill the biological niche left by failing trees. - Trees, with their greater biomass, store more carbon in trunks and branches than lianas, so the carbon balance shifts as lianas dominate. Rather than sequestering carbon, these dam-created islands end up emitting carbon as the trees die. - The rapid growth of lianas further contributes to the degradation of remnant tree communities challenged by fragmentation. Amazon dam environmental impact assessments don’t currently evaluate increased reservoir island carbon emissions.
Latin America-Europe trade pact to include historic indigenous rights clause [12/12/2017]
- The Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are expected to conclude trade negotiations and put finishing touches on a trade agreement by the end of this year. - That pact will include landmark indigenous human rights clauses meant to protect indigenous groups from violence, land theft and other civil rights violations. - The human rights guarantees institutionalized in the trade agreement, if violated, could potentially lead to major trade boycotts, and are particularly important to indigenous groups in Brazil, where the agribusiness lobby known as the bancada ruralista wields tremendous political power. - Brazil’s ruralist elite has been engaged in a decades-long effort to deny indigenous groups rights to their ancestral lands. Violence by large scale farmers and land thieves has seriously escalated under the Temer administration, which strongly backs the ruralist agenda.
Forest Code falls short in protecting Amazonian fish [12/07/2017]
- A team of scientists reports that Brazil’s Forest Code doesn’t address significant impacts that agriculture can have on fish habitat in the rainforest’s streams and tributaries. - The study cataloged more than 130 species of fish, some of them new to science, in Brazil’s eastern Amazon. - The authors argue for protections that encompass entire basins and the complex drainage networks that together form the lifeblood of the Amazon rainforest.
Mammal diversity may increase carbon storage in rainforests [12/05/2017]
- Having a diverse mix of mammals may play a more pivotal role than expected in the carbon cycle of tropical forests, by feeding microbes that lock the carbon from food scraps in the soil. - Hundreds of indigenous research technicians collected data for this study across an area roughly the size of Costa Rica. - Conserving mammal species will become increasingly important in efforts to protect the health of rainforest ecosystems, researchers suggest.
Ferrogrão grain railway threatens Amazon indigenous groups, forest [12/04/2017]
- Michel Temer’s administration is fast tracking the Ferrogrão (Grainrail), a 1,142 kilometer railway to link grain-producing midwest Brazil with the Tapajós River, a major tributary of the Amazon, in order to more economically and efficiently export soy and other commodities to foreign markets. - The railway is seen as vital to Brazil’s agribusiness-centric economy, especially considering the country’s current economic crisis, but indigenous groups say they’ve not been consulted in project planning as stipulated by International Labour Organization Convention 169. - The railway will come near several indigenous groups: the Kaiabi in Indigenous Territory of Batelão, the Pankararu in Indigenous Territory of Pankararu, the Kayapó in Indigenous Territory of Kapot-Nhinore, and the Panará in Indigenous Territory of Baú. These groups say they’ve not been properly consulted by the government. - Ferrogrão will also pass near Jamanxim National Park and cut through Jamanxim National Forest, where the government is seeking diminished protections to benefit elite land thieves. Scientists worry that deforestation brought by the loss of these conserved lands, plus the railway, could significantly reduce the Amazon’s greenhouse gas storage capacity.
Extreme seasonal changes in Amazon river levels threaten forest conservation by indigenous people [12/04/2017]
- The Amazon has experienced intense floods and droughts for the past 10 years, a likely effect of climate change. - Surveys taken of animals between 2009 and 2015 showed terrestrial mammal populations dropped by 95 percent during intense floods, whereas aquatic animals suffered dramatic declines during an extreme drought. - Scientists fear these seasonal extremes will drive the Cocama people of Peru out of the forest, depriving it of its primary conservationists.
Peru: Illegal mining devastates forests in Amazonas Region [11/28/2017]
- In the past five years, a group of miners from the Amazonas Region and Madre de Dios have destroyed about 20 hectares of forest, not including the constant contamination from the Pastacillo stream, in the Río Santiago district. - Although two bans have been put in place, the Wampis community claims that the illegal activity continues to grow.
Culture keeps cattle ranching going in the Brazilian Amazon [11/23/2017]
- A recent study finds that financial incentives to move people away from cattle ranching don’t address cultural and logistical hurdles to changing course. - Even though ranchers could earn four times as much per hectare farming soy or up to 12 times as much from fruit and vegetable farming, many stick with cattle as a result of cultural values. - Ranchers, along with small-scale farmers, could benefit from targeted infrastructure investments to provide them with easier access to markets, according to the study. - The researchers argue that their findings point to the need for policies that take these obstacles into account.
Peru: The river that will not flow [11/22/2017]
- Odebrecht has the final agreement for the Chadín II hydroelectric project and is looking to achieve the same for the Río Grande I and II projects. - These hydroelectric dams will convert the Marañón into a swimming pool more than 100 kilometers long. - Neighboring countries such as Argentina and Chile have set a target of achieving up to 70 percent renewable energies for 2050. In Peru, there is no such plan.
From carbon sink to source: Brazil puts Amazon, Paris goals at risk [11/09/2017]
- Brazil is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, to ending illegal deforestation, and restoring 120,000 square kilometers of forest by 2030. Scientists warn these Paris commitments are at risk due to a flood of anti-environmental and anti-indigenous measures forwarded by President Michel Temer. - “If these initiatives succeed, Temer will go down in history with the ruralistas as the ones who put a stake in the beating heart of the Amazon.” — Thomas Lovejoy, conservation biologist and director of the Center for Biodiversity and Sustainability at George Mason University. - “The Temer government’s reckless behavior flies in the face of Brazil’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.” — Christian Poirier, program director at Amazon Watch. - “There was, or maybe there still is, a very slim chance we can avoid a catastrophic desertification of South America. No doubt, there will be horrific damage if the Brazilian government initiatives move forward in the region.” — Antonio Donato Nobre, scientist at INPA, the Institute for Amazonian Research.
Crowdsourcing the forest for the trees [11/07/2017]
- A pair of drones and the efforts of nearly 3,000 volunteers are helping scientists study tree canopies within a Peruvian rainforest, representing a new paradigm of crowdsourced research. - Citizen scientists in the Amazon Aerobotany project helped analyze over 5,700 aerial images to count trees and monitor their leafing, flowering, and fruiting cycles. - Ensuring the quality of data collected using citizen science takes planning, effort, and time but can harness the experience of a world of new collaborators.
As negotiators meet in Bonn, Brazil’s carbon emissions rise [11/07/2017]
- Brazil pledged in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. But its emissions shot up 8.9 percent in 2016, largely due to deforestation and agriculture. That increase threatens Brazil’s Paris goal. - Pará, in the heart of the Amazon, was the highest carbon emitter state, with 12.3 percent of the national total (due almost exclusively to deforestation and poorly managed industrial agriculture), followed by Mato Grosso state (9.6 percent of national emissions), which has converted much forest to soy production. - Experts say that this emissions trend could be reversed through sustainable forestry and more efficient agricultural practices. However, the dominance of the elite ruralist faction in Congress and in the Temer administration is preventing progress toward achieving Brazil’s carbon pledge.
Indigenous lands at risk, as Amazon sellout by Brazil’s Temer continues (commentary) [11/06/2017]
- Brazilian president Michel Temer has twice survived National Congress votes to initiate impeachment against him on extensive corruption charges. - Temer did so by selling out the environment, particularly the Amazon, to the ruralists who largely control the assembly. - Among the concessions made or promised to ruralists are presidential decrees to allow agribusiness to rent indigenous lands, forgiving unpaid environmental fines owed by landowners, and ending any enforcement of restrictions on labor “equivalent to slavery.” - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indigenous forests could be a key to averting climate catastrophe [11/06/2017]
- A new study finds the world’s tropical forests may no longer be carbon sinks, with a net loss of 425 million tons of carbon from 2003 to 2014. Also, 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon is emitted globally from forested areas and land use annually — 4.4 billion metric tons are absorbed by standing forests on managed lands, but 5.5 billion metric tons are released via deforestation and degradation. - As a result, curbing deforestation and degradation is now seen by scientists as a vital strategy for nations to meet the carbon reduction goals set in Paris in 2015, and of averting a catastrophic 2 degree Celsius rise in temperatures by the end of the century. - Other new research finds that indigenous and traditional community management of forests could offer a key to curbing emissions, and give the world time to transition to a green energy economy. In a separate study, Amazon deforestation rates were found to be five times greater outside indigenous territories and conservation units than inside. - “We are a proven solution to the long-term protection of forests, whose survival is vital for reaching our [planetary] climate change goals,” said an envoy of a global indigenous delegation in attendance at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The delegation wants the world’s nations to protect indigenous forests from an invasion by global extraction industries.
Mining activity causing nearly 10 percent of Amazon deforestation [11/02/2017]
- Scientists have learned that nearly 10 percent of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2005 and 2015 was due to mining activities. Previously, it was thought to cause just 1-2 percent, but that is because past assessments primarily looked at deforestation caused by the mines themselves, and didn’t account for all the ancillary infrastructure that accompanies the mines. - With mining causing such high levels of deforestation — up to 70 kilometers away from mines — and with the Brazilian government under Michel Temer eager to open vast areas of the Amazon to mining, the researchers say that companies and government need to aggressively address the deforestation issue. - While the new research documented Amazon deforestation due to many ancillary activities, including roads, staff housing and airports, it did not look into the major deforestation brought by
the new hydroelectric dams that often provide energy for mining operations - To address the high level of deforestation caused by mining in the Amazon, Brazil needs to significantly revise its environmental impact assessment process to include ancillary infrastructure up to 70 kilometers away from mines along with related hydroelectric dam construction.
Audio: Impacts of gas drilling on wildlife in Peru and a Goldman Prize winner on mercury contamination [11/01/2017]
- On today’s episode: a look at the impacts of drilling for natural gas on birds and amphibians through bioacoustics, and a Goldman Prize winner discusses her ongoing campaign to rid mercury contamination from the environment. - Our first guest on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast is Jessica Deichmann, a research scientist with the Center for Conservation and Sustainability at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Deichmann led a study that used acoustic monitoring, among other methods, to examine the impacts on wildlife of a gas drilling platform in the forests of southeastern Peru. - Next, we talk with 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental engineer from Indonesia who currently lives in the UK. As the founder of an NGO called BaliFokus and a steering committee member of IPEN, a non-profit based in Sweden that works to improve chemicals policies and practices around the world, Ismawati has made it her life’s mission to stop the use of mercury in activities like gold mining that cause the toxin to leach into the environment and thereby threaten human health and wildlife.
Temer offers amnesty, erasing up to $2.1 billion in environmental crime fines [10/31/2017]
- 95 percent of fines issued by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, are never paid. These fines are worth R$11.5 billion (US $3.5 billion). - In a new decree, President Temer has offered offenders — including farmers and ranchers responsible for illegal deforestation —an amnesty of 60 percent of fines, provided the remaining 40 percent is paid into a government environmental fund. - While that fund — if fleshed out — would provide significant amounts of money for environmental agencies, Temer’s decree provides no new and effective means of enforcing the measure. - The amnesty, as seen by critics, is one in a long series of anti-environmental and anti-indigenous decrees made by Temer in order to buy support from congressional deputies and gain their votes to shelve a second round of corruption charges against the president.
Brazilian police nab Amazon timber thieves who faked forest credits [10/27/2017]
- Federal Police arrested and fined participants in an illegal logging and forest credit fraud scheme operating in Pará, Santa Catarina, Paraná and Mato Grosso states. - The timber thieves were aided in this crime by gaps in the government’s licensing program and poor control of the timber production chain in Pará and Mato Grosso; lapses which authorities are now moving to correct. - The timber thieves cut rare ipê trees on the Amazon’s Cachoeira Seca indigenous reserve, then used falsified records and a variety of companies to move the timber to other states and export the wood, used for expensive decking in the U.S., Argentina, Panama, France, Germany, the UK, United Arab Emirates and South Korea. - Fines for illegal timber harvesting are only R$ 5,000 (US$ 1,587) per hectare; and for failing to submit proper reports, between R$ 1,000 and R$ 100,000 (US$ 317 to US$ 31,700), insignificant amounts that do little to deter a crime that can yield very high profits for perpetrators. These fines have not been increased since 2008.
Two scientists and a NASA astronaut just biked across the Brazilian Amazon and want to tell you about it [10/25/2017]
- On Sept 26, two scientists and a NASA astronaut completed TransAmazon +25, a bike trek across the Brazilian Amazon. - What makes this trip particularly interesting is that one of the cyclists, Osvaldo Stella, a mechanical engineer with the non-profit Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) in Brazil who works with small-scale farmers and other landowners to preserve and restore forests, did the same ride 25 years ago. - Stella was accompanied on the journey by Paulo Moutinho, a co-founder and senior scientist at IPAM and a Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Woods Hole Research Center in the USA; as well as Chris Cassidy, an astronaut with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Navy SEAL. - “Gold mining, deforestation, and pastures covered many of the areas that were covered with forest 25 years ago,” Stella told Mongabay. ”The cities are larger but have not changed much in their overall appearance. One more sign that the current economic model generates much impact to the environment but little improvement in the quality of life of the people.”
Temer guts Brazil’s slavery law, to the applause of elite ruralists [10/23/2017]
- Brazil has about 155,000 people working in conditions analogous to slavery, many used by elite ruralists who have become wealthy via environmental crime. Slave labor, for example, is often used in the Amazon to keep illegal deforestation and illicit agribusiness hidden and off the books. - President Temer has issued a decree — known as a portaria — narrowing the definition of slavery. Holding people in economic servitude, in conditions analogous to slavery, is no longer illegal. Now slaves must be held against their will, and two government officials must catch the slaveholder in the act. - The easing of the slavery law, experts say, is Temer’s way of rewarding the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, which includes about 40 percent of the Congress and continues to support Temer and to reject on-going rounds of corruption charges against the president. - Outrage over the weakening of the slavery law is widespread in Brazil and abroad. NOTE: this story was updated on 10-25-17 to report that Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) has temporarily suspended implementation of Temer’s slavery decree until an STF ruling can be made.
Belo Monte dam-opposing Brazilian activist wins prestigious environmental award [10/19/2017]
- Brazilian environmental and human rights activist Antônia Melo da Silva received the Alexander Soros Foundation Award earlier this month in recognition of her work organizing opposition to the Belo Monte dam and other infrastructure projects in the Amazon. - Melo founded the “Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre” two decades ago in order to bring together the numerous people, communities, and organizations in the Altamira region of Brazil who oppose the Belo Monte hydroelectric project on the Xingu River. - Alex Soros, founder of the Alexander Soros Foundation, said of Melo: “She will not be deterred. She will not stop fighting. She will never give up. And she deserves recognition and appreciation for her work.”
Could fungi provide an alternative to palm oil? [10/19/2017]
- Palm oil is used in everything from margarine and ice cream to cosmetics and certain fabrics. - But the palm oil industry has a history of association with deforestation and human rights abuses. As oil palm plantations continue to expand to more tropical areas around the world, many are worried they will come at the expense of rainforests. - A biotech startup in the U.S. thinks it has found an alternative to palm oil – fungus that can be grown on food waste. - But while lab experiments have demonstrated some success, it remains to be seen whether fungus-derived oil can be produced in quantities large and cheap enough to compete with palm oil.
Deforestation drops 16% in the Brazilian Amazon [10/19/2017]
- Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest declined 16% over the past year, reports the Brazilian government. - The decline in deforestation was not unexpected, but the trend isn’t expected to continue into 2018 given the current drought over large expanses of the Brazilian Amazon. - The recent rate of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon remains well below historic levels.
Amazonian manatee migration at risk from disruption by proposed dams [10/19/2017]
- Amazonian manatees (Trichechus inunguis) spend the high-water season feeding in flooded forests, but migrate to deeper permanent water bodies to see out the dry season. - Researchers have found that as the dry season approaches, manatees time their migration out of the floodplain to avoid bottlenecks that would block their route, and doom them. - But, the scientists warn, those bottlenecks will become far more common, and less predictable, if the hundreds of hydropower dams planned for the Amazon go forward. - The dams, and the bottleneck problem they create, “generates profound concern for the conservation of manatees,” the scientists write.
Audio: Indonesian rainforests for sale and bat calls of the Amazon [10/18/2017]
- This episode of the Mongabay Newscast takes a look at the first installment of our new investigative series, “Indonesia for Sale,” and features the sounds of Amazonian bats. - Mongabay’s Indonesia-based editor Phil Jacobson joins the Newscast to tell us all about “Indonesia for Sale” and the first piece in the series, “The palm oil fiefdom.” - We also speak with Adrià López-Baucells, a PhD student in bat ecology who has conducted acoustic studies of bats in the central Amazon for the past several years. In this Field Notes segment, López-Baucells plays some of the recordings he used to study the effects of Amazon forest fragmentation on bat foraging behavior.
One man’s quest to save the world’s wildest places: Hansjörg Wyss [10/18/2017]
- A summer spent in Colorado in 1958 prompted Hansjörg Wyss’s life-long commitment to conservation. - As his means increased, Wyss became one of the world’s most generous philanthropists, supporting causes ranging from the arts to social justice to science to conservation. - Much of Wyss’s support of conservation has focused on creating permanent public access to the rugged landscapes of the American West - In recent years Wyss has expanded his efforts to other regions, including the Amazon rainforest, African savannas and forests, and in Romania.
Munduruku standoff against Amazon dam builders potentially explosive [10/17/2017]
- On 13 October, eighty Munduruku warriors and shamans tried to occupy the São Manoel dam on the Teles Pires River in one of the most remote parts of the Amazon. But the government and construction companies had been tipped off in advance. - Thirty armed Public Security National Force police had been flown in and blocked them from entering the site. The Munduruku were met by teargas and flash bombs. They have since left the immediate vicinity, but their demands remain unresolved. - The Munduruku say that the construction firms, to end a July occupation of the dam, had agreed to a September meeting and to apologize for the destruction of two of their most sacred sites — one of them the equivalent of Christian Heaven — and to apologize for collecting and storing sacred urns without proper rituals. - According to the Indians, the performance of these apology rituals is now vital to the survival of the Munduruku as a people, and to the survival of the Amazon itself, but the companies remain adamant in their denial of wrongdoing. Tensions remain high, and many fear more violence could erupt.
‘Then they shot me’: Land conflict and murder in Ucayali, Peru [10/12/2017]
- In September, six people were murdered in Bajo Rayal, Peru. - A conflict over the possession of 450 hectares of forest appears to be the motive behind the killings. - Mongabay Latam went to Bajo Rayal to investigate, and discovered around 300,000 hectares of forest in the region are under dispute and being considered for agricultural conversion.
Record Amazon fires stun scientists; sign of sick, degraded forests [10/11/2017]
- With the fire season still on-going, Brazil has seen 208,278 fires this year, putting 2017 on track to beat 2004’s record 270,295 fires. While drought (likely exacerbated by climate change) worsens the fires, experts say that nearly every blaze this year is human-caused. - The highest concentration of fires in the Amazon biome in September was in the São Félix do Xingu and Altamira regions. Fires in Pará state in September numbered 24,949, an astonishing six-fold increase compared with 3,944 recorded in the same month last year. - The Amazon forest areas seeing the most wildfires have also seen rapid change in recent years, with high levels of deforestation, and especially forest degradation, as loggers, cattle ranchers, agribusiness and dam builders move in. - Scientists warn of a dangerous synergy: forest degradation is turning the Amazon from carbon sink to carbon source in some dry years; while globally, humanity’s carbon emissions are worsening drought and fires. Brazil’s push for Amazon agribusiness deepens the problem. Researchers warn that mega-fires could be coming, unless trends are reversed.
Colombia, an example to world, balances conservation and development [10/09/2017]
- Colombia, under the leadership of President Juan Santos, has more than doubled its national conserved area — from 13 million hectares (50,193 square miles) in 2010, to 28.4 million hectares (109,653 square miles) today — an extraordinary achievement for any country.* - In an exclusive interview with Mongabay, Luis Gilberto Murillo, Colombia’s minister of the environment and sustainable development, tells how that goal was achieved, and what it will take to keep those conserved lands and waters protected for all time. - The country, first off, has a constitutional provision which assures that protected areas can’t be dismembered by future incoming administrations. The Santos administration has protected many areas that once were FARC rebel strongholds during the 50-year civil war. - Colombia will need significant international financial assistance if it is to continue conserving land, and also enforcing protections. But, says Murillo, that is only proper since the entire world benefits from Colombia’s efforts to conserve forests, which sequester carbon.
Booming legal Amazon wildlife trade documented in new report [10/06/2017]
- Wildlife trade attention has recently focused on Africa. But a new report spotlights the brisk legal international trade in plants and animals from eight Amazon nations. The report did not look at the illegal trade, whose scope is largely unknown. - The US$128 million industry exports 14 million animals and plants annually, plus one million kilograms by weight, including caiman and peccary skins for the fashion industry, live turtles and parrots for the pet trade, and arapaima for the food industry. - The report authors note that such trade, conducted properly, can have benefits for national economies, for livelihoods, and even for wildlife — animals bred in captivity, for example, can provide scientists with vital data for sustaining wild populations. - The report strongly emphasizes the need for monitoring, regulating and enforcing sustainable harvest levels of wild animals and plants if the legal trade is to continue to thrive, and if Amazonian forests and rivers are not to be emptied of their wildlife.
Amazon community on Tapajós River invaded by wildcat miners [10/02/2017]
- The Brazilian community of Montanha-Mangabal made up of beiradeiros —riverside peasant farmers and traditional fishermen — has been invaded and threatened by angry wildcat miners. - The beiradeiros community spread for miles along the Tapajós River in Pará, worked for decades to establish its legal land rights, achieved in 2013 when Brazil’s National Colonization and Agrarian Reform Institute (INCRA) turned the land into a 550 square kilometer Agro-Extractive Settlement (PAE). - However, the federal government failed to meet its obligation to demarcate the land. As a measure of last resort, Montanha-Mangabal and Munduruku indigenous allies began marking the land’s boundaries in September using GPS and signs. - This self-demarcation process apparently led to the miners’ invasion, as they illegitimately claim some of the community’s land. The beiradeiros, Munduruku, and other indigenous groups see the invasion as part of a bigger threat by Brazilian ruralists and the government to develop the Amazon.
Brazil: a world champion in political and environmental devastation (commentary) [09/29/2017]
- Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world is heir to a fabulously rich heritage in its natural wealth and natural wonders. - It is also heir to a corrupt colonial tradition that today still rewards the nation’s wealthiest most privileged elites, as they overexploit forests, rivers, soils and local communities in the name of exorbitant profits. - These vast profits are made via intense deforestation, cattle ranching, mining, agribusiness, dam and road building and other development, with little or no regard for the wellbeing of the environment or the people. - Brazil’s landed elites, known today as ruralists, are well protected by state and federal governments, and remain largely exempt from prosecution for crimes against the environment and public good. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
New research suggests tropical forests are now a net source of carbon emissions [09/28/2017]
- Whether or not our planet’s rainforests are a net sink of carbon — meaning they sequester more than their destruction by human activities causes them to emit — is a much-debated issue. - Research released today suggests an answer, however: due to deforestation and forest degradation and disturbance, tropical forests in Africa, the Americas, and Asia now emit more carbon into the atmosphere than they sequester on an annual basis, according to scientists with the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) and Boston University. - Over the study period, the rainforests of Africa, the Americas, and Asia were found to have gained approximately 437 teragrams of carbon every year, but to have lost about 862 teragrams of carbon. That means they were a net source of some 425 teragrams of carbon annually.
Temer walks back plan to open Denmark-sized area of Amazon to mining [09/27/2017]
- Brazilian president Michel Temer this Tuesday published a new decree reversing his August 23rd order to open a vast national reserve in the Amazon to mining. - The reserve, known as RENCA, contains nine conserved areas as well as two indigenous reserves. Environmentalists and indigenous leaders were concerned that the opening of the region to large scale mining would put protected areas at risk. - Temer’s original Amazon mining decree was met with worldwide condemnation from environmentalists, indigenous groups, scientists, artists and the general public. - RENCA encompasses 4.6 million hectares (17,800 square miles). Only 0.3 percent of the entire reserve is deforested, making it one of the Amazon’s most intact regions.
How much of a shock can an electric eel deliver? A scientist just found out first-hand [09/27/2017]
- Last year, Kenneth Catania, a professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, was able to corroborate a centuries-old story about electric eels leaping out of the water to shock would-be assailants. - One advantage of leaping out of the water to zap attackers is that the eel’s electrical shock doesn’t have to travel through the water first, which causes it to dissipate and therefore pack less of a punch. But just how much of a charge can eels deliver, anyway? - Catania has now answered that question, as well, in a study published in the journal Current Biology this month.
Amazon dam operator defies order to shut down, police action looms [09/26/2017]
- In 2011, the Norte Energia consortium made an agreement with the Brazilian government to provide adequate housing to the more than 20,000 people to be displaced from their homes due to the building of the Belo Monte dam in Pará state in the Amazon. - On September 20th a federal court suspended Norte Energia’s installation license and ordered it to shut down the dam because it violated that agreement, breaking pledges to provide different-sized houses to accommodate variously sized families, and to resettle displaced people within two kilometers of their original homes. - The court order, which went into immediate effect, included an exceptional provision that federal police could be called on to force Norte Energia to comply with the ruling and shut down the dam. - The consortium has so far refused to cease operations at the dam, and argues that it has yet to see the court order, and that its operating license supersedes its installation license.
Does forest certification really work? [09/21/2017]
- Based on a review of 40 studies of variable quality, we found that certified tropical forests can overall be better for the environment than forests managed conventionally. - But there wasn’t enough evidence to say if certified tropical forests are better than, the same as, or worse than conventionally managed tropical forests when it comes to people. - We also found that profits and other economic benefits can be hard to come by for certified logging companies working in tropical forests. - This is part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness”.
When will cattle ranchers be proud to show their farms in the Amazon? (commentary) [09/21/2017]
- Consumers increasingly seek information on the origin of products. In Brazil, though, many cattle ranchers are reluctant to reveal the source of their cattle. - Environmental, labor, and fiscal problems explain this resistance. Currently, however, there is a battle to increase transparency about the farms to eliminate these problems, especially in the Amazon, which is responsible for 40 percent of the country’s cattle herd. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Amazon dam defeats Brazil’s environment agency (commentary) [09/20/2017]
- The term “controversial” is inadequate to describe the São Manoel Dam. - It is located only 700 m from the Kayabí Indigenous Land and has already provoked a series of confrontations with the indigenous people. - As with other dams, São Manoel can be expected to negatively affect the fish and turtles that are vital food sources for the Kayabí, Munduruku and Apiacá indigenous groups. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author.
Andes dams could threaten food security for millions in Amazon basin [09/19/2017]
- More than 275 hydroelectric projects are planned for the Amazon basin, the majority of which could be constructed in the Andes whose rivers supply over 90 percent of the basin’s sediments and over half its nutrients. - A new study projects huge environmental costs for six of these dams, which together will retain 900 million tons of river sediment annually, reducing supplies of phosphorus and nitrogen, and threatening fish populations and soil quality downstream. - Accumulating sediments upstream of dams are projected to release 10 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, significantly contributing to global warming, and would contaminate waters and the aquatic life they support with mercury. - The construction of these dams should be reconsidered to preserve food security and the livelihoods of millions of people in the Amazon Basin.
Belo Monte dam installation license suspended, housing inadequacy cited [09/19/2017]
- A federal court has suspended the installation license of the Belo Monte mega-dam in the state of Pará, Brazil. The dam, slated to have the world’s third-largest generating capacity, became operational in 2015, but won’t see construction finished until 2019. - The court ordered further construction halted until Norte Energia met the commitments it made in 2011 to provide adequate housing for those displaced by the dam, including indigenous and traditional people that had been living along the Xingu River. - Among commitment violations cited were houses built without space for larger families, houses built from different materials than promised, and homes constructed too far from work, schools and shopping in Altamira, a city lacking a robust public transportation system. - The consortium continues to operate the dam, as its operating license has not been suspended.
Indigenous victory: Brazil’s Temer decrees 1.2 million Amazon reserve [09/18/2017]
- In a rare recent victory for Brazil’s indigenous people, President Temer has established the 1.2 million hectare Indigenous Territory of Turubaxi-Téa along the Middle Negro River in Amazonas state. - While NGOs and indigenous groups applaud the move, they note that the region has not been claimed by the Temer-backed ruralists, agribusiness and mining interests, who have aggressively disputed indigenous claims to ancestral lands in the southern Amazon region. - Two weeks ago, Temer reversed a decree establishing the 532-hectare indigenous Territory of Jaraguá in São Paulo state, ancestral home to 700 Guarani Indians. As a result, the indigenous group has now been squeezed into a reserve covering just 1.7 hectares. - Brazil also just established the 5,200-hectare Indigenous Territory of Tapeba, near Fortaleza, the capital of the northeastern state of Ceará. These indigenous victories do not seem to indicate a shift away from Temer’s wave of initiatives undermining indigenous land rights.
Local approaches to conservation may be the most effective, study finds [09/15/2017]
- Researchers compared deforestation and forest degradation rates in areas of the Peruvian Amazon that were unprotected to those protected through government and local management. - They found, on average, locally led conservation initiatives proved more successful in preserving forests than those that are government-managed. - The study adds to mounting evidence that letting local and indigenous communities officially manage their forests may often be a highly effective way to conserve them. - However, official recognition of land rights often stands in the way of community-based conservation initiatives. The researchers urge the process be simplified so that more indigenous territories can be established and managed by the people who live in them.
Amazon mining unleashed (commentary) [09/15/2017]
- On August 23, 2017, Brazil’s president Michel Temer issued a decree revoking the RENCA, an area the size of Switzerland in the Amazon. - The Ministry of Environment had not been consulted and Brazil’s environmentalists and public were caught by surprise - A firestorm of criticism in Brazil and abroad led Temer to “revoke” the decree on August 28th and replace it with a new one. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author.
Ecologist wins Heinz environment prize for airborne mapping that informs policy [09/14/2017]
- Ecologist Greg Asner of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory will receive a $250,000 award from the Heinz Family Foundation for his work to map rainforests and coral reefs around the world. - Lawmakers and other key decision-makers use Asner’s research to guide policy in the United States, South America and Southeast Asia. - Asner said he intends to put the funds toward marine education and outreach in Hawaii, where he began his career.
Transformance: Finding common ground in the Amazon (commentary) [09/12/2017]
- The Fórum Bem Viver (Good Life Forum) met earlier this month to bring together indigenous leaders, military police, a federal judge, television actors, musicians, journalists, scientists and activists from eight countries and 14 Brazilian states. - The event, organized by the eco-cultural education nonprofit Rios de Encontro, utilized arts performances and workshops to seek common ground between participants regarding sustainable solutions in the Amazon. - The event was held in Marabá, Pará state, which is home to the Carajás mine, the world’s largest iron ore mine, and the community sits beside the Tocantins River where a dam is proposed upstream. - Participants sought solutions for turning Marabá into an “example of sustainable development for the Amazon, the Americas, and the world.” This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Uncontacted Amazon indigenous groups reportedly attacked by outsiders [09/11/2017]
- Brazil is investigating possible violent incidents between illegal miners and farmers and two uncontacted indigenous groups in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Territory in Amazonas state bordering Peru. - One alleged case involved gold miners operating dredges illegally on the Jandiatuba River, a tributary of the Solimões. - In a second case, villagers in Jarinal, a Kanamari community on the Jutai River reported an attack against a Wakinara Djapar group, possibly carried out by people farming illegally in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Territory. - Both reports are under investigation, but so far no solid evidence confirming the attacks has been produced. FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous services agency, has been hampered in enforcing protections of uncontacted groups due to drastic budget reductions. This year, the Temer administration cut the agency’s operating budget by nearly 50 percent.
Zero tolerance of deforestation likely only way to save Amazon gateway [09/07/2017]
- In a new paper, conservationists urgently call for a policy of zero deforestation and sustainable agroforestry in Maranhão, one of Brazil’s poorest states, before its remaining Amazon forests are lost. - The region’s forests are home to unique and endangered species, including the jaguar (Panthera onca), Black bearded saki (Chiropotes satanas), and kaapori capuchin (Cebus kaapori), one of the world’s rarest primates. - It is also inhabited by some of the most vulnerable indigenous groups in the world, including uncontacted indigenous communities. - Though 70 percent of remaining forest lies within protected areas, illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture are persistent problems, threatening already fragmented wildlife habitat and forcing indigenous tribes off ancestral land.
Indigenous communities resist Chinese mining in Amazonian Ecuador [09/05/2017]
- Last weekend, a tribunal held by indigenous communities in Gualaquiza, in the Amazon headwaters region of Ecuador, accused the nation’s first large scale mining operation of major human and environmental abuses. - The Mirador and Panantza-San Carlos open-pit copper mines are run by Ecuacorriente S.A. (ECSA) and owned by the Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan. The two mines are located in the Cordillera del Cóndor region and within the Shuar indigenous territory. - Charges lodged against the government and Chinese consortium include displacement of 116 indigenous people, the razing of the town of San Marcos de Tundayme, escalating violence including the death of Shuar leader José Tendetza, discrimination, intimidation, threats, and worsening environmental degradation. - President Lenin Moreno’s administration has so far made no response to the Gualaquiza accusations or the demand for redress of grievances filed by the tribunal’s leaders.
381 new species described from the Amazon over two-year period [09/04/2017]
- Between January 2014 and December 2015, scientists described 381 new species of wildlife from the Amazon in peer-reviewed scientific journals, a new report by WWF and a Brazil-based organization says. - These include 216 new species of plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals (two of which are fossils), 19 reptiles and one bird. - Many of the newly described species are already on the verge of extinction, the report says.
Temer’s Amazon mining decrees derided by protestors, annulled by judge [08/30/2017]
- In a seeming win for Canadian and Brazilian mining companies, President Michel Temer on August 23rd abolished a vast Amazonian national reserve — the Renca preserve, covering 4.6 million hectares — and opened the region up to mining. - The reserve, straddling Pará and Amapá states, contains large preserved areas and indigenous communities. Temer’s original Amazon mining decree was met with widespread condemnation, resulting in a second clarifying decree on August 28th. - On August 29th, federal judge Ronaldo Spanholo annulled both decrees, citing Brazil’s 1988 constitution, and ruling that the Renca preserve may not be abolished by presidential order but only legislative action. The Brazilian Union´s General Advocate said it will appeal the judge´s decision. - BBC Brasil reported that Canadian mining companies, who would likely profit from the Renca preserve´s abolishment, were notified that the region was going to be opened up for prospecting last March, five months before the original decree was issued.
Brazil rejects oil company’s ‘Amazon Reef’ drilling bid [08/29/2017]
- Ibama, Brazil’s environmental regulator, today rejected Total SA’s environmental impact study for proposed drilling near the mouth of the Amazon. - The environmental agency said the French energy giant failed to provide sufficient information on potential threats to wildlife and habitat. - Environmentalists have been fighting the project.
Intact forests crucial to Amazon ecosystem resilience, stable climate [08/28/2017]
- Three recent South American studies emphasize the importance of intact forests to healthy habitat and a stable climate — both locally, and at a great distance. - The first study found that forest integrity is crucial for habitat stability and resilience. Degradation makes it harder for Brazil’s Caatinga forest to recover from intensifying drought due to climate change. Protected forests are more resilient against drought. - Another study showed that intense land use change in central Brazil and northern Argentina has resulted in the dry season becoming warmer across South America, with changes in Amazon plant productivity 500 kilometers from the disturbed area. - A third study’s modelling found that major future deforestation anywhere in the Amazon will dramatically reduce rainfall in the Amazon’s southwest — accounting for about 25 percent of the Amazon basin — and the La Plata basin.
Quilombolas’ community land rights under attack by Brazilian ruralists [08/25/2017]
- Four million African slaves were transported to Brazilian plantations. Many fled into the wild, some as far as the Amazon, and established quilombos — runaway slave communities long ignored by the federal and state governments. - Brazil’s 1988 constitution gave the quilombos legal land rights, which were not, however, recognized by the ruralists, an elite of wealthy landholders that coveted the land for agribusiness, mining and other development purposes. - In 2003, the “marco temporal,” requiring Quilombolas to prove that they occupied the land they are claiming both in 1888 (the year slavery was abolished) and in 1988 (the year of the new constitution) was overturned. Quilombos were granted inalienable community land rights. - Now, a long dormant court challenge by the DEM political party has reached Brazil’s Supreme Court, threatening the 2003 landmark ruling, again putting the Quilombolas at risk. Meanwhile, violence is up, with 13 people living in quilombos assassinated this year.
Temer pays back ruralists: opens Brazil, Amazon to mining, say critics [08/24/2017]
- In a victory for transnational and Brazilian mining companies, President Michel Temer this week decreed the opening of a vast national reserve covering 4.6 million hectares in the Amazon to mining. The region contains large conserved areas as well as indigenous communities. - Late last month, Temer also decreed a new Brazilian mining code. Though the code still needs to be approved by Congress, it shifts responsibility for monitoring environmental standards away from government and to the mining companies — a move that risks major mining accidents. - It also replaces the National Department of Mineral Production with a new regulatory agency, the National Mining Agency — a bureau that critics say lacks the teeth and personnel to do the job. - Mining code opponents are also concerned it could weaken protections against mining on indigenous lands. They say that the new mining code and green lighting of mining in the Amazon is pay back for a House of Deputies vote in August to close a criminal investigation of the president for corruption.
Deforestation from gold mining in Peru continues, despite gov’t crackdowns [08/22/2017]
- A team of scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science found that, between 1999 and 2016, gold mining expansion cost the region 4,437 hectares (10,964 acres) of forest loss per year. - Miners were working an area in 2016 that was 40 percent larger than it was in 2012. - The findings, along analyses by ecologists at the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, indicate that increased enforcement by the Peruvian government has slowed the rate of deforestation.
Indigenous groups win key land rights victory in Brazil’s Supreme Court [08/17/2017]
- In a victory for Brazil’s indigenous groups, the Supreme Court Wednesday decided against the claims of Mato Grosso state, which wanted compensation for Indian reserves established in that state by the federal government. - Mato Grosso argued that the land on which the reserves were established belonged to the state, but the Court decided on the side of indigenous people, noting in one case that the Indians had been living on the territory that became a reserve for 800 years. - Indirectly, this week’s court decisions undermine a measure recently signed by President Temer, and backed by the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby, known as the “marco temporal.” - The marco temporal sets an arbitrary 1988 date for Indian occupations as a legal basis for all indigenous land claims. The court, in its rulings, based its decision on far longer ancestral territory occupation. It’s likely Temer and the rural caucus will continue pushing marco temporal, or similar strategies to delegitimize indigenous land claims.
Brazil’s Indians on the march in last ditch effort to stop land theft [08/14/2017]
- Last week, indigenous organizations and civil society bodies demonstrated widely against what they see as the Brazilian government’s on going moves to reduce Indian land rights, and to demand the government open a dialogue with indigenous representatives. - Of greatest concern is President Temer’s recommendation to approve the “marco temporal” a 1988 cut-off date for Indian occupation of traditional lands. - Critics say the marco temporal is designed to deny indigenous land rights guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 constitution, while legalizing claims of land thieves and wealthy elite ruralists who have long hungered for control of Indian lands. - Brazilian Supreme Court rulings that will help determine the legality of the marco temporal are expected this Wednesday, 16 August.
Brazilian firm wants to build new dams in Amazon’s Aripuanã basin [08/10/2017]
- With the bancada ruralista mining / agribusiness lobby in control of the Temer government and Congress, a Brazilian company, Intertechne Consultores, sees it as an opportune time to revive a shelved plan to build dams in the Amazon’s Aripuanã basin. - The company has asked federal officials to allow viability studies for 3 new dams in this very remote, biodiverse region — the Sumaúma and Quebra Remo dams on the Aripuanã River, and the Inferninho dam on its tributary, the Roosevelt River. - The Inferninho dam, if built, would highly impact the Cinta Larga Indians, the victims of Brazilian-inflicted genocide in the 1960s. The Roosevelt Indigenous Reserve contains one of the world’s five largest diamond reserves, a cause of past violent conflicts. - Moves may be afoot in Congress to end a ban of mining on indigenous lands. If passed, a new law could allow mining on Cinta Larga land, with new mines potentially powered by the new hydroelectric dams. These projects, if built, would likely be a source of intense new controversy and conflict in the Amazon.
Monkey rediscovered in Brazil after 80 years [08/09/2017]
- An Ecuadorian naturalist collected the bald-faced Vanzolini saki in 1936 along the Eiru River. His record was the first and last known living evidence of the species. - In February 2017, an expedition called Houseboat Amazon set out to survey the forest along the Juruá River and its tributaries, with the hopes of finding the Vanzolini saki. - After just four days, the team spotted one leaping from branch to branch in a tall tree by the Eiru River. - The saki’s habitat is still fairly pristine, but the scientists worry its proximity to Brazil’s “arc of deforestation” and hunting pressure may threaten the species in the future.
HydroCalculator: new, free, online tool helps citizens assess dams [08/07/2017]
- With mega-dams planned globally, especially in the Amazon and Mekong, the Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF), an NGO, has developed a new free tool for evaluating a planned dam’s economic viability, greenhouse gas emissions and more. - The HydroCalculator estimates the net economic value of a proposed dam, with and without the cost of greenhouse gas emissions factored in, number of years required before a project generates a profit, and years until net emissions become negative. - The tool has been used by CSF, International Rivers, and a development bank and found to be very useful. Its forecasts have been tested against the economic viability and carbon emissions of existing dams, and found accurate. - The HydroCalculator is meant for use by communities, researchers and activists who are often closed out of the technical dam planning process. It is available free online.
Sixth mass extinction ‘tsunami’ coming, but preventable [08/04/2017]
- Biologist Thomas Lovejoy writes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that we can stop the current spate of biodiversity and species loss that the Earth is experiencing. - Pointing to a recent study showing that many animals are declining in numbers in addition to those facing the imminent risk of extinction, Lovejoy argues that we need to address all of the impacts that humans have on ecosystems. - He calls for the restoration of degraded forests and wetlands — activities in which everyone can participate — to facilitate the movement of wildlife between habitats and bring back the services that ecosystems provide.
Three new frog species found in Peruvian Andes with more to come [08/04/2017]
- Few biological surveys have been conducted in the Pui Pui Protected Forest in the decades since it was established in 1985, and “the potential for additional discoveries is enormous,” according to one researcher who helped discover the three new frog species. - The three new species all belong to a family of land-breeding frogs called Craugastoridae whose embryos hatch as froglets rather than going through a tadpole stage, which allows them to survive in a wide array of habitat types with sufficient moisture. - The researchers say they will describe three more new frogs as well as two new lizards they’ve discovered in the Pui Pui Protected Forest in future papers.
Study examines sex-specific responses of Neotropical bats to habitat fragmentation [08/02/2017]
- While scientists have long known that males and females of some species use their habitat in different ways, the various responses to habitat destruction that are sex-specific are less well understood. - Research published in the journal Biotropica this month looked at the different responses to the effects of fragmentation exhibited by male and female individuals of Seba’s Short-tailed Bat (Carollia perspicillata) and the Dwarf Little Fruit Bat (Rhinophylla pumilio), both fruit-eating bats native to the Neotropics. - Researchers captured more than 2,000 bats of the target species in eight forest fragments of various sizes and nine control sites at the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, a research forest about 80 kilometers north of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon. - The authors of the study write that their results align with those of previous research in temperate areas, where male and female bats have been found to differ in their responses to habitat degradation at the local and landscape level.
Canopy bridges keep rainforest animals connected over gas pipeline [08/02/2017]
- Pipelines, roads, railways and transmission lines cause severe habitat fragmentation in the Amazon rainforest. A new study looked at canopy connectivity for large arboreal mammal populations using natural bridges above a new gas pipeline in Peru. - In 7,102 canopy camera trap nights, the crossing rate of natural bridges in the canopy above a new pipeline was surprisingly high: nearly 200 times that of the ground (3,100+ overhead versus 16 ground occurrences). - Researchers recorded 25 species from 12 mammal families using natural canopy bridges in 3,372 photo events, including night monkeys, kinkajous, olingos, dwarf porcupines, opossums and squirrels. - These results suggest natural and artificial canopy bridges could significantly improve habitat connectivity for rainforest arboreal species when new, or already existing, transportation, mining and energy corridors threaten fragmentation
Brazil’s Temer threatens constitutional indigenous land rights [08/01/2017]
- President Temer, influenced by the rural lobby in congress whose votes he needs to not be tried by the Supreme Court on corruption charges, has okayed new criteria meant to delegitimize indigenous land boundary claims, legal experts say. - One rule rejects any indigenous demarcation of land where Indians were not physically present on a traditional territory in 1988, which would disqualify many legitimate claims. - Another allows government to undertake “strategic” public works, such as dams and roads, without indigenous consent, violating the International Labor Organization’s 169 Convention, signed by Brazil. - The administration also introduced a bill likely to be passed by congress that reclassifies 349,000 hectares (1,347 square miles) of Jamanxim National Forest in the Amazon, gutting protections, allowing economic activities — logging, ranching, farming and mining — and legitimizing land grabs there.
The “dolphin who became man”: will the boto survive the catfish trade? [07/31/2017]
- Fernando Trujillo has spent more than 30 years studying the Amazon’s elusive river dolphin, under threat by the fishing trade. - Twelve years ago, locals started killing river dolphins to attract a lucrative fish to the carcasses, causing the animals to become endangered. - A new film, A River Below, explores the story of the river dolphin and how it relates to the larger tale of the millions of people who call the Amazon home.
Landless Workers Movement protest occupies farms of Brazil’s elite [07/28/2017]
- This week, Brazil’s internationally recognized Landless Workers Movement (MST) launched a coordinated protest against corruption, with thousands of its members occupying six farms affiliated with government officials and Brazil’s wealthy elite. - Farms were occupied by hundreds of protesting landless families in the states of Mato Grosso, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná and Minas Gerais. - One occupation occurred on a soy farm owned by the Amaggi Group and affiliated with Brazilian agriculture minister Blairo Maggi. Another occurred on the farm of João Baptista Lima Filho, a close friend of President Temer. Both Lima Filho and Temer are under investigation for alleged corruption. - At present, neither federal nor state authorities have made any known moves to end the occupations.
Amazonian city drags down fish stocks in 1,000-kilometer shadow [07/28/2017]
- A study of tambaqui, a popular table fish, in the Brazilian Amazon found that fish caught near the city of Manaus are half the size of those upriver. - Boats that buy the fish have brought the demand into the forest surrounding the city, and with holds full of ice, they’re able to travel further to bring tambaqui back to Manaus’ markets. - The fishers living in the relatively pristine forest along the Purus River reported that tambaquie are smaller and harder to catch than they were previously, a trend extended 1,000 kilometers from Manaus, the researchers found.