India’s pre-election changes to green laws draw criticism [07/19/2018]
- In the final year of its tenure, the Indian government is making a dash to revamp the country’s major environmental laws meant to protect forests, coasts and wildlife, and tackle air pollution. - Environmentalists say that the hasty changes seem to have been proposed in quick succession to avoid wider and detailed consultations with all concerned stakeholders. - They also allege that the proposed changes to existing environmental laws are not focused on protecting and conserving the environment, but aim to ease the growth of industries — a promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi just before the 2014 general elections.
Southeast Asian deforestation more extensive than thought, study finds [07/18/2018]
- Researchers analyzed a suite of satellite imagery products and found much greater deforestation than expected since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia. - Much of the 82,000 square kilometers (31,700 square miles) they estimate to have been developed into croplands in the region’s highlands reflects previously undocumented conversion of forest, including primary and protected forests, to agriculture. - Through a sample-based verification process, the authors found that 93 percent of the pixels from areas allocated to areas of net forest loss by the authors’ model were confirmed as net forest loss, and 99 percent of the pixels delineated as other areas were accurately labelled as non-net forest loss. - The findings contrast with previous assumptions about land-cover trends currently used in projections of global climate change and future environmental conditions in Southeast Asia.
New report spotlights financiers of palm oil giant clearing Liberia’s forests [07/17/2018]
- A new report by Friends of the Earth highlights deforestation by Golden Veroleum Liberia, an arm of the billionaire Widjaja family’s conglomerate. - The largest financiers of Golden Veroleum’s parent company include U.S. financial firms Vanguard, BlackRock, Kopernik Global Investors, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Northern Trust and CitiGroup; Dutch firms Robeco and Rabobank; and Asian firms China Merchants Bank, Maybank Indonesia and Bank Mandiri. - Golden Veroleum cleared some 150 square kilometers of land between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.
EU demand siphons illicit timber from Ukraine, investigation finds [07/17/2018]
- Corrupt management of Ukraine’s timber sector is supplying the EU with large amounts of wood from the country’s dense forests. - The London-based investigative nonprofit Earthsight found evidence that forestry officials have taken bribes to supply major European firms with Ukrainian wood that may have been harvested illegally. - Earthsight argues that EU-based companies are not carrying out the due diligence that the EU Timber Regulation requires when buying from “high-risk” sources of timber.
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.”
Mangroves and their deforestation may emit more methane than we thought [07/13/2018]
- A recently published study finds mangroves release more methane than previously estimated. - Methane packs much more of a global warming punch than carbon dioxide, and the study indicates this methane could be offsetting around 20 percent of a mangrove’s soil carbon storage rate. - Deforestation of mangroves releases much of the carbon stored by mangroves, including methane.
Angry farmers set fire to offices of Madagascar eco group, gov’t agency [07/13/2018]
- Large swaths of forest inside northwestern Madagascar’s Bongolava Forest Corridor, a protected area, have been burned to make way for commercial corn farming, raising the fortunes of many residents accustomed to living on the edge of subsistence. - Last month, angry farmers armed with sticks and machetes stormed into the northwestern city of Boriziny, also known as Port–Bergé, to demand the release of people arrested for illegally clearing farmland inside the protected area. - The group destroyed the offices of the local nonprofit that manages the protected area and set fire to the building it shares with an outpost of the environment ministry, as well as to the homes of the group’s coordinator and the government administrator for the area. - The episode highlights the difficulty of achieving meaningful conservation in an area where the populace largely views ecological goals as conflicting with an important source of income.
Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat [07/13/2018]
- Twenty-five of the world’s top environmental scientists have sent a letter to Indonesia’s president, seeking a halt to a planned hydroelectric dam in the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the rarest species of great ape on Earth. - The scientists also slammed the Chinese government for funding the project as a part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, saying it has disregarded the environmental consequences of building and operating the dam. - The developers of the project have dismissed the criticism, saying they will enforce strong environmental safeguards to protect the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
After devastating floods in 2013, an Indian state ignores the lessons [07/13/2018]
- In 2013, the state of Uttarakhand in northern India witnessed one of the biggest natural disasters in independent India’s history when heavy rains and flash floods resulted in the destruction of thousands of lives and property. - According to experts, the disaster’s impacts were exacerbated by unabated illegal construction on river floodplains and the government’s relentless pursuit of hydropower projects. - Five years since the floods, the state is continuing to push for hydropower projects, which has residents and experts worried. - Mongabay-India staff writer Mayank Aggarwal and video editor Kartik Chandramouli traveled to Uttarakhand to see how the state has dealt with the disaster’s aftermath.
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.
RSPO fails to deliver on environmental and social sustainability, study finds [07/11/2018]
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is widely considered the strongest certification scheme for the commodity, which is grown largely on plantations hacked out of tropical forests that are home to critically endangered species such as orangutans. - A new study has found that RSPO-certified plantations perform no better than non-RSPO estates on a series of sustainability metrics, including species and habitat conservation, as well as social benefits to local communities. - The researchers attributed the scheme’s shortcomings to a lack of clarity on its central objectives, as well as weak environmental safeguards. - For its part, the RSPO has disputed the study’s findings, citing other reports that it says highlight a net positive impact to the environment and communities from certification.
Revealed: Paper giant’s ex-staff say it used their names for secret company in Borneo [07/10/2018]
- Last December, it came to light that a plantation company clearing forest in Indonesia was owned by two employees of Asia Pulp & Paper, a giant firm that has promised to stop deforesting. - APP claimed the employees had set up the company on their own, without management knowing. But an investigation by Mongabay provides evidence that contradicts APP’s story. - The findings place APP squarely in the middle of an emerging debate about the presence of “shadow companies” among the holdings of the conglomerates that dominate Indonesia’s plantation sector.
Audio: How to use drones without stressing wildlife [07/10/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss the increasing use of drones by wildlife lovers, researchers, and businesses, how that might be stressing animals out, and how drone hobbyists can actually make a meaningful contribution to science while avoiding the harassment of wildlife. - Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone pilot, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical that we have best practices for drones in place before we allow companies like Amazon and Uber to deploy fleets of drones in our skies. - “I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”
Palm oil firms using ‘shadow companies’ to hide their links to deforestation: report [07/09/2018]
- A new report highlights the use of opaque corporate structures by some of the world’s largest palm oil firms, allegedly to conceal their ties to destructive practices such as rainforest and peatland clearance. - The report focuses on Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The firms it flags include Sawit Sumbermas Sarana, Gama, Bintang Harapan Desa, and the Fangiono, Tee, and Salim family business groups. - Also last week, Martua Sitorus, co-founder of palm oil giant Wilmar International, resigned from the firm after he was shown to be running a second firm, Gama, with his brother that has cleared an area of rainforest twice the size of Paris since 2013. Wilmar promised to stop deforesting that same year. - “We are particularly concerned about this ‘shadow company’ issue as it really threatens NDPE policies, by allowing growers to continue to deforest, and allowing them to still find a market with companies with [zero-deforestation] policies,” said a researcher who worked on the report.
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.
Peru: How chocolate saved a community and a protected area from the drug trade [07/06/2018]
- In the forests surrounding Río Abiseo National Park, in the Peruvian Amazon region of San Martín, a burgeoning chocolate industry is gaining traction. - After dedicating more than twenty years to the cultivation of coca to supply cocaine trafficking, today the community of Mariscal Cáceres is committed to legal production of cacao that allows them to protect more than 300,000 hectares of forest. - Cacao growers in the community are partnering with Swiss dairy farmer to produce high-quality chocolate for markets in Europe and the U.S.
And then there were 12: Why don’t we hear about extinction until it’s too late? (commentary) [07/06/2018]
- Species threatened with extinction often don’t get the public’s attention until they no longer exist. - The author, zoologist Sam Turvey, argues that more attention to these critical cases is required. - Ahead of International Save the Vaquita Day on July 7, Turvey points out that the world’s most endangered marine mammal is dangerously close to extinction, and it’s not alone. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Cerrado: traditional communities win back land from agribusiness firm [07/05/2018]
- Traditional communities, which have inhabited rural lands sometimes for centuries but without land deeds, are protected under Brazilian law. However, a variety of elite land grabbers, ranging from cattle ranchers to large agribusiness companies, have used intimidation and other methods to seize community lands. - Rural communities in Formosa do Rio Preto in Bahia state are a case in point. They are in conflict with Agronegócio Estrondo, an agribusiness firm which the communities say illegally seized their lands on the Black River. A state court has now ruled in the communities’ favor, ordering the land returned and fines paid. - However, the communities say Estrondo, which has a documented history in Bahia as a land grabber, has continued its tactics of intimidation, recently digging a 1.8-mile trench to hinder movement of local people and livestock, and using a private security force and police to seize the rural community of Cachoeira’s cell phone tower. - Also, in Cachoeira, in June, local police and private security, allegedly from Estrondo, entered the home of Adão Batista Gomes, arrested, then released him. He is the community leader whose name appears first on the judicial action against the agribusiness firm. Estrondo seems likely to appeal the court ruling.
New research calculates full carbon cost of oil palm cultivation in Indonesia’s forests [07/05/2018]
- Researchers found that each hectare of rainforest converted to oil palm monoculture creates 174 tons of carbon emissions, most of which will find their way into the atmosphere and contribute to global climate change. - After oil palm is harvested, the amount of biomass returned to the soil to feed living organisms underground can be 90 percent lower than in a functional, healthy rainforest. Since the soil in oil palm plantations is repeatedly cleared and treated with pesticides, very little natural litter like dead leaves and wood goes back into the ground. - The research team said that their findings show that figures used by bodies like the IPCC and the RSPO to calculate the carbon cost of oil palm cultivation should be updated and that belowground carbon losses must be accounted for.
Global frog pandemic may become even deadlier as strains combine [07/03/2018]
- Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis – Bd for short – causes a disease called chytridiomycosis that affects a frog’s ability to absorb water and electrolytes through its skin. By 2007, Bd had spread around the world and had been implicated in the decline or extinction of some 200 species. - A new study finds that hybridization between a native strain of Bd and the one that’s caused the global pandemic can lead to greater infection rates and illness strength than either can alone. - It was conducted by researchers from universities in Brazil and the U.S. who looked at infection in several frog species in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. They chose that region because of its high amphibian biodiversity (despite being one of the most deforested ecosystems on the planet), as well as because it is the only known region in the world where multiple strains of Bd coexist and hybridize. - The researchers say their results indicate frogs may face a future even more dire than anticipated as different strains of Bd spread around the world and combine into more harmful forms. They call for increasing global monitoring efforts to detect these shifts before they lead to new outbreaks.
‘Saving the rainforest 2.0:’ New report makes recommendations for improving forest protection [07/02/2018]
- Over the past decade, Norway has spent $3 billion to support efforts to keep forests standing in all of the world’s major rainforest countries, helping to elevate forest protection as a globally important cause (and climate solution) in the process. - But it’s time to take stock of what’s worked and what hasn’t, in terms of both tropical forest protection in general and Norway’s particular role in facilitating forest conservation, and chart a new course forward — that’s the premise of a new report from Rainforest Foundation Norway titled “Saving the rainforest 2.0.” - The report, released last week as hundreds of policymakers and conservationists met at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum hosted by Norway, identifies key barriers to stopping the destruction of the world’s forests and offers several recommendations for how the world can more successfully combat deforestation.
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.
Investing in indigenous communities is most efficient way to protect forests, report finds [07/02/2018]
- A new report adds to the growing body of evidence that indigenous peoples are the best protectors of the forests they call home. - The report compares conservation outcomes in lands controlled by indigenous groups against those in government-managed “protection zones” in 28 countries. - The rate of deforestation on customary lands is half what it is elsewhere, the report finds.
What’s worse than palm oil for the environment? Other vegetable oils, IUCN study finds [07/02/2018]
- A new IUCN report shows that while palm oil leads to deforestation and biodiversity losses, replacing it with other types of vegetable oils might be even worse for the environment. - The key factor is the high yield of oil palms, with other oil crops requiring up to nine times as much land to produce the same volume of vegetable oil. Transitioning to the latter would shift the deforestation associated with palm oil production to other regions such as South America, a major producer of soy. - The report found that by far the biggest gains for biodiversity in an oil palm context are through avoiding further deforestation, which can be achieved through improved planning of new plantations and better management of forest patches left untouched in plantations.
After logging, activists hope to extend protections for Bialowieza Forest [06/28/2018]
- Bialoweiza Forest straddles Poland and Belarus and is Europe’s largest remaining lowland old growth forest, home to wildlife that has disappeared from much of the rest of Europe. In March 2016, the government approved a plan to triple industrial logging in Poland’s Bialoweiza forest. The government argued it was the only way to combat a spruce bark beetle outbreak, but environmentalists believed that was largely an excuse to give access to the state-run logging regime. - According to watchdog organizations, loggers cut 190,000 cubic meters of wood in 2017. This amounts to around 160,000-180,000 trees and affects an area of about 1,900 hectares. It also represents the most trees cut in the forest in any one year since 1987 when Poland was under a communist government. - In May 2018, Europe’s highest court ruled the logging illegal, noting that the government’s own documents showed that logging was a bigger threat than the beetles, which are a part of natural, cyclical process that is likely exacerbated by climate change. Poland, threatened with high fines, backed down—and the logging stopped. - Activists and environmentalists are calling for expanding national park status – which currently applies to just a small portion of Poland’s portion of the forest – over its entirety. But they worry a government panel of experts will once again push to open Bialoweiza to logging.
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.
A most unlikely hope: How the companies that destroyed the world’s forests can save them (commentary) [06/28/2018]
- In the age of Trump, lamenting the lassitude of governments may be satisfying, but it does little to solve our planet’s foremost existential crisis. It is for this reason that the hopes of billions of people now depend on the very companies most responsible for environmental destruction. - We’ve come to a pretty sorry pass if we’re depending in significant measure on these corporations to get us out of this mess. But it’s the pass we’re at, and there’s actually reason to hope that the same companies that got us into this mess can get us out. - In this commentary, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz writes that he feels confident these companies can make a difference because they’ve done it before. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The world lost an area of tropical forest the size of Bangladesh in 2017 [06/27/2018]
- According to new data, tropical countries lost 158,000 square kilometers (39 million acres) of tree cover in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh. The 2017 number is the second highest since the dataset began in 2001, and only a bit lower than the record high in 2016. - Brazil came out on top for the most tree cover lost of any tropical country, a reversal from the country’s deforestation reductions over the past 14 years. Tree cover loss also rose dramatically in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia. However, Indonesia’s numbers dropped by nearly half between 2016 and 2017. - Experts attribute the upward trend in tree cover loss primarily to continued land clearing for agricultural purposes. - The new dataset was discussed at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum, which is taking place this week in Norway.
PepsiCo to probe deforestation in palm oil supplier’s Leuser Ecosystem concession [06/27/2018]
- PepsiCo has launched an investigation into reports of deforestation in one of its supplier’s oil palm plantations, located in the Leuser Ecosystem, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to some of the last Sumatran tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants left on Earth. - The investigation comes in response to a complaint from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which says the company has failed to act since the deforestation allegations were first reported four years ago. - For its part, the supplier alleges that the deforestation was carried out by local villagers encroaching into its concession, and that it is in discussions with them on resolving the long-running dispute over the land tenure. - Separately, PepsiCo has also recently updated and expanded its policy on sustainable palm oil, which has been criticized by RAN for failing to ensure the elimination of labor rights violations and forest destruction from the company’s extensive supply chain.
Rwandan people and mountain gorillas face changing climate together [06/27/2018]
- The Critically Endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), has been brought back from extinction’s brink in Rwanda, with numbers in the Virunga Mountains around Volcanoes National Park estimated at 604 individuals in 2016, up from 480 in 2010. But long-time observers say climate change is bringing new survival challenges to the area. - Longer and deeper droughts in recent years have caused serious water shortages, which impact both local farmers and the mountain gorillas. People now must often go deep into the park to find clean water, which increases the likelihood of contact with the great apes, which increases the likelihood for the transfer of human diseases to the animals. - Hotter temps and dryer conditions could also pressure farmers to move into gorilla habitat in future, as they seek more productive cropland at higher altitudes. Also, as the climate changes, bamboo availability may be decreasing, depriving gorillas of a favorite food. This could force troops to forage outside the park in croplands, possibly leading to conflict. - Forced changes in diet could impact gorilla nutrition, making the great apes more susceptible to disease. A major disease outbreak could be disastrous due to low population numbers. Scientists urge more research to understand how climate change affects human behavior, which then affects gorillas, and how the fate of the two primates intertwines.
Uncertainty around Madagascar mine in wake of cyclone [06/27/2018]
- The Ambatovy mine complex near Madagascar’s eastern city of Toamasina is a massive operation to extract nickel and cobalt from the country’s rich soil. - The $8 billion complex represents the largest-ever foreign investment in the country. - Over the years, local residents have suspected the mine of causing environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution. - Locals now fear that Tropical Cyclone Ava, which hit Toamasina hard in January, may have exacerbated these problems — fears that Ambatovy and local officials assert are unfounded.
Logging roads drive loss of intact forest in FSC-certified logging concessions [06/27/2018]
- Logging roads in Central Africa cause greater loss of intact forest landscapes, or IFLs, on certified timber concessions compared to non-certified concessions, an analysis shows. - Certified timber companies typically build more robust road networks that are more apt to show up on satellite imagery than non-certified companies. - The findings highlight an apparent contradiction between certification for logging and the protection of IFLs, leading some critics to argue that IFL protection should not be part of the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards.
Government regulation is the missing ingredient in efforts to end deforestation driven by agriculture (commentary) [06/26/2018]
- Despite countless corporate commitments, tropical deforestation for agriculture remains rampant. - New research reveals that we need government regulation to achieve meaningful results. - The European Union, a top importer of products that drive deforestation, must take the opportunity to make a difference, writes Nicole Polsterer, Sustainable consumption campaigner at the NGO Fern. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
‘Screen, not just green’ infrastructure projects to help economies and the environment [06/26/2018]
- Bill Laurance, a tropical ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University, argues that scientists should work to slow the pace of infrastructure development around the world. - ‘Delaying’ the process of development will allow time for the merits — and the potential dangers to the environment, communities and economies — to be debated publicly. - While many of these projects are viewed as wholly positive because they’re intended to connect markets and create jobs, a lot of them ‘should not happen,’ Laurance said.
Dutch pension fund divests from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesia [06/25/2018]
- APB, the Dutch pension fund for government and education employees, announced it would divest 300,000 euros from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesian Papua. - Norway’s pension fund divested from Posco Daewoo, and its parent company, Posco, in 2015. APB is still invested in Posco. - Posco Daewoo is owned by one of South Korean’s largest conglomerates.
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.
In Indonesia’s coal heartland, jaded voters weigh the ‘same old’ candidates [06/25/2018]
- Years of rampant natural resources exploitation and mismanagement in East Kalimantan, the coal-mining heartland of Indonesia, have resulted in voter apathy as the province goes to the polls for a new governor this week. - All the candidates are veteran local officials, most implicated in corruption cases, fueling a sense that there will be little improvement in the management of the province’s mines, regardless of who wins. - Environmental activists say none of the candidates appear to be concerned about the environment, with no definitive programs on environmental conservation in any of their stated campaign platforms.
DRC adopts a strategy that will bolster community forestry, conservation group says [06/25/2018]
- A new community forestry strategy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could help provide Congolese communities with a say in the management of the country’s forests. - A group of local and international organizations, government agencies and community groups developed the strategy to strengthen the capacity of provincial authorities and ensure that the country’s community forestry laws do in fact include and benefit communities. - The plan calls for an “experimental phase” over the next five years to gradually provide access to areas of the roughly 700,000 square kilometers (more than 270,000 square miles) of available forest through community management permits.
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.
Latam Eco Review: Ports imperil Colombian crocodiles [06/23/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of June 11 – 17. Among the top articles: Port projects in northern Colombia threaten the mangrove habitats of American crocodiles. In other news, the Waorani people of Ecuador use camera traps to record an astonishing diversity […]
Last Glimpses of a Cambodian Paradise? Documenting an area on the eve of its likely destruction (commentary) [06/22/2018]
- The sheer scale of the logging operations in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park makes it a wonder that there’s anything left of the forest, especially as the timber just keeps flowing into Vietnam unabated. In fact, Cambodia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. - Yet there is still plenty of wildlife, at least in Virachey National Park, where I have been part of a team that has been conducting a wildlife survey for four years now. - All hope could well be lost — man/progress must be served. But are the nails firmly placed in the biodiversity coffin and awaiting final pounding? Perhaps not. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Scientists find surprising genetic differences between Brazil’s mangroves [06/21/2018]
- Mangrove forests occupy tropical costal areas and provide important habitat for wildlife, as well as ecosystem services for human communities. They’re also carbon storage powerhouses, pound-for-pound capable of sequestering four times more carbon than a rainforest. - Researchers analyzed the genes of mangrove forests along the coast of Brazil. They found that trees in different forests show “dramatic” differences from one another, even when they belong to the same species. - They think these differences arose because an ocean current separates mangroves in northern and southern Brazil, making it so they can’t exchange genes. - The researchers suspect the genetic distinctiveness of mangrove populations extends beyond Brazil. They say their results highlight the importance of enacting conservation plans that give a higher priority to the preservation of genetic diversity – an endeavor they say is becoming more and more critical for mangroves as they continue to disappear and climate change ramps up.
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.
Orangutan forest school in Indonesia takes on its first eight students [06/21/2018]
- A forest school in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, funded by the Vienna-based animal welfare organization Four Paws and run by the local organization Jejak Pulang, has just started training its first eight orangutan orphans to learn the skills they need to live independently in the forest. - Borneo’s orangutans are in crisis, with more than 100,000 lost since 1999 through direct killings and loss of habitat, particularly to oil palm and pulpwood plantations. - Security forces often confiscate juvenile orangutans under 7 years of age, and without their mothers to teach them the skills they need, they cannot be released back into the forest. - Jejak Pulang’s team of 15 orangutan caretakers, a biologist, two veterinarians and the center’s director aim to prepare the orphaned orangutans for independence.
Commercial values are a key driver of Zero Deforestation policies (commentary) [06/20/2018]
- Zero Deforestation Policies (ZDPs) are mostly developed in response to campaigns and motivated by risk management and protection of commercial values, a new enquiry finds, although personal and company values do factor in. - ZDP implementation often focuses on integrating commercial values, reflecting a “quick-fix” approach. - Personal and company values have high potential to influence ZDP implementation, especially when people are genuinely committed to the purpose. People can be genuinely committed when they relate the ZDP to their own personal values or to company values, which they identify with and feel empowered to act on. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Park at risk over illegal mining [06/19/2018]
- The illegal mining, which also takes place in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and in Tambopata National Reserve, has isolated part of the giant river otter population. - The current leaders of the Kotsimba indigenous community are creating a plan with the Ministry of Environment to abandon illegal mining, although an environmental disaster from over 10 years ago remains unaddressed.
Madagascar: Yet another anti-trafficking activist convicted [06/19/2018]
- Christopher Magnenjika, an activist working to stem corruption and wildlife trafficking in northeastern Madagascar, was tried, convicted, fined $9 and released earlier this month. - The charges against Magnenjika include “rebellion” and insulting local officials. - Magnenjika’s supporters say his arrest and conviction were a pretext for keeping him quiet about the illicit trade in rosewood, a valuable tropical hardwood. - Magnenjika is one of at least ten Malagasy activists who have faced imprisonment in recent years.
Animals are becoming night owls to avoid humans [06/19/2018]
- By analyzing 76 studies and activity patterns of 62 mammal species, including bears, deer, coyotes and tigers, researchers have found that large mammals are 1.36 times more active at night in areas with high human presence compared to areas with low human presence. - These results seemed to be consistent across species and continents. - Animals seem to be becoming more nocturnal not only to avoid direct threats like hunting, but to avoid even recreational human activities like hiking and mountain biking.
One tortoise at a time: Q&A with zoo veterinarian Justin Rosenberg [06/19/2018]
- In April, authorities discovered around 10,000 radiated tortoises, believed to be destined for the Asian pet trade, in an abandoned house in southwestern Madagascar. - The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) took the animals to its rescue center in Ifaty, and soon, veterinarians and keepers from around the world began traveling to Madagascar to help the animals. - Currently, between 9,000 and 10,000 tortoises are alive, with around 100 still in need of critical care. - Mongabay spoke with a veterinarian who spent several weeks at TSA’s facility about the ongoing efforts.
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.”
In Peru, coca puts one of the world’s best coffee crops at risk [06/18/2018]
- Of the more than 8,400 hectares (nearly 21,000 acres) of coffee planted, only 2,330 hectares (about 5,700 acres) remain in operation. - A buffer zone around Bahuaja-Sonene National Park has been impacted: Drug trafficking has expanded into the protected area, damaging more than 400 hectares (over 980 acres) of important biological corridors. - Coffee production of the area’s central coffee cooperative, Cecovasa, has dropped from 8.5 million pounds to 600,000 pounds, jeopardizing the group’s survival.
In a land hit by the resource curse, a new gold mine spooks officials [06/17/2018]
- A company in Indonesia plans to start mining gold in a district in the country’s West Papua province that forms part of the ecologically important Cendrawasih Bay National Park — an ostensibly protected area. - The company is currently applying for an environmental impact assessment that would allow it to obtain a mining permit, but local officials involved in the process say they see little benefit to the proposed mine. They say they prefer a development model built on tourism based on the region’s rich biodiversity. - The district chief, who has the final say in issuing the permit, has signaled he approves of the project — flip-flopping on a pledge he made at the end of last year to prioritize an environment-focused development framework.
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 […]
Footage of elusive Negros bleeding-heart dove captured in the wild [06/15/2018]
- New footage of one of one of the most elusive birds in the world — the critically endangered Negros bleeding heart dove — has been released. - A team with the Bristol Zoological Society, a UK-based conservation and education NGO, spent five days searching for the bird in the forests of the Philippines’ Panay Island in order to capture a video of the rarely seen species in the wild. - The Negros bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba keayi) is a medium-sized, ground-dwelling species of pigeon endemic to the Philippine islands of Negros and Panay. There are perhaps as few as 70 and no more than 400 individuals of the species left on the two islands it calls home, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Primate-rich countries are becoming less hospitable places for monkeys, apes and lemurs [06/15/2018]
- New research shows that many of the 65 percent of the world’s primate species found in four countries — Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo — face the threat of extinction. - The scientists involved in the study used maps of primate ranges and information on the threats they face to predict what might happen to the animals through the end of the 21st century. - They found that increases in the amount of land turned over for human food production could cause the primate habitats to shrink substantially in these countries. - However, the team also found that intensive conservation measures could dramatically reduce the loss of primate habitat by 2100 and potentially avert the mass extinction of these species.
Facebook video shows orangutan defending forest against bulldozer [06/15/2018]
- Dramatic footage released last week by an animal welfare group shows a wild orangutan trying in vain to fight off destruction of its rainforest home in Borneo. - The video, filmed in 2013 but posted on Facebook on June 5th for World Environment Day by International Animal Rescue (IAR), was shot in Sungai Putri, a tract of forest in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province. - Sungai Putri is one of the most important refuges for orangutans left in Indonesian Borneo. According to orangutan expert Erik Meijaard, Sungai Putri may be home to over 1,000 orangutans.
Video: Mariyady, the priest investigating the corporate takeover of indigenous peoples’ forests in Borneo [06/11/2018]
- “Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them, a local priest named Mariyady, researched the contracts signed between villagers and the company, and determined they were ripped off by the compensation they were paid — he described it as “murder.”
Illegal logging persists in Borneo orangutan habitat despite government ban [06/07/2018]
- Illegal logging continues inside an orangutan habitat in Borneo that the Indonesian government had decreed off-limits last year, an investigation by Greenpeace has found. - The group reported at least six logging camps in the concession held by a timber company, but noted that it was unclear whether the company itself, PT Mohairson Pawan Khatulistiwa (MPK), was engaged in the illegal logging. - This is the second time Greenpeace has found indications of commercial exploitation in the area since the government ordered PT MPK to halt its operations last year.
Time is running out for palm oil certification (commentary) [06/06/2018]
- A number of voluntary schemes have been set up to address the environmental impacts of palm oil, which has experienced rapid growth in demand and has been identified as one of the leading drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss worldwide. - While there is some variation between them, none of the schemes has been very effective in slowing down deforestation. The range of schemes, and the existence of different modules within each scheme that allow members to opt for varying degrees of ambition, are leading to a watering down of sustainability outcomes in general. - For too long, certification has been considered as the one and only “possible and realistic” option for addressing the impacts of palm oil cultivation, but the fact is: we are running out of time. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
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.
Paper giant denies secretly owning ‘independent’ suppliers [06/05/2018]
- A new NGO report details the links between Indonesia’s Sinarmas conglomerate and its “independent” wood suppliers. - Sinarmas and its Asia Pulp & Paper arm argue that some of the links are normal, but deny others. - NGO investigators speculate that Sinarmas may have structured its operations to deflect blame for the fires that burn nearly every year in its suppliers’ concessions, or even to evade taxes.
When palm oil meets politics, Indonesian farmers pay the price [06/05/2018]
- Activists have warned of a worrying number of farmers in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province being driven off their land by palm oil companies, often with the support of the local police and officials. - The province lost 10 percent of its tree cover between 2001 and 2016, and palm concessions now account for more than 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of land there, including pristine forests that are home to species found nowhere else on Earth. - Given the long history of district chiefs issuing a flurry of concessions in exchange for campaign funding ahead of elections, activists fear the elections later this month will set the stage for even more land conflicts.
To protect the Congolese peatlands, protect local land rights (commentary) [06/04/2018]
- In 2017, researchers reported the existence of the largest tropical peatland complex in the world in the Congo Basin. - In early 2018, a team of scientists, including the author, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to probe deeper into the peatlands, which cover an area about the size of England and hold some 30 billion tons of carbon. - Around the same time, the DRC government has awarded logging concessions that overlap with the peatlands, in violation of a 16-year-old moratorium on logging. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Can cryptocurrencies save Indonesia’s carbon forests? (commentary) [06/04/2018]
- Blockchain technology is already connecting buyers and sellers around the world, even if they don’t trust each other. It’s cutting through bureaucracy, and bypassing corrupt governments, all with just a few strings of code. The technology could even save Indonesia’s forests. - Over the next few months, several flagging carbon forestry projects are hoping the Bitcoin bubble can carry them to new heights of market capitalization. These Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects are part of an international mechanism designed to make forests more valuable standing than cut down. - The idea behind these projects was born in Indonesia in 2007, but, for multiple reasons, REDD+ never really took off. 95 percent of the world’s ‘avoided deforestation’ credits, representing millions of hectares of conserved forest, were stuck without a buyer. Until now. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
$29 million deforestation fines: game changer for Brazilian soy trade? [06/01/2018]
- Operation Soy Sauce was launched by IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, and resulted in 105.7 million Brazilian reais (US $29 million) in fines to transnational soy commodities traders and farmers for illegal deforestation in the Cerrado, Brazil’s savannah grasslands east of the Amazon. - Five transnational commodities companies – Cargill Inc, Bunge Ltd, ABC Indústria e Comércio SA, JJ Samar Agronegócios Eireli, and Uniggel Proteção de Plantas Ltda – were fined more than 24.6 million Brazilian reais (US $6.5 million) for buying soy grown on lands without deforestation licenses. - The rest of the fines were against individual farmers. Non-compliance with environmental policies was found on 77 Cerrado properties, using geospatial data gathered via satellite monitoring. - The fines came at an inopportune time for IBAMA, with commodities traders and the pubic distracted by a Brazilian trucking strike. But some analysts say the fines are a wakeup call, and maybe even a game changer for the industry. Others say deforestation is built into the soy production model and that the fines will have little long-term impact.
Madagascar court upholds sentence for environmental activist [05/31/2018]
- In September 2017 a farmer named Raleva questioned a mining company about its permits during a meeting in his village in southeastern Madagascar. He was promptly arrested on charges of impersonating a local official. - In October, he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, but immediately released on parole — a common tactic in Madagascar that appears to be aimed at silencing opposition. - On May 22, an appeals court announced its decision to uphold the conviction. - Advocacy groups are now trying to put together a legal team that can take the case to Madagascar’s Supreme Court.
Norwegian government report sharply critical of funding for tropical forest conservation [05/31/2018]
- A recent report by Norway’s Office of the Auditor General had some tough criticisms for the country’s International Forests and Climate Initiative (NICFI), one of the chief funders of REDD+ initiatives around the world. - The Office of the Auditor General said that its investigation found “that progress and results are delayed, that current measures have uncertain feasibility and effect, and that the risk of fraud is not well-managed.” - Responding to the report, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen, said that it provided some useful insights and that its recommendations would be followed up on. However, Elvestuen said he disagreed with many of the report’s key conclusions.
Audio: Mexico’s ejidos find sustainability by including women and youth [05/30/2018]
- On today’s episode, a special report on the community-based conservation and agroforestry operations known as ejidos in Mexico. - Mongabay Newscast host Mike Gaworecki traveled to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in February to visit several ejidos in the states of Quintana Roo and Campeche. Ejidos are lands that are communally owned and operated as agroforestry operations, and they’ve proven to be effective at conserving forests while creating economic opportunities for the local rural communities who live and work on the land. - But ejidos have also faced a threat to their own survival over the past decade, as younger generations, seeing no place for themselves in the fairly rigid structure of ejido governance, have moved out of the communities in large numbers. At the same time, the lack of inclusion of women in the official decision-making bodies, known as ejidatario assemblies, has also posed a challenge.
There may be hope for the extremely rare ‘sneezing monkey,’ report finds [05/29/2018]
- In a new report, researchers have confirmed the presence of five subpopulations of the extremely rare Myanmar snub-nosed monkey: three in Myanmar and two in China. - Logging, proposed hydropower projects, road construction and hunting continue to threaten the species. - However, the creation of two new protected areas to safeguard the monkeys’ habitat, one each in Myanmar and China, as well as improved cross-border collaboration between the two countries is helping reduce the risk of extinction for the species, researchers say.
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.
Mining, erosion threaten Indian rhino haven [05/28/2018]
- India’s Kaziranga National Park, home to the world’s largest population of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, is under great risk of losing its connectivity with the larger Karbi Anglong landscape due to mining, quarrying and river erosion, a new report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has warned. - The NTCA report and directive comes in response to a complaint filed by activist Rohit Choudhury alleging significant environmental degradation and habitat destruction in the foothills of Karbi Anglong, a prime elephant habitat during the flood season. - Illegal mining and stone crushing aside, the NTCA report highlighted river erosion as a “natural threat” to Kaziranga. But experts caution that erosion is a natural part of Kaziranga’s flood-plain ecology, and isn’t necessarily bad.
Palm oil certification? No silver bullet, but essential for sustainability (commentary) [05/25/2018]
- We need a global standard on what constitutes sustainable palm oil and a common system to implement it. Arriving at this consensus requires a convening body to connect every link in the palm oil supply chain, across different countries and jurisdictions. - A recent report from Changing Markets Foundation, released with additional comments by NGOs such as FERN, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Mighty Earth, and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, criticizes the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and proposes that certification standards are — as stated by the same NGOs — ‘holding back the progressive reform of the sector’ and may even be causing ‘active damage.’ - This report disregards some of the important realities in the industry and on the ground, and fails to offer practical solutions. Simply bashing certification because of its imperfections puts the advances made at risk, instead of helping develop standards and synergies that facilitate compliance across the global palm oil supply chain. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
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.
Hunters are wiping out hornbills in Ghana’s forests [05/23/2018]
- According to a new study, Ghana is losing hornbill species to “uncontrolled” hunting, mostly for meat, from its forested parks and reserves. - The researchers found that the five largest species of hornbills in the Bia Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have disappeared in recent decades. - The authors of the paper suggest that increased enforcement will help protect threatened hornbills, as well as other wildlife species, in areas under intense pressure from humans.
Trio of studies challenges Indian government claim of increasing forest cover [05/23/2018]
- Three studies published over the past seven months show that forest cover in India is declining, contrary to findings from the latest Forest Survey of India report. - One study found 16 to 30 percent forest loss in the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, while another study found that the Eastern Ghats lost nearly 16 percent of their forest area between 1920 and 2015. - The third study, which analyzed patterns of forest cover across India from 2001 to 2014, found “significant negative changes” in the seasonal green cover, with the highest decline recorded in tropical moist deciduous forests.
Roads might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood [05/22/2018]
- According to Alice Hughes, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Integrative Conservation, global analyses often underestimate levels of deforestation driven by road-building in the Indo-Malaysia region. This is because many of those analyses rely on a widely used global map of roads compiled by Open Street Maps (OSM) that misses as much as 99 percent of roads in parts of the region. - According to Hughes, this level of inaccuracy can have serious consequences: “Not only does it mean that any analysis based on global roads datasets will underestimate the level of fragmentation and overestimate the forest coverage of a region, but most forms of exploitation also occur within close proximity to a road.” - Increasing deforestation is not the only threat posed by opening new areas to roads. “These growing road networks provide accessibility for other forms of resource exploitation,” Hughes notes in the study. “Most notably this includes selective logging, and hunting, which in the Indo-Malay region also targets a vast suite of species as pets, medicine and meat.”
Tiny marsupials that practice ‘suicidal’ mating declared endangered [05/21/2018]
- On May 11, the Australian government officially declared two species of recently described antechinuses, a mouse-like marsupial, as endangered. - The species are famed for their marathon mating sessions that leave the males so exhausted that they die. - Both species occur only in high-altitude forests, and are threatened by climate change, habitat loss and threats from feral cats, cattle and horses.
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.
Latam Eco review: Coca threatens world’s best organic coffees [05/18/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of May 7 -13. Among the top articles: the assassination of two activists who opposed the Hidroituango hydroelectric project revives the debate around megaprojects in Colombia. In other news, centuries-old trees cut for parquet floors in Peru, […]
Humans are leaving their mark on the world’s protected areas, study finds [05/17/2018]
- About one-third of the world’s total protected area — around 6 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) — bears the scars of substantial degradation at the hands of humans, according to research published in the journal Science. - The researchers found that large parks and reserves held to the toughest standards are doing significantly better than those with laxer controls. - The authors argue that assessments of the effectiveness of protected areas should be considered, especially as governments try to meet one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets calling for protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land area by 2020.
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.
Greenpeace disowns paper giant over deforestation allegations [05/16/2018]
- Environmental NGO Greenpeace will end its engagement with the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Group and its pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). - A new mapping analysis by the NGO showed 80 square kilometers of forests and peatlands has been cleared since 2013 in two concessions that are linked to the paper giant. - Greenpeace said this finding put APP’s commitment to end deforestation in jeopardy.
‘Rainbow’ chameleon among three new species described from Madagascar [05/16/2018]
- Researchers discovered the brilliantly colored rainbow chameleon, now named Calumma uetzi, during an expedition to the remote Sorata massif in northern Madagascar in 2012. - Over surveys between 2015 and 2016, the researchers found another new species of chameleon, now dubbed Calumma juliae, in a 15-square-kilometer patch of forest. The researchers were unable to find any males of this species. - They also found only a single male specimen of the third new chameleon species, Calumma lefona, spotted in Andrevorevo in northern Madagascar.
The destruction of nature in S. Sumatra has given rise to a criminal generation (commentary) [05/16/2018]
- Reports of criminal activity have increasingly trickled out of Indonesia’s South Sumatra province. - Could these incidents of violence, lawbreaking and general lack of respect for order be related to diminishing natural resources and destruction of the landscape? This article explores this idea. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author alone.
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.
Sifaka lemurs listed as “critically endangered” amid mysterious die-off [05/15/2018]
- In the last month and a half, at least 31 Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi) have died in Berenty Reserve near Madagascar’s southern tip. - It’s one of the largest lemur die-offs scientists can remember. - Experts believe that a parasite or tick-borne disease is likely to blame, but the exact cause remains unknown. - At a large IUCN meeting held last week in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, primate specialists decided to uplist all nine sifaka species from endangered to critically endangered.
Typo derails landmark ruling against Indonesian palm oil firm guilty of burning peatland [05/15/2018]
- A district court in Indonesia has shielded an oil palm company from a Supreme Court ruling ordering it to pay $26.5 million in fines for burning peatlands in a high-biodiversity area, citing a typo in the original prosecution. - The verdict has stunned activists, who had hoped that the original guilty verdict would set a strong precedent for the judicial fight against environmental crimes. - The government is appealing the latest ruling, which, ironically, is fraught with typos that — under the same legal logic — would render it just as invalid as the original guilty verdict.
Audio: Sylvia Earle on why we must act now to save the oceans [05/15/2018]
- On today’s episode, renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle joins us for an in-depth conversation about marine conservation. - Legendary oceanographer, marine biologist, and environmentalist Sylvia Earle, sometimes known as “Her Deepness” or “The Sturgeon General,” is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and former chief scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A documentary film about her work called Mission Blue won a 2015 News & Documentary Emmy. - She joins us today to discuss how effective marine protected areas are at conserving the oceans and their inhabitants, her Hope Spots program that is identifying some of the most valuable marine environments on the planet, and the latest advances in marine conservation that she is most hopeful about.
Higher incomes, not higher carbon dioxide levels, drive forest gains, study finds [05/15/2018]
- New research indicates that higher levels of economic development, rather than carbon dioxide, are responsible for some countries’ gains in forest cover. - The findings contradict several climate change models that point to the role that higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere can play as a “fertilizer” for plants. - Policy decisions should account for the role that development plays in the health of forests, the authors say.
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.
Sumatran habitat for tigers, orangutans gets a partial reprieve from development [05/10/2018]
- The Aceh provincial government has vowed to protect Gunung Leuser National Park, the core part of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, by canceling infrastructure projects in the park. - However, questions linger over the future of the remaining part of the wider ecosystem, where planned infrastructure projects remain unaffected by the latest pledge. - Activists have called on the provincial government to recognize the wider Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh’s spatial plans so that the region is excluded from any infrastructure development that could threaten the habitat of the many endangered species living there.
Debate ensues over British supermarket chain’s decision to ban palm oil [05/10/2018]
- Iceland Foods recently decided to remove palm oil from its own-label products. The move follows a vote by the European Parliament to ban the use of palm oil in European biofuels. - An aggressive lobbying campaign spearheaded by actors from Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top palm oil producers, have framed the ban as an attack on small farmers, although the industry is dominated by large companies. But Iceland’s move has also spurred debate among scientists and conservationists, some of whom say Iceland would do better to source palm oil that has been produced “sustainably.” - Iceland says it doesn’t believe there is enough “truly sustainable palm oil…currently available on the mass market” for that to be a practical solution. The credibility of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the world’s largest association for ethical production of the commodity, for example, is widely seen as questionable, as it has repeatedly failed to enforce its standards. - Greenpeace described Iceland’s move as a “warning shot from a tiny UK company, that could start to grow bigger if palm oil producers and governments don’t tackle the scourge of deforestation.”
Indonesian activists protest China-funded dam in orangutan habitat [05/09/2018]
- The Chinese government plans to fund a massive hydroelectric power dam in the Batang Toru ecosystem in North Sumatra, Indonesia, where the newly described Tapanuli orangutan lives. - Activists staged a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta on May 8, coinciding with a state visit by Premier Li Keqiang, to condemn Beijing’s involvement in the project. - In a letter submitted by the demonstrators to the embassy, they demanded China withdraw its support for the project due to the massive environmental threats posed by the endeavor.
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.
Pangolins on the brink as Africa-China trafficking persists unabated [05/08/2018]
- Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, with more than a million snatched from the wild in the past decade, according to IUCN estimates. The four Asian species have been hunted nearly to extinction, while the four African species are being poached in record numbers. - The illegal trade largely goes to China and other East Asian nations, where pangolin meat is an expensive delicacy served to flaunt wealth and influence. Pangolin is also a preferred ingredient in traditional medicine in Asia and Africa. Traditional healers in Sierra Leone use pangolin to treat 59 medical conditions, though there is no evidence of efficacy. - In 2016, pangolins were given the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a multilateral treaty signed by 183 nations. But laws and enforcement in African nations, along illegal trade routes, and in Asia continue to be weak, with conservationists working hard to strengthen them. - Pangolins don’t thrive in captivity, but the Tikki Hywood Foundation in Zimbabwe and Save Vietnam’s Wildlife have succeeded in rescuing confiscated pangolins and restoring them to the wild. Six U.S. zoos are trying to raise pangolins as part of the controversial Pangolin Consortium project — only 29 of 45 imported individuals remain alive.
Colombia’s supreme court orders government to stop Amazon deforestation [05/07/2018]
- Colombia’s supreme court granted protections, filed by 25 children and other young people, that affirm that deforestation in the Colombian Amazon violates their rights to health and life. - In the ruling, the supreme court ordered the president of Colombia and environmental authorities to create an action plan to protect this important natural area. - This article is a journalistic collaboration between Mongabay Latam and Semana Sostenible of Colombia.
Crisis in Venezuela: Caparo Experimental Station invaded by 200 farmers [05/07/2018]
- The Caparo Forest Reserve in Barinas state, Venezuela, created in 1961, covers almost 175,000 hectares (432,000 acres). The Caparo Experimental Station, located within the reserve, encompasses 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) and has been under the administration of the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA) since 1982 for scientific research and education. - The reserve has been heavily degraded in past decades, as farmers intruded and burned forest to make way for crops. But the Experimental Station’s forest has remained mostly intact. In January, 200 members of the 777 Christ Ambassadors Cooperative (Cooperativa Embajadores de Cristo 777) invaded the Experimental Station. Mongabay reports from the scene. - The intruders claim to have a legitimate permit for the tract. But the courts have nullified that permit and ordered an eviction. The National Guard failed to remove the invaders, so in April on a visit to the site, the Ecosocialism minister promised the settlers new land elsewhere. At the start of May, the squatters remained in place in an apparent standoff. - The ULA is concerned about the threat the invasion poses to one of the last major surviving tracts of Colombian-Venezuelan lowland forest. The ULA continues seeking the community’s eviction, with a series of protests by academics and NGOs scheduled for May in Caracas. The groups are asking that the Caparo Reserve and Experimental Station are given national park status.
Deforestation leads to big hikes in local temperature, study finds [05/04/2018]
- Researchers have discovered a correlation between deforestation and local temperature changes in many temperate mid-latitude locations around the world. - These increases were particularly high in North America. The study found that deforestation in heavily cleared regions of the central U.S. contributed as much as 1 degree Celsius to local maximum temperatures. - Overall, the study indicates that deforestation contributes around one-third to average hottest-day temperature increases in places that lost at least 15 percent of their forest cover.
‘Rarest’ ape’s path to survival blocked by roads, dams and agriculture [05/03/2018]
- According to a new study, the Tapanuli orangutan, one of only seven species of non-human great ape alive today, faces serious threats to its survival as infrastructure development and agriculture threaten more than one-quarter of its habitat. - In November, a team of scientists reported that a new species of orangutan living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was distinct from Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. - They believe that fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans survive. - Conservationists and scientists warn that a proposed 510-megawatt hydroelectric dam could push the new species closer to extinction.
Failed rice fields may get new lease of life under Indonesian peat restoration project [05/03/2018]
- The Peatland Restoration Agency is looking at possibilities to develop agriculture on abandoned peat swamps from the failed Mega Rice Project in the mid-1990s. - The agency has identified 1,250 square kilometers of peat areas with agricultural potential. - The search is a part of the agency’s pilot project to test methods of developing agriculture without using fires.
New study finds mangroves may store way more carbon than we thought [05/02/2018]
- A new study finds mangrove soil held around 6.4 billion metric tons of carbon in 2000. - Between 2000 and 2015, up to 122 million tons of this carbon was released due to mangrove forest loss – roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of Brazil. More than 75 percent of these soil carbon emissions came from mangrove deforestation in just three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar. - Mangroves provide a slew of benefits in addition to storing carbon, reducing flooding and erosion from storms, acting as nurseries for fish, and filtering pollutants from water. - Research indicates at least 35 percent of the world’s mangrove forests may have been lost between 1980 and 2000. Mangroves are deforested for many reasons, including to make room for shrimp farms and other forms of aquaculture, as well as for their wood. Mangroves also depend on the presence of freshwater and can die when dams and other developments stem the flow of rivers. Scientists also believe they’re at risk of mass drowning as global warming raises sea levels.
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.
Major Islamic financier singled out for deforestation in Indonesia [05/01/2018]
- Lembaga Tabung Haji is a Malaysian Islamic financial institution whose listed palm oil arm, TH Plantations, owns dozens of estates in Malaysia and Indonesia. - The firm was the subject of a recent report by Chain Reaction Research that alleges it cleared hundreds of hectares of carbon-rich forest and peatland for oil palm expansion in 2017. - The firm supplies major refiners and users of palm oil, such as Wilmar, ADM, Nestlé and Unilever, some of which have promised to stop sourcing palm oil linked to environmental destruction.
Palm oil supplier to food giants clears forest, peatland in Indonesia, Greenpeace says [04/30/2018]
- The Yemen-based Hayel Saeed Anam Group, which sells palm oil to Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever through subsidiaries, is responsible for clearing 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) of rainforest and peatland in Indonesia’s Papua province between 2015 and 2017, according to Greenpeace. - Staff from the environmental organization shot video revealing the extent of the destruction. - Greenpeace campaigners have raised concerns that Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are not upholding their commitments to get rid of deforestation, peatland destruction and exploitation from their supply chains.
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.
More gorillas and chimpanzees living in Central Africa’s forests than thought [04/27/2018]
- A study led by WCS researchers pulled together wildlife survey data collected between 2003 and 2013 at 59 sites in five countries across western Central Africa. - They then developed mathematical models to understand where the highest densities of gorillas and chimpanzees are and why, as well as broader trends in the populations. - They found that more than 361,000 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and almost 129,000 central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) inhabit these forests — about 30 percent more gorillas and 10 percent more chimpanzees than previously estimated. - The team’s analyses also demonstrate that western lowland gorilla numbers are slipping by 2.7 percent a year.
Latam Eco Review: Respected ancestral healer murdered in Peru [04/27/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of April 16 – 22. Among the top articles: the environmental world’s reaction to the terrible assassination of Olivia Arévalo, an activist of the Shipibo people in Peru; the search for a better system of land distribution […]
Photos: Meet the 2018 ‘Green Oscars’ winners [04/27/2018]
- The six winners of 2018 Whitley Award are Munir Virani of Kenya; Shahriar Caesar Rahman of Bangladesh; Kerstin Forsberg of Peru; Dominique Bikaba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Anjali Chandraraj Watson of Sri Lanka; and Olivier Nsengimana of Rwanda. - Each recipient was awarded £40,000 ($56,000) in project funding over one year at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, U.K., on April 25. - A seventh conservationist, Pablo “Popi” Garcia Borboroglu from Argentina, who won the Whitley Award in 2010, received the Whitley Gold Award for his commitment to safeguarding the world’s penguin species.
‘Monumental’ bust in Madagascar triggers effort to save thousands of endangered tortoises [04/25/2018]
- Authorities discovered 9,888 starving and dehydrated radiated tortoises in a vacant house in southwestern Madagascar on April 10. - Since then, a team of organizations led by the Turtle Survival Alliance has been working to provide care for the critically endangered tortoises, 574 of which died during the first week. - The tortoises, endemic to Madagascar, have lost around 40 percent of their habitat to deforestation, and poachers commonly capture them for the pet trade in Asia and the United States.
Venezuelan gold strike prompts invasion by 3,000 miners, military raid [04/25/2018]
- Venezuela is in the throes of an intense economic crisis, with people eager to earn money by any way possible. In 2017, rumors of a gold strike in Palmarote, a farming hamlet in Carabobo state, attracted 3,000 miners — even though no gold was known to be there, since Palmarote is 600 kilometers from the Orinoco Mining Arc, the primary source of Venezuelan gold. - Illegal miners, given bogus mining permits by a local villager, wreaked havoc, excavating pits everywhere, digging out streambanks, polluting waterways with sediment and allegedly with mercury, a toxic metal used to purify gold. Local farmers complained repeatedly and bitterly to the government asking for law enforcement to step in. - On January 31, a military and police operation, armed with guns and helicopters, detained 3,000 illegal miners and jailed dozens. Locals allege that a dozen people were killed. In February, President Maduro created the Carabobo Gold Corporation and nationalized the mining area, claiming its profits for government. - Mongabay went to the lawless artisanal mines in Palmarote, which are still operating despite the government presence, to get the full story firsthand.
Papuan chef Charles Toto serves up sustainability and environmental protection in a platter [04/24/2018]
- Charles Toto is the founder of the Jungle Chef Community, a network of enthusiasts from across the Indonesian region of Papua who promote sustainable living and environmental protection through local cuisine. - Toto came up with the idea after seeing foreign documentary makers and tour groups embarking on weeks-long treks in the Papuan wilderness with nothing more than instant and canned food. - Over the years, he has learned to make the best use of the ingredients served up by the forest and the sea, and has taken his unique mission to culinary shows across Indonesia and abroad. - But for Toto and his group, the opening up of Papua’s forests to palm oil and other commercial operators, aided by a government-backed infrastructure push, threatens the region’s natural wealth and heritage.
Restoring flagging oil palm plantations to forest may benefit clouded leopards, study finds [04/24/2018]
- A team of biologists fitted four clouded leopards in the Kinabatangan region of Malaysian Borneo with satellite collars, and they gathered several months of data on the animals’ movements. - They found that the cats stuck to areas with canopy cover, and they avoided land cleared for oil palm. - Converting underperforming oil palm plantations back to forest could help the clouded leopard population with minimal impact on the state’s production of palm oil, the authors predict.
Sumatran tiger blamed for killing two people is captured alive after marathon hunt [04/24/2018]
- Authorities in Indonesia have captured alive a critically endangered Sumatran tiger blamed for the deaths of two people in an oil palm plantation. - The tiger has been moved to a wildlife rehabilitation center, where it will undergo medical tests ahead of being released back into the wild. - The capture averts a repeat of a near-identical case in March, in which villagers killed and mutilated a tiger blamed for attacking two members of a hunting party. - The whole incident, which an official described as the longest ever search-and-rescue operation for a Sumatran tiger, has highlighted the importance of protecting wildlife habitats, which often are lost to plantations or human settlements, driving the animals into conflict with people.
Conservation Effectiveness series sparks action, dialogue [04/23/2018]
- Our in-depth series examined the effectiveness of six common conservation strategies: Forest certification, payments for ecosystem services, community-based forest management, terrestrial protected areas, marine protected areas, and environmental advocacy. - We also examined how four of the biggest groups that dominate today’s conservation landscape — The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) — make decisions about which conservation strategy to employ. - Our series generated a lot of discussion and attracted a wide variety of feedback. - We hope to keep our databases of scientific studies and our infographics alive and relevant by developing a platform that allows researchers to update them by adding studies. We welcome ideas on this effort.
Island logging must go beyond current ‘best practices’ to avoid erosion: New study [04/23/2018]
- In a new study, a team of ecologists modeled what would happen if companies were allowed to log the forests of Kolombangara Island under several management scenarios, including those designed to minimize soil erosion and protect water quality. - As the model simulated higher proportions of land clearance, the most stringent methods couldn’t stop the soil erosion that would foul clean water and agricultural land for the island’s people, as well as the habitats of local aquatic plants and animals. - The Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association is spearheading an effort to get intact forests at elevations higher than 400 meters (1,310 feet) designated as a national park on the island.
Cerrado: abandoned pasturelands fail to regain savanna biodiversity [04/20/2018]
- A new study has found that abandoned pasturelands in the Brazilian Cerrado do not regain their former biodiversity even after as much as 25 years. The Cerrado biome once covered 2 million square kilometers, but its rapid conversion by agribusiness means that less than half the region’s native vegetation remains. - Researchers sampled 29 Cerrado pasture tracts that had been abandoned for between 3 and 25 years and found that native plants and animals largely didn’t return. Up to a quarter century after abandonment, restored savannas continued to lack 37 percent of their original species. - Brazil’s Forest Code requires that at least 20 percent of private rural Cerrado property not be cultivated. However the new study suggests that the code may not be fully achieving its goal of protecting and restoring native species if the conserved land is degraded pasture, since native vegetation will not come back. - The scientists suggest that one way of boosting biodiversity would be to use fire as a land management tool. Fire is a naturally occurring process in the Cerrado. Its artificial suppression allows trees to grow up, reducing biodiversity. So the reintroduction of fire could help restore native grasses as well as other species.
Bornean bantengs feeling the heat in logged forests, study finds [04/20/2018]
- A recent study shows that Bornean bantengs in recently logged forests in Malaysia’s Sabah state have become less active during the daytime in response to the hotter temperatures brought on by there being fewer trees providing shade. - Banteng herds living in forests with more regrowth continue to be active throughout the day as they have more shade and refuge. - The paper’s researchers suggest that steps must be taken to reduce the stress upon bantengs, such as limiting disturbance during key times of activity and maintaining blocks of mature forest.
Tambopata: Where forest conservation and opportunity meet [04/19/2018]
- Robin Van Loon is founder of Camino Verde in Peru, an organization working to go above and beyond sustainable agro-economics in favor of regenerative agro-economics. - The Tambopata Region of the Peruvian Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet where new species are still being discovered. It’s home to species of trees used and nurtured by Camino Verde for profit and forest health. - The vision of Robin Van Loon and his team at Camino Verde: see the forest for the trees, and you’ll find a way to preserve both for generations to come.
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.
It’s time to confront the collusion between the palm oil industry and politicians that is driving Indonesia’s deforestation crisis (commentary) [04/18/2018]
- An investigation released today by Mongabay and Earthsight’s The Gecko Project reveals the deep connections between the international palm oil industry and the corruption of Indonesian democracy. - Some of the biggest firms in the industry, that are supplying supermarkets in the EU and U.S., are buying palm oil from plantations linked to corrupt politicians. - Six million hectares of rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands remains in licenses issued in opaque circumstances. If the role of corruption is confronted, through action in Indonesia, by overseas consumer companies and the international community, much of this forest could be saved.
Audio: Impacts of agriculture on Brazil’s Cerrado region [04/17/2018]
- On today’s episode: the impacts of agriculture on Brazil’s Cerrado region. Incredibly biodiverse, the region supports more than 10,000 plant species, 900 birds, and 300 mammals. But it has long been overlooked by scientists and environmentalists alike, and as protecting the Amazon has become more of a priority, much agricultural production in Brazil has moved from the rainforest to the vast Cerrado savannah. - In February, Mongabay sent journalists Alicia Prager and Flávia Milhorance to the Cerrado region of central Brazil to report on the impacts of this rapid expansion of agribusiness on the region’s environment and people. - Prager and Milhorance filed a series of six reports and they’re here to tell us what they found.
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.
Certified weaknesses: The RSPO’s Liberian fiasco (commentary) [04/13/2018]
- On February 13, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the industry certification system for production of conflict-free palm oil, confirmed what many in Liberia’s rural Sinoe County have been saying all along: Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a palm oil company operating since 2010, did not properly receive the consent of local communities to acquire their traditional lands. - The charges against GVL are not new. The first complaint filed against GVL with the RSPO came in 2012. Over the years, multiple civil society reports have documented GVL’s land grabbing, human rights violations, and environmental degradation. In 2015, a riot erupted on GVL’s plantation. Six years and various investigations by the RSPO later, the situation for these communities is largely the same. - It’s striking that, given the resources and responsibilities of both the company and the certification body, neither GVL nor the RSPO had chosen to communicate with these communities about the remedies GVL was directed to pursue by the RSPO. This begs the question: What is the value of corporate commitments and industry standards if those messages never reach the people they intend to benefit, let alone are translated into tangible actions? - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Global warming may poison monarch butterflies, study finds [04/12/2018]
- Monarch numbers have plummeted in recent decades and scientists think it’s due in large part to the reduction of milkweed in the U.S. and Canada from increased herbicide use, as well as deforestation of monarch overwintering grounds in Mexico. - A recently published study finds a new threat: warming temperatures may be making milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat, too toxic for the butterflies. - The researchers estimate that at current warming rates in the southern U.S., tropical milkweed will be too toxic for monarchs within 40 years. - Monarchs prefer tropical milkweed to native species and the plant is now widespread throughout the southern U.S.
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.
India’s new forest policy draft draws criticism for emphasis on industrial timber [04/12/2018]
- The Draft National Forest Policy 2018 is now open for public comments, and will replace the older 1988 policy once it comes into force. - Critics are apprehensive about how the draft policy deals with community participation and industrial forestry. - The current draft is bereft of knowledge-driven solutions, some experts say.
Wildlife trade detective Samuel Wasser receives prestigious Albert Schweitzer Medal [04/11/2018]
- Samuel K. Wasser, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington, U.S., has pioneered ways of using DNA from animal feces to track wildlife poachers. - In recognition of his achievements, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has honored Wasser with the Albert Schweitzer Medal, an award that “recognizes outstanding achievement in the advancement of animal welfare.” - In a brief Q&A, Wasser told Mongabay that it was “heartening” to win the Albert Schweitzer Medal, and that he is proud to see his work make a difference in the world.
Indonesian billionaire using ‘shadow companies’ to clear forest for palm oil, report alleges [04/11/2018]
- Two plantation companies linked to Anthoni Salim, Indonesia’s third-richest man, are deforesting a peat swamp in Borneo, according to new research by Aidenvironment. - In response to the findings, Citigroup said it was cancelling all lending agreements with IndoAgri, the Salim Group’s agribusiness arm. - The Salim Group was previously accused of being behind four companies at the forefront of illegal oil palm expansion in Indonesia’s Papua region, employing a complex network of shared directorships and offshore companies to obfuscate its responsibility. - “It is not just the Salim Group; most of the main palm oil groups have these ‘dark sides’ that continue to deforest,” said Selwyn Moran, founder of investigative blog awas MIFEE.
46% of Albertine Rift species may be threatened by 2080, study finds [04/10/2018]
- East Africa’s Albertine Rift region hosts many animal and plant species that evolved in isolation and are endemic – meaning they’re found nowhere else in the world. - But a recent study estimates nearly half of the Albertine Rift’s endemic species may become threatened with extinction by 2080 as climate change shrinks their habitat. - The study also finds certain species have already lost as much as 90 percent of their habitat to agriculture. - The researchers say that their findings could be used to predict how the ranges of wildlife populations will shift in response to a changing climate so that conservation workers can focus their efforts on the areas most likely to retain important habitat.
Critics say proposed changes to Mexico’s Forestry Law threaten sustainable forest management by local communities [04/09/2018]
- Mexico’s General Law of Sustainable Forest Development, more commonly referred to as the Forestry Law, has been criticized for not being sufficient to keep illegal wood out of the country, which imperils the sustainable forestry enterprises of ejidos, community-owned and -managed landscapes. At the same time, proposed changes to the country’s Forestry Law could put the entire ejido system in jeopardy, critics say. - The Mexican Network of Peasant Forestry Organizations (MOCAF), a coalition of rural farmers and indigenous organizations, says it is “urgent” that the Mexican Senate open up discussions on how the Forestry Law can be strengthened to halt the practice of “wood washing,” which refers to the process by which illegally sourced wood is made to appear to be legal. - Meanwhile, at a press conference held last month, MOCAF’s Gustavo Sánchez Valle warned that proposed changes to Mexico’s Forestry Law and General Law of Biodiversity would allow the government to grant to third parties, like mining companies, the rights to exploit natural resources on ejido lands without consulting the communities that own the land.
New research examines spread of payments for ecosystem services around the globe [04/06/2018]
- There are currently more than 550 PES programs active around the world in developed and developing countries alike, and more than $36 billion in annual transactions have been made through these programs, according to a study published last month in the journal Nature Sustainability. - Researchers found that PES programs designed to protect watersheds have seen the largest volume of global transactions and have spread the farthest worldwide, with $24.7 billion in transactions across 62 countries in 2015. - Little research has focused on the question of whether or not any benefits of PES are sustained after payments cease, according to another study recently published in Nature Sustainability. But that research suggests that paying rural villagers to cut down fewer trees can not only boost conservation efforts while the payments are being made but even after they’re discontinued.
Rubber plantation in Cameroon edges closer to UNESCO World Heritage Site [04/06/2018]
- Satellite data indicate the rubber plantation, operated by China-owned Sud Cameroun Hévéa (Sudcam), is currently less than one kilometer away from intact primary forest habitat. Development is ongoing amidst concerns about threats to endangered species within and outside the park, as well as alleged violations of community land rights and political affiliations with the Cameroonian government. - The expansion of this rubber plantation is “by far the most devastating new clearing of forest for industrial agriculture in the Congo Basin,” according to Greenpeace. - Rubber expansion also stands to affect the 9,500 people who live in villages on the reserve’s periphery. According to Greenpeace Africa, Sudcam did not obtain Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) from these communities before acquiring the land and residents have claimed that subsistence farmland has been taken away with little or no compensation. - Members of the conservation community say that in order for rubber development to happen sustainably in Cameroon, companies need to collaborate with conservation NGOs to create robust buffers around wetlands and streams, develop wildlife corridors, establish areas to filter the runoff of toxins and sediment, and create bushmeat alternatives. They also recommend regulatory actions be taken in the U.S. and EU, which are major buyers of rubber.
South Korean company under fire for alleged deforestation in Papua oil palm concession [04/05/2018]
- A report by WRI shows ongoing deforestation in an oil palm concession in Papua, Indonesia, operated by a subsidiary of South Korea’s POSCO Daewoo. - The company has responded by saying its operations in Papua are legal and fully permitted. - Concerns over deforestation by POSCO Daewoo have prompted other companies to say they will not allow its palm oil into their supply chains. These include big-name brands such as Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L’Oreal, Mars and Unilever. - POSCO Daewoo has issued a temporary moratorium on land clearing in its Papua concession and hired a consultant to advise it on how to proceed with its operations there.
‘Lost’ fairy lantern spotted in Malaysian Borneo after 151 years [04/04/2018]
- In January last year, a team of botanists spotted Thismia neptunis again, 151 years after it was first recorded in the rainforests of western Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo. - Thismia neptunis is tiny, standing at just 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) when flowering, and spends its life underground, parasitizing fungi for its food supply. - Given that the species is likely restricted to a small area within a primary lowland rainforest of Sarawak, and might have fewer than 50 individuals, the researchers believe that the species qualifies as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Indonesia’s dying timber concessions, invaded by oil palms, top deforestation table [04/03/2018]
- A study shows that selective-logging leases accounted for the highest rate of deforestation in three provinces studied from 2013 to 2016. - While the discovery came as a surprise, the researchers attributed part of that deforestation to the illegal encroachment of oil palm plantations into many of these timber concessions. Another factor is the cutting of more trees than permitted by logging operators. - Environmentalists warn the problem could get even worse if the government follows through on plans to lift a ban on exports of unprocessed logs, which has been in place since 1985 (with a brief hiatus from 1997 to 2001).
Special judiciary on environmental crimes established in Peru [04/02/2018]
- The majority of crimes correspond to illegal mining and illegal logging, two activities that seriously affect the region and that so far in 2018 account for 53 complaints. - One of the emblematic cases is related to the regional governor Luis Otsuka Salazar, who has two complaints about illegal mining and negligence in the performance of his duties. - Aside from the court in Madre de Dios, experts hope to also see courts in other regions of Peru, including Loreto, Ucayali, Cusco, Piura, Lima and San Martin.
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.
Study: Indonesia’s ambitious peat restoration initiative severely underfunded [03/30/2018]
- Indonesia will need an estimated $4.6 billion to restore some 20,000 square kilometers (7,720 square miles) of degraded peatland by its self-imposed deadline of 2020, a study suggests. - To date, however, funding for the project that began in 2016 amounts to less than $200 million, with the result that only 5 percent of the restoration target has been achieved. - The study authors say the Indonesian government faces a dilemma over whether to concentrate its resources in a smaller area or risk potentially ineffective restoration methods to cover the entire target area.
Greenpeace International ends its Forest Stewardship Council membership [03/30/2018]
- Greenpeace International announced on March 26 that it would not renew its membership with the FSC. - The environmental organization says the FSC is not meeting its aims of protecting forests and ensuring that human rights are respected. - Greenpeace and the FSC both say they intend to continue to engage with each other, despite the end of a long formal relationship.
Cerrado Manifesto could curb deforestation, but needs support: experts [03/29/2018]
- The Cerrado Manifesto, issued in 2017, calls for a voluntary pledge by companies to help halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado. The Brazilian savannah’s native vegetation once covered 2 million square kilometers that has been reduced by soy, corn, cotton, and cattle production by more than half. - A Manifesto Statement of Support (SoS) has been signed mostly by supermarkets and fast food chains, including McDonalds, Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Unilever. However, commodities firms such as Cargill, Bunge, and ADM, all active in the Cerrado, have yet to sign the SoS. Experts say big traders must join in to make the initiative effective. - The Cerrado Manifesto is a call to action, and is somewhat akin to the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium, which some say was effective in cutting deforestation due to the direct conversion of forests to soy plantations. Critics of the Manifesto say that its top down approach should also include major incentives to farmers to not clear native vegetation. - One concern is that the Manifesto and other deforestation mechanisms could force good actors out of the Cerrado, creating a vacuum into which entities unsupportive of environmental reform might enter. Among entities of concern is China, which already buys a third of Cerrado soy. China has not signed the Manifesto.
Do environmental advocacy campaigns drive successful forest conservation? [03/29/2018]
- How effective are advocacy campaigns at driving permanent policy changes that lead to forest conservation results? We suspected this might be a difficult question to answer scientifically, but nevertheless we gamely set out to see what researchers had discovered when they attempted to do so as part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness.” - We ultimately reviewed 34 studies and papers, and found that the scientific evidence is fairly weak for any claims about the effectiveness of advocacy campaigns. So we also spoke with several experts in forest conservation and advocacy campaigns to supplement our understanding of some of the broader trends and to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. - We found no evidence that advocacy campaigns on their own drive long-term forest conservation, though they do appear to be valuable in terms of raising awareness of environmental issues and driving people to take action. But it’s important to note that, of all the conservation interventions we examined for the Conservation Effectiveness series, advocacy campaigns appear to have the weakest evidence base in scientific literature.
Cerrado: U.S. investment spurs land theft, deforestation in Brazil, say experts [03/28/2018]
- In Brazil, large swathes of land are owned by the state, but can be legally claimed by small-scale farmers if they cultivate crops and homestead on it, though they may lack legal title. In the 1990s, 240 small-scale farm families laid claim to lands in Cotegipe municipality, Bahia state. - Over time, local elites allegedly drove them off those lands, using intimidation and violence, and then laid claim to 140,000 hectares (540 square miles) — an area bigger than Los Angeles. That land was sold and resold. Today, it is occupied by the Campo Largo farm, a minimally productive operation owned by Caracol Agropecuária LTDA. - The capital that Caracol used to buy that land has now been traced to its foreign partners. Caracol is apparently owned by the endowment fund of Harvard University, via its Harvard Management Company: HMC, which oversees more than 12,000 funds, is believed to own Caracol through two subsidiaries: Guara LLC and Bromelia LLC. - Globally, HMC, TIAA-CREF and other financial firms began investing heavily in farmland in developing nations after 2007/08. Often, say analysts, these lands were originally obtained via land theft. In Cotegipe, 22 families are still fighting to reclaim the small farms they say were stolen from them — a Mongabay exclusive.
Borneo’s elephants prefer degraded forests, a new study finds [03/27/2018]
- New research has found that Bornean elephants most often use degraded forests with canopy heights topping out at around 13 meters (43 feet). - Less than 25 percent of the state’s protected intact forests, which include primary forests, are suitable for elephants, the authors concluded. - The team suggests that maintaining suitable elephant habitat in Malaysian Borneo will require the protection of relatively small patches of degraded forests that elephants favor.
Cerrado: Agribusiness boomtown; profits for a few, hardships for many [03/26/2018]
- Luís Eduardo Magalhães (LEM) is a soy boomtown, built on Cerrado agribusiness. Its population has grown fourfold since 2000, to 83,000 people, and is one of Brazil’s fastest growing cities. But LEM has suffered growing pains as the people from rural areas have rushed there seeking jobs and opportunities. - Public services have failed to keep up, with most urban streets still dirt and sanitation services lagging behind population growth. Many new arrivals from the countryside, lacking specialized skills, have been unable to get good jobs or gain access to the highly mechanized and specialized industrial agribusiness economy. So they remain poor. - Many have ended up in Santa Cruz, an impoverished neighborhood where drug trafficking and gang violence are a constant daily threat. Those with better skills and more luck may end up in Jardim Paraíso (Paradise Garden), a nearby upscale neighborhood marked by security fences and security alarms as protection against crime. - Experts say LEM seems likely to follow the path of agribusiness boomtowns globally: population grows rapidly, but initial economic gains and urbanization aren’t followed by ongoing development and investment. Disorderly growth negatively impacts the environment, leading to more poverty and a concentration of land ownership and wealth.
How Indonesia’s Seruyan district became an epicenter of fires and haze [03/26/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the third part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]
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.
Cerrado: Traditional communities accuse agribusiness of ‘green land grabbing’ [03/22/2018]
- The Cerrado savannah includes many traditional communities. Among them are the geraizeiros who arrived in Western Bahia as much as 200 years ago. For those many years, they occupied small communal villages, and farmed, grazed, and harvested surrounding native lands held by the Brazilian government. - Typically lacking legal deeds to these lands, the geraizeiros have increasingly come into conflict with agribusiness expansion. Company-run plantations have, according to local people, laid claim to the natural lands, fenced them off, placed guards, then converted native vegetation to soy, corn and cotton monocultures. - Another conflict: in the Cerrado, a percentage of a land owner’s property must be kept in its natural state, as a Legal Reserve. However, these reserves needn’t be contiguous with croplands. As a result, say local people, agribusiness is laying claim to natural lands that the geraizeiros have long used sustainably for their livelihoods. - Conflict continues to escalate. The Cerrado states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia – known collectively as Matopiba – saw a 56 percent increase in reported land conflicts (400 in total) over the five year period, 2012-2016. In contrast, the national increase over the same period was 21 percent.
Company outed for fires in Indonesian palm lease still clearing forests in timber concession, NGO finds [03/22/2018]
- Agribusiness conglomerate Korindo has since 2017 implemented a moratorium on forest clearing in its oil palm concessions, after it was found to be burning forests in Indonesia’s Papua province. - A new report indicates that since then, the company may have degraded more than 30 square kilometers of pristine forest to build logging roads in one of its timber concessions — an area excluded from the self-imposed moratorium. - The NGO Mighty Earth has called on the company to extend both the forest clearing moratorium and a high carbon stock approach, which it employs on its oil palm concessions, to its timber operations.
How the son of a tailor rose to power in Indonesia’s palm oil heartland [03/22/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the second part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son […]