Audio: Exploring humanity’s deep connection to water, plus the sounds of the Sandhill crane migration [03/20/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss humanity’s deep connection to water and hear sounds of one of the most ancient animal migrations on Earth, that of the Sandhill crane. - Our first guest today is marine biologist and conservationist Wallace J. Nichols, the author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, & Better at What You Do. - Our second guests are Ben Gottesman and Emma Brinley Buckley, researchers who are using bioacoustics to document Sandhill cranes on the Platte River in the U.S. state of Nebraska as the birds make a stopover during their annual migration. We’ll hear recordings of the cranes and other important species in this Field Notes segment.
How one of Indonesia’s biggest companies cut a secret deal to plant oil palm in Borneo [03/20/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, Mongabay’s collaboration with The Gecko Project, we are republishing “The Palm Oil Fiefdom,” the first installment in our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crises. This is the first part of the article, which can be read in […]
The world’s last male northern white rhino has died [03/20/2018]
- Sudan, a 45-year-old rhino believed to be the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino, died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19. - Sudan had been battling ill health over the past few months, and after his condition worsened considerably in the last 24 hours, veterinarians decided to euthanize him. - Sudan lived at Ol Pejeta with the only other northern white rhinos left on Earth — his daughter, Najin, and her daughter, Fatu — under 24-hour armed surveillance. - The survival of the species now hinges on costly and never-before-attempted in vitro fertilization using eggs from the remaining females, stored sperm samples, and southern white rhino females as surrogates.
Sarawak’s Penan now have detailed maps of their ancestral homeland [03/20/2018]
- Some 63 Penan communities came together to create 23 maps of their territory in central Borneo over the past 15 years. - For three days in late November 2017, the Penan of the region celebrated the completion of the maps. - The Penan now believe they are armed with the information that will help them hold on to their land in the face of pressure from outside timber and industrial agriculture interests.
Cerrado: Agribusiness may be killing Brazil’s ‘birthplace of waters’ [03/19/2018]
- The eighth World Water Forum takes place in Brasilia this week, and World Water Day is this Thursday, 22 March. So Mongabay here takes a close look at the Cerrado as Brazil’s “birthplace of waters.” - The Cerrado savannah, despite its annual dry season, has in the past had water to spare. Eight out of 12 of Brazil’s major river basins and three aquifers — the Guarani, Bambuí and Urucuia — all rely on the Cerrado as a source for much of their water. - Traditional communities are also reliant on the Cerrado’s aquifers and streams. But as agribusiness has moved into the region, putting large-scale irrigation into operation, those communities have complained of a diminishing water supply. A major water conflict arose recently between the town of Correntina and large-scale farms, in Bahia state. - The diminishing Cerrado water supply has complex causes, including deforestation due to land conversion to agriculture; large-scale irrigation to grow water-intensive crops like soy, cotton and corn; and climate change. However, scientists say that addressing the problem proactively is critically important to local communities and all of Brazil.
Belize creates one of Central America’s largest biological corridors [03/19/2018]
- On Feb. 13, the government of Belize approved the 110-square-kilometer Belize northeastern biological corridor. - The corridor aims to provide safe passage for wild animals like jaguars, pumas and Baird’s tapir to move freely between the Shipstern Nature Reserve and Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve in northern Belize. - Private landowners have agreed to place their corridor-designated lands into a trust in perpetuity, with the lands to be managed as part of the protected area system for conservation purposes.
Indonesia launches bid to restore national park that’s home to tigers, elephants [03/19/2018]
- Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra is home to critically endangered tigers and elephants, but has been heavily deforested by illegal oil palm plantations and human settlements. - The government has introduced a program to gradually relocate the people living within the park’s borders, by encouraging them to shift away from oil palm farming to alternative and sustainable forms of livelihood. - If successful, the program could serve as a model for restoring other national parks across Indonesia, which face similar problems of human encroachment.
FSC-certified timber importer failed to check legality of shipment from Cameroon [03/19/2018]
- Hardwood Dimensions, a timber importer in the U.K., violated the EU Timber Regulation by not properly verifying the legality of a shipment of Cameroonian ayous in January 2017. - A judge ordered Hardwood Dimensions to pay 4,000 pounds ($5,576) plus court costs in the case. - The case calls into question the effectiveness of Forest Stewardship Council certification, which Hardwood Dimensions has held since 2000.
Oil palm plantations’ dearth of biodiversity rubs off on nearby forests, study shows [03/19/2018]
- Oil palm plantations in Malaysian Borneo host a lower number of frog species than forests in same area. - However, the plantations exhibit an edge effect that extends as far as 4 kilometers, resulting in a decline in the diversity of frog species in adjacent forests. - The researchers suggest that for small forest patches or narrow corridors to be of long-term conservation value in oil palm landscapes, their sizes and widths need to adequately account for these edge effects.
Better agricultural planning could prevent 88% of biodiversity loss, study finds [03/16/2018]
- Results of a new study reveal that nearly 90 percent of the biodiversity that scientists expect will be lost to future agricultural expansion could be saved if more effective land-use planning directed this expansion to areas with the fewest species. - It found that 10 countries possessed the lion’s share of this potential, and could by themselves reduce the expected loss of the world’s biodiversity by 33 percent. - However, there are caveats. The researchers write that most of these countries are among the “20 worst-ranked” in terms of environmental impacts and have governance and political issues that would impede effective land-use planning at a national level. And they say global land-use optimization aimed at protecting the natural resources of the world’s most biodiverse countries may come “at the expense of their own production opportunities and economic development.” - The researchers write that in order for the world’s most biodiverse countries to reach their full conservation potential while providing for their human communities, global land-use policy and research need to better integrate the governance, political and economic challenges present in these countries.
Report finds projects in DRC ‘REDD+ laboratory’ fall short of development, conservation goals [03/16/2018]
- The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released a new report that found that 20 REDD+ projects in a province in DRC aren’t set to address forest conservation and economic development — the primary goals of the strategy. - The Paris Agreement explicitly mentions the role of REDD+ projects, which channel funds from wealthy countries to heavily forested ones, in keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century. - RRI is asking REDD+ donors to pause funding of projects in DRC until coordinators develop a more participatory approach that includes communities and indigenous groups.
Cerrado: can the empire of soy coexist with savannah conservation? [03/15/2018]
- With new deforestation due to soy production markedly reduced in recent years by Brazilian laws and by the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium, agribusiness, transnational commodities companies like Bunge and Cargill, and investors have shifted their attention to the Cerrado, savannah. - Four Cerrado states, Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, known collectively as Matopiba, are seeing a rapid reduction in native vegetation as soy, cotton, corn and cattle production rises. Over half of the Cerrado’s 2 million square kilometers has already been converted to croplands, with large-scale agribusiness owning most land. - One reason for the focus on the Cerrado: Brazil’s Forest Code requires that inside Legal Amazonia 80 percent of forests on privately held lands be conserved as Legal Reserves. But in a large portion of the Cerrado, property owners are only required to protect 20 to 35 percent of native vegetation. - With little help coming currently from government, conservationists are responding with creative approaches for protection – developing partnerships with local communities, seeking signers for the Cerrado Manifesto to curb new deforestation due to soy, and restoring degraded lands to market the Cerrado’s unique fruits and other produce.
Indonesia races to catch tiger alive as villagers threaten to ‘kill the beast’ [03/15/2018]
- A conservation agency in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island has deployed two teams to capture alive a wild tiger that has reportedly killed two people at an oil palm plantation. - The incidents prompted villagers living near the plantation to threaten to kill the tiger themselves if it was not caught. - Authorities are keen to take the animal alive, following the killing of a tiger earlier this month under similar circumstances.
Five years after zero-deforestation vow, little sign of progress from Indonesian pulp giant [03/15/2018]
- Environmental watchdogs have criticized Indonesian paper behemoth Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) for not making good on the zero-deforestation pledge it made five years ago. - The NGOs have highlighted several key problems in the implementation of APP’s Forest Conservation Program, including virtually no progress in addressing longstanding land conflicts with local communities, and the glacial pace of peatland restoration. - APP has acknowledged some of the shortcomings in the implementation of its pledge, but says many of the outstanding issues and complex and that it remains committed to its goal.
Carol Van Strum, crusader against Agent Orange, wins prestigious environmental award [03/14/2018]
- The international David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding environmental and social justice work was presented to Strum on March 1, 2018. - Strum is the author of “A Bitter Fog,” which tells the story of the fight she helped lead against aerial herbicide spraying in the Five Rivers area of Oregon, which led to a temporary ban on aerial pesticide spraying on federal forests. - Though the ban was rescinded, the work done by Strum and others on the issue contributed to a new national forest policy that favors selective harvests without herbicides.
Illegal cattle ranching deforests Mexico’s massive Lacandon Jungle [03/14/2018]
- According to authorities and residents, cattle from Central America are brought to Mexico illegally over the porous border with Guatemala and left to graze in the Lacandon Jungle, a protected area. - The Lacandon Jungle in Chiapas state once covered 1.5 million hectares. Today, it is only a third of that size and continuing to shrink. - A potent mix of poverty, porous borders and lack of government control of protected areas has contributed to the proliferation of small cattle ranches throughout the area, which, combined, have a major impact on the ecosystem.
Small hydropower a big global issue overlooked by science and policy [03/13/2018]
- Brazil recently announced an end to its mega-dam construction policy, a strategy other nations may embrace as understanding of the massive environmental and social impacts of big dams grows. - However, a trend long neglected by scientists and policymakers ¬ the rapid growth of small dams – has been spotlighted in a new study. - Nearly 83,000 small dams in 150 nations (with 11 small dams for each large dam), exist globally, while that number could triple if all capacity worldwide is used. More than 10,000 new small dams are already in the planning stages. But small dam impacts have been little studied by scientists, and little regulated by governments. - Environmentalists say that, with the rapid construction of new small dams, it is urgent for researchers to assess the impacts of different types of small dams, as well as looking at the cumulative impacts of many small dams placed on a single river, or on main stems and tributaries within watersheds.
Debates heat up as Indonesian palm oil moratorium is about to be signed [03/13/2018]
- Announced two years ago, a moratorium on new oil palm permits in Indonesia is about to be signed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. - But a coalition of environmental NGOs has criticized the latest draft of the moratorium, saying it contains many loopholes. - The coalition has submitted a list of recommendations to the government, which has promised to follow up on their concerns.
Sarawak makes 80% forest preservation commitment, but some have doubts [03/12/2018]
- The Malaysian state of Sarawak is committing to the preservation of 80 percent of its land area as primary and secondary forest, according to an announcement by Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg. - According to data, concession boundaries for oil palm and other kinds of tree plantations covered 32.7 percent of Sarawak’s land area as of 2010/11, suggesting that if Sarawak is to fulfill its commitment to preserve 80 percent of its land as primary and secondary forest, then it may need to cancel some of these concessions. - The director of environmental and human rights watchdog organization Earthsight expressed doubts that Sarawak will follow through on the commitment, and recommends the state increase transparency and crack down on illegal logging.
Cerrado: appreciation grows for Brazil’s savannah, even as it vanishes [03/12/2018]
- The Brazilian Cerrado – a vast savannah – once covered two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), an area bigger than Great Britain, France and Germany combined, stretching to the east and south of the Amazon. - Long undervalued by scientists and environmental activists, researchers are today realizing that the Cerrado is incredibly biodiverse. The biome supports more than 10,000 plant species, over 900 bird and 300 mammal species. - The Cerrado’s deep-rooted plants and its soils also sequester huge amounts of carbon, making the region’s preservation key to curbing climate change, and to reducing Brazil’s deforestation and CO2 emissions to help meet its Paris carbon reduction pledge. - Agribusiness – hampered by Brazilian laws in the Amazon – has moved into the Cerrado in a big way. More than half of the biome’s native vegetation has already disappeared, as soy and cattle production rapidly replace habitat. This series explores the dynamics of change convulsing the region.
Oil palm, rubber could trigger ‘storm’ of deforestation in the Congo Basin [03/12/2018]
- Earthsight documented approximately 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of deforestation to clear the way for new rubber and oil palm plantations in Central Africa’s rainforest countries in the past five years. - The team also found that companies in five Central African countries hold licenses for industrial agriculture on another 8,400 square kilometers (3,243 square miles) of land. - The investigators warn that thousands of hectares of forest could fall to industrial agriculture in the COngo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, if governance of the forest doesn’t improve.
How deforestation risks for investors can become opportunities for conservation (commentary) [03/09/2018]
- Deforestation can damage a company’s reputation and business performance, presenting a real risk for investors. - Recent research showcases examples of how companies have suffered from failing to properly manage deforestation-related issues. Impacts include multi-million dollar fines, loss of key customers, falling share prices, and even liquidation. - Investors and companies can reduce these risks by adopting, implementing, and transparently reporting on credible zero-deforestation policies, and joining partnerships to improve production in key landscapes. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Carbon credit prices too low to protect forests from rubber, study finds [03/08/2018]
- Data indicate rubber plantations cover around 86,000 square kilometers – an area equivalent to around 67 percent of that of oil palm in 2014. - As rubber plantations expand, scientists and conservationists worry it will come at the expense of rainforests and the wildlife they contain. They say forests in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are particularly at risk. - A new study finds that carbon credits, which are used to discourage deforestation, are currently priced between $5 and $13 per metric ton of CO2. But in order to match the revenue generated by converting a forest to a rubber plantation, that number would need to be upped to between $30 and $51 per ton of CO2. - The study concludes that as they stand now, carbon prices likely do not provide enough incentive to protect Southeast Asian forests from rubber expansion. It recommends raising carbon prices to make them more competitive with rubber revenue; its lead author further urges increasing development of synthetic alternatives and more effective rubber recycling.
NGOs seek suspension of forest-related funding to DRC in response to proposed end to logging moratorium [03/08/2018]
- More than 50 conservation and human rights organizations have called on international donors to halt forest conservation-related funding to the Democratic Republic of Congo. - The call comes in response to signals by the country’s leaders of their intention to end a 16-year-old moratorium on new logging licenses in the country, including a secretive push to alter the DRC forest code. - The NGOs argue that opening DRC up to logging will destabilize the country and damage the environment and forest-dependent communities.
Tropical deforestation: the need for a strategy adjustment (commentary) [03/08/2018]
- Ecologist Dan Nepstad is the founder and executive director of the Earth Innovation Institute. - In this commentary, Nepstad makes the case for building stronger government support to end deforestation in tropical countries. - Without this support, it may not be possible to further curb tropical deforestation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Public access to Indonesian plantation data still mired in bureaucracy [03/08/2018]
- Indonesia’s agrarian ministry continues to hold out on releasing oil palm plantation data to the public, a year after the Supreme Court ordered it to comply with a freedom-of-information ruling. - The ministry argues it is obliged to generate revenue from the release of such data, and that the lack of a payment mechanism prevents it from complying. - It also initially dodged a request for similar data filed by the national mapping agency, citing the same reason, but complied after the anti-corruption agency intervened.
Jaguar numbers rising at field sites, WCS says [03/07/2018]
- WCS reports that jaguar numbers have risen by almost 8 percent a year between 2002 and 2016 at study sites in Central and South America. - The sites cover around 400,000 square kilometers (154,440 square miles) of jaguar habitat. - Despite the promising findings, WCS scientists caution that habitat destruction, hunting in response to livestock killings, and poaching for their body parts remain critical threats to jaguars.
Analysis: the Brazilian Supreme Court’s New Forest Code ruling [03/07/2018]
- Last week Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge by environmentalists, upholding the constitutionality of most, though not all, of Brazil’s New Forest Code – legislation crafted in 2012 by the powerful bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress. - The 2012 code is weaker than the old Forest Code, which was approved in 1965, but never well enforced. - Many environmentalists have expressed concern that the high court ruling endorses legislation that prioritizes the economic importance of industrial agriculture over basic environmental protections. - Conservationists also say that the decision rewards those who have illegally infringed on environmental laws at a time when pressures on forests are growing more intense, especially in the Amazon. This story includes a chart that provides a detailed analysis of the environmental pros and cons of the Supreme Court decision.
Bornean bearded pigs seen adapting to oil palm habitats, study finds [03/06/2018]
- Bornean bearded pigs appear to thrive in oil palm plantations, but remain heavily dependent on nearby forests as their primary habitat, a recent study indicates. - The findings are crucial because of the species’ key role as an “ecosystem engineer,” controlling the spread of tree species and turning over the soil with their rooting behavior. - The researchers have called on the Malaysian government to better protect these forests in a bid to ensure a sustainable population of bearded pigs in mixed forest-oil palm areas.
Video: Budiardi, labeled a ‘provocateur’ and jailed in a dispute with a palm oil company [03/06/2018]
- “The palm oil fiefdom” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article reveals how Darwan Ali, the former head of Indonesia’s Seruyan district, presided over an elaborate scheme to use shell companies as vehicles to sell plantation licenses to major palm oil firms. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of those affected by Darwan’s licensing spree, including a Dayak man named Budiardi.
Amazon forest to savannah tipping point could be far closer than thought (commentary) [03/05/2018]
- In the 1970s, scientists recognized that the Amazon makes half of its own rainfall via evaporation and transpiration from vegetation. Researchers also recognized that escalating deforestation would reduce this rainfall producing effect. - A 2007 study estimated that with 40 percent Amazon deforestation a tipping point could be reached, with large swathes of Amazonia switching from forest to savannah. Two newly considered factors in a 2016 study – climate change and fires – have now reduced that estimated tipping point to 20-25 percent. Current deforestation is at 17 percent, with an unknown amount of degraded forest adding less moisture. - There is good reason to think that this Amazon forest to savannah tipping point is close at hand. Historically unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015 would seem to be the first flickers of such change. - Noted Amazon scientists Tom Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre argue that it is critical to build in a margin of safety by keeping Amazon deforestation below 20 percent. To avoid this tipping point, Brazil needs to strongly control deforestation, and combine that effort with reforestation. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
In eastern Indonesia, a forest tribe pushes back against miners and loggers [03/05/2018]
- The Forest Tobelo, an indigenous tribe in Indonesia’s North Maluku province, faces constant threat from illegal loggers and the expansion of mining leases. - More than one third of the province’s total area has been allocated for mining leases. - The community has chosen to fight back by drawing up its own maps of the land to which it has long laid claim, and by reporting illegal incursions into its forests.
Brazil high court Forest Code ruling largely bad for environment, Amazon: NGOs [03/01/2018]
- In a tight decision, the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) upheld the constitutionality of much of Brazil’s 2012 New Forest Code, that had been created under the powerful influence of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. The upheld 2012 New Forest Code is a weaker body of environmental regulations than the 1965 code created under Brazil’s military government. - The court ruling made constitutional a declared amnesty for those who illegally cleared their Legal Reserves (lands, by law, they must not clear) before 22 July 2008, eliminating required fines and tree replantings. It allows for the reduction of Legal Reserves in states or municipalities largely occupied by indigenous reserves or protected areas. - The STF decision also allows for the reduction in size of APAs (Areas of Permanent Protection), even when considered fundamental by environmentalists for maintaining water supplies and preventing climate disasters such as floods and mudslides. - The ruling allows farmers who have already illegally cleared protected APAs, to get authorization to clear even more land, and approves farming activities on steep slopes and hilltops. Environmentalists were critical of the high court decision, while agribusiness praised it.
Pepsi cuts off Indonesian palm oil supplier over labor, sustainability concerns [03/01/2018]
- PepsiCo has announced the suspension since January 2017 of its business ties with IndoAgri, one of Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producers, citing concerns over the company’s labor rights and sustainability practices. - IndoAgri has been criticized for alleged abuses of workers’ rights in some of its plantations in North Sumatra province. - PepsiCo has demanded that IndoAgri resolve these outstanding issues before its considers resuming their business partnership.
‘S.O.S.’ carved out of former plantation shines a light on palm oil-driven deforestation [03/01/2018]
- A dramatic S.O.S. sign has been carved out of a stand of oil palms on a former plantation in Sumatra, serving to highlight the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests. - The work is part of a campaign by a Lithuanian artist, a conservation group and a cosmetics firm to raise awareness about palm oil-driven deforestation in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the commodity. - Extensive deforestation has for decades threatened the lives of the island’s native wildlife and the people who depend on the forests for a living.
Video: James Watt, the farmer who challenged a palm oil fiefdom [03/01/2018]
- “The palm oil fiefdom” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article reveals how Darwan Ali, the former head of Indonesia’s Seruyan district, presided over an elaborate scheme to use shell companies as vehicles to sell plantation licenses to major palm oil firms. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of those affected by Darwan’s licensing spree, including an Indonesian farmer named James Watt.
Andes dams twice as numerous as thought are fragmenting the Amazon [02/28/2018]
- A new study identified 142 dams currently in operation or under construction in the Andes headwaters of the Amazon, twice the number previously estimated. An additional 160 are in the planning stages. - If proposed Andes dams go ahead, sediment transport to the Amazon floodplains could cease, blocking freshwater fish migratory routes, disrupting flow and flood regimes, and threatening food security for downstream communities, impacting up to 30 million people. - Most dams to date are on the tributary networks of Andean river main stems. But new dams are planned for five out of eight major Andean Amazon main stems, bringing connectivity reductions on the Marañón, Ucayali and Beni rivers of more than 50 percent; and on the Madre de Dios and Mamoré rivers of over 35 percent. - Researchers conclude that proposed dams should be required to complete cumulative effects assessments at a basin-wide scale, and account for synergistic impacts of existing dams, utilizing the UN Watercourses Convention as a legal basis for international cooperation for sustainable water management between Amazon nations.
Belo Monte legacy: harm from Amazon dam didn’t end with construction (photo story) [02/26/2018]
- The controversial Belo Monte dam, operational in 2016 and the world’s third biggest, was forced on the people of Altamira, Pará state, and is now believed to have been built largely as payback to Brazil’s construction industry by the nation’s then ruling Workers’ Party for campaign contributions received. - The dam was opposed by an alliance of indigenous and traditional communities, and international environmentalists, all to no avail. Today, the media coverage that once turned the world’s eyes toward Belo Monte, has gone away. But that hasn’t ended the suffering and harm resulting from the project. - Tens of thousands of indigenous and traditional people were forced from their homes, and had to give up their fishing livelihoods. Meanwhile, the city of Altamira endured boom and bust, as workers flooded in, then abandoned it. The Belo Sun goldmine, if ever built, also continues to be a potential threat. - In this story, Mongabay contributor Maximo Anderson and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim document the ongoing harm being done by the giant dam. Belo Monte, today, stands as a warning regarding the urgent need to properly assess and plan for mega-infrastructure projects in Amazonia.
Scientists aim to give engineers the tools for ecologically sensitive development [02/26/2018]
- EIAs, or environmental impact assessments, are notoriously flawed and don’t always provide an accurate assessment of the risks of development projects. - A recent article by a team of scientists is part of a larger effort to give planners and engineers the data for more environmentally sensitive development. - The article appears in the February issue of Jurutera: The Journal of Malaysian Engineers.
Indonesia braces for return of fire season as hotspots flare up [02/26/2018]
- Indonesia’s annual forest fire season has started, with reports of blazes in four peat-rich provinces, all of which have declared a state of emergency. - The stake is high for Indonesia to prevent the fires and resultant haze this year, as it prepares to host tens of thousands of athletes and visitors for the Asian Games. One of the host cities is in South Sumatra province, a perennial tinderbox. - The Indonesian government rolled out extensive measures to prevent fires in the wake of the 2015 blazes, focusing on restoring drained peatland, but questions remain over the effectiveness of those efforts.
Activists: Palm oil must not get wider access to EU under Indonesia trade talks [02/22/2018]
- The prospect of greater access for Indonesian palm oil to the 28-nation EU market is expected to dominate trade negotiations taking place this week. - Environmental activists from both Indonesia and Europe warn that granting this access could lead to even greater deforestation and more social conflicts in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil. - For its part, the Indonesian government is seeking to push back against EU measures to phase out palm oil for use in biofuels by 2021.
Drought-driven wildfires on rise in Amazon basin, upping CO2 release [02/22/2018]
- Despite a 76 percent decline in deforestation rates between 2003 and 2015, the incidence of forest fires is increasing in Brazil, with new research linking the rise in fires not only to deforestation, but also to severe droughts. - El Niño, combined with other oceanic and atmospheric cycles, produced an unusually severe drought in 2015, a year that saw a 36 percent increase in Amazon basin forest fires, which also raised carbon emissions. - Severe droughts are expected to become more common in the Brazilian Amazon as natural oceanic cycles are made more extreme by human-induced climate change. - In this new climate paradigm, limiting deforestation alone will not be sufficient to reduce fires and curb carbon emissions, scientists say. The maintenance of healthy, intact, unfragmented forests is vital to providing resilience against further increases in Amazon fires.
Audio: Exploring the minds and inner lives of animals [02/20/2018]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with an author of a new book about the minds and lives of animals – about their amazing memories and minds, how they dream, and more – and we’ll also learn what Mongabay’s newest bureau just launched in India is reporting about. - Our first guest is Sy Montgomery, the author of two dozen books for adults and kids about animals. She recently teamed up with her friend and fellow animal writer Elizabeth Marshall Thomas to write Tamed and Untamed: Close Encounters of the Animal Kind, and is here to share a few of the fascinating stories from the book with us. - Our second guest today is Sandhya Sekar, program manager for Mongabay India, who’s here to tell us about the environmental challenges India is facing and what kinds of coverage you’ll find at india.mongabay.com.
Study delves into overlooked community perceptions of conservation impact [02/20/2018]
- A new study measures the impacts of conservation projects on people’s lives by letting the people define what matters to them. - The study has adapted the Global Person Generated Index (GPGI), an index that has previously been used in the health sector to see what people consider important for their quality of life, and lets the people rate the performance of those domains. - The study found that overall, the local people were most commonly concerned with agriculture, health, livestock, education, jobs, and family-related activities, but more than 50 percent of the people who were interviewed said that the conservation projects had had no significant impacts on these aspects of their well-being.
‘It’s our home’: Pygmies fight for recognition as forest protectors in new film [02/20/2018]
- A recent short film, Pygmy Peoples of the DRC: A Rising Movement, tracks the push for the recognition of indigenous land rights in the DRC. - The film catalogs the importance of the forest to pygmy groups, as well as their role as stewards of the forest. - A raft of recent research has shown that indigenous groups around the world often do a better job of protecting forests than parks and reserves.
As Indonesia gears up for elections, activists brace for an environmental sell-off [02/19/2018]
- This year, Indonesia will hold elections for governors, district heads and mayors across 171 regions, many of them home to vast natural resources. - Environmental activists are worried that, as in previous election years, the campaigning this year will be rife with corruption, as candidates take kickbacks from plantation and mining operators in a quid pro quo for permits and other favors once in office. - A key factor in the issue is the greater autonomy that local leaders enjoy managing their lands and resources, to the extent that they can even skirt some of the controls imposed by the central government. - The central government has made assurances that its processes now are more transparent and accountable, making potential abuses at the local level less likely. Activists, though, are unconvinced, citing a longstanding lack of strong enforcement.
Protected areas with deforestation more likely to lose status in Brazilian state [02/18/2018]
- A recent study finds that ineffective protected areas stand a lower chance of surviving if deforestation has occurred within their boundaries. - The research took place in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon. - The team of scientists also found that protected areas that work are less likely to be carved up for development. - The authors argue that removing safeguards, even from degraded areas, does not take into account the benefits that we may derive from existing protected areas, including carbon storage and clean water.
Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon dropped 13 percent in 2017 [02/16/2018]
- A new analysis of satellite imagery and data finds 143,425 hectares of forest were lost in the Peruvian Amazon in 2017, down 13 percent from 2016. - The analysis identified newly deforestation hotspots in the San Martín and Amazonas regions. - The main causes of the loss of forest in the Amazon appear to be cultivation of crops, small- and medium-scale ranching, large oil palm plantations and gold mining.
Borneo, ravaged by deforestation, loses nearly 150,000 orangutans in 16 years, study finds [02/15/2018]
- A new study calculates that the island of Borneo lost nearly 150,000 orangutans in the period between 1999 and 2015, largely as a result of deforestation and killing. There were an estimated 104,700 of the critically endangered apes left as of 2012. - The study also warns that another 45,000 orangutans are doomed by 2050 under the business-as-usual scenario, where forests are cleared for logging, palm oil, mining and pulpwood leases. Orangutans are also disappearing from intact forests, most likely being killed, the researchers say. - The researchers have called for more effective partnerships between governments, industries and local communities to ensure the Bornean orangutan’s survival. Public education and awareness will also be key.
East Africa’s Albertine Rift needs protection now, scientists say [02/15/2018]
- The Albertine Rift in East Africa is home to more than 500 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. - Created by the stretching apart of tectonic plates, the unique ecosystems of the Albertine Rift are also under threat from encroaching human population and climate change. - A new report details a plan to protect the landscapes that make up the Rift at a cost of around $21 million per year — a bargain rate, scientists argue, given the number of threatened species that could be saved.
‘Eye of Papua’ shines a light on environmental, indigenous issues in Indonesia’s last frontier [02/14/2018]
- For decades the Papua region in Indonesia has remained the country’s least-understood, least-developed and most-impoverished area, amid a lack of transparency fueled by a strong security presence. - Activists hope their new website, Mata Papua, or Eye of Papua, will fill the information void with reports, data and maps about indigenous welfare and the proliferation of mines, logging leases and plantations in one of the world’s last great spans of tropical forest. - Companies, with the encouragement of the government, are fast carving up Papua’s land, after having nearly depleted the forests of Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.
Brazilian Supreme Court ruling protects Quilombola land rights for now [02/13/2018]
- Brazil’s Supreme Court has soundly rejected a lawsuit filed in 2003 by a right wing political party that would have drastically limit the ability of quilombolas (former slave communities) to legitimize claims to their traditional lands. - There are 2,962 quilombolas in Brazil today, but just 219 have land titles, while 1,673 are pursuing the process of acquiring legal title. Titled quilombola territories include 767,596 hectares (1.9 million acres); these settlements have a good record of protecting their forests. Brazil’s total quilombola population includes some 16 million people. - While advocates for quilombola rights cheered the Supreme Court decision, major threats to the communities loom: successive administrations have drastically slashed the budget for titling quilombola lands, almost completely stalling the demarcation process. Also, a constitutional amendment, PEC 215 is moving through Brazil’s Congress. - PEC 215 would shift authority from the Executive branch to Congress for giving out land titles to quilombolas, recognizing indigenous claims to ancestral lands, and creating protected areas. With Congress dominated by the ruralist caucus and agribusiness, PEC 215 threatens Brazilian forests and indigenous and traditional communities.
Bridgestone aims for full sustainability by 2050 [02/13/2018]
- Bridgestone is the world’s largest tire and rubber manufacturer. - The company joins Pirelli and Michelin in committing itself and its suppliers to a sustainable supply chain by 2050. - The move could be particularly beneficial in places like Cambodia, where deforestation has closely tracked the global price for rubber.
Scientists discover 18 new spider-hunting spiders from Madagascar [02/09/2018]
- Researchers have added 18 new species to the assassin spider family, upping the total number of known Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea species to 26. - Assassin spiders, also known as pelican spiders, have special physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to hunt other spiders. - The new species were discovered in Madagascar’s forests and through examination of previously collected museum specimens. - Madagascar is currently experiencing high levels of deforestation. Researchers say the loss of Madagascar’s forests is putting the new assassin spiders – as well as many other species – at risk of extinction.
Cattle invade Colombian national park [02/08/2018]
- An analysis of satellite data shows incursions into La Paya National Park in southern Colombia. - The data indicate La Paya lost around 9,500 hectares of rainforest between 2001 and 2016. - Researchers say satellite imagery show evidence that these clearings are being used for cattle pasture. - Conservationists worry deforestation will continue to rise with the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC rebel group, whose presence in the country’s forests kept logging and agriculture at bay for decades.
Carbon pricing could save millions of hectares of tropical forest: new study [02/05/2018]
- Recently published research in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that setting a price of $20 per metric ton (about $18/short ton) of carbon dioxide could diminish deforestation by nearly 16 percent and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by nearly 25 percent. - The pair of economists calculated that, as things currently stand, the world stands to lose an India-size chunk of tropical forest by 2050. - In addition to carbon pricing, stricter policies to halt deforestation, such as those that helped Brazil cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent in the early 2000s, could save nearly 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles).
Deforestation wanes in Indonesia’s Aceh and Leuser Ecosystem, but threats remain, NGO says [02/05/2018]
- Deforestation in Indonesia’s Aceh province last year fell 18 percent from 2016 — a trend activists attribute to better law enforcement and intensified campaigning about the importance of protecting the unique Leuser Ecosystem. - Another factor is a government moratorium on oil palm planters clearing peatlands, but this hasn’t stopped many such operators from acting with impunity. - Activists worry that future threats will come from road projects and planned hydropower and geothermal plants.
Amazon rainforest hit by surge in small-scale deforestation, study finds [02/02/2018]
- A recent study used high-resolution satellite imagery to analyze deforestation events in Amazonia, uncovering a shift from large- to small-scale deforestation events across the region. Protected areas also appear to be affected. - The results indicate big new deforestation hotspots are opening up in Peru and Bolivia, likely caused by industrial agriculture. - The researchers found 34 percent of forest loss patches in the Brazilian Amazon were smaller than 6.25 hectares, which is the smallest size detectable by the Brazilian government’s deforestation monitoring system. - The researchers say higher-resolution monitoring systems are needed to combat the rising tide of small-scale deforestation.
Venezuela: can a failing state protect its environment and its people? [02/01/2018]
- Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state, with 11.4 percent of its children malnourished, 10.5 percent of its workforce unemployed, and an annual inflation rate of roughly 2,700 percent for 2017. - Serious food, fuel and medicine shortages have in recent months resulted in mobs raiding stores and shops, fishing boats, even the stoning of a cow to death where it stood in a field, in order for people to be able to provide for their families. - Meanwhile, Pres. Maduro has sought to save his nation from economic ruin by selling off its natural resources, opening the Arco Minero in Bolívar state to mining – 112,000 square kilometers, more than 12 percent of the country. He has also announced the creation of the Petro cryptocurrency, backed by the nation’s oil and possibly minerals. - Mongabay correspondent Bram Ebus, in partnership with InfoAmazonia, recently traveled to the remote Arco Minero and reported firsthand on the chaotic political and social situation, where indigenous communities and the environment are put at risk by economic hardship, a corrupt military, armed gangs and guerrilla bands.
Zero-deforestation pledges need help, support to meet targets, new study finds [02/01/2018]
- The study’s authors reviewed previous research to understand the impact that zero-deforestation commitments are having on reducing the loss of forests. - Nearly 450 companies made 760 such commitments by early 2017. - These pledges can reduce deforestation in some cases, but in others, they weren’t effective or had unintended effects, according to the study. - The authors advocate for increased public-private communication, more support for smallholders, and complementary laws that support these pledges.
Mega developments set to transform a tranquil Cambodian bay [01/31/2018]
- Sim Him has organized the planting of more than 200,000 mangrove trees in Cambodia’s Trapeang Sangke estuary. The surrounding ecosystem, which feeds thousands of families, is thriving. - But the nearby construction of a ferry terminal and a luxury resort are upsetting the estuary’s equilibrium, and development projects continue west along the coastline from there. - Dotted along a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) coastal strip, no less than six large-scale developments present a direct threat to healthy mangrove forests and the fishing communities they support. - Aside from being a nursery for sealife and a barrier to erosion, mangroves are also one of the planet’s most effective carbon neutralizers, capable of capturing and storing it for millennia.
Is a plantation a forest? Indonesia says yes, as it touts a drop in deforestation [01/31/2018]
- Indonesia has reported a second straight year of declining deforestation, and credited more stringent land management policies for the trend. - However, the government’s insistence on counting pulpwood plantations as reforested areas has once again sparked controversy over how the very concept of a forest should be defined. - Researchers caution that the disparity between Indonesia’s methodology and the standard more commonly used elsewhere could make it difficult for the government to qualify for funding to mitigate carbon emissions from deforestation.
New study suggests Borneo’s had elephants for thousands of years [01/31/2018]
- The research, published in January in the journal Scientific Reports, used genetic information and changes to the topography of the region to surmise that Asian elephants arrived in Borneo between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago. - The authors hypothesize that elephants moved from nearby islands or the Malaysian peninsula to Borneo via land bridges. - It’s an indication that the elephants are ‘native’ to Borneo, the scientists argue, and points to the need to bolster conservation efforts.
Maduro seeks sell off of Venezuela’s natural resources to escape debt – analysis [01/25/2018]
- With Venezuela’s hyperinflation rate soaring to an estimated 2,700 percent in 2017, corruption and looting rife, and food and medicine in short supply nationwide, President Nicolás Maduro is desperate to find solutions to the country’s deepening economic crisis. - Many of the president’s solutions, including the Arco Minero and the Petro cryptocurrency, could end up selling off Venezuela’s mineral wealth while devastating indigenous territories and the environment, including the Venezuelan Amazon. - The Arco Minero, announced by Maduro in 2016, would open 112,000 square kilometers, more than 12 percent of the country, to mining. And while Maduro has invited transnational companies to do the work, most mining that is currently being done is controlled by corrupt elements of the military and organized armed gangs. - In December, Maduro announced the Petro cryptocurrency, another scheme likely meant to help ease Venezuela’s debt. The new virtual currency would either be backed by the country’s untapped oil wealth or mineral wealth, including gold, coltan and diamonds. The fear is that none of these policies will prevent Venezuela from becoming a failed state.
Pope’s message to Amazonia inspires hope, but will it bring action? [01/22/2018]
- On 19 January, Pope Francis spoke to a crowd of thousands, including many indigenous people, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, the capital of Madre de Dios state in the Amazon, a region that has seen significant deforestation (62,500 hectares between 2012 and 2016), and significant violence due to illegal mining. - Latin American analysts, while excited about the pope’s visit, and appreciative of his spotlighting of illegal mining in Madre de Dios and other environmental problems across Amazonia, expressed doubt that the papal visit will have much impact in the long run. - The pope singled out large corporations in his address: “[G]reat business interests… want to lay hands on [the Amazon’s] petroleum, gas, lumber, gold and other forms of agro-industrial monocultivation,” he said. “We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.” - The pope invited a top-down and bottom-up response by Catholics to the Amazon crisis, calling on indigenous people “to shape the culture of local churches in Amazonia,” and announcing next year’s first-ever Synod for Amazonia – a gathering of global bishops who will put papal doctrine such as Laudato Si, his landmark 2015 papal encyclical, into action.
Outrage and conspiracy claims as Indonesia, Malaysia react to EU ban on palm oil in biofuels [01/19/2018]
- Indonesian and Malaysian ministers have derided as unfair and misguided the European Parliament’s vote to approve the phase-out of palm oil from biofuels by 2021. - The vote Wednesday, over concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the palm oil industry, still needs to be ratified by the European Commission and member governments. - Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have filed official notes of protest, claiming a protectionist conspiracy to promote other vegetable oil producers, but activists say the EU’s concerns, including about deforestation, are valid and the ban justified.
Pope set to visit site of deforestation, indigenous struggle in Peru [01/19/2018]
- Pope Francis plans to visit Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian region of Madre de Dios Friday morning on his trip to South America. - He will speak with indigenous communities in a coliseum. - Madre de Dios had the second-highest rate of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon in 2017, with 208 square kilometers (80 square miles) of forest cover loss as a result of farming, logging and mining.
New satellite data reveals forest loss far greater than expected in Brazil Amazon [01/18/2018]
- The Brazilian Amazon lost 184 km2 of forest in December 2017, 20 times more than was recorded in December 2016 (9 km2). - The massive increase reflects Brazil’s use of a more accurate satellite monitoring system that incorporates radar, which can see land cover at night and through clouds, and suggests prior deforestation rates were likely underestimates. - As the cost of radar and other satellite data decreases, continuous monitoring will enable officials and civil society to more accurately monitor and quantify forest loss over a broad range of spatial scales.
680000 acres of Amazon rainforest may be lost to Peru’s new roads [01/18/2018]
- The Peruvian government has green-lighted the construction of a volley of new roads along its border with Brazil in the Ucayali and Madre de Dios regions. - The most major of these roads would span 172 miles through the Amazon rainforest, connecting the towns of Puerto Esperanza and Iñapari. - A new analysis finds around 680,000 acres (2,750 square kilometers) of primary rainforest will likely be put at risk from the road construction – an area the size of the country of Samoa. - The proposed route of the main road would also cross two indigenous reserves and a national park.
Record Amazon fires, intensified by forest degradation, burn indigenous lands [01/18/2018]
- As of September 2017, Brazil’s Pará state in the Amazon had seen a 229 percent increase in fires over 2016; in a single week in December the state saw 26,000 fire alerts. By year’s end, the Brazilian Amazon was on track for an all-time record fire season. - But 2017 was not a record drought year, so experts have sought other causes. Analysts say most of the wildfires were human-caused, set by people seeking to convert forests to crop or grazing lands. Forest degradation by mining companies, logging and agribusiness added to the problem. - Huge cuts made by the Temer administration in the budgets of Brazilian regulatory and enforcement agencies, such as FUNAI, the nation’s indigenous protection agency, and IBAMA, its environmental agency, which fights fires, added to the problem in 2017. - The dramatic rise in wildfires has put indigenous communities and their territories at risk. For example, an area covering 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres), lost tree cover within the Kayapó Indigenous Territory from October to December, while the nearby Xikrin Indigenous Territory lost roughly 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) over the same period.
Venezuela’s Mining Arc boom sweeps up Indigenous people and cultures [01/15/2018]
- In 2016, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared the opening of the Arco Minero, which sprawls in an east-to-west crescent across 112,000 square kilometers (43,243 square miles) mostly in Bolívar state, south of the Orinoco River and in the Venezuelan Amazon. - Indigenous communities within the Arco Minero were given no say in the development of mining in their region or near their territories, a clear violation of the International Labour Organization’s 169 Convention, an agreement to which Venezuela is a party. - Mining is not only spreading in Bolivar’s Mining Arc, where armed gangs and the military compete for gold, diamond and coltan claims, but also into Venezuela’s Amazonas state to the south. Indigenous men and women leave their ancestral communities and small farms to do backbreaking and dangerous work in the mines for little money. - Violence against, and conflicts with, indigenous communities can be expected to escalate as Venezuelan armed gangs and military organizations, and Colombian guerrilla groups continue to expand their presence in the region, and flex their muscles in the mining areas.
Indonesia’s Aceh extends moratorium on new mining sites [01/12/2018]
- The governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province has extended for another six months a moratorium on issuing new mining permits. - The government says it will use the extended moratorium period to review and improve the management of the province’s mining sector. - The freeze has been in place since 2014, and has been credited by activists with saving hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest in Aceh — home to critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants — from being cleared.
Natural World Heritage Sites in trouble, especially in the Tropics [01/11/2018]
- From the Great Barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands and the forests of central Africa, over a third of Natural World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO are under threat from myriad problems. - Of the seventeen locations with a critical conservation outlook, sixteen are in the Tropics, and the majority of those are in Africa. Less than half of African World Heritage sites received a “good” outlook. Lack of funding in developing nations is a major problem. - Sites harboring rich biodiversity, such as Virunga and Garamba national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, are especially at risk. - The most common threats to Natural World Heritage Sites are invasive non-native species, unsustainable tourism, poaching, hydroelectric dams, and logging, with climate change the fastest growing threat.
Critically endangered monkeys found in Ghana forest slated for mining [01/11/2018]
- Researchers were surprised to discover white-naped mangabeys (Cercocebus lunulatus) while reviewing camera trap footage captured in Ghana’s Atewa mountain range. - The white-naped mangabey has declined by more than 50 percent in less than three decades and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Habitat loss and hunting are its major threats. The camera trap footage is the first record of the species in eastern Ghana. - Deposits of bauxite, from which aluminum is produced, underlie Atewa’s forests. The Ghanaian government is reportedly gearing up to develop mining operations and associated infrastructure for bauxite extraction, refinement and export. - Conservation organizations and other stakeholders are urging the government to cease its plans for mining and more effectively protect Atewa by turning the region into a national park.
Wars kill wildlife in Africa’s protected areas, study finds [01/11/2018]
- Researchers have found that wars and armed conflict have led to severe declines in large mammal populations in Africa’s protected areas. - Even low-grade, infrequent conflicts were enough to reduce large mammal numbers, the study found. - Despite devastation, wild animal populations can recover if efforts are made to conserve them, the researchers conclude.
Study: Amazon dams are disrupting ecologically vital flood pulses [01/10/2018]
- Flood pulses are critical to the way the Amazon, its tributaries and other tropical rivers function – and these seasonal flood pulses are a huge driver of ecological productivity and diversity. - Floodplain forests depend upon annual flood pulses to bring nutrients and sediment from river channels out into the surrounding terrestrial habitat. - Reductions to flood pulses, brought by Amazon dams both large and small, could lead to shifts in tree species diversity and composition, with implications for carbon storage and emissions. - Unreliable flood regimes, as created by dams of all sizes, significantly impact Amazon river systems and species’ life cycles, population dynamics, food sources, and habitats above and below the water line.
Brazil 2018: Amazon under attack, resistance grows, courts to act, elections [01/09/2018]
- While forecasts are always difficult, it seems likely that Brazilian President Michel Temer will remain in power for the last year of his term, despite on-going corruption investigations. - Elections for president, the house of deputies, and most of the senate are scheduled for October. Former President Lula has led the presidential polls, though right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro has grown strong. Lula’s environmental record is mixed; Bolsonaro would almost certainly be bad news for the environment, indigenous groups and the Amazon. - During 2018, Temer, Congress and the bancada ruralista (a lobby representing agribusiness, cattle ranchers, land thieves and other wealthy rural elites) will likely seek to undermine environmental laws and indigenous land rights further. Potential paving of the BR 319 in the heart of the Amazon is considered one of the biggest threats. - However, grassroots environmental and indigenous resistance continues to grow, and important Brazilian Supreme Court decisions are expected in the weeks and months ahead, which could undo some of the major gains made by the ruralists under Temer.
Study on economic loss from Indonesia’s peat policies criticized [01/08/2018]
- A recent study estimates that Indonesia’s various peat-protection policies could lead to $5.7 billion in economic losses. - Those losses arise mainly from the pulp and palm oil industries, which are now obliged to conserve and restore peatlands that fall within their concessions. - Researchers and officials have criticized the study, saying it fails to make a holistic accounting of the environmental, social, health and climate costs from the continued destruction of carbon-rich peat areas. - They warn the study’s findings could be used to undermine policies aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2015 fires that cost Indonesia an estimated $16 billion from economic disruption.
Meet Indonesia’s new honeyeater species from Rote Island [01/05/2018]
- A new bird species from Indonesia has been described by a group of scientists after it was first observed in 1990, a paper said. - The bird, which belongs to the honeyeater family, has been named after Indonesia’s first lady, Iriana Joko Widodo, as a way to promote the protection of the species. - The researchers said the newly described species’ population was primarily threatened by deforestation to clear land for residential and agricultural use.
Scientists surprised by orchid bee biodiversity near oil palm plantations [01/04/2018]
- A recent study finds orchid bee diversity is supported by forest patches along rivers near oil palm plantations in Brazil. - The study lends evidence that remnant patches of forest support the movement and survival of plant and animal species in deforested landscapes. - Brazil’s new forest code revisions greatly reduce or eliminate the requirement for some agricultural producers to maintain river forest patches.
Rainforests: the year in review 2017 [01/04/2018]
- 2017 was a rough year for tropical rainforests, but there were some bright spots. - This is Mongabay’s annual year-in-review on what happened in the world of tropical rainforests. - Here we summarize some of the more notable developments and trends for tropical forests in 2017.
Indonesia in 2017: A fighting chance for peat protection, but an infrastructure beatdown for indigenous communities [01/04/2018]
- 2017 brought a mix of good and bad news from Indonesia, pertaining primarily to its forest-protection efforts, its recognition of indigenous rights and its balancing of infrastructure needs with local livelihoods. - Policies issued in the wake of the devastating 2015 forest fires led to a significant decrease in hotspots and burned area in 2017, but face opposition from industry, parliament and even government officials. - The government is hopeful it can halve the number of annual hotspots by 2019 from business-as-usual levels, even as the weather agency warns of drier conditions this year. - Efforts to recognize indigenous people’s rights continued at a glacial pace, and frequently clashed with the government’s ambitious infrastructure-building push.
Brazil announces end to Amazon mega-dam building policy [01/03/2018]
- Brazil’s government this week announced a major shift away from its policy of building mega-dams in the Brazilian Amazon – a strategy born during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and vigorously carried forward down to the present day. - The Temer government claims the decision is a response to intense resistance from environmentalists and indigenous groups, but while that may be part of the reason, experts see other causes as well. - The decline in political influence of Brazil’s gigantic construction companies caused by the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation is likely a major cause of the change in policy. So is the current depressed state of Brazil’s economy, which makes it unlikely that Brazil’s huge development bank (BNDES) will invest in such multi-billion dollar projects. - While environmentalists and indigenous groups will likely celebrate the shift away from the mega-dam policy, experts warn that many threats to the Amazon remain, including pressure by Brazil’s ruralist lobby to open up conserved areas and indigenous lands to agribusiness, along with threats posed by new road, rail, waterway and mining projects.
In early push into Papua, palm oil firms set stage for massive forest plunder [01/03/2018]
- Large-scale deforestation and a high number of hotspots indicate that the arrival of the oil palm industry in Indonesia’s Papua region is wreaking the same kind of destruction wrought on forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan. - A new report calls the scale of the problem alarming, with the potential for even greater losses as only a small fraction of the forests issued for oil palm plantations has been cleared. - The palm oil industry’s push into the region, after nearly depleting forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan, has been helped by government programs to boost investment in Papua.
U.S. court ruling complicates Trump’s elephant and lion policy [01/02/2018]
- A federal appeals court has found that the Obama administration did not follow proper procedures in 2014 when it banned importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. The USFWS failed to seek public comment at the time, among other infractions. - This new ruling puts the Trump administration decision, made in November, ending the ban and allowing elephant trophy hunting imports, into question. - Further complicating matters is Trump’s dubbing of the November USFWS decision as a “horror show,” and his putting of the policy on hold awaiting his response. To date, Trump has said nothing further. - The way things stand now, U.S. hunters can import elephant trophies from South Africa and Namibia. They can import lion body parts from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. But the legality of importing elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe remains in limbo.
Former Mongabay intern, now pop star, launches Amazon-friendly perfume [01/02/2018]
- Heather D’Angelo, a member of the pop band Au Revoir Simone, just introduced her fragrance line, Carta. - Inspired by her love of mixing scents and conserving tropical rainforests, D’Angelo created an Amazon-friendly and inspired scent. - The former tropical ecologist hopes to create an example for conservation success with her Peru-based NGO partner, Camino Verde.
Top 20 forest stories of 2017 [12/29/2017]
Mongabay published hundreds of stories on forests in 2017. Here are some of our favorites. 1. Rebel road expansion brings deforestation to remote Colombian Amazon With the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC militant group, the country is expanding agriculture and infrastructure in places in the country once too dangerous to develop. One of these areas is […]
How a hunger for teeth is driving a bat toward extinction [12/29/2017]
- Bat teeth are more valuable than paper money on the island of Makira, in the eastern Solomon Islands. - The use of bat teeth as a currency means that bats on the island are commonly hunted. One species, the Makira flying fox, is found only on the island and is being threatened with extinction due to human pressures. - In addition to direct hunting, human population growth and logging are also threatening the bats. - To save the species, researchers recommend developing quotas for sustainable harvesting, as well as an outreach campaign connecting the survival of this key piece of Makiran culture with the need to conserve the bats.
New checklist catalogs every vascular plant in the Americas [12/28/2017]
- A team of 24 researchers pulled together information from plant checklists across the two continents and added it to the Tropicos database. - With the details of all of the species in one place, scientists now have a public, searchable checklist with nearly 125,000 species. - The authors note that having a checklist like this one to serve as a baseline is helpful to scientists and policymakers alike.
Brazil 2017: environmental and indigenous rollbacks, rising violence [12/27/2017]
- The bancada ruralista, or ruralist lobby, in Brazil’s congress flexed its muscles in 2017, making numerous demands on President Michel Temer to make presidential decrees weakening environmental protections and revoking land rights to indigenous and traditional communities in Brazil – decisions especially impacting the Amazon. - Emboldened ruralists – including agribusiness, cattle ranchers, land thieves and loggers – stepped up violent attacks in 2017, making Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for social or environmental activists. There were 63 assassinations by the end of October. - Budgets to FUNAI, the indigenous agency; IBAMA, the environmental agency; and other institutions, were reduced so severely this year that these government regulatory agencies were largely unable to do their enforcement and protection work. - In 2017, Temer led attempts to dismember Jimanxim National Forest and National Park, and to open the vast RENCA preserve in the Amazon to mining – efforts that have failed to date, but are still being pursued. Resistance has remained fierce, especially among indigenous groups, with Temer sometimes forced to backtrack on his initiatives.
Roads, dams and railways: Ten infrastructure stories from Southeast Asia in 2017 [12/27/2017]
- Southeast Asia is one of the epicenters of a global “tsunami” of infrastructure development. - As the countries in the region work to elevate their economic standing, concerns from scientists and NGOs highlight the potential pitfalls in the form of environmental degradation and destruction that roads, dams and other infrastructure can bring in tow. - Mongabay had reporters covering the region in 2017. Here are 10 of their stories.
Chainsaws imperil an old-growth mangrove stronghold in southern Myanmar [12/27/2017]
- Tanintharyi, Myanmar’s southern-most state, is home to the country’s last remaining old-growth mangrove forest. The trees support village life and a booming fishing industry up and down the coast. - But logging for charcoal and fuel wood, much of it illegal, is taking a toll. Studies show that roughly two-thirds of the region’s remaining mangrove forests have been degraded, with consequences for people and wildlife. - Conservationists are attempting to expand community forestry and set up mangrove reserves to combat the widespread degradation.
Fighting climate change with bioenergy may do ‘more harm than good’ [12/26/2017]
- A new study finds land-use like grazing and managing forests for resource extraction may have released more carbon than previously thought. Its results indicate the world’s terrestrial vegetation is currently sequestering less than half its full carbon-storage potential. - Of that missing half, the researchers discovered 42 to 47 percent is attributed to land uses that don’t technically change the vegetation cover type. The researchers say that climate change mitigation strategies often focus on reducing intensive land-use like deforestation, with less-intensive uses that don’t change cover type largely overlooked and under-researched. - One of these less-intensive uses is managing forests for biomass energy production. Many countries are trying to replace fossil fuels with biomass energy in-line with international climate agreements like the Paris Accord. - The researchers warn that strategies developed under the assumption that producing biomass energy doesn’t come at a carbon cost could harm efforts to fight climate change. They urge that in addition to stopping deforestation, the protection of forest functions, like carbon stocks, should be moved more into focus when it comes to land-use and climate change planning.
Selective logging reduces biodiversity, disrupts Amazon ecosystems: study [12/22/2017]
- Reduced-impact logging, also called selective logging, which gained popularity in the 1990s, aims to balance biodiversity impacts with global demand for timber by extracting fewer trees. But the success of this approach is coming under increasing scrutiny. - A new study in the Brazilian Amazon found that dung beetle communities, and their important role as “ecosystem engineers,” is severely disrupted by even low-level timber extraction, with sharp reductions in species richness. - Multitudes of studies on birds, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates around the globe demonstrate the same finding: that even low-levels of timber extraction have significant impact on species diversity. - This extensive research suggests that selective logging techniques should be shelved in favor of “land-sparing” timber extraction strategies, which create a patchwork of highly logged sites and intact forest reserves.
Paper giant RAPP bows to peat-protection order after Indonesia court defeat [12/22/2017]
- A court has invalidated a bid by Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) to overturn a government order obliging it to conserve peatlands that fall within its concessions. - The ruling means the company will have to submit revised work plans to the government, in which peat areas that it had previously earmarked for development would be conserved and rewetted to prevent fires. - The government has also mulled the possibility of auditing RAPP and parent company APRIL to get a clearer picture of their operations on the ground.
Palm oil’s ecological footprint extends to distant forests, study finds [12/21/2017]
- A new study has found that the ecological footprint of oil palm plantations on neighboring forests extends beyond just deforestation and is “substantially underestimated.” - This is based on the discovery of the extensive damage done to forest understory by wild boars that feed on the palm fruit. - The damage was found to persist more than a kilometer away from oil palm plantations, leading the researchers to call for the establishment of buffer zones as a way to address the problem.
Amazon dam impacts underestimated due to overlooked vine growth: study [12/20/2017]
- New research on the rapid growth of lianas – native woody vines – on the artificial reservoir islands of the Balbina dam in the Amazon finds that forest communities there underwent a transformation as a result of severe habitat fragmentation, resulting in the altering of the carbon sequestration and emission balance. - Some tree species are severely impacted by this extreme form of habitat fragmentation and die, while native lianas — woody vines that climb to reach the forest canopy — thrive and rapidly fill the biological niche left by failing trees. - Trees, with their greater biomass, store more carbon in trunks and branches than lianas, so the carbon balance shifts as lianas dominate. Rather than sequestering carbon, these dam-created islands end up emitting carbon as the trees die. - The rapid growth of lianas further contributes to the degradation of remnant tree communities challenged by fragmentation. Amazon dam environmental impact assessments don’t currently evaluate increased reservoir island carbon emissions.
Zanzibar’s red colobus monkeys much more numerous than thought [12/18/2017]
- The team logged 4,725 hours over 2 years tracking down more than 4,000 individual Zanzibar red colobus monkeys (Piliocolobus kirkii). - Protected areas house nearly 70 percent of the monkeys they found, where monkey groups tended to be larger and to have more females than those outside of parks and reserves. - The team also found that a relatively small number of young monkeys survive to adulthood, and they concluded that the overall population might be declining.
Do protected areas work in the tropics? [12/18/2017]
- To find out if terrestrial protected areas are effective in achieving their environmental and socioeconomic goals, we read 56 scientific studies. (See the interactive infographic below.) - Overall, protected areas do appear to reduce forest cover loss. But other ecological outcomes of protected areas, like biodiversity or illegal hunting, remain extremely understudied. - The evidence on socioeconomic impacts is very thin. What limited rigorous research exists shows that protected areas do not exacerbate poverty generally, but anecdotal studies suggest that protected areas could be making other aspects of people’s well-being worse off. - This is part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness”.
EU-LatAm trade deal good for agribusiness; bad for Amazon, climate – analysis [12/18/2017]
- The EU-Mercosur trade deal, being concluded this month by the European Union and the South American trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) is being negotiated in secret. However, part of the document has been leaked to Greenpeace, alarming environmentalists. - The leaked secret trade documents show that the accord would encourage the export of high-value goods, like automobiles, from Europe to Latin American, while encouraging the export of huge amounts of low-value products – including beef and soy – from South America. - This emphasis on production and international consumption could greatly increase the need for agricultural land in Latin America, and result in a major increase in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, and Argentine Chaco. - The conversion of forests to crop and range lands could significantly decrease carbon storage, leading to a rise in carbon emissions that could help push global temperatures more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, with potentially catastrophic results for ecosystems and civilization.
Locals fear for their lives over planned dam in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem [12/14/2017]
- Plans to build a hydroelectric power plant in northern Sumatra call for the flooding of large swath of the Leuser Ecosystem, an ecological hotspot home to critically endangered tigers, rhinos and orangutans. - For residents, the fear is that the dam, to be built in a geologically unstable area, will collapse. - Local communities reliant on fishing also worry that the damming of rivers to fill the reservoir will hurt their livelihoods.
Companies still not doing enough to cut deforestation from commodities supply chains: report [12/12/2017]
- The latest “Forest 500” rankings are out from the Global Canopy Programme (GCP), and the main takeaway is that the global companies with the most influence over forests still aren’t doing enough to cut tropical deforestation out of their supply chains. - Just five companies improved their policies enough over the last year to score a perfect five out of five in the 2017 rankings. Commitments to root deforestation out of timber and palm oil supply chains did increase, according to the report, but less than one-fourth of the Forest 500 companies have adopted policies to cover all of the commodities in their supply chains. - Progress among financial institutions also continues to be sluggish, the GCP’s researchers found, with just 13 financial institutions scoring four out of five and 65 scoring zero. No financial institutions have received the maximum possible score.
Latin America-Europe trade pact to include historic indigenous rights clause [12/12/2017]
- The Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are expected to conclude trade negotiations and put finishing touches on a trade agreement by the end of this year. - That pact will include landmark indigenous human rights clauses meant to protect indigenous groups from violence, land theft and other civil rights violations. - The human rights guarantees institutionalized in the trade agreement, if violated, could potentially lead to major trade boycotts, and are particularly important to indigenous groups in Brazil, where the agribusiness lobby known as the bancada ruralista wields tremendous political power. - Brazil’s ruralist elite has been engaged in a decades-long effort to deny indigenous groups rights to their ancestral lands. Violence by large scale farmers and land thieves has seriously escalated under the Temer administration, which strongly backs the ruralist agenda.
Saving Sumatran orchids from deforestation, one plant at a time [12/12/2017]
- Conversion of forest for agriculture is an ever-present threat in Sumatra, even in protected areas like Kerinci Seblat National Park. Palm oil, acacia, rubber and other plantation crops pressure the park from the outside, while poaching endangers the fauna within. - Scientists estimate there are between 25,000 and 30,000 species of orchid in the world, with many yet to be discovered. Around 1,000 species are listed as threatened by the IUCN. Sumatra is one of the world’s orchid hot spots. - Conservationist Pungky Nanda Pratama is trying to save at-risk orchids by transplanting them from threatened areas in and around Kerinci Seblat to a nursery where he is aiming propagate them and re-plant them in nearby protected areas. - Pratama is also hoping to start an educational center where people can learn about Sumatra’s native plants.
Audio: Amazon tribe’s traditional medicine encyclopedia gets an update, and conservation effectiveness in Madagascar examined [12/12/2017]
- On today’s episode, we’ll get an update on an ambitious effort to document traditional indigenous healing and medicinal practices in the Amazon and speak with the reporter behind Mongabay’s popular new series on conservation efforts in Madagascar. - Our first guest on today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast is Christopher Herndon, who, as co-founder and president of the group Acaté Amazon Conservation, has supported the Matsés people in planting healing gardens, which are basically living pharmacies as well as classrooms, and to document their traditional healing and plant knowledge in an encyclopedia. - Our second guest is Mongabay contributor Rowan Moore Gerety, the writer behind our recent series on the effectiveness of conservation interventions in Madagascar.
Study: RSPO certification prunes deforestation in Indonesia — but not by much [12/12/2017]
- Oil palm plantations certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil had less deforestation than non-certified plantations, according to a new analysis. - Certification’s effect on the incidence of fires and the clearing of forest from peatlands was not statistically significant. - The research demonstrates that while certification does reduce deforestation, it has not protected very much standing forest from being cut down.
CITES rejects Madagascar’s bid to sell rosewood and ebony stockpiles [12/12/2017]
- The standing committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) had its annual meeting in Geneva November 27 through December 1. - The committee rejected Madagascar’s petition to sell its stockpiles of seized rosewood and ebony that had been illegally cut from the country’s rainforests. - CITES delegates agreed that while a future sale of the stockpiles might be possible, Madagascar was not yet ready for such a risky undertaking, which could allow newly chopped logs to be laundered and traded overseas. - Other notable outcomes of the CITES meeting dealt with the sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), pangolins, and the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus).
As 2017 hurricane season ends, scientists assess tropical forest harm [12/11/2017]
- This year’s Atlantic hurricane season – one for the record books – ended on 30 November, seeing six Category 3 to 5 storms wreaking massive destruction across the Caribbean, in the U.S. and Mexico. While damage to the built environment is fairly easy to assess, harm to conserved areas and species is more difficult to determine. - Satellite images show extensive damage to the 28,400-acre El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, the United States’ only national tropical rainforest. However, observers on the ground say the forest is showing signs of a quick recovery. - More serious is harm to already stressed, endangered species with small populations. El Yunque’s Critically Endangered Puerto Rican parrot was hard hit: out of 50 endemic wild parrots, 16 are known dead. Likewise, the Endangered imperial parrot endemic to Dominica, spotted just three times since Hurricane Maria. - Ecosystems and species need time to recover between storms. If the intensity of hurricanes continues to increase due to escalating global warming as predicted, tropical ecosystem and species resilience may be seriously tested.
Abandoned by their sponsors, Madagascar’s orphaned parks struggle on [12/08/2017]
- A dozen protected areas that were created amid the rapid buildup of Madagascar’s conservation sector in the aughts were later abandoned by their NGO sponsors after the political crisis of 2009. - Among these so-called orphan protected areas is the 606-square-kilometer (234-square-mile) Bongolava Forest Corridor in the country’s northwest. The U.S.-based NGO Conservation International spent 15 years spearheading Bongolava’s creation, then abandoned the project in 2012. - A year ago, a scrappy group of locals returned to Bongolava to resuscitate the protected area. Working with a slim budget, they are confronting both intense pressure for farmland inside the protected area and widespread corruption. - This is the eighth story in Mongabay’s multi-part series “Conservation in Madagascar.”
The world’s newest great ape, revealed a month ago, is already nearly extinct: IUCN [12/07/2017]
- This week, the world’s newest great ape Tapanuli orangutan was officially categorized as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN as the species lost over 80 percent of its global population over generations due to habitat loss. - The classification of the orangutan came in conjunction with the conservation union releasing its latest Red List of “Threatened” Species which added thousands of animal and plant species. - The list is a mixed bag of good and bad news for conservation.
Nigeria pledges to restore nearly 10 million acres of degraded land [12/07/2017]
- The government of Nigeria has announced its plans to restore four million hectares, or nearly 10 million acres, of degraded lands within its borders. - The West African nation is now one of 26 countries across the continent that have committed to restoring more than 84 million hectares (over 200 million acres) of degraded lands as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), an effort that aims to bring 100 million hectares of land under restoration by 2030. - The restoration of degraded forests and other landscapes was found to have the most climate mitigation potential of 20 natural climate strategies examined for a recent study.
Forest Code falls short in protecting Amazonian fish [12/07/2017]
- A team of scientists reports that Brazil’s Forest Code doesn’t address significant impacts that agriculture can have on fish habitat in the rainforest’s streams and tributaries. - The study cataloged more than 130 species of fish, some of them new to science, in Brazil’s eastern Amazon. - The authors argue for protections that encompass entire basins and the complex drainage networks that together form the lifeblood of the Amazon rainforest.
Militarization and mining a dangerous mix in Venezuelan Amazon [12/07/2017]
- Venezuela today is gripped by a catastrophic economic crisis, born out of corruption on a vast scale, government mismanagement and a failed petro-economy. - In 2016, President Nicolás Maduro announced the opening of the Orinoco Mining Arc, a vast region in the southern part of the nation perhaps boasting $100 billion in untapped gold, diamonds and coltan, as well as being one of the most biodiverse parts of the Amazon. - Maduro also created an “Economic Military Zone” to protect the region. Today, the army has a huge presence there, ostensibly to reduce the influence of organized gangs doing illegal mining. - In reality, the military is heavily involved in mining itself, often allegedly competing with gangs for resources, with violent conflict a result. Small-scale miners, indigenous and traditional communities, and the environment could be the big losers in this struggle for power and wealth.
Here’s a great way to visualize the huge potential of forest conservation and restoration as ‘natural climate solutions’ [12/06/2017]
- Recent research found that 20 different “natural climate solutions” have the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 23.8 billion metric tons every year — and that nearly half of that potential, or some 11.3 billion metric tons of emissions, represent what the study’s authors call “cost-effective climate mitigation.” - The World Resources Institute’s Susan Minnemeyer, a co-author of the study, noted in a blog post that halting deforestation, restoring forests that have already been logged or degraded, and improving forest management could cost-effectively remove seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere every year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions generated by 1.5 billion cars. - This study joins a growing body of research that demonstrates just how crucial forests will be to our efforts to halt global warming.
Deforestation in Sumatra carves up tiger habitats into ever smaller patches [12/05/2017]
- Twelve years of deforestation in Sumatra have broken the habitats of its native big cat into smaller fragments, a new study says. - Only two of the remaining tiger forest landscapes in Sumatra are believed to have populations that are viable for the long term, both of which are under threat from planned road projects. - The researchers are calling for a complete halt to the destruction of tiger-occupied forests in Sumatra and the poaching of the nearly extinct predator.
Raising beef cattle on grass can create a higher carbon footprint than feedlots, new study suggests [12/05/2017]
- Feedlot cattle have a smaller carbon footprint than pasture-raised cattle because they grow faster and produce higher meat yields, a new study has found - This is important for countries that must balance the demand for beef with maintaining a fragile environment. - However, grassland ranchers argue this is a short-sighted approach to take, and that, holistically, grass-fed cattle are better for the environment.
Ferrogrão grain railway threatens Amazon indigenous groups, forest [12/04/2017]
- Michel Temer’s administration is fast tracking the Ferrogrão (Grainrail), a 1,142 kilometer railway to link grain-producing midwest Brazil with the Tapajós River, a major tributary of the Amazon, in order to more economically and efficiently export soy and other commodities to foreign markets. - The railway is seen as vital to Brazil’s agribusiness-centric economy, especially considering the country’s current economic crisis, but indigenous groups say they’ve not been consulted in project planning as stipulated by International Labour Organization Convention 169. - The railway will come near several indigenous groups: the Kaiabi in Indigenous Territory of Batelão, the Pankararu in Indigenous Territory of Pankararu, the Kayapó in Indigenous Territory of Kapot-Nhinore, and the Panará in Indigenous Territory of Baú. These groups say they’ve not been properly consulted by the government. - Ferrogrão will also pass near Jamanxim National Park and cut through Jamanxim National Forest, where the government is seeking diminished protections to benefit elite land thieves. Scientists worry that deforestation brought by the loss of these conserved lands, plus the railway, could significantly reduce the Amazon’s greenhouse gas storage capacity.
‘They want to occupy and take our land’: Land conflicts increase in Brazil [12/01/2017]
- Rondônia is one of the most-deforested states in the Brazilian Amazon, with vast tracts cleared for agriculture. - An investigation reveals that as deforestation of protected areas has risen in the state, so have allegations of attacks against the Indigenous communities. - As budget cuts deplete resources aimed at protecting these communities, many are worried this violence stands to worsen in the months and years to come.
Indonesians race to save their disappearing lakes, before it’s too late [11/30/2017]
- Seventeen lakes in the Southeast Asian nation are in “critical” condition. One of them, Lake Limboto in northern Sulawesi, is shrinking rapidly and could disappear by 2025. - Recently, government officials and researchers from across Indonesia gathered on Lake Limboto’s shores, declaring that a national agency should be established to handle the issue. In December they will meet again, hoping to attract the attention of President Joko Widodo. - One of the most pressing problems at Limboto is the lake’s shrinking increases the risk of flooding in nearby Gorontalo city.
Tropical deforestation is getting bigger, study finds [11/29/2017]
- An analysis of satellite data reveals the proportion of tropical deforestation comprised of medium, large and very large clearings increased between 2001 and 2012. - These larger clearing sizes are generally attributed to industrial agriculture like palm oil production. - South America and Southeast Asia had the biggest increases, with the exception of Brazil where large-scale clearing took a downturn during the study period. - The researchers say this downturn was the result of successful deforestation reduction policies, which may offer potential solutions to other countries with high rates of large-scale clearing.
WATCH: Rare sighting of mother Sunda clouded leopard and cubs caught on film [11/29/2017]
- On the afternoon of November 6, while traveling through Deramakot Forest Reserve in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, photographer Michael Gordon came across a sight he was not expecting: a Sunda clouded leopard mother with her cubs. - “When I first saw the clouded leopards from a distance I thought it was just some macaques on the road,” he told Mongabay. “Once I realized that it was actually three clouded leopards I stopped the car right away. I had my camera close by, but with only a 15mm macro lens attached. I wasn’t sure whether to just enjoy the moment or go into the boot of the car and change lenses. I figured I would regret it badly if I didn’t record it.” - The Sunda clouded leopard, found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, is such a rare and elusive big cat that it’s traditionally been rather difficult to study, never mind casually sight while driving through the forest.
Among global companies, efforts on deforestation lag [11/29/2017]
- A recent report found that out of 201 companies, a mere 13 percent surveyed have adopted zero net deforestation policies. - Adopting zero deforestation policies is a critical step in stopping global forest loss. - The adoption of zero deforestation policies by a few big companies like the McDonald’s Corporation has not had a major trickle-down impact on other companies following suit.
New carbon maps of Sabah’s forests guide conservation in Borneo [11/29/2017]
- Airborne LiDAR mapping combined with satellite imagery analysis has provided scientists, government agencies and NGOs with a “wall-to-wall” account of the carbon held in Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. - The study, led by ecologists from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, revealed that more than 40 percent of the forests with the highest carbon stocks aren’t covered by the state’s most stringent protections. - The findings give wildlife biologists the chance to examine how carbon stocks correlate with the presence of biodiversity; NGOs the opportunity to identify new high-carbon areas to set aside under oil palm certification schemes; and the Sabah government the information to determine which forests are the most valuable and therefore need further protections.
Peru: Illegal mining devastates forests in Amazonas Region [11/28/2017]
- In the past five years, a group of miners from the Amazonas Region and Madre de Dios have destroyed about 20 hectares of forest, not including the constant contamination from the Pastacillo stream, in the Río Santiago district. - Although two bans have been put in place, the Wampis community claims that the illegal activity continues to grow.
Peru: the man who overcomes fear to defend the forest [11/27/2017]
- The vice president of the Tambopata National Reserve management committee has reported invasions and threats on several occasions. - Demetrio Pacheco says that he has found burned and fallen trees inside his concession.
In search of the fireface: The precarious, scandalous lives of the slow lorises of Java [11/26/2017]
- Cute and fuzzy but also vicious and venomous, Javan slow lorises have been driven to the brink of extinction by habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. - The Little Fireface Project in West Java is the first long-term research project focusing on the critically endangered primate. - In addition to making strides toward understanding how to care for and reintroduce lorises to the wild, the project has revealed new details about the species’ complex, and often reality-show-worthy social behavior.
Brilliant blue tarantula among potentially new species discovered in Guyana [11/24/2017]
- In the forests of the Potaro plateau of Guyana, scientists have discovered a bright blue tarantula that is likely new to science. - The discovery was part of a larger biodiversity assessment survey of the Kaieteur Plateau and Upper Potaro area of Guyana, within the Pakaraima Mountains range. - Overall, the team uncovered more than 30 species that are potentially new to science, and found several species that are known only from the Kaieteur Plateau-Upper Potaro region and nowhere else.
Culture keeps cattle ranching going in the Brazilian Amazon [11/23/2017]
- A recent study finds that financial incentives to move people away from cattle ranching don’t address cultural and logistical hurdles to changing course. - Even though ranchers could earn four times as much per hectare farming soy or up to 12 times as much from fruit and vegetable farming, many stick with cattle as a result of cultural values. - Ranchers, along with small-scale farmers, could benefit from targeted infrastructure investments to provide them with easier access to markets, according to the study. - The researchers argue that their findings point to the need for policies that take these obstacles into account.
Damming or damning the Amazon: Assessing Ecuador / China cooperation [11/22/2017]
- In 2008, Ecuador, led by President Rafael Correa, approved a new constitution based upon Buen Vivir (the ”Good Life”), committing the nation to indigenous rights, environmental sustainability and state sovereignty. However, Correa quickly aligned the nation with China, a partnership that many critics say undermined the promises of the constitution. - Under Correa, China became Ecuador’s primary creditor and Chinese investment, both public and private, resulted in an infrastructure boom in new dams, mines, oilrigs, roads, power transmission lines, telecommunications systems and schools. - During Correa’s administration, eight major dams were built, including Coca Coda Sinclair (CCS) constructed by Chinese state corporation Sinohydro. While CCS promised local prosperity, residents of surrounding communities say the government provided them with no say in the project, which has created serious environmental problems. - In May, a new president, Lenin Moreno, was elected. He has so far not followed in Correa’s footsteps, and his administration seems set on deemphasizing the relationship with China, with few major infrastructure projects currently in the works. However a power struggle in the ruling Alianza País Party has made Ecuador’s political path forward less than clear.
Chocolate makers agree to stop cutting down forests in West Africa for cocoa [11/21/2017]
- At COP23, the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany that wrapped up last week, top cocoa-producing countries in West Africa announced new commitments to end the massive deforestation for cocoa that is occurring within their borders. - Ivory Coast and Ghana are the number one and number two cocoa-producing nations on Earth, respectively. Together, they produce about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa, but that production has been tied to high rates of deforestation as well as child labor and other human rights abuses. - The so-called “Frameworks for Action” that were announced by the two countries last Thursday not only aim to halt the clearing of forests for cocoa production, especially in national parks and other protected areas, but to restore forest areas that have already been cleared or degraded.
Experience or evidence: How do big conservation NGOs make decisions? [11/21/2017]
- Scientists have been urging conservation NGOs to make decisions based on scientific evidence. - However, the big conservation NGOs run into many problems in trying to use the available science. Doing impact evaluations of their own projects is also hard and expensive, sources from the big conservation NGOs say. - For their work to be effective, the conservation community needs to develop a common understanding of what credible evidence means, how to best use different strands of evidence, and how organizations can evaluate their work and create evidence that others can use, experts across the conservation spectrum seem to agree. - This story is part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness.”
To feed a growing population, farms chew away at Madagascar’s forests [11/17/2017]
- In Madagascar, farmers are cutting down forests and burning them to make way for rice cultivation. - The practice is traditional but now illegal because of the harm it causes to natural areas. Many species are already threatened with extinction due to forest loss. - With the country’s population expected to double by 2060, the pressure is likely to intensify.
It is time to recognize the limits of certification in agriculture (commentary) [11/16/2017]
- In early 2017, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) decided that it was going to stop working with certification in agriculture. - It was actually a fairly easy and straightforward decision: After working with this tool for over 20 years, we could look back and conclude that certification was not the best approach to improve the sustainability of most farmers in the world, especially when considering the huge challenges we face from climate change, poverty, deforestation, soil and water contamination, and human rights violations. - In our history, we have seen many positive impacts from certification for workers, producers and the environment. But we have also increasingly come to recognize the limitations of certification as a tool to drive change in agricultural production systems at scale. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Scientists give humanity ‘second notice’ to shape up or suffer the consequences [11/15/2017]
- In a paper published this week in Bioscience, scientists issue a second warning to humanity to adopt more sustainable practices and check in on how the world has fared since the first warning was published in 1992. - They found most environmental problems have gotten far worse during the past 25 years. - The paper puts forth ways in which humanity could improve its relationship with the natural world. If we don’t, the scientists warn we are “jeopardizing our future.” - More than 15,000 scientists from 180 countries have signed the paper in support.
$2 billion investment in forest restoration announced at COP23 [11/15/2017]
- Last Thursday, at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany (known as COP23), the World Resources Institute (WRI) announced that $2.1 billion in private investment funds have been committed to efforts to restore degraded lands in the Caribbean and Latin America. - The investments will be made through WRI’s Initiative 20×20, which has already put 10 million hectares (about 25 million acres) of land under restoration thanks to 19 private investors who are supporting more than 40 restoration projects. - There’s a plethora of recent research showing that, while halting deforestation is of course critical, the restoration of degraded forests and other landscapes are a vital component to meeting the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.
More big mammals found in high-carbon forests, says new study [11/15/2017]
- The researchers used satellite data to measure forest carbon values and camera trap photographs to tally the mammal species present in forests and oil palm plantations. - Finer-scale data did reveal that high-carbon areas do support more species of medium and large mammals that are threatened with extinction. - Experts say that this research validates the high carbon stock approach for identifying priority areas for conservation. - Still, further research is required to better understand the role of connectivity between high-carbon forests in supporting biodiversity.
Indonesian agribusiness giant APRIL outed in Paradise Papers [11/13/2017]
- Leaked corporate records reveal the offshore dealings of APRIL, one of Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper companies. - APRIL is one of 12 Asian forest-products giants that appear in the Paradise Papers. - APRIL is owned by the super-rich Tanoto family.
Madagascar petitions CITES to sell millions in stolen rosewood [11/13/2017]
- The Madagascar government has petitioned wildlife regulators under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for permission to sell its stockpiles of seized rainforest wood. - Some campaigners warn that traffickers stand to benefit from any such sale and fear it could herald a “logging boom” in the country’s remaining rainforests. - The CITES committee will consider the proposal at the end of this month.
A forgotten promise to forests? (commentary) [11/13/2017]
- In 2016, global tree cover loss spiked 51 percent over the previous year — resulting in a loss of forests the size of New Zealand. Needless to say, losing enough trees to cover the entirety of New Zealand in one year is worrisome for the climate. - To follow through on their promise to protect forests and end climate change, countries can and must do more to reverse these trends. Although many countries allude to their intentions to reduce emissions from forests in their official contributions to the Paris Agreement, too few include explicit or ambitious goals to do so. - It should go without saying that developed countries have the responsibility to lead by example. This makes the European Union’s recent decision allowing members to increase forest harvests all the more concerning. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indonesia tries to learn from Brazil’s success in REDD+ [11/10/2017]
- Indonesia and Brazil both have billion-dollar REDD+ agreements with Norway to reduce deforestation and cut carbon emissions in exchange for funding. - While Brazil has succeeded, Indonesia has not, and has even seen deforestation rates climb, surpassing those in Brazil. - Fundamental differences in the way the two countries deal with forest issues, particularly in law enforcement and land reform, help explain their different outcomes. - The Indonesian government hopes to breathe new life into its flagging REDD+ program by emulating the Brazilian model, and speed up the disbursal of funds from Norway by next year.
New research shows why forests are absolutely essential to meeting Paris Climate Agreement goals [11/09/2017]
- It’s widely acknowledged that keeping what’s left of the world’s forests standing is crucial to combating climate change. But a suite of new research published last week shows that forests have an even larger role to play in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement than was previously thought. - In order to meet those goals, the global economy will have to be swiftly decarbonized. According to a new report from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), by taking aggressive action to protect and rehabilitate tropical forests, we could buy ourselves more time to make this transition. - Deforestation is responsible for about 10 percent of global emissions, but removing that source of emissions is only half the value of forests to global climate action. Other research shows that planting trees and rehabilitating degraded forests is just as critical to climate efforts as stopping deforestation, because of how reforestation efforts can enhance forests’ role as a carbon sink.
‘Much deeper than we expected’: Huge peatland offers up more surprises [11/09/2017]
- Scientists recently discovered the world’s biggest tropical peatland in the Congo Basin rainforest of Central Africa. The peatland straddles the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. - Roughly the size of England, the massive peatland is estimated to contain more than 30 billion metric tons of carbon — equivalent to three years of global fossil fuel emissions. - When the scientists went back to investigate the peatland further, they discovered the peat along its edges is deeper than they thought. This means it may contain more peat — and, thus, more carbon — than they originally thought. - The scientists are racing to learn more about the peatland as loggers move to fell and drain the forests above it to make way for roads and developments like palm oil plantations. Meanwhile, local communities are hoping for greater protection of the region as government officials try to drum up more support for conservation initiatives at this week’s UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.
From carbon sink to source: Brazil puts Amazon, Paris goals at risk [11/09/2017]
- Brazil is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, to ending illegal deforestation, and restoring 120,000 square kilometers of forest by 2030. Scientists warn these Paris commitments are at risk due to a flood of anti-environmental and anti-indigenous measures forwarded by President Michel Temer. - “If these initiatives succeed, Temer will go down in history with the ruralistas as the ones who put a stake in the beating heart of the Amazon.” — Thomas Lovejoy, conservation biologist and director of the Center for Biodiversity and Sustainability at George Mason University. - “The Temer government’s reckless behavior flies in the face of Brazil’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.” — Christian Poirier, program director at Amazon Watch. - “There was, or maybe there still is, a very slim chance we can avoid a catastrophic desertification of South America. No doubt, there will be horrific damage if the Brazilian government initiatives move forward in the region.” — Antonio Donato Nobre, scientist at INPA, the Institute for Amazonian Research.
Logjam: Inside Madagascar’s illegal-rosewood stockpiles [11/08/2017]
- Over the past six years, Madagascar has spent millions of dollars and devoted countless person hours to figuring out how to dispose of vast stockpiles of highly valuable, illegally logged rosewood, much of it cut from the country’s rainforests following a 2009 coup. - To do so, the government must conduct a comprehensive inventory of the stockpiles, among other requirements issued by CITES. The World Bank has supported the effort with at least $3 million to $4 million in murky ad hoc loans. - The current state of affairs, with untold thousands of rosewood logs still unaccounted for, and tens of thousands more stacked outside government offices, is widely seen as facilitating continued corruption and illicit activity. - This is the sixth story in Mongabay’s multi-part series “Conservation in Madagascar.”
As negotiators meet in Bonn, Brazil’s carbon emissions rise [11/07/2017]
- Brazil pledged in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. But its emissions shot up 8.9 percent in 2016, largely due to deforestation and agriculture. That increase threatens Brazil’s Paris goal. - Pará, in the heart of the Amazon, was the highest carbon emitter state, with 12.3 percent of the national total (due almost exclusively to deforestation and poorly managed industrial agriculture), followed by Mato Grosso state (9.6 percent of national emissions), which has converted much forest to soy production. - Experts say that this emissions trend could be reversed through sustainable forestry and more efficient agricultural practices. However, the dominance of the elite ruralist faction in Congress and in the Temer administration is preventing progress toward achieving Brazil’s carbon pledge.
Indigenous lands at risk, as Amazon sellout by Brazil’s Temer continues (commentary) [11/06/2017]
- Brazilian president Michel Temer has twice survived National Congress votes to initiate impeachment against him on extensive corruption charges. - Temer did so by selling out the environment, particularly the Amazon, to the ruralists who largely control the assembly. - Among the concessions made or promised to ruralists are presidential decrees to allow agribusiness to rent indigenous lands, forgiving unpaid environmental fines owed by landowners, and ending any enforcement of restrictions on labor “equivalent to slavery.” - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indigenous forests could be a key to averting climate catastrophe [11/06/2017]
- A new study finds the world’s tropical forests may no longer be carbon sinks, with a net loss of 425 million tons of carbon from 2003 to 2014. Also, 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon is emitted globally from forested areas and land use annually — 4.4 billion metric tons are absorbed by standing forests on managed lands, but 5.5 billion metric tons are released via deforestation and degradation. - As a result, curbing deforestation and degradation is now seen by scientists as a vital strategy for nations to meet the carbon reduction goals set in Paris in 2015, and of averting a catastrophic 2 degree Celsius rise in temperatures by the end of the century. - Other new research finds that indigenous and traditional community management of forests could offer a key to curbing emissions, and give the world time to transition to a green energy economy. In a separate study, Amazon deforestation rates were found to be five times greater outside indigenous territories and conservation units than inside. - “We are a proven solution to the long-term protection of forests, whose survival is vital for reaching our [planetary] climate change goals,” said an envoy of a global indigenous delegation in attendance at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The delegation wants the world’s nations to protect indigenous forests from an invasion by global extraction industries.
Indonesia races against time to save new orangutan species [11/06/2017]
- With an estimated population of less than 800, the newly described Tapanuli orangutan is already at risk of extinction due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. - The Indonesian government will come up with a strategy to protect the orangutan, including the establishment of protected forest areas and wildlife sanctuaries. - The government will also review a plan to build a hydroelectric plant in an area with the highest known density of Tapanuli orangutans.
Major Dutch timber company found guilty of dealing in illegal teak [11/02/2017]
- The Dutch Food and Safety Authority has ruled Dutch company Boogaerdt Hout in violation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) for placing illegal Burmese teak on the EU market. The company has two months in which to clear its supply chain of illegal wood. - The EUTR is part of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan and aims to reduce illegal logging by banning the sale of illicitly sourced timber and timber products in the EU. - While most teak on the market today comes from plantations, some is still illegally sourced from Myanmar. - The extraction of Burmese teak has been denounced by conservationists, who say its trade is helping fuel rampant illegal logging in the country.