10-second nature news digest

Conservation news digest for busy people from @Mongabay. Story summaries that can be read in about ten seconds per post.

Popular topics: ALL NEWS | Amazon | Animals | Brazil | Congo | Conservation | Deforestation | Featured | Indonesia | Logging | Malaysia | Oceans | Palm oil | Rainforests | Wildlife



Palm oil certification? No silver bullet, but essential for sustainability (commentary) [05/25/2018]
- We need a global standard on what constitutes sustainable palm oil and a common system to implement it. Arriving at this consensus requires a convening body to connect every link in the palm oil supply chain, across different countries and jurisdictions.
- A recent report from Changing Markets Foundation, released with additional comments by NGOs such as FERN, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Mighty Earth, and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, criticizes the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and proposes that certification standards are — as stated by the same NGOs — ‘holding back the progressive reform of the sector’ and may even be causing ‘active damage.’
- This report disregards some of the important realities in the industry and on the ground, and fails to offer practical solutions. Simply bashing certification because of its imperfections puts the advances made at risk, instead of helping develop standards and synergies that facilitate compliance across the global palm oil supply chain.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Roads might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood [05/22/2018]
- According to Alice Hughes, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Integrative Conservation, global analyses often underestimate levels of deforestation driven by road-building in the Indo-Malaysia region. This is because many of those analyses rely on a widely used global map of roads compiled by Open Street Maps (OSM) that misses as much as 99 percent of roads in parts of the region.
- According to Hughes, this level of inaccuracy can have serious consequences: “Not only does it mean that any analysis based on global roads datasets will underestimate the level of fragmentation and overestimate the forest coverage of a region, but most forms of exploitation also occur within close proximity to a road.”
- Increasing deforestation is not the only threat posed by opening new areas to roads. “These growing road networks provide accessibility for other forms of resource exploitation,” Hughes notes in the study. “Most notably this includes selective logging, and hunting, which in the Indo-Malay region also targets a vast suite of species as pets, medicine and meat.”


Brazilian Amazon oil palm deforestation under control, for now [05/17/2018]
- Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP), launched in 2010, aims to prevent primary and secondary forest clearing for new oil palm plantations in Legal Amazonia. As part of the plan, a bio-physical suitability zoning map excluded legally protected parks, indigenous reserves and intact forest areas from those areas available for oil palm cultivation.
- With 31.2 million hectares (120,463 square miles) of degraded land existing in Legal Amazonia that could be put into oil palm production without severe ecological consequences, it was thought at the time that there would be no need for deforestation by the industry. A recent study gauges SPOPP’s success from 2006 to 2014.
- The study surveyed oil palm cultivation over a 50,000 square kilometer area in Pará state, finding that 90 percent of production expansion over that time occurred on former pasture, not forest. In fact, direct conversion of intact forest to oil palm declined 4 percent from 2006-2010, to less than 1 percent from 2010-2014 in the study area.
- Researchers fear that major deforestation due to an oil palm production boom could occur in the near future if transportation infrastructure is markedly improved, and if Brazil’s economy, political and institutional stability increases. The study didn’t address escalating conflicts between Amazon oil palm plantations and traditional communities.


Typo derails landmark ruling against Indonesian palm oil firm guilty of burning peatland [05/15/2018]
- A district court in Indonesia has shielded an oil palm company from a Supreme Court ruling ordering it to pay $26.5 million in fines for burning peatlands in a high-biodiversity area, citing a typo in the original prosecution.
- The verdict has stunned activists, who had hoped that the original guilty verdict would set a strong precedent for the judicial fight against environmental crimes.
- The government is appealing the latest ruling, which, ironically, is fraught with typos that — under the same legal logic — would render it just as invalid as the original guilty verdict.


Indonesia enlists plantation companies to ensure haze-free Asian Games [05/14/2018]
- Organizers of the Asian Games in August are wary of the major sporting event being hit by haze from brush and peat fires, an annual occurrence in Sumatra, where one of the host cities is located.
- The government has called on pulpwood and oil palm companies with concessions in fire-prone areas to take steps to restore degraded peatlands and prevent fires during this year’s dry season, which runs from June through September.
- The companies are legally obliged to restore areas of deep peat, and some are fast-tracking their other fire-prevention programs in light of the Asian Games.


Latam Eco Review: Colombia’s last nomadic tribe faces extinction [05/11/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of April 30 – May 6. Among the top articles: more than 20 families of the last nomadic indigenous peoples of Colombia face a serious food crisis. In other news, a new app allows fisherfolk and others […]

Debate ensues over British supermarket chain’s decision to ban palm oil [05/10/2018]
- Iceland Foods recently decided to remove palm oil from its own-label products. The move follows a vote by the European Parliament to ban the use of palm oil in European biofuels.
- An aggressive lobbying campaign spearheaded by actors from Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top palm oil producers, have framed the ban as an attack on small farmers, although the industry is dominated by large companies. But Iceland’s move has also spurred debate among scientists and conservationists, some of whom say Iceland would do better to source palm oil that has been produced “sustainably.”
- Iceland says it doesn’t believe there is enough “truly sustainable palm oil…currently available on the mass market” for that to be a practical solution. The credibility of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the world’s largest association for ethical production of the commodity, for example, is widely seen as questionable, as it has repeatedly failed to enforce its standards.
- Greenpeace described Iceland’s move as a “warning shot from a tiny UK company, that could start to grow bigger if palm oil producers and governments don’t tackle the scourge of deforestation.”


‘Rarest’ ape’s path to survival blocked by roads, dams and agriculture [05/03/2018]
- According to a new study, the Tapanuli orangutan, one of only seven species of non-human great ape alive today, faces serious threats to its survival as infrastructure development and agriculture threaten more than one-quarter of its habitat.
- In November, a team of scientists reported that a new species of orangutan living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was distinct from Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.
- They believe that fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans survive.
- Conservationists and scientists warn that a proposed 510-megawatt hydroelectric dam could push the new species closer to extinction.


Major Islamic financier singled out for deforestation in Indonesia [05/01/2018]
- Lembaga Tabung Haji is a Malaysian Islamic financial institution whose listed palm oil arm, TH Plantations, owns dozens of estates in Malaysia and Indonesia.
- The firm was the subject of a recent report by Chain Reaction Research that alleges it cleared hundreds of hectares of carbon-rich forest and peatland for oil palm expansion in 2017.
- The firm supplies major refiners and users of palm oil, such as Wilmar, ADM, Nestlé and Unilever, some of which have promised to stop sourcing palm oil linked to environmental destruction.


Palm oil supplier to food giants clears forest, peatland in Indonesia, Greenpeace says [04/30/2018]
- The Yemen-based Hayel Saeed Anam Group, which sells palm oil to Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever through subsidiaries, is responsible for clearing 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) of rainforest and peatland in Indonesia’s Papua province between 2015 and 2017, according to Greenpeace.
- Staff from the environmental organization shot video revealing the extent of the destruction.
- Greenpeace campaigners have raised concerns that Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are not upholding their commitments to get rid of deforestation, peatland destruction and exploitation from their supply chains.


More gorillas and chimpanzees living in Central Africa’s forests than thought [04/27/2018]
- A study led by WCS researchers pulled together wildlife survey data collected between 2003 and 2013 at 59 sites in five countries across western Central Africa.
- They then developed mathematical models to understand where the highest densities of gorillas and chimpanzees are and why, as well as broader trends in the populations.
- They found that more than 361,000 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and almost 129,000 central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) inhabit these forests — about 30 percent more gorillas and 10 percent more chimpanzees than previously estimated.
- The team’s analyses also demonstrate that western lowland gorilla numbers are slipping by 2.7 percent a year.


‘Shocking and worrying’: Selective logging has big, lasting impact on fish [04/26/2018]
- A new study finds nearly as few fish species in selectively logged forests as they did in forests clear-cut for plantations. Both selectively logged and clear-cut areas had around half the number fish species present in protected, intact forests.
- These findings run counter to conventional wisdom that holds selective logging is not as ecologically destructive as complete deforestation.
- The study also found a similar number of fish species in streams in oil palm plantations with and without remnant forest buffers, which are often mandated in the hopes of safeguarding biodiversity.
- The study’s authors say their findings underline the importance of protecting remaining primary forest.


Environmental defenders fear backlash as defendant sues expert over testimony [04/26/2018]
- Basuki Wasis, an environmental expert whose testimony helped convict a provincial governor of abuse of power, now faces a lawsuit brought by the latter for alleged inaccuracies in his calculations of environmental damage.
- The lawsuit against Basuki is similar to one he faced last year from a palm oil company that was fined for setting fires on its concession. The earlier lawsuit was dropped, but the company now appears to be targeting another expert witness who testified against it.
- The litigation has sparked concerns among environmental experts and activists alike, who fear it will have a silencing effect and allow environmental crimes to go unpunished.
- They also worry that without financial assessments of damages caused to the environment, prosecutors trying corruption cases in the natural resources sector will not be able to push for longer prison sentences and heavier fines.


Study puts a figure to hidden cost of community-company conflict in palm oil industry [04/25/2018]
- Two studies have revealed the extraordinary costs of social conflicts between local communities and palm oil firms in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the vegetable oil.
- One study found that more than half of local household expenditure at present was going on things they would have obtained for free in the past, such as water and fruits, from the forests that were cleared to make way for palm plantations.
- The other study highlighted the hidden burden of these same conflicts on the companies, amounting to millions of dollars in tangible and intangible costs, including reputational damage.


Restoring flagging oil palm plantations to forest may benefit clouded leopards, study finds [04/24/2018]
- A team of biologists fitted four clouded leopards in the Kinabatangan region of Malaysian Borneo with satellite collars, and they gathered several months of data on the animals’ movements.
- They found that the cats stuck to areas with canopy cover, and they avoided land cleared for oil palm.
- Converting underperforming oil palm plantations back to forest could help the clouded leopard population with minimal impact on the state’s production of palm oil, the authors predict.


Indonesian oil palm smallholders sue state over subsidy to biofuel producers [04/24/2018]
- A union of palm oil smallholders is challenging the allocation of a billion-dollar fund that they say fails to help them rejuvenate their low-yielding oil palms and instead unfairly subsidizes large biofuel producers.
- Only 1 percent of the fund went to the smallholder replanting program last year, while 89 percent went to the biodiesel subsidy. The government has promised to amend the split to 22:70 this year.
- But the government has also defended the subsidy, saying it needs to artificially boost the price of crude palm oil, to make biodiesel competitive with the regular diesel sold in the country — which is also subsidized by the state.


Unified land-use map for Indonesia nears launch, but concerns over access remain [04/19/2018]
- A unified database integrating all of the land-use maps currently in use in Indonesia is set for an earlier-than-expected launch this August, as the government scrambles to collate outstanding data from various agencies and regions.
- The one-map policy is seen as key to resolving a host of development and planning problems caused by overlapping and often contradictory maps wielded by different agencies, including the issue of plantations being permitted inside forest areas.
- The government, however, says access to the database will be restricted, and is drafting regulations that will govern who gets to see it.


It’s time to confront the collusion between the palm oil industry and politicians that is driving Indonesia’s deforestation crisis (commentary) [04/18/2018]
- An investigation released today by Mongabay and Earthsight’s The Gecko Project reveals the deep connections between the international palm oil industry and the corruption of Indonesian democracy.
- Some of the biggest firms in the industry, that are supplying supermarkets in the EU and U.S., are buying palm oil from plantations linked to corrupt politicians.
- Six million hectares of rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands remains in licenses issued in opaque circumstances. If the role of corruption is confronted, through action in Indonesia, by overseas consumer companies and the international community, much of this forest could be saved.


Ghosts in the Machine: The land deals behind the downfall of Indonesia’s top judge [04/18/2018]
- This is the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, an in-depth series on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis.
- Indonesia for Sale is a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative reporting initiative established by UK-based nonprofit Earthsight.
- The series is the product of 16 months of reporting across the Southeast Asian country, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and plantation companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them.


Small farmers not ready as Indonesia looks to impose its palm oil sustainability standard on all [04/13/2018]
- The Indonesian government plans to make its sustainable palm oil certification scheme, the ISPO, mandatory for small farmers by 2020. These farmers account for 40 percent of the total oil palm plantation area nationwide, but were exempted from the initial ISPO rollout.
- A recent study shows that these smallholders are not ready to adopt the standard. They face a variety of challenges, largely stemming from the tenuous nature of their land ownership claims.
- The Ministry of Agriculture fears that under the existing ISPO compliance regulation, many farmers will end up in prison for failing to comply by the deadline. The government is now drafting an updated ISPO regulation.


Certified weaknesses: The RSPO’s Liberian fiasco (commentary) [04/13/2018]
- On February 13, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the industry certification system for production of conflict-free palm oil, confirmed what many in Liberia’s rural Sinoe County have been saying all along: Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a palm oil company operating since 2010, did not properly receive the consent of local communities to acquire their traditional lands.
- The charges against GVL are not new. The first complaint filed against GVL with the RSPO came in 2012. Over the years, multiple civil society reports have documented GVL’s land grabbing, human rights violations, and environmental degradation. In 2015, a riot erupted on GVL’s plantation. Six years and various investigations by the RSPO later, the situation for these communities is largely the same.
- It’s striking that, given the resources and responsibilities of both the company and the certification body, neither GVL nor the RSPO had chosen to communicate with these communities about the remedies GVL was directed to pursue by the RSPO. This begs the question: What is the value of corporate commitments and industry standards if those messages never reach the people they intend to benefit, let alone are translated into tangible actions?
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Indonesian billionaire using ‘shadow companies’ to clear forest for palm oil, report alleges [04/11/2018]
- Two plantation companies linked to Anthoni Salim, Indonesia’s third-richest man, are deforesting a peat swamp in Borneo, according to new research by Aidenvironment.
- In response to the findings, Citigroup said it was cancelling all lending agreements with IndoAgri, the Salim Group’s agribusiness arm.
- The Salim Group was previously accused of being behind four companies at the forefront of illegal oil palm expansion in Indonesia’s Papua region, employing a complex network of shared directorships and offshore companies to obfuscate its responsibility.
- “It is not just the Salim Group; most of the main palm oil groups have these ‘dark sides’ that continue to deforest,” said Selwyn Moran, founder of investigative blog awas MIFEE.


South Korean company under fire for alleged deforestation in Papua oil palm concession [04/05/2018]
- A report by WRI shows ongoing deforestation in an oil palm concession in Papua, Indonesia, operated by a subsidiary of South Korea’s POSCO Daewoo.
- The company has responded by saying its operations in Papua are legal and fully permitted.
- Concerns over deforestation by POSCO Daewoo have prompted other companies to say they will not allow its palm oil into their supply chains. These include big-name brands such as Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L’Oreal, Mars and Unilever.
- POSCO Daewoo has issued a temporary moratorium on land clearing in its Papua concession and hired a consultant to advise it on how to proceed with its operations there.


How the farmers of Seruyan rose up a against a palm oil fiefdom [04/05/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.”  This is the fourth part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]

Indonesia’s dying timber concessions, invaded by oil palms, top deforestation table [04/03/2018]
- A study shows that selective-logging leases accounted for the highest rate of deforestation in three provinces studied from 2013 to 2016.
- While the discovery came as a surprise, the researchers attributed part of that deforestation to the illegal encroachment of oil palm plantations into many of these timber concessions. Another factor is the cutting of more trees than permitted by logging operators.
- Environmentalists warn the problem could get even worse if the government follows through on plans to lift a ban on exports of unprocessed logs, which has been in place since 1985 (with a brief hiatus from 1997 to 2001).


Study: Indonesia’s ambitious peat restoration initiative severely underfunded [03/30/2018]
- Indonesia will need an estimated $4.6 billion to restore some 20,000 square kilometers (7,720 square miles) of degraded peatland by its self-imposed deadline of 2020, a study suggests.
- To date, however, funding for the project that began in 2016 amounts to less than $200 million, with the result that only 5 percent of the restoration target has been achieved.
- The study authors say the Indonesian government faces a dilemma over whether to concentrate its resources in a smaller area or risk potentially ineffective restoration methods to cover the entire target area.


Greenpeace International ends its Forest Stewardship Council membership [03/30/2018]
- Greenpeace International announced on March 26 that it would not renew its membership with the FSC.
- The environmental organization says the FSC is not meeting its aims of protecting forests and ensuring that human rights are respected.
- Greenpeace and the FSC both say they intend to continue to engage with each other, despite the end of a long formal relationship.


Do environmental advocacy campaigns drive successful forest conservation? [03/29/2018]
- How effective are advocacy campaigns at driving permanent policy changes that lead to forest conservation results? We suspected this might be a difficult question to answer scientifically, but nevertheless we gamely set out to see what researchers had discovered when they attempted to do so as part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness.”
- We ultimately reviewed 34 studies and papers, and found that the scientific evidence is fairly weak for any claims about the effectiveness of advocacy campaigns. So we also spoke with several experts in forest conservation and advocacy campaigns to supplement our understanding of some of the broader trends and to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge.
- We found no evidence that advocacy campaigns on their own drive long-term forest conservation, though they do appear to be valuable in terms of raising awareness of environmental issues and driving people to take action. But it’s important to note that, of all the conservation interventions we examined for the Conservation Effectiveness series, advocacy campaigns appear to have the weakest evidence base in scientific literature.


How a series of shady deals turned a chunk of Borneo into a sea of oil palm [03/27/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.”  This is the fourth part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]

Borneo’s elephants prefer degraded forests, a new study finds [03/27/2018]
- New research has found that Bornean elephants most often use degraded forests with canopy heights topping out at around 13 meters (43 feet).
- Less than 25 percent of the state’s protected intact forests, which include primary forests, are suitable for elephants, the authors concluded.
- The team suggests that maintaining suitable elephant habitat in Malaysian Borneo will require the protection of relatively small patches of degraded forests that elephants favor.


How Indonesia’s Seruyan district became an epicenter of fires and haze [03/26/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.”  This is the third part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]

Colombia scraps Amazon highway plans due to deforestation concerns [03/23/2018]
- The Marginal de la Selva highway is part of $1 billion infrastructure project that would have opened a trade route for heavy land cargo to pass from Venezuela to Ecuador through Colombia without having to enter the treacherous Andes mountains.
- Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos declared earlier the controversial project will not be completed, citing rampant deforestation and potentially irreversible environmental impacts to a sensitive ecological corridor near three national parks if the highway were developed as planned.
- Conservationists are lauding the President’s announcement, calling it “extraordinary news for deforestation mitigation and restoration efforts” to restore the region’s ecological integrity.


Company outed for fires in Indonesian palm lease still clearing forests in timber concession, NGO finds [03/22/2018]
- Agribusiness conglomerate Korindo has since 2017 implemented a moratorium on forest clearing in its oil palm concessions, after it was found to be burning forests in Indonesia’s Papua province.
- A new report indicates that since then, the company may have degraded more than 30 square kilometers of pristine forest to build logging roads in one of its timber concessions — an area excluded from the self-imposed moratorium.
- The NGO Mighty Earth has called on the company to extend both the forest clearing moratorium and a high carbon stock approach, which it employs on its oil palm concessions, to its timber operations.


How the son of a tailor rose to power in Indonesia’s palm oil heartland [03/22/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the second part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son […]

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, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the first part of that article, which can be read in full here. (Baca juga dalam Bahasa […]

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Video: Arkani, the Dayak known as Jenggot Naga — Dragon Beard [03/08/2018]
- “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 make money from major palm oil firms.
- Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of those affected by Darwan’s licensing spree, including an indigenous man from Borneo named Arkani.


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.


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.


Mangrove deforestation may be releasing more CO2 than Poland, study finds [03/02/2018]
- A new study calculates that, worldwide, mangroves were storing 4.19 billion metric tons of carbon in 2012, representing a 2 percent loss since 2000. It estimates that number had dropped further to 4.16 billion metric tons by 2017.
- In total, the study estimates that this lost carbon translates to as much as 317 million tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of around 67.5 million passenger vehicles in the U.S. and more than the 2015 emissions of Poland.
- The researchers found Indonesia harbors the lion’s share of the world’s mangroves – around 30 percent – while also experiencing the biggest proportion of its 2000-2012 mangrove carbon loss, with deforestation there accounting for more than 48 percent of the global total. Other parts of Southeast Asia, such as Myanmar, are also undergoing high rates of mangrove deforestation, making the entire region a hotspot of global mangrove carbon loss.
- Previous research estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of the world’s mangroves have been lost over the past 50 years. Deforestation for shrimp, rice and palm oil are among the biggest drivers of mangrove decline.


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.


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.


Orangutan culture in focus in ‘Person of the Forest’: Q&A with researchers Cheryl Knott and Robert Rodriguez Suro [02/23/2018]
- A recent documentary, “Person of the Forest,” investigates the cultures of orangutans.
- Orangutan numbers have dwindled as a result of habitat loss, hunting and the pet trade.
- Scientists argue that the existence of orangutan culture makes protecting them even more critical.
- The film is a finalist at the New York WILD Film Festival, which began on Feb. 22.


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.


‘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.


‘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.


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.


Maps tease apart complex relationship between agriculture and deforestation in DRC [02/02/2018]
- A team from the University of Maryland’s GLAD laboratory has analyzed satellite images of the Democratic Republic of Congo to identify different elements of the “rural complex” — where many of the DRC’s subsistence farmers live.
- Their new maps and visualizations allow scientists and land-use planners to pinpoint areas where the cycle of shifting cultivation is contained, and where it is causing new deforestation.
- The team and many experts believe that enhanced understanding of the rural complex could help establish baselines that further inform multi-pronged approaches to forest conservation and development, such as REDD+.


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.


Biofuel boost threatens even greater deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia: Study [01/25/2018]
- A new report projects the global demand for palm oil-based biofuel by 2030 will be six times higher than today if existing and proposed policies in Indonesia, China and the aviation industry hold.
- That surge in demand could result in the clearing of 45,000 square kilometers (17,374 square miles) of forest in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s biggest palm oil producers, and the release of an additional 7 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year — higher than current annual emissions by the U.S.
- That impact could be tempered to some degree by the European Union, which plans to phase out all use of palm oil in its biofuel over the next three years, citing environmental concerns.


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.


Indonesian villages see virtually zero progress in program to manage peatlands [01/15/2018]
- Only one out of nearly 3,000 villages located in Indonesia’s peatlands has received a government permit to manage the forest under the administration’s “social forestry” program.
- At the same time, 80 percent of peatlands in key areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan fall within plantation and mining concessions.
- Activists have called on the government to speed up the process of granting permits to villages, arguing that they make better forest stewards than plantation operators.
- The government has acknowledged the slow pace of progress and accordingly cut its target for the total area of forest reallocated to local communities to a third of the initial figure.


Indonesian parliament pushes for passage of palm oil legislation this year [01/12/2018]
- Indonesian legislators have prioritized deliberations of a bill regulating the country’s palm oil industry, hoping to have it passed this year.
- The bill in its current form conflicts with the government’s own recently adopted measures to protect peatlands, a point that legislators have acknowledged must be addressed.
- While its proponents say the bill is needed to protect the industry, citing a Western conspiracy against Indonesian palm oil, environmental activists say it will do little to address the ills attributed to the industry.


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.


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.


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.


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 […]

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.


Colombian community leader allegedly murdered for standing up to palm oil [12/15/2017]
- Colombian community leader Hernan Bedoya, who defended collective land rights for Afro-Colombian farmers as well as local biodiversity in the face of palm oil and industrial agriculture expansion, was allegedly assassinated by a neo-paramilitary group on Friday, Dec. 5.
- Bedoya was owner of the “Mi Tierra” Biodiversity Zone, located in the collective Afro-Colombian territory of Pedeguita-Mancilla. The land rights activist stood up to palm oil, banana and ranching companies who are accused of engaging in illegal land grabbing and deforestation in his Afro-Colombian community’s collective territory in Riosucio, Chocó.
- According to the Intercelestial Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia (CIJP), a Colombian human rights group, Bedoya was heading home on horseback when two members of the neo-paramilitary Gaitánista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) intercepted him on a bridge and shot him 14 times, immediately killing him.
- According to Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (PARES), 137 social leaders have been killed across Colombia in 2017. Other observers have found lower numbers, but most track over 100 killed over the course of the year.


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.


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.


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.


Papua New Guinea gets its largest-ever conservation area [12/08/2017]
- On November 29, government officials declared the establishment of the Managalas Conservation Area. It is Papua New Guinea’s largest conservation area, encompassing 3,600 square kilometers of rainforest.
- Local communities, with the support of governments and non-profit organizations, have been working towards its incorporation as a protected area for 32 years.
- Managalas Conservation Area will be protected from large-scale agricultural and logging operations while allowing the communities that live there to use forest resources and grow crops in a sustainable manner.
- But stakeholders say mining is not officially excluded from the Conservation Arena’s management plan, and are worried about future encroachment by mining companies.


Labor abuses persist in RSPO-certified palm plantations, report finds [12/08/2017]
- A new report exposes labor abuses on three plantations owned by Indofood, a subsidiary of the Salim Group conglomerate.
- The report reveals how workers are routinely exposed to hazardous pesticides, paid less than the minimum wage, illegally kept in a temporary work status to fill core jobs, and deterred from forming independent labor unions.
- Each of the three plantations has been certified as “sustainable” by the RSPO, which bans labor abuses by its members, but is often criticized for failing to enforce its own standards.
- Advocates have been pushing for the RSPO to improve its handling of labor issues.


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.


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.


RSPO tops among certification schemes, though all must improve: report [11/22/2017]
- A new report from the Forest Peoples Programme ranks certification schemes for biofuels and edible oils.
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil topped the NGO’s rankings, although it too has significant problems.
- “It seems that about half of RSPO members’ palm oil sold in Europe, mostly for biofuels, is…not RSPO-certified. For those concerned about human rights and social justice, this is very troubling,” FPP campaigner Marcus Colchester said.


COP23: Leaders vie for protection of ‘incredibly important’ African peatland [11/17/2017]
- The presence of the world’s biggest tropical peatland was recently confirmed in Central Africa. It is the size of England and straddles the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo (ROC).
- However, conservationists and scientists worry it may be at risk from logging and development. They caution its destruction could release “vast amounts” of carbon emissions. Others say the threats are overblown.
- Conservation leaders and representatives gathered this week at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, say protections could exist through REDD+ projects that could give local communities management rights and provide financial incentives for leaving the peat forest intact.


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.


‘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.


Sumatran region heats up as forests disappear [10/29/2017]
- Average temperatures in the Indonesian province of Jambi have risen amid clearing of vast swaths of forest, a new study show.
- Areas that have been clear-cut, mostly for oil palm plantations, can be up to 10 degrees Celsius hotter than forested areas.
- The warming could make water more scarce and wildfires more common in the province.


Palm oil mounts ‘new offensive’ in Colombia while workers decry labor conditions [10/27/2017]
- Demobilization of the FARC and other militant groups are opening vast areas of Colombia to new development.
- Colombia is Latin America’s biggest palm oil producer. Researchers expect the industry will be expanding into these new territories, and are worried about how Colombia’s native ecosystems will fare against new oil palm plantations and how communities will be treated by the industry.
- Advocacy organizations say Colombia is facing a grave security crisis for human rights defenders, unionists, community activists, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, with more than 120 social leaders reportedly killed so far in 2017.
- Mongabay traveled to Magdalena Medio to talk with oil palm plantation workers; they reported dangerous working conditions and deadly retribution from anti-union organizers.


Economic headwinds buffet once-resilient Sumatran forest-farms [10/23/2017]
- Farmers in Indonesia’s Krui region have long cultivated valuable damar resin trees among typical crops such as coconuts and rice.
- These agroforests have for more than a century served as an economic bulwark for local communities against the encroachment of palm oil and timber operations.
- Since 2000, however, a fifth of the region’s damar agroforests have been razed for sawmills and oil palm plantations, with land grabs and low resin prices driving the decline.


Could fungi provide an alternative to palm oil? [10/19/2017]
- Palm oil is used in everything from margarine and ice cream to cosmetics and certain fabrics.
- But the palm oil industry has a history of association with deforestation and human rights abuses. As oil palm plantations continue to expand to more tropical areas around the world, many are worried they will come at the expense of rainforests.
- A biotech startup in the U.S. thinks it has found an alternative to palm oil – fungus that can be grown on food waste.
- But while lab experiments have demonstrated some success, it remains to be seen whether fungus-derived oil can be produced in quantities large and cheap enough to compete with palm oil.


Conservation leaders in Africa call for a crackdown on biopiracy [10/13/2017]
- Indigenous rights groups and others have long criticized the lack of benefit sharing between bio-prospectors and the local communities that inhabit the places where the organisms are found, calling such acts “biopiracy.”
- The African Union (AU) Strategic Guidelines for the Coordinated Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol in Africa was adopted by the AU Assembly at its 25th Ordinary Session, which was held in South Africa in 2015. The guidelines aim to provide a roadmap for implementation of the Protocol and Access and Benefit Sharing system at national and regional levels.
- But while the Nagoya Protocol and its AU implementation guidelines address many issues, some stakeholders remain worried about those not covered – such as off-site synthesis using information previously collected and the use of materials cultivated abroad.


‘Then they shot me’: Land conflict and murder in Ucayali, Peru [10/12/2017]
- In September, six people were murdered in Bajo Rayal, Peru.
- A conflict over the possession of 450 hectares of forest appears to be the motive behind the killings.
- Mongabay Latam went to Bajo Rayal to investigate, and discovered around 300,000 hectares of forest in the region are under dispute and being considered for agricultural conversion.


The Palm Oil Fiefdom [10/10/2017]
- This is the first installment of Indonesia for Sale, an in-depth series on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis.
- Indonesia for Sale is a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative reporting initiative established by UK-based nonprofit Earthsight.
- This article is the product of nine months’ reporting across the Southeast Asian country, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them.


Indonesia for Sale: in-depth series on corruption, palm oil and rainforests launches [10/10/2017]
- The investigative series Indonesia for Sale, launching this week, shines new light on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis.
- In-depth stories, to be released over the coming months, will expose the role of collusion between palm oil firms and politicians in subverting Indonesia’s democracy. They will be published in English and Indonesian.
- The series is the product of nine months’ reporting across the country, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them.
- Indonesia for Sale is a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative reporting initiative established by UK-based nonprofit Earthsight.


‘Queen of Coal’ named corruption suspect in Indonesia [10/05/2017]
- Rita Widyasari was named suspect by Indonesia’s antigraft body earlier this month.
- She was alleged to accept a a 6 billion rupiah ($442,000) bribe from plantation businessman Hari Susanto Gun.
- The head of Kutai Kartanegara district in East Kalimantan is often dubbed the “queen of coal” given the number of mining permits she has issued.


Poor grade for Malaysia, Singapore brands in palm oil sustainability: WWF [09/22/2017]
- Two out of three companies in Malaysia and Singapore are not transparent about their palm oil use, the World Wildlife Fund contends.
- Most of these companies do not source palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
- Malaysia and Singapore’s brands have lower sustainability grades compared to global brands.


Oil palm firms advance into Leuser rainforest, defying Aceh governor’s orders [09/18/2017]
- The government of Indonesia’s Aceh province has banned land clearance for oil palm development inside the Leuser Ecosystem.
- However, deforestation is still ongoing as some companies ignore the moratorium.
- During the first seven months of 2017, Leuser lost 3,941 hectares of forest cover, an area almost three times as large as Los Angeles International Airport, watchdogs say.


Samsung won’t partner with Korindo following outrage over forest destruction in Indonesia [09/14/2017]
- Under fire from watchdogs and consumers of its smartphones, Samsung said it would not pursue a joint venture with Korindo, itself the target of an NGO campaign for destroying rainforests in Indonesia.
- Korindo was previously outed in a Mighty Earth report for using fire to clear dense forests in Indonesia’s Tanah Papua region, home to birds-of-paradise and tree kangaroos.
- Papua is the last frontier for oil palm plantation firms like Korindo, and they move east in search of land on which to expand.


Palm oil giant FGV will ‘endeavor to rehabilitate’ peatlands it trashed in Borneo [09/13/2017]
- About a year ago, Felda Global Ventures promised to stop clearing rainforests and peatlands to make way for its oil palm estates.
- This year, though watchdogs reported that the company had continued to clear over 1,000 hectares of forest and peat in Indonesian Borneo, violating not only its green pledge but also its obligations as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), as well as a new government regulation.
- Last month, FGV renewed its commitment and said it would try to rehabilitate the peatlands it planted since August 2016.


Philippine palm oil plan ‘equals corruption and land-grabbing,’ critics say [08/31/2017]
- With its renewed promotion of what it calls the “Sunshine Industry,” the Philippine government is looking to cultivate another one million hectares of oil palm, 98 percent of which would be on the island of Mindanao.
- Proponents say increasing palm oil production will alleviate poverty and armed conflict through large investments from Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean firms and other foreign and domestic companies, and tout potential revenue brought by palm oil’s increasing demand as a food and cosmetic ingredient and biofuel.
- But critics worry expansion of the country’s palm oil industry will benefit large companies at the expense of small farmers, forests, and water quality.


These 3 companies owe Indonesia millions of dollars for damaging the environment. Why haven’t they paid? [08/23/2017]
- The Indonesian government has been trying to collect penalties from three companies found guilty of damaging the environment.
- One of the companies is PT Kallista Alam, an oil palm plantation firm convicted of cut-and-burning rainforest in the Leuser Ecosystem.
- Another is PT Merbau Pelalawan Lestari, a timber plantation firm that was ordered to pay more than a billion dollars for illegal logging.
- The government plans to establish a task force for the express purpose of collecting the penalties.


Doubts cloud Kenya’s renewed palm oil ambitions [08/21/2017]
- Kenya is looking to increase its own production to reduce reliance on imports. Officials say producing palm oil domestically would reduce importation costs while opening new income streams for farmers.
- Kenya is also looking to cash in on the industry’s profitability and efficiency as global demand for palm oil rises.
- But critics worry that increasing palm oil production in Kenya may come at a cost. They say smallholder farmers could lose out to industrial producers, and clearing land for oil palm plantations could increase deforestation and carbon emissions.


A clouded future: Asia’s enigmatic clouded leopard threatened by palm oil [08/17/2017]
- The clouded leopard is the least well-known of the big cats. Both species (Neofelis nebulosa and Neofelis diarti) are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN across their ranges.
- Clouded leopard habitat falls within three of the world’s top palm oil producing countries: Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. While many questions remain about this elusive species’ ecology, it’s widely believed that palm oil development severely threatens its long-term survival in the wild.
- At a recent workshop in Sabah, Malaysia, experts devised a 10-year action plan to help secure the Sunda clouded leopard in the state, where it’s estimated there are around 700 left in the wild.
- Biologists who study the species are hopeful that enough time remains to save the species in the long term – if plantations and development take conservation into consideration.


Mammal numbers high in logged tropical forests, study finds [08/16/2017]
- The study quantified mammal numbers in forests and landscapes with varying degrees of human impact in Malaysian Borneo.
- Across 57 mammal species recorded with live and camera traps, the average number of all animals combined was 28 percent higher in logged forests — where hunting wasn’t an issue — compared to old-growth forests.
- The findings demonstrate the importance of conserving degraded forests along with more pristine areas.


International investment blamed for violence and oppression in Sarawak [08/15/2017]
- Land rights activist Bill Kayong was shot dead last year in Miri, Sarawak. Representatives of a palm oil plantation company were charged with his murder, but were later acquitted.
- Their acquittal was denounced by many observers, who see it as yet another blow against indigenous communities in the fight for their land.
- NGOs in Sarawak and around the world report failures by the Sarawak government to uphold indigenous land rights, and failures by international banks and investors to ensure their investments are conflict-free.
- Investigators urge more accountability when it comes to international financing of development ventures. They also say retail customers could “act as change agents and raise the bar for banks’ respect for indigenous rights.”


First real test for Jokowi on haze as annual fires return to Indonesia [08/08/2017]
- Land and forest fires have broken out in pockets of Indonesia since mid-July.
- Last year the country caught a break, when a longer-than-normal wet season brought on by La Niña helped mitigate the fire threat.
- This year, hotspots have started appearing in regions with no history of major land and forest fires, like East Nusa Tenggara and Aceh.
- The government has responded by declaring an emergency status as well as deploying firefighters.


Five instances in which Peru won the battle against deforestation [08/02/2017]
- The main activities that have threatened forests in these areas include illegal gold mining and the advancement of industrial agriculture.
- Satellite images show deforestation for large oil palm and cacao plantations in central and northern Peru is no longer expanding.
- Illegal mining-driven deforestation within Amarakaeri Communal Reserve and Tambopata National Reserve has ceased.


Orangutans find home in degraded forests [07/24/2017]
- The study leveraged three years of orangutan observation in the field and airborne mapping of the forest structure using laser-based light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology.
- The research team found that orangutans make use of habitats that have been ‘degraded’ by logging and other human uses.
- The research is part of a larger effort in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department to map carbon stocks and plant and animal biodiversity throughout the Malaysian state of Sabah with the goal of identifying new areas for conservation.


Mounting outcry over Indonesian palm oil bill as legislators press on [07/21/2017]
- The bill cements the right of oil palm planters to operate on peat soil, at a time when President Joko Widodo is trying to enforce new peat protections to stop another outbreak of devastating fires and haze.
- The bill has also been criticized for outlining a variety of tax breaks and duty relief schemes for palm oil investors, although those provisions have been dialed back — but not completely eliminated — in the latest draft.
- The bill’s main champion in the House of Representatives is the Golkar Party’s Firman Soebagyo. He says it will help farmers and protect Indonesian palm oil from foreign intervention.
- Responding to mounting public criticism, some cabinet members recently asked the House to abandon the bill, but Soebagyo, who is leading the deliberations, says they will continue.


Big forests, big ag: Are rainforests the right place for industrial agriculture? (commentary) [07/20/2017]
- Gabon remains a relative stronghold for endangered wildlife like chimpanzees and forest elephants.
- Singapore-based Olam International, one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, has agreed not to plant palm oil in protected wetlands, and also set aside conservation areas and corridors for wildlife in its concessions in Gabon.
- But there is only so much that can be done to minimize the impact of clearing 26,000 hectares in the middle of one of the world’s most forested countries.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Scientists condemn expansion of industrial monocultures at expense of traditional gardens in Mexico [07/14/2017]
- Planned expansion of industrial monocultures in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula poses a threat to traditional agricultural practices, say scientists.
- Mexico has traditionally been at the forefront of recognizing community rights to forest management, including including having strong land tenure laws.
- Mexico is currently losing over 150,000 hectares of forest per year


Unveiled: The unraveling of Nicaragua’s Indio Maíz Biological Reserve (commentary) [06/29/2017]
- There is evidence of disturbing trends in illegal colonization and deforestation inside the IMBR. Satellite images, interviews with locals, and ground-truthing at key locations unveil proof that the Indio Maíz may be destined to unravel.
- Deforestation within the boundaries of the IMBR claimed about 2,434 hectares (about 6,015 acres) between 2001-2014. A satellite image analysis shows that deforestation extends approximately 10.3 kilometers (6.1 miles) from the western boundary of the reserve inward.
- Nicaragua’s current government has been in power over ten years and has shown increasing disregard for its own environmental laws and the agencies tasked with their enforcement. This is evident in the case of the IMBR.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


New investor guide aims to help navigate social and environmental risks of commodities supply chains [06/28/2017]
- Procuring agricultural commodities has become a much more difficult business function for food makers and agribusiness conglomerates to perform amidst rising global temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns, as well as increasingly widespread groundwater depletion and soil erosion, all of which affect agricultural productivity and raise the cost of sourcing in-demand raw materials.
- Engage the Chain offers guidance to investors on how to evaluate the level of risk in their portfolios, and also includes a number of examples of the types of threats these environmental and social impacts can pose to companies that, unwittingly or not, find their supply chains associated with them, from reputational and brand damage to litigation and running afoul of regulators.
- Ceres developed the guide through a peer review process that included input from top investors, a number of companies involved in the global commodities trade, and environmental NGOs.


Audio: The fight to save Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem [06/27/2017]
- One of the richest, most biodiverse tropical forests on the planet, Leuser is currently being targeted for expansion of oil palm plantations by a number of companies.
- Tillack explains just what makes Leuser so unique and valuable, details some of her organization’s investigations into the ongoing clearance of Leuser in violation of Indonesia’s moratorium on deforestation for new oil palm plantations, and how consumers like you and me can help decide the fate of the region.
- We also welcome to the show research ecologist Marcone Campos Cerqueira for our latest Field Notes segment. Cerqueira has recently completed a study that used bioacoustic monitoring to examine bird ranges in the mountains of Puerto Rico, and he’ll share some of his recordings with us on today’s show.


Borneo’s ‘biocultural holocaust’: an interview with author Alex Shoumatoff [06/19/2017]
- Over the past half century, we’ve laid waste to the rainforests of Borneo thanks to humanity’s demand for food, fuel, and fiber.
- The Wasting of Borneo, a new book by Alex Shoumatoff, chronicles some of Borneo’s staggering losses
- Shoumatoff is a former writer and editor for The New Yorker, Outside, Condé Nast Traveler, and Vanity Fair who Donald Trump once called “the greatest writer in America”.


Mangrove loss threatens migratory shorebird route in North Sumatra [06/15/2017]
- A new study examines the impact of agricultural expansion on an important shorebird habitat in North Sumatra.
- Mangrove cover in the Indonesian province has dropped 85 percent in the last 14 years.
- The study’s authors want the government to issue a regulation to protect shorebirds specifically.


Norway bans government purchasing of palm oil biofuel [06/13/2017]
- The growth of the palm oil industry has been blamed for a host of damaging environmental impacts, such as deforestation and carbon emissions.
- Research indicates that biofuel made with palm oil may be even worse for the climate than fossil fuels.
- The Norwegian parliament responded to these impacts by voting in a regulation to its Public Procurement Act to stop using biofuel palm oil-based biofuel. The resolution further stipulates that the “regulatory amendment shall enter into force as soon as possible.”
- Conservationists laud the move, but say more countries need to follow suit. They recommend the EU’s biofuel policy be updated to reflect concerns about palm oil.


FSC to investigate Korean conglomerate’s palm oil operations in Indonesia [06/07/2017]
- The group submitted the complaint to the FSC on May 15, 2017, together with evidence that Mighty Earth said showed the Korindo Group has, since 2013, cleared more than 30,000 hectares (over 74,000 acres) of rainforest for palm oil production in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and North Maluku.
- “The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has formally accepted a Policy for Association (PfA) complaint submitted by Mighty Earth against Korindo Group (Korindo) for ‘Significant conversion of forests to plantations or non-forest use’,” the certification body confirmed in a statement released today.
- In its Policy for the Association of Organizations with FSC (PfA), the certification body lists a number of “unacceptable forest-related activities” in which companies cannot directly or indirectly engage — essentially giving the FSC a means of protecting its reputation and “ability to deliver on its mission” should a company with certified operations be found to be responsible for unsustainable practices in some of its other operations.


Indonesia’s plantation lobby challenges environmental law [06/07/2017]
- The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) and the Indonesian Association of Forestry Concessionaires (APHI) lodged a judicial review with the Constitutional Court last month.
- They want the court to edit the 1999 Forestry Law and the 2009 Environment Law so that companies are not strictly liable for fires that occur in their concessions.
- They also want to the court to extend the ban on using fire to clear land to small farmers.


Financing sustainable agriculture possible, if terms fit farmers’ needs [06/02/2017]
- Worldwide, more deforestation results from the push for farmland than any other cause.
- The Global Canopy Programme reports that funding aimed at encouraging a move away from deforestation-based agriculture and toward more sustainable methods must be designed to address the needs of farmers.
- Loans with longer terms and lower interest rates can help farmers who are switching to sustainable agriculture survive the ‘valley of death’ – that is, the first few years of new methods before their production becomes profitable.


Philippines’ indigenous Higaonon fight for return of ancestral land [06/01/2017]
- The Higaonon filed an “ancestral domain claim” in 2002 for land they have traditionally inhabited, which is their right under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. But the government allowed agribusiness company A Brown Corporation, Inc., to establish oil palm plantations through its subsidiary ABERDI on the land that same year.
- Members of local human rights organizations allege legally required free, prior and informed consent was never obtained by the company before setting up its plantations, and that some residents were tricked into waiving the rights to their land.
- Residents claim intimidation and harassment by ABERDI and other subsidiary company Nakeen, and say they were left with nothing after plantation operations ceased – despite initial promises of benefits.
- A government representative said there is an ongoing investigation into whether ABERDI is operating with the proper permits.


Pressure builds on palm oil firm Goodhope after RSPO sanction [05/31/2017]
- The RSPO ordered Goodhope to freeze its operations in Indonesia earlier this month amid allegations of land grabbing and forest destruction.
- Goodhope said recently that it needed more time than the RSPO had given it to bring its operations into compliance with the roundtable’s standards.
- The company says it is working with credible auditors to conduct new assessments of its concessions, after the RSPO deemed previous audits the firm had commissioned as lacking in credibility.


Wilmar appeals RSPO ruling that it grabbed indigenous lands in Sumatra [05/17/2017]
- Palm oil giant Wilmar has been involved in a land conflict with the Kapa people of West Sumatra for years.
- Earlier this year, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ruled in favor of a complaint filed against Wilmar. Wilmar said it accepted the ruling.
- Now Wilmar is appealing the ruling on procedural grounds. The company says it wasn’t properly consulted during the process.
- The Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO helping the Kapa through the process, says the company is stalling, “which we see as a tactic to delay having to address outstanding human rights violations.”


Palm oil firm pledges to stop deforesting after RSPO freezes its operations in Papua [05/11/2017]
- Goodhope Asia Holdings, an arm of Sri Lanka’s Carson Cumberbatch, is the latest palm oil company to promise to purge its operations of deforestation, peatland conversion and human rights abuses.
- Announcing such a commitment and implementing it are two different matters. Despite the growing prevalence of such pledges, no major user or processor of palm oil can say it has actually eliminated deforestation from its supply chain.
- Goodhope subsidiary PT Nabire Baru presides over what one watchdog called “possibly the most controversial plantation in Papua.”


Industry-NGO coalition releases toolkit for making ‘No Deforestation’ commitments a reality on the ground [05/10/2017]
- Numerous companies involved in the global palm oil supply chain, from producers and traders to consumer companies that use the commodity in their products, have adopted Zero Deforestation commitments — but pledging to address the deforestation and human rights abuses associated with palm oil supply chains is one thing, while making those commitments a reality on the ground is another.
- Companies have said they need more support from governments of tropical forest nations to make their Zero Deforestation commitments a reality, citing a maze of administrative and regulatory frameworks across palm oil producing countries as hampering their efforts.
- The new HCS Approach Toolkit might help address this very issue, however, as it is intended to standardize the methodology for protecting tropical forests and identifying suitable landscapes for the sustainable production of palm oil.
- The revised HCS Approach Toolkit lays out the fundamental elements of a methodology for protecting high carbon stock (HCS) forests and other high conservation value (HCV) areas such as peatlands. Simply achieving “no deforestation” is not the only goal of the revised HCS Approach, though.


In Liberia, a battered palm oil industry adjusts to new rules [05/10/2017]
- Palm oil companies signed a series of large contracts between 2008-2012 to develop plantations in Liberia.
- Disputes over land ownership by rural communities and the imposition of new environmental rules have forced investors to adjust their projections.
- The ‘High Carbon Stock’ approach, endorsed by environmental advocates, will restrict expansion in some cases.


‘Killed, forced, afraid’: Philippine palm oil legacy incites new fears [05/09/2017]
- Following a rush of corporate investment in the 1960s, agroindustry company NDC-Guthrie set up camp on the Philippine island of Mindanao. The company hired a private security force dubbed the “Lost Command” to protect its oil palm plantations.
- Sources say the Lost Command used violence to expand NDC-Guthrie’s land holdings in the 1980s, with allegations ranging from forcibly displacing residents of local communities and extorting business-owners to looting, rape, and even murder.
- In the 1990s NDC-Guthrie was bought by Filipinas Palm Oil Plantations Inc. (FPPI), which continues to operate in the region today. A company representative said “issues have been blown up” and that FPPI is interested in expanding further in Mindanao.
- The administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010) touted oil palm propagation as a way to elevate the national economy and even stem armed conflict. But industry watchdog groups disagree, saying palm oil’s track record of conflict in the Philippine archipelago does not bode well for the future.


RSPO freezes palm oil company’s operations in Papua [05/07/2017]
- The RSPO ordered Goodhope Asia Holdings to stop work in seven of its concessions in Indonesia, citing “poor quality” audits commissioned by the company to ensure it follows RSPO rules.
- High Conservation Value assessments for all seven of the concessions were conducted by a team of Bogor Agricultural University lecturers led by Nyoto Santoso. The assessments are being treated as suspect by the RSPO.
- While Goodhope opposes the measures, they have been lauded by environmental NGOs as a positive step.


Indigenous lands ‘critical’ to forest protection in Peru, biodiversity maps show [05/05/2017]
- Indigenous lands account for 36 percent of protected forests in Peru.
- In total, 42.6 percent of Peru’s forest fall under some sort of protection, and the new biodiversity maps highlight forest types that are underrepresented in that figure.
- The forests in the transition zone between the Andes and the Amazon appear to be the most in danger, as the forest types in this area are found at some of the lowest levels in Peru’s parks, reserves and concessions. This area also faces some of the highest deforestation rates in the country.


Over the bridge: The battle for the future of the Kinabatangan [05/03/2017]
- Proponents of the project contend that a bridge and associated paved road to Sukau would have helped the town grow and improve the standard of living for its residents.
- Environmental groups argue that the region’s unrealized potential for high-end nature tourism could bring similar economic benefits without disturbing local populations of elephants, orangutans and other struggling wildlife.
- The mid-April cancellation of the bridge was heralded as a success for rainforest conservation, but bigger questions loom about the future of local communities, the sanctuary and its wildlife.


Preserving orangutan culture an ingredient for successful conservation [05/02/2017]
- Scientists once thought that all animal behavior was instinctual, but now know that many animals — particularly social animals — are able to think and to learn, and to display culturally learned behaviors.
- Orangutans are one animal in which occurrences of culture have been fairly well proven, with orangutan groups at different study sites displaying variant behaviors that have neither environmental nor genetic origins, meaning they can only be cultural in nature.
- Among these cultural behaviors are basic tool making and use for food harvesting, purposeful vocalizations, and variations in nest building materials and methods. Scientists fear habitat loss and crashing populations could cause this cultural heritage to vanish.
- The loss of varied cultural behaviors could potentially make orangutans less adaptable to changes in their environment at a time when, under extreme pressure from human development, these great apes need all the resources they can muster.


An interactive map connects landowners and forest change in one of the world’s most biodiverse places [04/28/2017]
- The Atlas of Deforestation and Industrial Plantations in Borneo documents the loss of rainforest over 40 years from oil palm and pulpwood plantations in one of Earth’s most biodiverse places.
- By connecting landowners and deforestation patterns publicly available, the atlas adds transparency to wood and oil palm supply chains.
- Allowing users to see how human impacts have reshaped Borneo is essential amid competing demands for cheap oil and conserved forest.


Study finds there are ways to mitigate deforestation risks of palm oil expansion in Africa [04/20/2017]
- It’s been estimated that, over the next five years, as much as 22 million hectares (or more than 54 million acres) of land in Central and West Africa could be converted to oil palm plantations.
- Seven African nations signed a pledge dedicating themselves to the sustainable development of the palm oil sector, known as the Marrakesh Declaration, at the UN climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco last November.
- According to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters earlier this month, those seven nations, which collectively represent 70 percent of Africa’s tropical forests, have good reason to be proactive when it comes to managing the rollout of oil palm operations within their borders. But there is also reason to hope that oil palm expansion in Africa will be done more sustainably in Africa.


No safe forest left: 250 captive orphan chimps stuck in sanctuaries [04/20/2017]
- Cameroon currently has more than 250 rescued chimpanzees living in three chimp wildlife sanctuaries. Attempts to find forests into which to release them — safe from the bushmeat and pet trade, and not already occupied by other chimpanzee populations — have failed so far.
- The intensification of logging, mining and agribusiness, plus new roads into remote areas, along with a growing rural human population, are putting intense pressure on un-conserved forests as well as protected lands.
- Unless habitat loss, poaching and trafficking are controlled in Cameroon, reintroduction of captive chimpanzees may not be achievable. Some conservationists argue, however, that reintroduction of captive animals is needed to enhance genetic resilience in wild populations.
- If current rates of decline are not curbed, primatologists estimate that chimpanzees could be gone from Cameroon’s forests within 15 to 20 years.


RSPO accused of letting palm oil firm proceed with dodgy audits in Papua [04/14/2017]
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is the world’s largest association for ethical production of the commodity, found in everything from chocolate to makeup and laundry detergent.
- The RSPO’s credibility rests on the quality of its system for ensuring its member companies actually adhere to its standards.
- Two years after the RSPO finally acknowledged deficiencies in its certification system, observers say the organization has done little to follow up on its commitment to address the issue.


Rainforest conservation may be aimed at the wrong places, study finds [04/13/2017]
- Climate-based conservation policies often focus on forests with large carbon stores – but what this means for biodiversity protection has been unclear.
- Previous research found a link between tree diversity and carbon storage on the small-scale, with tropical forests that have more tree species possessing larger stores of carbon. But this correlation had not been tested for larger areas.
- Researchers examined thousands of trees at hundreds of sites in the tropical forests of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Their results indicate that on the one-hectare scale, tree diversity is low and carbon storage is quite high in Africa, while the opposite is the case in South America. In Southeast Asia, both carbon stocks and tree diversity appear to be high.
- The researchers say their results indicate carbon-focused conservation policies may be missing highly biodiverse ecosystems, and recommend a more fine-tuned approach for prioritizing areas for conservation.


Connectivity and coexistence key to orangutan survival on croplands [04/13/2017]
- Orangutans are in drastic decline, largely due to habitat loss. From 1973–2010, Borneo lost 39 percent of its forests; estimates say that another 37 percent of orangutan-suitable habitat will be converted to agricultural use there through 2025. Similarly, 60 percent of habitat suitable for Sumatran orangutans was lost between 1985 and 2007.
- If orangutans are to survive in the wild through the 21st century, researchers will need to discover ways in which the animals can be helped to coexist with humans within agricultural landscapes. Researchers are also looking for creative ways to provide connectivity between remaining forest patches to promote and preserve genetic resilience.
- Scientists Gail Campbell-Smith, Marc Ancrenaz and others have shown that orangutans can use croplands, including oil palm plantations, if humans work to prevent conflict. Noise deterrents, such as bamboo cannon guns, along with the education of farm laborers and agribusiness companies, are techniques helping to reduce animal-human conflicts.
- Researcher Marc Ancrenaz and colleagues provided orangutans and other arboreal wildlife with rope bridges over small rivers in Malaysia — a successful approach to providing connectivity. It took four years for orangutans to begin using the bridges, but now young orangutan males use the structures to disperse more widely.


Governments must do more to help companies end deforestation in commodities supply chains, companies say [04/11/2017]
- Fern conducted interviews with and policy reviews of 15 companies, from major consumer-facing companies like IKEA, Nestlé, and Unilever, to producers and traders such as APP (Asia Pulp and Paper), Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources, and Sime Darby.
- One overriding message emerged, Fern reports: companies see government policies and actions — or lack thereof — as one of the main obstacles to cleaning up their supply chains.
- Many companies view the governments of countries where commodities production occurs as having a crucial role to play in “creating an enabling framework of rules, regulations and effective administration without which private sector commitments to tackle deforestation can only have limited impact,” the report states.


Jurisdictional certification approach aims to strengthen protections against deforestation [04/04/2017]
- Jurisdictional certification brings together all stakeholders across all commodities within a district or state to ensure the entire region is deforestation-free.
- A few tropical forest regions have long used the jurisdictional approach; with proven success, more regions are now following suit.
- Pilot programs in Brazil and elsewhere exemplify the successes and challenges of the jurisdictional approach.


Ebo forest great apes threatened by stalled Cameroon national park [04/03/2017]
- Cameroon’s Ebo forest is home to key populations of tool-wielding Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, along with an unspecified subspecies of gorilla, drills, Preuss’s Red Colobus, forest elephants, and a great deal more biodiversity.
- The forest is vulnerable, unprotected due to a drawn-out fight to secure its status as a national park. Logging and hunting threaten Ebo’s biodiversity. The Cameroonian palm oil company Azur recently began planting a 123,000 hectare plantation on its boundary.
- The Ebo Forest Research Project (EFRP) has been working successfully to change the habits of local people who have long subsisted on the forest’s natural resources — turning hunters into great ape guardians. But without the establishment of the national park and full legal protection and enforcement, everyone’s efforts may be in vain.


Almost 1M hectares ‘missing’ from land holdings of major palm oil companies [03/29/2017]
- Palm oil is a major driver of tropical deforestation. The report was produced by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which looked at information publicly disclosed by 50 of the most major palm oil production companies.
- Its findings indicate that while most companies disclose the area of planted land they manage, many fail to reveal the size, location, and use of many other areas in their portfolio, defying corporate accountability and concealing potential social and environmental risks.
- A supply chain expert says failures to disclose information don’t necessarily signal ill will on the part of the companies. Instead, it may be the result of unclear expectations, definitions, and protocols for reporting.
- The Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s leading palm oil certification body, is reportedly working to improve the reporting process of its member companies.


As Thailand ramps up its palm oil sector, peat forests feel the pressure [03/24/2017]
- Thailand is currently the world’s third-largest producer of palm oil. As of 2015, around 70 percent of land used for oil palm cultivation was managed by small-scale farmers.
- Most of Thailand’s palm oil is grown in the southern part of the country. In one protected area, called Pru Kaching, the government is trying to reclaim land from palm oil growers. But complicating factors have mired the effort.
- In order to grow crops like oil palm in peatlands, the swampy peat must be drained – which releases carbon into the atmosphere and makes the forests that overlay them more susceptible to fire.


Indonesian Supreme Court orders Jokowi administration to hand over palm oil permit data [03/10/2017]
- Forest Watch Indonesia has been trying to force the Ministry of Land and Spatial Planning to release in full the maps of oil palm companies’ concessions, known as HGUs.
- The Supreme Court’s decision hands the NGO a victory in its freedom of information request, launched in 2015.
- Once it receives the hard copies of the documents, FWI will scan and upload them on its website.


From conflict to communities: Forests in Liberia [03/10/2017]
- Liberia holds 40 percent of West Africa’s Upper Guinean rainforest.
- National and international organizations have worked with communities and the country’s leadership to clean up the corruption that many say has pervaded outside investments in timber and commercial agriculture.
- Currently, the Land Rights Act, which would give communities more control over their forests, awaits approval, but its progress has been paralyzed, in part by this year’s elections.


Industry-backed plantation museum opens in Indonesia [03/09/2017]
- The museum was inaugurated by the North Sumatra provincial government last December.
- The idea came from the CEO of Bakrie Sumatera Plantations, a major oil palm grower.
- It is Indonesia’s first plantation museum.


Audio: Meet the ‘Almost Famous Animals’ that deserve more conservation recognition [03/07/2017]
- The Almost Famous series was created in the hope that familiarity will help generate concern and action for under-appreciated species. Glenn tells us all about how species get selected for coverage and his favorite animals profiled in the series.
- We also feature another installment of our Field Notes segment on this episode of the Newscast.
- Luca Pozzi, an evolutionary primatologist at the University of Texas, San Antonio, recently helped establish a new genus of galagos, or bushbabies, found in southeastern Africa. We play some of the calls made by galagos in the wild, and Luca explains how those recordings aid in our scientific knowledge about wildlife.


Where the forest grants went [03/06/2017]
- With a view to providing a map of forest philanthropy, the Environmental Funders Network’s Forest Funders Group – an affinity group for foundations focused on forest conservation – has developed a methodology for describing forest grants by geography, focal issue, and approach.
- The mapping has been piloted on grants data submitted by five European-based foundations that made 652 grants between them in the study period (2011 to 2015), averaging £3.1m per year.
- Although this captures just a fraction of the forest grants made worldwide, it yields tantalising points for reflection.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


HSBC to stop financing deforestation-linked palm oil firms [03/03/2017]
- A recent Greenpeace report accused the bank of marshalling $16.3 billion in financing for six firms since 2012 that have illegally cleared forests, planted oil palm on carbon-rich peat soil and grabbed community lands.
- The investigation prompted scores of people to join a campaign to change the bank’s policies, including thousands of HSBC’s own customers.
- The bank’s new policy requires HSBC customers to commit to protecting natural forest and peatland by June 30, and provide independent verification of their own NDPE commitments by Dec. 31, 2018.


Forests provide a nutritional boon to some communities, research shows [03/02/2017]
- The new study, across 24 countries, shows a wide range in the variability of how communities use forests for food.
- The nutrients provided by wild fruits, vegetables, game and fish are critical to the nutritional health of some communities and should play a role in decisions about land usage.
- Land-use decisions should factor in the importance of forest foods to some communities, say the authors.


A Bornean village conserves a forest the government listed for cutting [03/02/2017]
- Residents of Bawan village in Indonesia Borneo applied for a permit to manage their land as a “village forest,” a form of community forestry being pushed by President Joko Widodo’s administration.
- The national government had designated the area as “production forest,” meaning it could be sold to a plantation or mining company, but residents chose instead to protect the land.
- “I consider Bawan’s village forest a champion project,” said Lilik Sugiarti, a USAID representative who helped to bring it about.


Environmental costs, benefits and possibilities: Q&A with anthropologist Eben Kirksey [02/28/2017]
- The environmental humanities pull together the tools of the anthropologist and the biologist.
- Anthropologist Eben Kirksey has studied the impact of mining, logging and infrastructure development on the Mee people of West Papua, Indonesia, revealing the inequalities that often underpins who benefits and who suffers as a result of natural resource extraction.
- Kirksey reports that West Papuans are nurturing a new form of nationalism that might help bring some equality to environmental change.




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