Indonesian president signs 3-year freeze on new oil palm licenses [09/20/2018]
- The moratorium has been in the works for a long time. President Jokowi first announced it more than two years ago, in the wake of the 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis. - The moratorium will remain in place for three years. Environmentalists had called for there to be no limit on its duration. - The policy also mandates as sweeping review of oil palm licenses across the country.
Indonesia’s Teater Potlot takes on the plight of the Sumatran tiger [09/19/2018]
- A seventh-century Srivijaya king, Srijayanasa, believed progress should bring merit to man and creature alike. - “Puyang,” a play by a South Sumatra theater group, explores the undoing of this pact through the eyes of a mythical tiger. - Today, there are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers believed to be living in the wild, as plantation and mining interests raze their forest homes.
Study games out oil palm development scenarios in Borneo [09/17/2018]
- The study authors quantify what will happen under a business as usual (BAU) approach, a strict conservation plan (CON), and expansion guided by sustainable intensification (SUS-INT). - Under a BAU scenario, all land currently zoned for corporate oil palm concessions are utilized to their maximum capacity. - At the other end of the spectrum, the CON scenario considers what will happen if Indonesia’s 2011 forest moratorium preventing new concessions on primary forest and peatland is applied to all currently undeveloped land, and companies adhere to zero-deforestation commitments. - In between the two, the SUS-INT option considers what would happen if plantations are expanded only in non-forested and non-peat areas, while yields are increased through improved cultivars and intensive management.
Brazilian elections and the environment: where top candidates stand [09/17/2018]
- The Brazilian elections are just weeks away, scheduled for 7 October. The five leading candidates are Jair Bolsonaro, Marina Silva, Ciro Gomes, Geraldo Alckmin, and Fernando Haddad, though none appears to have sufficient voter backing to win on election-day. A runoff with the top two will occur on 28 October. - This story offers an overview of the environmental stance of the top five. Jair Bolsonaro, leader in the polls, would pull Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement, abolish the Ministry of the Environment, and open the Amazon and indigenous lands for economic exploitation. - Marina Silva, a former environmental minister, established policies that reduced Amazon deforestation. She would keep Brazil in the Paris Agreement and use it as a means of shifting the nation’s agribusiness sector to be more sustainable, competitive and equitable. Ciro Gomes supports hydroelectric dams and the Paris Agreement. - Geraldo Alckmin supports agribusiness over environmental. Little is known of Fernando Haddad’s environmental positions, though he’s a strong proponent of bicycling to reduce car use. As important for the environment: the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby looks poised to grow stronger in congress in the coming election.
How a national reserve stopped the extinction of the Peruvian vicuña [09/17/2018]
- In the 1960s, the total number of vicuñas in Peru was approximately 5,000. - The community of Lucanas was able to overcome violence from internal armed conflicts, and now those in the community use vicuña fur from Pampa Galeras National Reserve. - Every year, the Lucanas community exports 1,000 kilograms (about 2,200 pounds) of vicuña fur. - The National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) will give a “green seal” to the fur sheared off the vicuñas by the community for their outstanding conservation practices.
What’s causing deforestation? New study reveals global drivers [09/14/2018]
- Recent advances in satellite-based forest monitoring technology have helped conservationists locate where deforestation may be happening. However, limitations in knowing the causes behind canopy loss have hindered efforts to stop it. - A new study released this week provides a step forward toward this goal, identifying the major drivers of tree cover loss around the world. - Overall, it finds 27 percent of all forest loss — 50,000 square kilometers per year — is caused by permanent commodity-driven deforestation. In other words, an area of forest a quarter of the size of India was felled to grow commodity crops over 15 years. The next-biggest driver of forest loss worldwide is forestry at 26 percent; wildfire and shifting agriculture amounting to 23 percent and 24 percent, respectively. The study finds less than 1 percent of global forest loss was attributable to urbanization. - The study’s authors found commodity-driven deforestation remained constant throughout their 15-year study period, which they say indicates corporate zero-deforestation agreements may not be working in many places. They hope their findings will help increase accountability and transparency in global supply chains.
Latam Eco Review: Gold fever in Peru and cryptic fish from the deep [09/14/2018]
The most popular stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, followed new deforestation from gold mining in Peru, new fish species deep in Chile’s sea, mining on Ecuador’s beaches, and hundreds of dead turtles in Mexico. Gold mining tears through Peru’s Amazon A new study shows that gold mining in Peru’s Madre de Dios region has […]
Indonesian mine watchdog sues government for concession maps [09/13/2018]
- The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) filed the freedom-of-information lawsuit after failing to get a response to its earlier requests to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. - The group contends that it needs the mapping data, in the shapefile (SHP) digital mapping format, to monitor whether mining concessions overlap onto conservation areas or farmland. - Jatam has previously successfully sued to obtain the release of similar records at the provincial level, and says the ministry’s refusal to comply is a violation of transparency provisions in both the freedom of information and mining laws.
Forests and indigenous rights land $459M commitment [09/12/2018]
- A group of 17 philanthropic foundations has committed nearly half a billion dollars in support of land-based solutions to climate change and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ collective land rights and resource management. - The announcement is notable because it brings together a range of philanthropies that have often taken a siloed approach to tackling the world’s social and environmental problems. - The pledge, which includes both previous commitments and new money, raises the profile of two often overlooked opportunities in climate change mitigation: forests, which could help meet up to a third of global emissions targets by 2030, and indigenous and local communities, whose lands comprise nearly a sixth of global forest cover. - The foundations signed an agreement stating five shared priorities, ranging from the rights of indigenous communities to transitioning toward more sustainable food systems.
Palm oil giant’s claim it can’t control Liberian subsidiary a ‘red herring,’ NGO says [09/12/2018]
- The Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO, recently filed five new complaints against palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources. The complaints were filed in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, of which the company is a member. - One of the complaints targets the company’s Liberian subsidiary, Golden Veroleum, which recently withdrew from the RSPO after losing an appeal against a different complaint filed against it. - The Forest Peoples Programme says it is egregious for Golden Agri to stay in the RSPO while its own subsidiary violates the organization’s standards. A spokeswoman for Golden Agri-Resources said the company has “no management control” over its Liberian subsidiary.
Conservation groups herald protection of tiger habitat in Malaysia [09/11/2018]
- The state government of Terengganu has set aside more than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) for critically endangered Malayan tigers and other wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia. - The state’s chief minister said the newly created Lawit-Cenana State Park’s high density of threatened species made the area a priority for protection. - The park is home to 291 species of birds and 18 species of mammals, including elephants, tapirs and pangolins.
World’s first indigenous REDD+ program suspended due to illegal mining [09/11/2018]
- In 2009, the Paiter-Suruí of Brazil became the first indigenous group in the world to design and implement a major forest conservation and carbon storage and offset project, a program financed by selling carbon-offset credits, and ultimately administered under the United Nations REDD+ program (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). - On Monday, the Paiter-Suruí announced the project is being suspended indefinitely due to an onslaught of diamond and gold miners and loggers which has caused a dramatic surge in deforestation within their 248,147 hectare (958 square mile) territory. - In its early years, the program – designed to prevent at least five million tons of carbon emissions in 30 years – was incredibly successful. Illegal logging in the indigenous territory dropped to almost zero from 2009 to 2012, a period during which surrounding regions saw deforestation rates more than double. - Analysts cite multiple reasons for the project suspension: the intrusion of external, powerful, self-interested actors; the lack of law enforcement in the indigenous territory; and the lack of state investment in indigenous education, health, and livelihood programs that could have alleviated individual economic and social pressures to secure short-term financial gain.
Brazilian legislators break law, attack Amazon, trade freely with world: report [09/11/2018]
- A new Amazon Watch report offers evidence showing that six prominent Brazilian politicians are charged with, and/or guilty of, a variety of environmental, social, and economic crimes. All six are active in the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby of congress, and all but one are up for election in October. - According to the report, the six have been strident advocates of the ruralist policies that are slashing environmental protections, exacerbating Amazon deforestation, and rolling back indigenous land rights. - Yet their agricultural commodities, and those of their political and business allies, are being sold to the U.S. and EU, with importers including soft drinks manufacturers Coca Cola (U.S) and Schweppes (Switzerland), the poultry producer Wiesenhof (Germany) and others. - The report says that transnational companies and consumers are thus unwittingly empowering the ruralists’ drastic legislative environmental attacks, and it calls for importing countries and companies to take responsibility for their actions. Mongabay profiles two legislators featured in the report: Adilton Sachetti and Nelson Marquezelli.
Land hoarding: what Colombia’s new administration has inherited [09/10/2018]
- Local authorities say that they are no longer as trusting of the actions suggested by the federal government. - Humberto Sánchez, the mayor of San Vicente del Caguán, says that meetings carried out to stop the problem are completely useless. - San Vicente del Caguán is the most deforested municipality in Colombia.
Plantations can produce more palm oil if they keep riverbanks forested [09/10/2018]
- Conservationists have long known that keeping riverbanks forested in regions with heavy palm oil development helps protect wildlife and their habitat. - Now, a recently published study finds there are economic benefits to palm oil producers, as well. It finds oil palm plantations that maintain buffers of forest along rivers can improve their yields because these buffers reduce erosion. - The team found that a larger buffer has a bigger payoff in the long term, but a forest buffer of 10 to 20 meters could maximize yields even within a ten-year period. Meanwhile, buffers of 30 meters or more could maximize yields in the long term. - The authors note that their calculations were conservative, meaning that the economic benefits of riparian forest buffers to oil palm plantations may be even higher than their estimates indicate.
Aligning forces for tropical forests as a climate change solution (commentary) [09/08/2018]
- Tropical forest governments need help to achieve their commitments to slow deforestation and are not getting it fast enough; companies could deliver some of that help through strategic partnerships, especially if environmental advocacy strategies evolve to favor these partnerships. Aspiring governments also need a mechanism for registering and disseminating their commitments and for finding potential partners. - Climate finance is reaching most jurisdictions, but not at the speed or scale that is needed. Tropical forest governments need help making their jurisdictions easier to do business in and more bankable; they are beginning to develop innovative ways to use verified emissions reductions, to create industries and institutions for low-carbon development, and to establish efficient, transparent mechanisms for companies to deliver finance for technical assistance to farmers. - Partnerships between indigenous peoples and subnational governments have emerged as a promising new approach for both improving representation of forest communities in subnational governance and delivering greater support, unlocking climate finance in the process. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Latam Eco Review: Salmon escape, jungle drones, and a new biosphere reserve [09/08/2018]
The most popular stories last week from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, followed farmed salmon escapes in Chile, a new biosphere reserve in Ecuador, and high-tech forest monitoring in Peru. Patagonia’s fragile marine ecosystem reels from influx of escaped farmed salmon A storm battered salmon cages in southern Chile, setting 690,000 of the fish loose into […]
Climate leadership means keeping fossil fuels in the ground in tropical forests and beyond (commentary) [09/07/2018]
- Ahead of next week’s Global Climate Action Summit, Amazon Watch’s Executive Director Leila Salazar-López argues that California Governor Jerry Brown can show true climate leadership by phasing out oil and gas production in the state. - She notes that large volumes of crude oil from the Ecuadorian rainforest are processed in California, making the state complicit in the environmental problems plaguing indigenous communities in the Amazon and local communities living near refineries in the state. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indonesia gives in to bird traders, rescinds protection for 3 species [09/07/2018]
- The Indonesian government has removed three popular songbirds from its newly updated list of protected species. They are the white-rumped shama, straw-headed bulbul and Javan pied starling — a critically endangered species. - The move comes amid protests from songbird owners and breeders, who have raised concerns about loss of livelihoods. - The owners and breeders now say they will push for more species to be removed from the list. - Conservationists and scientists have blasted the ministry for backing down and called into question its assessment that protecting the three species would have had an adverse economic impact.
How land is stolen in Colombia [09/06/2018]
- Mongabay learned that the Superintendent of Notary and Registry has a record of empty lands being used illegally in seven Colombian departments. - The illegally-used land is in the departments of Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Meta, Caquetá, Casanare, Cesar, and Vichada. - The land makes up a total of 762,807 hectares (almost 1,885,000 acres).
Fires tear through East Java park, threatening leopard habitat [09/05/2018]
- Authorities in East Java, Indonesia, are trying to stop a wildfire from spreading into core zone of the Coban Wisula forest, home to Javan leopards. - The fire is burning within Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a major tourist attraction. An iconic landscape in the park, known as Teletubbies Hill, has already gone up in flames. - A local NGO is monitoring the situation to make sure none of the leopards are flushed out of their habitat and into contact with humans, which could turn violent.
Indonesian government appeals ruling on tighter peat fire regulations [08/30/2018]
- The Indonesian government is appealing a court ruling ordering it to issue a number of regulations aimed at tackling forest fires. - The lawsuit was brought by a number of environmental activists from a city in Central Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo, one of the regions hit hardest by the massive fires and haze of 2015. - The government counters that measures it enacted in the wake of those fires already address the activists’ demands, and point to an 85 percent reduction in fire hotspots in 2016 and 2017. - The activists say they are optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule in their favor, as another bout of fires flares up across parts of Borneo and Sumatra.
The forested path to climate stability (commentary) [08/30/2018]
- Halting and reversing deforestation is critical for climate stability — this alone could reduce the world’s net carbon emissions by up to 30 percent. Furthermore, forests and land offer the most cost-effective way to store more carbon right now. - In September, leaders from around the world will gather in California for the Global Climate Action Summit. The agenda focuses on the twin truths of climate change: While we are making real progress, we need to move much more ambitiously and quickly to seize the opportunities right in front of us. - There are many paths to climate stability, and we need to follow all of them. Some of these paths — and particularly those that lead through fields and forests — are less traveled. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
California’s big climate change opportunity: tropical forests (commentary) [08/29/2018]
- California Governor Jerry Brown has yet to seize one of California’s best opportunities to slow climate change: tropical forests. - Governor Brown has the opportunity to unleash one of the world’s most cost-effective climate solutions using the global influence of California’s climate policies, increasing the impact of the Action Summit in the process. - Governor Brown could use California’s global influence to show governments of tropical forest regions that their efforts to slow deforestation and speed forest recovery will be recognized and rewarded. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Fires and haze return to Indonesia as peat protection bid falls short [08/29/2018]
- Fires on peatlands on Indonesia’s Borneo and Sumatra islands have flared up again this year after relatively fire-free dry seasons in 2016 and 2017. - The government has enacted wide-ranging policies to restore peatland following the disastrous fires of 2015 that razed an area four times the size of Grand Canyon National Park. - However, the fires this year have sprung up in regions that have been prioritized for peat restoration, suggesting the government’s policies have had little impact. - Officials and activists are also split over who to blame for the fires, with the government citing smallholder farmers, and environmentalists pointing to large plantation companies.
Deforestation continues upward trend in Brazil, says NGO [08/28/2018]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to trend higher, reports Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently tracks developments in Earth’s largest rainforest. - Data from Imazon’s monthly deforestation tracking system indicates 778 square kilometers of forest were cleared in July, a 43 percent increase over a year ago. - Imazon’s findings contrast with official data from Brazil’s national space research agency INPE, which shows a comparably flat trend line.
Brazil’s pesticide poisoning problem poses global dilemma, say critics [08/27/2018]
- Brazil is second only to the U.S. in its use of chemical pesticides, with many of the chemicals sprayed in Brazil on soy and other crops banned by the EU and the United States. Pesticide poisoning is a major Brazilian problem. In 2016, 4,208 cases of intoxication by exposure to pesticides were registered across the nation – the equivalent of 11 per day (killing 355 people). - The ruralista bancada, the powerful agribusiness lobby, is currently pushing an amendment through congress that would significantly weaken Brazil’s 1989 pesticide law. Analysts say the legislation (6.299/2002), dubbed the “Poison Bill” by critics, would make the approval of new pesticides far easier. - Brazil’s lax pesticide rules aren’t just a threat to farmworkers. Many toxins are persistent in the environment and in the food we eat. A Brazilian analysis of pesticide residue in foods such as rice, apples and peppers found that of 9,680 samples collected from 2013 to 2015, some 20 percent contained pesticide residues that exceeded allowed levels or contained unapproved pesticides. - Transnational pesticide makers such as Syngenta, Bayer and BASF produce pesticides in the EU which are considered highly hazardous – so hazardous, they are banned in their countries of origin – but the firms also sell these pesticides in high quantities to Brazil and other developing nations. Experts say that sprayed Brazilian exports of fruit, vegetables and coffee could be contaminated.
Bandits raid village near Madagascar park, killing conservation worker [08/27/2018]
- Armed bandits attacked a village on the edge of Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar in late July. - They robbed residents and killed a technician for the Centre ValBio research institute. - The incident is part of a growing pattern of banditry, both in the Ranomafana area and across Madagascar, where instability has increased in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for later this year.
Indonesia’s land swap program puts communities, companies in a bind [08/27/2018]
- The Indonesian government has a program in place that requires plantation companies to conserve and restore peatlands within their concessions, in exchange for land elsewhere, as part of a wider program to prevent peat fires. - But part of the land bank designated for the swap program covers community lands that have also been earmarked for a social forestry program launched much earlier. - Activists say the communities should not be sidelined at the expense of the plantation firms. The latter have also been wary about taking the land allocated to them by the government, citing the potential for conflicts. - Activists have also criticized the government for allocating up to two-fifths of the land bank for the swap program from natural forests. They say the government earlier promised the land would come from unused and planned timber concessions.
Colombia’s new president faces daunting environmental challenges [08/24/2018]
- Earlier this month, Iván Duque succeeded Manuel Santos as Colombia’s president. - Experts highlight the legacy of President Juan Manuel Santos in the declaration and expansion of protected areas and his attempt to strengthen the Ministry of the Environment. - Among the issues that await the next administration are high rates of deforestation, particularly in the Amazon, and a reduced environmental sector budget. - Duque will be tasked with managing the tensions between conservation and extraction policies, reforming local environmental authorities, stopping deforestation, and establishing an effective policy for the sustainable use of forests.
Drone used to confirm existence of uncontacted Amazon tribe (video) [08/24/2018]
- The Brazilian government used a drone to help confirm the presence of an uncontacted indigenous group deep in the Amazon rainforest. - FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, undertook an expedition to an area near the Brazilian border with Peru to confirm the presence of voluntarily isolated peoples along the Juruazinho River. - To confirm the presence of the group without encroaching on their territory, FUNAI flew a drone over the forest and photographed huts and crops amid a section of felled trees. - The drone also filmed two individuals walking, one of whom was carrying a spear or pole.
From sink to source: Droughts are changing the Amazon rainforest [08/23/2018]
- Droughts are becoming more frequent in the Amazon rainforest, with three “100-year” droughts happening in the space of just 10 years. - A new study finds that, on average, the most affected parts of the rainforest lost around 35 inches (0.9 meters) in the years following the 2005 drought. - The researchers estimate that the loss of this tree cover means that drought-caused forest changes in the Amazon between 2005 and 2008 translate to 270 million metric tons of lost carbon annually.
Community-run trading posts help Amazon forest people reverse rural exodus [08/23/2018]
- Riverine communities along the Xingu River basin in the Brazilian state of Pará are running their own trading posts that are significantly boosting the income of their members. - By eliminating middlemen, the community-run posts are paying families up to twice as much for their Brazil nuts, rubber and other products collected in the forest. - By buying in bulk, the posts are also able to sell essential household goods, such as salt, coffee, soap and boots, more cheaply to their members. - These improvements mean that it is now economically viable for the families to go on living sustainably in the forest, and the rural exodus is being reversed.
Brazil hits emissions target early, but rising deforestation risks reversal [08/23/2018]
- The decline in deforestation between 2016 and 2017 saved emissions of the equivalent of 610 million metric tons (672 million tons) of carbon dioxide from the Brazilian Amazon and 170 million metric tons (187 million tons) from the Cerrado, Brazil’s wooded savanna, according to the Brazilian government. - The emissions reductions, announced Aug. 9, eclipsed the targets that the Brazilian government set for 2020. - However, amid rising deforestation over the past few years, particularly in the Amazon, experts have expressed concern that the reductions in emissions might not hold.
Is Indonesia’s celebrated antigraft agency missing the corruption for the trees? [08/22/2018]
- Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission is perhaps the most trusted institution in a country plagued with graft. But the KPK, as it is known, has prosecuted only a handful of cases in the plantation sector. - Corruption in the plantation sector is a principal underlying cause of Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis. Our analysis found a range of obstacles preventing the KPK from taking action against corrupt politicians and the unscrupulous companies engaging in large-scale land deals. - This article is part of the Indonesia for Sale series, produced through a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the London-based investigations house Earthsight.
Environmental issues to be a focus of Indonesian presidential debates: official [08/21/2018]
- Indonesia is scheduled to hold a presidential election in April next year, and environmental issues have been guaranteed a spot at the debates in the upcoming campaign. - Much of the corruption that besets the country, particularly at the local level, revolves around the exploitation of natural resources and land, making environmental management a key topic for the candidates to address. - The April 17 election will be a repeat of the previous vote in 2014, with President Joko Widodo facing off against retired general Prabowo Subianto.
Fight to protect the world’s most threatened great ape goes to court [08/21/2018]
- Indonesia’s leading environmental watchdog has filed a lawsuit to block a project to build a dam and hydroelectric power plant in the Sumatran habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s newest known and most endangered great ape. - The lawsuit claims a series of administrative oversights in the project’s environmental impact permit, as well as a breach of zoning laws by building along a known tectonic fault line. - An online petition has also taken off, with more than 1.3 million people signing to call on President Joko Widodo to scrap the project. - Opposition to the project has also drawn the attention of top scientists from around the world, who last month signed an open letter to the president to press their case for the habitat to be preserved.
Scientists call on California governor to OK carbon credits from forest conservation [08/21/2018]
- A group of prominent scientists is calling on California governor Jerry Brown to incorporate tropical forest conservation into the state’s cap-and-trade regulation. - California has been mulling the inclusion of tropical forests in its cap-and-trade regulation, which was authorized by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32), for a decade. - If California were to adopt the tropical forest standard in its climate law, the move would signal to tropical forests nations that industrialized countries are willing to put money into forest conservation efforts as part of their climate change mitigation frameworks, say the scientists.
‘Empty pocket season’: Dayak women farmers grapple with the impacts of oil palm plantations [08/20/2018]
- The village of Long Bentuk in Indonesian Borneo is almost completely surrounded by oil palm estates run by large companies. - While the impacts of being enclaved by oil palm has affected all people in the community, the effect on women has been particularly adverse. - A recent commitment by Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister may see a greater role for women in land-use decisions across the country.
Colombia: Govt rushes to save national park from rampant deforestation [08/16/2018]
- Reports find more than 3 percent of Tinigua’s forest cover was cleared between February and April 2018. Officials worry the situation will worsen in the near future. - The Secretary of Environment of the Colombian region of Meta says that the government and other entities are preparing combat deforestation. - Tinigua Park is the only place in Colombia that connects the Orinoquía, the Andes and the Amazon. The park serves as a corridor for animals such as jaguars, mountain lions and brown woolly monkeys.
Earth has more trees now than 35 years ago [08/15/2018]
- Tree cover increased globally over the past 35 years, finds a paper published in the journal Nature. - The study, led by Xiao-Peng Song and Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland, is based on analysis of satellite data from 1982 to 2016. - The research found that tree cover loss on the tropics was outweighed by tree cover gain in subtropical, temperate, boreal, and polar regions. - However all the tree cover data comes with an important caveat: tree cover is not necessarily forest cover.
The tropics are in trouble, warn scientists [08/14/2018]
- Plants and animals in the tropics are threatened by a range of issues, warn researchers writing in the journal Nature. - The tropics are facing a mélange of well-documented human-driven threats: destruction of forests and marine ecosystems, overexploitation by the likes of industrial fishing fleets and commercial hunters, the spread of diseases and invasive species, and the growing impacts of climate change, which stress both ecosystems and their inhabitants. - These threats aren’t likely to diminish soon. Human population continues to rise, but growing affluence means that it is increasingly outpaced by resource consumption, which acts a multiplier in terms of humanity’s planetary footprint. - To stave off this bleak future, the researchers call for “major improvements in local and global governance capacity and a step-change in how environmental objectives are integrated into broader development goals.”
Brazil austerity policies devastating to rural communities: analysis [08/14/2018]
- Since taking power in 2016, Michel Temer has drastically cut Brazil’s social programs, especially impacting poor rural families. These austerity measures also adversely affect the natural world, with one social program linked to sustainability eliminated, and with struggling rural families less likely to protect, and more likely to exploit, natural resources to meet minimal economic needs. - In 2013, the Bolsa Familia benefit program benefited 14 million Brazilian families, with its success recognized internationally. In 2016, President Temer committed to reducing the number of people receiving Bolsa Família aid by 10 percent. By July 2017, 1.5 million fewer people received the benefit than in July 2014. - Launched in 2011, the Bolsa Verde program’s goal was to give financial incentives to people in poverty who were behaving in an environmentally conscientious way. Traditional river-dwellers, indigenous populations, Quilombos (communities of runaway slave descendants) and other rural communities benefited. The Temer administration has zeroed out the program’s budget. - Other social programs seeing draconian funding cuts are the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), a federal initiative that buys produce from small-scale family farmers and then offers it to public institutions such as schools and hospitals; and the National Cisterns Program, which brings cutting edge rainwater management and storage technologies to poor communities in need.
Ruralists in Brazilian congress put nation’s protected areas at risk [08/14/2018]
- Bill PL 3,751 / 2015, moving through the Brazilian congress, would set a five-year deadline for the resolution of land issues and disputes, such as land ownership conflicts, in protected areas. If issues were not resolved within that timeframe, a protected area could have its protected status removed. - There are currently more than 100 protected areas that have not had their permanent status implemented, and they would all be at risk. If this bill was applied retroactively to these areas, over 17 million hectares (roughly 66,000 square miles) — over half of all currently protected areas in Brazil — would be threatened. - In a letter published in Science, Brazilian scientists denounced the bill, calling it an attack on the networks of conserved lands that support biodiversity and arguing that the legislation conflicts with the Brazilian constitution. - The bill has passed in the Brazilian Environment Committee and awaits a vote in the Finance and Taxation Committee. Though presidential elections could delay the process, it is likely the committee vote will occur in 2018. Analysts think passage is likely, which could threaten preserved areas in the Amazon, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, Pantanal, and Caatinga.
In protecting songbirds, Indonesia ruffles owners & breeders’ feathers [08/13/2018]
- Songbird owners and breeders have denounced the Indonesian government’s recent decision to add hundreds of bird species to the national list of protected species. - Birdkeeping has long been a popular and highly lucrative pastime in the country, with deep cultural roots. - The government has sought to accommodate the owners’ concerns by insisting that enforcement of bans on capturing and trading in the newly protected species will not be applied retroactively. - It has also given owners and breeders a generous window in which to register their birds — an opportunity that conservation activists say could be exploited by people looking to stock up on wild-caught birds.
Trase.earth tracks commodities, links supply chains to deforestation risk [08/13/2018]
- Launched in 2016, Trase is an innovative Internet tool, available to anyone, which tracks commodities supply chains in detail from source to market, and can also connect those chains to environmental harm, including deforestation. Until the advent of Trase, knowledge of supply chains was sketchy and difficult to obtain. - The Trase Yearbook 2018 is the first in an annual series of reports on countries and companies trading in such commodities as soy, sugarcane and maize, which also assesses the deforestation risk associated with those crops, making it a vital tool for environmentalists, governments, investors and other interested parties. - The Yearbook shows that in 2016 the Brazilian soy supply chain was dominated by just six key players – Bunge, Cargill, ADM, COFCO, Louis Dreyfus and Amaggi – accounting for 57 percent of soy exported. In the past ten years, these six firms were also associated with more than 65 percent of the total deforestation in Brazil. - Trase shows that zero-deforestation commitments (ZDCs) have so far not resulted in greatly reduced deforestation risk for the commodities companies and countries making them. Between 2006 and 2016, soy traders with ZDCs, as compared to non-committed firms, were associated with similar levels of deforestation risk.
Top forestry official out in Malaysia [08/11/2018]
- According to press reports, Datuk Sam Mannan will be removed from his role as head of the Sabah Forestry Department. - Mannan’s reign as Sabah’s top forestry official was not without controversy. - Often blunt and outspoken toward critics, he aggravated timber companies — and won accolades from conservationists — by converting hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest in forestry concessions into permanent forest reserves, making them off-limits from logging. - It’s unclear where Mannan will end up — reached by Mongabay, Mannan did not offer comment about his departure or plans — but it’s not the first time he has left the directorship.
Forest elephant DNA diverse, consistent, and distinct, study says [08/10/2018]
- The loss of more than 60 percent of the world’s forest elephants to poaching has led to calls for its official recognition as a separate species worthy of international conservation support. - Scientists examined the nuclear DNA of forest elephants across their range to assess the species’ genetic diversity. They found that the elephants’ nuclear DNA, as opposed to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), is diverse but consistent among populations across Central Africa. - Adult male elephants that wander great distances in search of females promote gene flow among populations and maintain the species’ genetic diversity. The authors suggest conservation measures that retain three major forest elephant populations representing existing genetic variation. - The importance of forest elephants for dispersing the seeds of most large trees in the Congo Basin makes their conservation critical to maintaining the health of Central African rainforests.
Can Ecuador do palm oil right? Jurisdictional RSPO commitment stirs hope [08/10/2018]
- Ecuador is the sixth largest palm oil producing country in the world and the second largest in Latin America. While most of its oil palm plantations have been developed on degraded land, an estimated 6 percent of cultivated area has come at the expense of natural forest. Conservationists worry this will increase as the country’s palm oil sector continues to grow. - In attempts to reign in harmful palm oil industry practices, Ecuador’s Ministry of Agriculture reactivated its Jurisdictional RSPO Certification plan in March 2018. The RSPO stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and is the world’s leading palm oil certification body. - Ecuador’s jurisdictional plan aims to certify entire provinces rather than focus certification efforts on individual companies and plantations, which has tended to be the norm in other parts of the world. Jurisdictional RSPO is also seen as a way to help the country’s palm oil sector gain better access to world markets, which are increasingly requiring sustainability certification for their products. - The plan has been lauded by organizations such as the United Nations REDD program. But some worry it may not be applicable in some parts of Ecuador, such as its Amazonian region, and that a large-scale jurisdictional approach may be vulnerable to political turnover.
Death foretold? A courageous Amazon peasant couple resists illegal loggers [08/10/2018]
- The Terra do Meio (Land in the Middle) is a continuous mosaic of protected areas, 20 indigenous territories and 10 conservation units covering 28 million hectares in the heart of the Amazon and intended as a buffer against illegal deforestation and land theft. As big as Colorado, it represents one of the world’s largest areas of conserved tropical rainforest. - Today, this vast conserved area in Pará state is under great pressure from organized crime and illegal loggers, with the Riozinho do Anfrísio Extractivist Reserve one of the most assaulted by illicit timber harvesters in all of Amazonia. The Areia settlement, created by the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INCRA) in 1988, lies adjacent to the reserve. - Areia’s residents have suffered for decades from threats of violence and murder from the illegal loggers, with many locals abandoning their land or giving in to the criminals. Organic farmers Osvalinda Maria Marcelino Pereira and Daniel Pereira have resisted, holding onto their plot, with Osvalinda founding the Association of the Women of Areia. - Hounded by hired gunmen and threatened with death, the two have become isolated and are now seeking outside support for their cause. Federal agencies have offered little help, and there are allegations that the illegal loggers are being shielded from prosecution. Similarly desperate situations are occurring among peasant farmers across Amazonia.
Latam Eco Review: Turtles at risk, jungle fracking, and a mafia land grab [08/10/2018]
The most popular stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, last week followed what is causing an 80 percent decline in some sea turtle populations in Peru, mafias and deforestation in Colombia, and fracking in Bolivia. Banner image: The hook in the photo above can cause internal damage that is fatal for sea turtles. Image courtesy of […]
Community vs. company: A tiny town in Ecuador battles a palm oil giant [08/09/2018]
- In 2000, palm oil company Energy & Palma bought some land in the district of Esmeraldas in northern Ecuador. This land is home to the Afro-Ecuadorian community of Wimbi, a town of some 400 people settled in the 19th century. - The situation came to a head in 2015 when judges in the provincial court of Esmeraldas ruled in favor of the company and ordered the evacuation of Wimbi residents. In 2016, Energy & Palmas began clearing the land for an oil palm plantation. - Wimbi community members refused to leave, forcing the company to vacate the area and agree to not develop it. Residents say that the land sale, although legal in the eyes of the court, is invalid as only one person in the community agreed to it. Energy & Palmas retains its land rights. - Researchers say Afro-Ecuadorian communities have lost over 30,000 hectares of ancestral land since the 1990s. They found palm oil companies have used several tactics in order to acquire land, including buying it through intermediaries, buying from the community directly, invasion, and using pressure and threats.
Camera trap videos help protect biodiversity of Bigal River Biological Reserve in Ecuador [08/09/2018]
- Bigal River Biological Reserve is located in the southern buffer zone of Ecuador’s Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, a less-explored national park that the biological reserve helps to protect, according to Thierry Garcia of the Sumac Muyu Foundation, which founded and manages the reserve. - As part of its Bigal River Conservation Project, the Sumac Muyu Foundation has maintained camera traps in the reserve since 2014 and has collected hundreds of hours of footage showing big mammals like jaguars and tapirs as well as rare birds and other species going about their business in the foothill forests. - The main goals of the camera trap program run by the Sumac Muyu Foundation include documenting the mammals present in the reserve and which parts of the reserve they tend to roam, as well as monitoring those mammal populations and studying variations in their behavior due to natural forest dynamics or human pressures.
‘High risk’ that China’s timber from PNG is illegal: New report [08/09/2018]
- China, as the main destination for Papua New Guinea’s timber, could help tackle illegality in PNG’s forestry sector with stricter enforcement, according to a new report from the watchdog NGO Global Witness. - The report contends that companies operating in Papua New Guinea continue to harvest timber unsustainably, often in violation of the laws of a country that is 70 percent forest. - Global Witness calls for a moratorium on logging operations and a review of permits to harvest timber. - The organization also argues that Chinese companies should increase their own due diligence to avoid purchasing illegally sourced timber.
‘I can’t get out’: Farmers feel the pressure as Ecuador’s palm oil sector grows [08/08/2018]
- The first commercial oil palm trees were planted in 1953. Since then, Ecuador has become Latin America’s second largest producer of oil palm, and the world’s sixth largest. - The region comprising the canton of La Concordia is one of the country’s primary centers of production. Here, oil palm plantations were cultivated on land already degraded as small farmers sought a more profitable crop. - But a volatile market and a deadly disease are cutting deep into the pockets of oil palm farmers in La Concordia who, because of oil palm’s long harvest cycle, worry they’re locked into a doomed investment. - Meanwhile, conservationists are racing to protect rainforest as oil palm plantations expand in other parts of Ecuador.
Madagascar proposes paying illegal loggers to audit or buy their rosewood [08/08/2018]
- In June, the World Bank facilitated a workshop to discuss what Madagascar should do with its stockpiles of illegally logged rosewood. - Madagascar has been grappling with the question for years, but has been unable to make a proper inventory of the stockpiled wood or control illegal exports. - The rosewood could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars on the international market, but the country cannot sell it until it shows progress in enforcing its own environmental laws. - At the workshop, Madagascar’s government proposed a radical solution: paying loggers for access to their illicit stockpiles in order to keep tabs on the wood, or even buying the wood back from them directly.
Soggier forest soils thwart the uptake of climate-warming methane [08/07/2018]
- A recent investigation has revealed that the ability of forest soils to absorb methane has declined over time, likely due to an increase in precipitation as a result of climate change. - The authors of a new study found that methane uptake declined by as much as 89 percent, and a review of the scientific literature demonstrated that the phenomenon was taking place around the world. - These findings suggest that current carbon budgets may be overestimating the amount of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, that forest soils can siphon from the atmosphere, the scientists write.
Alan Rabinowitz, big cat evangelist and voice of the wild, dies at 64 [08/07/2018]
- Alan Rabinowitz, a U.S. zoologist dubbed the “Indiana Jones of wildlife protection” by Time Magazine, died of cancer on Aug. 5 at the age of 64. He leaves behind a legacy of more than three decades of unceasing efforts to protect big cats and other wildlife at risk of extinction. - Rabinowitz was instrumental in the creation the world’s first jaguar sanctuary, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve in Belize, as well the creation of protected areas in Thailand and Myanmar, and the discovery of new species. - In 2006, Rabinowitz co-founded Panthera, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation the world’s 40 wild cat species and the vast landscapes that hold them, along with his close friend Thomas S. Kaplan, a U.S. entrepreneur and philanthropist.
More companies sign on to Cerrado Manifesto [08/06/2018]
- APG and Robeco are two of the most recent companies to sign on to the Cerrado Manifesto, which calls for an end to deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado biome. - The Manifesto is a two-page document that puts the onus on soy and meat producers and traders, as well as other companies in the commodities supply chain, to prevent runaway destruction of the Cerrado savannah. - According to experts, about half of the biome’s native forests and vegetation have already been cleared for agricultural expansion. - While more than 70 companies have signed the Cerrado Manifesto, including large fast food companies and supermarkets like McDonalds and Walmart, experts say the initiative won’t likely be successful without participation by large commodities firms, such as Cargill, ADM and Bunge.
An indigenous village navigates its ecotourism success [08/06/2018]
- The village of Wae Rebo on Indonesia’s Flores Island is inhabited by 1,200 residents from the Manggarai indigenous group. - Wae Rebo began its dalliance with ecotourism in 2007 with the help of Indonesian ecotourism NGO Indecon. By 2016, it was already recording 6,000 annual visitors — as many as 50 or more per day — despite the seven-hour drive and three-hour hike required to reach it from the nearest town. - As its popularity as a destination grows, there are concerns that the community’s traditions and way of life could be sacrificed in the process. - Locals interviewed for this story expressed a general satisfaction with the economic stability that tourism revenue has brought. The one recurring complaint was about the quality of the interactions between visitors and residents.
Fire, more than logging, drives Amazon forest degradation, study finds [08/06/2018]
- Forest degradation has historically been overlooked in accounting and monitoring carbon stocks. - A recent study combined ground-based inventory, satellite and LiDAR data to record the loss of carbon due to forest degradation in areas exposed to logging, fire damage, or both, in the arc of deforestation of the southeastern Amazon. - The study revealed that fire damage causes greater losses than logging, and fire-damaged forests recovered more slowly than logged forests. - Accurate depictions of both deforestation and degradation are necessary to establish emissions baselines used to inform programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).
Tropical forest canopies get hotter than expected, putting wildlife at risk [08/03/2018]
- A new study finds tropical forest canopies in Panama exceeded the maximum air temperature by as much as 7 degrees Celsius. - Its authors write that this could have dire implications not only for the trees themselves, but also for the plants and animals that spend their lives in their treetops. - The study’s results also indicate trees’ abilities to sequester carbon drops off as their canopies heat up, which could reduce their ability to help fight climate change.
New tea plant discoveries in Vietnam highlight vitality of protected areas [08/03/2018]
- Two new species of tea plant, from the genus Camellia, have been described from a protected area in central Vietnam. - The discoveries, along with similar finds of other new plant and animal species, underscore the country’s rich biodiversity. - However, the excitement generated by new discoveries such as these tends to be tempered by the reality that they don’t always translate into funding for conservation or further study.
Indonesia adds hundreds of birds to protected species list [08/03/2018]
- Indonesia has revised its list of protected species of plants and animals that are endemic to the country for the first time since 1999. - A total of 919 endemic species, most of them birds, are now banned from trading and hunting in one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth. - Wildlife experts in Indonesia have welcomed the update, but also warned that technical changes may hinder law enforcement against wildlife crime. - With the new list, conservation activists also expect people to hand over captive species that are now protected under the law.
Study links US demand for Chinese furniture to deforestation in Africa [08/03/2018]
- Recent research links the U.S. demand for furniture made in China to tree cover loss in Africa’s Congo Basin. - Between 2001 and 2015, China became the largest export market for timber from the Congo Basin, and over that same time period, the share of imports of furniture from China to the U.S. grew from 30 percent to 50 percent. - The researchers suggest that public awareness campaigns aimed at curbing the demand for such furniture could be a boon for the Congo Basin’s forests.
Belt and Road Initiative could doom the world’s rarest ape (commentary) [08/02/2018]
- When Chinese President Xi Jinping extolls China’s Belt & Road Initiative, he uses words like “green”, “low carbon” and “sustainable”. Is this reality or just ‘greenwashing’? - In Sumatra, Indonesia, a key element of the Belt & Road would greatly imperil the rarest species of great ape in the world. - The Batang Toru hydro-project is shaping up as an acid test of the Belt & Road Initiative. Because if China and its Indonesian partners will press ahead with this project despite all the scientific evidence that it is a terrible idea, then how can we believe any of China’s promises about a “sustainable” Belt & Road? - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Colombia bans the use of mercury in mining [08/01/2018]
- Colombia’s government announced on July 16 that it has banned the use of mercury in all mineral extraction activities. By 2023 mercury will be entirely prohibited for industrial use. - In March of this year, Colombia also ratified the Minamata Convention, an international treaty that seeks to reduce global emissions of mercury and its detrimental effects on health and the environment. - The challenge now will be to control mercury use in illegal mining.
Chinese / Western financing of roads, dams led to major Andes Amazon deforestation [08/01/2018]
- International development finance institutions (DFIs) invested heavily in large-scale infrastructure projects that triggered significant deforestation in the Andes Amazon especially within the nations of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia between 2000 and 2015, according to recent research published by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. - Using satellite data, the study analyzed 84 large infrastructure projects and determined that the area around them experienced tree cover loss at a rate of over four times the average seen in comparable areas without such projects in those countries. That’s a forest carbon-sink loss equivalent to the combined annual CO2 emissions of Colombia, Chile and Ecuador. - Infrastructure now accounts for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet DFIs want to increase future lending from billions to trillions to meet global demand. This could imperil national Paris Climate Agreement goals (which in countries like Brazil are linked to preventing deforestation), and also could add to potentially catastrophic global carbon emission levels. - The study isn’t merely academic: More than $70 billion in infrastructure projects, supported by development banks and the private sector, are planned for the Amazon basin between now and 2020. The researchers hope lessons learned from past infrastructure projects and highlighted in their study will improve future project oversight to help curb deforestation.
Video: Meet the Bornean village chief dealing with the fallout from a corrupt plantation deal [08/01/2018]
- “Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them features a local village chief named Kardie. Watch the video below.
Panama’s indigenous groups take land fight to the international stage [08/01/2018]
- Wounaan and Embera indigenous communities occupying four territories in eastern Panama are taking their nearly five-year land-titling battle with the government to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. - Their move comes despite recent gains in the Panamanian process. - Some indigenous leaders say new government-imposed conditions represent yet another delay in the already-long process. - With their land title applications in legal limbo, the Wounaan and Embera are facing escalating and often violent conflicts with non-indigenous loggers, miners and others entering the lands they have traditionally occupied.
In battle over land rights, indigenous groups are fighting uphill [07/31/2018]
- A new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that indigenous communities the world over are overwhelmingly on the losing end of the competition for land, including areas they have lived in for generations. - The process by which they must obtain land titles is often costly, complex and long, sometimes dragging on for decades. By contrast, plantation companies and loggers can snap up titles to the same land in a matter of months or even weeks. - In countries like Peru and Indonesia, highlighted in the WRI report, the path toward land ownership for indigenous communities is littered with bureaucratic and legislative requirements that advocates say governments are not doing enough to dismantle. - In Indonesia, in particular, advocates contrast the red carpet rolled out for foreign investors, through deregulation, against the nearly insurmountable obstacles facing indigenous groups.
Tracking the shift of tropical forests from carbon sink to source [07/31/2018]
- Improved maps of carbon stocks, along with a better understanding of how tropical forests respond to climate change, are necessary to meet the challenge of keeping the global temperature below a 2-degree-Celsius (3.6-degree-Fahrenheit) rise, according to scientist Edward Mitchard of the University of Edinburgh. - Currently, tropical forests take up roughly the same amount of carbon as is released when they’re cleared or degraded. - But climatic changes, which lead to more droughts and fires resulting in the loss of tropical trees, could shift the balance, making tropical forests a net source of atmospheric carbon.
Researchers are looking into the past to help ensure a future for tropical forests [07/30/2018]
- As we seek to reverse global trends of deforestation and forest degradation, researchers are peering into the past to help chart a course forward for imperiled tropical forests. - A study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution earlier this month found that, prior to the arrival of European colonists, indigenous peoples in the cloud forests of Ecuador cleared even more of the forests than we have cleared today. - By studying this history, researchers hope to aid in the restoration of the forests that have once again been degraded for human purposes.
Indonesia forest assessment casts an optimistic light on a complex issue [07/30/2018]
- Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest span of tropical rainforest, has published its first ever report on the state of its forests. - The reckoning is largely positive, highlighting declines in both the deforestation rate and forest fires in 2016 and 2017, thanks to policies spurred by devastating blazes in 2015. - Chief among these is a program banning the clearing of peatlands and ordering plantation companies to restore and conserve areas of peat within their concessions. - However, the rate of progress on the peat protection program, as well as community forest management reform, remains slow and underfunded. Experts also warn that the progress recorded over the past two years aren’t necessarily sustainable.
Community groups in Cambodia say logging surged with approaching election [07/29/2018]
- Cambodia’s general election campaign has been accompanied by illegal logging, local leaders say, which can be a way for political parties to fund their activities. - Facing scant and fractured opposition, the Cambodian People’s Party and its leader, Hun Sen, who has served as prime minister for 33 years, were expected to win. - Community forestry leaders noted an uptick in felled trees and suspected collusion between the enforcement rangers and the illegal loggers, particularly in July.
Deforestation for rubber ramps up near UNESCO site in Cameroon [07/27/2018]
- A new report by Greenpeace Africa finds this future-plantation has grown by 2,300 hectares in one year between April 2017 and April 2018. In total, Greenpeace estimates around 10,050 hectares have been deforested since clearing began in 2011, and warns that 20,000 more hectares of rainforest are slated for clearing in the coming years. - The 45,000-hectare (450-square kilometer) concession is owned by China-owned Sud Cameroun Hévéa (Sudcam), and is located less than one kilometer from Dja Faunal Reserve. The reserve is inhabited by at least 107 mammal species, including critically endangered western lowland forest gorillas. The reserve is also home to the indigenous Baka people. - Watchdog and scientific organizations like Greenpeace Africa and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) warn rubber expansion threatens the integrity of Dja and the future of its wildlife. - According to the Greenpeace Africa report, Sudcam’s concession violates a number of
established rules and agreements, including the rubber sourcing policies of several companies that buy from it.
Latam Eco Review: Witchcraft and wildlife trafficking in Peru [07/27/2018]
Among the most read stories at our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were articles about a hydropower project in one of Bolivia’s most diverse protected areas; Colombian Air Force drones that revealed alarming deforestation in Tinigua Park; and wildlife trafficking and witchcraft in Peru. Bolivia’s Ivirizu hydroelectric project threatens the biodiversity of Carrasco National […]
Deforestation skyrockets in the Amazon rainforest [07/25/2018]
- Deforestation is mushrooming in the Brazilian Amazon, according to Imazon. - Imazon’s data shows deforestation hit 1,169 square kilometers in June 2018, the highest level since the NGO began monthly tracking in April 2007. - While month-to-month data from short-term deforestation tracking systems is notoriously variable, June’s number comes on the heels of 634 square kilometers of forest loss in May. - Scientists have warned that Brazil seems to be reversing course after a historic drop in deforestation.
Forest communities pay the price for conservation in Madagascar [07/25/2018]
- In a two-year investigation of a REDD+ pilot project, a team of researchers spoke with more than 450 households affected by the establishment of a large protected area called the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a 3,820-square-kilometer (1,475-square-mile) tract of rainforest in eastern Madagascar. - The REDD+ project, supported by Conservation International and the World Bank, was aimed at supporting communities by providing support for alternative livelihoods to those communities near the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor protected area. - They found that the REDD+ project’s preliminary studies identified less than half of those negatively affected by the Corridor’s designation. - The team also discovered that the value of the one-off compensation, in the form of support to pursue other livelihoods, fell far short of the opportunity costs that the communities are likely to face as a result of losing access to the forest in the coming decades.
In Vietnam, cable car plans continue to threaten important cave system [07/24/2018]
- Once construction is finished, the cable car could carry thousands of tourists to Son Doong cave every day. - Currently, fewer than 800 people visit the caves every year through sustainable eco-tourism company Oxalis. - There is also growing concern that a cable car could irreparably damage the area’s primary forests. - An online petition that’s part of the campaign against the development has garnered about 170,000 signatures.
Audio: Shadow companies and the Indonesian land crisis [07/24/2018]
- On today’s episode, new revelations about “shadow companies” and how they factor into Mongabay’s ongoing investigation into the corruption fueling Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis. - Our guest today is Mongabay’s Indonesia-based editor Phil Jacobson, who recently uncovered evidence that one of the biggest pulp and paper companies in the world might be using “shadow companies” to hide its connections to deforestation. - Phil previously appeared on the Newscast back in October 2017 to discuss “Indonesia For Sale,” an investigative series Mongabay is publishing in partnership with The Gecko Project. He explains how these new revelations fit into the larger corruption issues tracked by “Indonesia For Sale,” how Indonesia’s forests are being impacted, and why everyone should be paying attention to these stories, whether they’re in Indonesia or not.
Temer’s deforestation policies put Paris goals at risk, scientists warn [07/24/2018]
- A letter in the journal Nature Climate Change penned by ten prominent Brazilian scientists is making a splash in major Brazilian media outlets. They warn that weak environmental governance by the Temer administration and the bancada ruralista, agribusiness and mining lobby, is resulting in policies that are increasing deforestation. - The scientists especially singled out Temer, noting that: “the President of Brazil has signed provisional acts and decrees lowering environmental licensing requirements, suspending the ratification of indigenous lands, reducing the size of protected areas and facilitating land grabbers to obtain the deeds of illegally deforested areas.” - The scientists say that these policies are undermining attempts to reduce deforestation and the CO2 emissions that clear cutting causes. As a result, Brazil may need to spend US$2-5 trillion additionally to curb its carbon emissions by other means in order to hit the nation’s Paris Climate Agreement targets. - The warning comes as Brazil gears up for October national elections. Environmental issues rarely have a great influence on Brazilian voters, but the scientists hope that knowledge of the severe and costly consequences of the current government’s policies could help better inform Brazilians as they go to the polls.
Colombia pledges to produce deforestation-free chocolate [07/23/2018]
- On July 17, Colombia signed up to the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, an effort that aims to achieve deforestation-free cocoa production, becoming the first Latin American country to make this commitment. - One of the country’s largest chocolate manufacturing companies, Casa Luker, and the members of the National Cocoa Federation have also joined Colombia in this pledge. - The Colombian government has been working to boost cocoa production to improve the country’s competitiveness as a cocoa producer internationally and is looking at cocoa as a potential replacement for crops like coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
Study finds elephants plant trees, play big role in forest structure [07/23/2018]
- Many large animals – collectively called “megafauna” – eat the fruit of Platymitra macrocarpa trees, including Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), bears and gibbons. - When researchers examined the fruit consumption, seed dispersal, and seed germination trends of P macrocarpa, they discovered that elephants were responsible for the lion’s share of successful seedling germination – 37 percent – despite consuming only 3 percent of available fruit. - They also noticed a decline in P macrocarpa, which they say may be due to extirpated rhinos or reductions in local elephant populations. - They say their results highlight the important role large herbivores play in forest structure, and that losses of these animals might significantly change tree composition and even a forest’s ability to store carbon.
DRC set to reclassify national parks for oil, open rainforest to logging [07/19/2018]
- An investigation by Greenpeace finds that since February, DRC’s environment ministry has handed over control of three logging concessions in Congo Basin rainforest to Chinese-owned logging companies. Two of these concessions are located in a massive peatland – the largest in the tropics – that was discovered last year. - Fourteen more concessions are expected to be awarded to companies in the coming months. - The DRC government is also reportedly planning to declassify large portions of Salonga and Virunga national parks to allow oil exploration. Virunga is one of the last bastions of critically endangered mountain gorillas. - These moves threaten a long-standing logging moratorium in the country, as well as forest protection agreements between the DRC and other countries.
Plant communities roar back after rat removal from Pacific islands [07/19/2018]
- In a multi-year study, scientists found that tree seedlings were more than 5,000 percent more abundant after rats were eradicated from Palmyra Atoll, a group of 25 small islands in the Pacific Ocean. - Invasive rats, brought by ships over the past few centuries, eat tree seedlings and vegetation, in addition to driving down seabird numbers. - Managers eradicated the islands’ rats in 2011, and within a month, seedling densities had increased.
Southeast Asian deforestation more extensive than thought, study finds [07/18/2018]
- Researchers analyzed a suite of satellite imagery products and found much greater deforestation than expected since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia. - Much of the 82,000 square kilometers (31,700 square miles) they estimate to have been developed into croplands in the region’s highlands reflects previously undocumented conversion of forest, including primary and protected forests, to agriculture. - Through a sample-based verification process, the authors found that 93 percent of the pixels from areas allocated to areas of net forest loss by the authors’ model were confirmed as net forest loss, and 99 percent of the pixels delineated as other areas were accurately labelled as non-net forest loss. - The findings contrast with previous assumptions about land-cover trends currently used in projections of global climate change and future environmental conditions in Southeast Asia.
New report spotlights financiers of palm oil giant clearing Liberia’s forests [07/17/2018]
- A new report by Friends of the Earth highlights deforestation by Golden Veroleum Liberia, an arm of the billionaire Widjaja family’s conglomerate. - The largest financiers of Golden Veroleum’s parent company include U.S. financial firms Vanguard, BlackRock, Kopernik Global Investors, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Northern Trust and CitiGroup; Dutch firms Robeco and Rabobank; and Asian firms China Merchants Bank, Maybank Indonesia and Bank Mandiri. - Golden Veroleum cleared some 150 square kilometers of land between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.
Soy giant Louis Dreyfus pledges deforestation-free supply chain [07/16/2018]
- The Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), a global commodities trader, has announced a plan to eliminate the destruction of native vegetation from its soy supply chain in Brazil and across Latin America. Particularly important to environmentalists, LDC pledges to avoid buying soy from producers who have caused new deforestation in the Cerrado biome. - The Amazon Soy Moratorium, instituted in 2006 via an agreement between Greenpeace and global commodities companies, has been credited with vastly reducing the cutting of forests to make way for soy planting there. But the companies, until now, have resisted making a similar commitment in the Cerrado, where soy-caused deforestation is rampant. - Many environmentalists are hailing LDC’s new deforestation commitment, though they note that the pledge has yet to be backed by implementation and timeline details. - Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, has also just announced the planned launch this year of a certification system that will only source soy from areas that have been certified as deforestation-free. From 2025 onward, the company also plans to transition to sourcing only from “zero deforestation areas.”
Mangroves and their deforestation may emit more methane than we thought [07/13/2018]
- A recently published study finds mangroves release more methane than previously estimated. - Methane packs much more of a global warming punch than carbon dioxide, and the study indicates this methane could be offsetting around 20 percent of a mangrove’s soil carbon storage rate. - Deforestation of mangroves releases much of the carbon stored by mangroves, including methane.
Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat [07/13/2018]
- Twenty-five of the world’s top environmental scientists have sent a letter to Indonesia’s president, seeking a halt to a planned hydroelectric dam in the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the rarest species of great ape on Earth. - The scientists also slammed the Chinese government for funding the project as a part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, saying it has disregarded the environmental consequences of building and operating the dam. - The developers of the project have dismissed the criticism, saying they will enforce strong environmental safeguards to protect the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
Extractive industries threaten a million square kilometers of intact tropical forests around the globe [07/12/2018]
- According to a recent report, mining companies currently have claims on 11 percent of all intact rainforests left in the world, meaning 590,000 square kilometers (227,800 square miles) of pristine tropical forest ecosystems are at risk. That’s an area larger than France. - Oil and gas concessions, meanwhile, cover 8 percent of tropical intact forest landscapes (IFLs). That’s another 408,000 square kilometers (157,529 square miles), roughly the size of the US state of California. - The report, issued by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) last month, assesses the threats from extractive industries to the 5.2 million square kilometers, or just over 2 million square miles, of tropical IFLs left in the world. In total, nearly one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of those intact tropical forests are potentially threatened by extractive activities.
RSPO fails to deliver on environmental and social sustainability, study finds [07/11/2018]
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is widely considered the strongest certification scheme for the commodity, which is grown largely on plantations hacked out of tropical forests that are home to critically endangered species such as orangutans. - A new study has found that RSPO-certified plantations perform no better than non-RSPO estates on a series of sustainability metrics, including species and habitat conservation, as well as social benefits to local communities. - The researchers attributed the scheme’s shortcomings to a lack of clarity on its central objectives, as well as weak environmental safeguards. - For its part, the RSPO has disputed the study’s findings, citing other reports that it says highlight a net positive impact to the environment and communities from certification.
Revealed: Paper giant’s ex-staff say it used their names for secret company in Borneo [07/10/2018]
- Last December, it came to light that a plantation company clearing forest in Indonesia was owned by two employees of Asia Pulp & Paper, a giant firm that has promised to stop deforesting. - APP claimed the employees had set up the company on their own, without management knowing. But an investigation by Mongabay provides evidence that contradicts APP’s story. - The findings place APP squarely in the middle of an emerging debate about the presence of “shadow companies” among the holdings of the conglomerates that dominate Indonesia’s plantation sector.
Audio: How to use drones without stressing wildlife [07/10/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss the increasing use of drones by wildlife lovers, researchers, and businesses, how that might be stressing animals out, and how drone hobbyists can actually make a meaningful contribution to science while avoiding the harassment of wildlife. - Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone pilot, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical that we have best practices for drones in place before we allow companies like Amazon and Uber to deploy fleets of drones in our skies. - “I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”
Palm oil firms using ‘shadow companies’ to hide their links to deforestation: report [07/09/2018]
- A new report highlights the use of opaque corporate structures by some of the world’s largest palm oil firms, allegedly to conceal their ties to destructive practices such as rainforest and peatland clearance. - The report focuses on Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The firms it flags include Sawit Sumbermas Sarana, Gama, Bintang Harapan Desa, and the Fangiono, Tee, and Salim family business groups. - Also last week, Martua Sitorus, co-founder of palm oil giant Wilmar International, resigned from the firm after he was shown to be running a second firm, Gama, with his brother that has cleared an area of rainforest twice the size of Paris since 2013. Wilmar promised to stop deforesting that same year. - “We are particularly concerned about this ‘shadow company’ issue as it really threatens NDPE policies, by allowing growers to continue to deforest, and allowing them to still find a market with companies with [zero-deforestation] policies,” said a researcher who worked on the report.
Brazil’s political storm driving Amazon deforestation higher [07/09/2018]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was dramatically reduced between 2005 and 2015, surged in 2016, then fell in 2017. Preliminary figures from IMAZON suggest the trend has now reversed, with deforestation up 22 percent between August 2017 and May 2018, compared to the same period the prior year. But, so far, official confirmation from INPE of this surge is lacking. - Experts say the source of the uptick lies with land-grabbers emboldened by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, which has won many recent legislative and administrative victories, drastically cutting environmental and indigenous agency budgets, and pushing bills to shrink conservation units and erode indigenous land rights. - A recent Forest Code Supreme Court ruling may have further encouraged wealthy land-grabbers, when it granted billions in amnesty, forgiving fines against many guilty of illegal deforestation. Today, Pará’s Triunfo Xingu Area of Environmental Protection and the Indigenous Territory of Apyterewa are especially threatened by land-grabbing. - So is Pará’s Jamanxim National Forest; land thieves there hope congress will pass a bill to dismember the preserve, along with other Brazilian conservation units. Environmentalists worry that the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president, dubbed “Brazil’s Trump,” in October could send deforestation rates soaring.
Peru: How chocolate saved a community and a protected area from the drug trade [07/06/2018]
- In the forests surrounding Río Abiseo National Park, in the Peruvian Amazon region of San Martín, a burgeoning chocolate industry is gaining traction. - After dedicating more than twenty years to the cultivation of coca to supply cocaine trafficking, today the community of Mariscal Cáceres is committed to legal production of cacao that allows them to protect more than 300,000 hectares of forest. - Cacao growers in the community are partnering with Swiss dairy farmer to produce high-quality chocolate for markets in Europe and the U.S.
Fingerprinting technology gives investigators an edge against pangolin traffickers [07/04/2018]
- Researchers in the U.K. have modified the gelatin lifters used in criminal forensic investigations so they can pick up clues from pangolin scales and other illegally traded wildlife body parts. - Wildlife guards in Kenya and Cameroon are using packs of the gelatin lifters in the field to gather evidence. - The researchers say this new technology allows wildlife conservation officials to collect this evidence more quickly in remote areas, which in turn helps to ensure their safety.
Smartphone app helps indigenous communities fight deforestation [07/02/2018]
- Using a system called ForestLink developed by Rainforest Foundation UK, members of the Masenawa community documented the presence of an illegal gold mining camp in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. - The police then responded by destroying the mining equipment at the camp and arresting five people suspected of participating in illegal mining. - The biodiverse Madre de Dios region of the Amazon has been besieged by illegal gold mining, which has caused widespread deforestation.
Investing in indigenous communities is most efficient way to protect forests, report finds [07/02/2018]
- A new report adds to the growing body of evidence that indigenous peoples are the best protectors of the forests they call home. - The report compares conservation outcomes in lands controlled by indigenous groups against those in government-managed “protection zones” in 28 countries. - The rate of deforestation on customary lands is half what it is elsewhere, the report finds.
City forests store rainforest-levels of carbon, study finds [06/29/2018]
- A recently published study mapped the carbon stores of areas of tree cover in the London Borough of Camden. - Their results reveal high levels of carbon in Camden’s urban forests – including one area that approaches the carbon density of tropical rainforest. - They write that although the contribution of urban areas to global aboveground biomass may be comparatively small area-wise, some urban forests have carbon densities comparable to rainforests. - They say that their results highlight the importance of conserving urban forests as carbon sinks.
Latam Eco Review: Chocolate as a conservation strategy [06/29/2018]
The most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 18- 24 include features in honor of Colombia’s World Cup team (Humboldt Institute created “Colombian Biodiversity Team” cards profiling the country’s most iconic wildlife) and in other news, Peruvian farmers in a region once dominated by narcotrafficking now seek […]
Plant response to rising CO2 levels may alter rainfall patterns across tropics [06/28/2018]
- Stomata – the tiny pores through which plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen and water – are closing up everywhere on earth as atmospheric CO2 levels rise. This change in plant structure results in more water being stored within plants, and less being released to the atmosphere. - In a recent study scientists posit that the reduction in water released by stomata through transpiration will result in changing rainfall patterns across the tropics. Researchers used climate models to test the hypothesis, noting that while reduced transpiration will occur everywhere, tropical climates in different regions respond differently. - In South America, rainfall patterns are strongly influenced by changes in the amount of water that local plants release to the atmosphere. So if plants there retain more water, deeper droughts could result, consistent with most models. But Africa and Southeast Asia are protected from this atmospheric drying effect. - Forests in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea are encircled by humid air over warm oceans. Reduced transpiration means more warm air rising from the islands, which draws in moist ocean air, increasing rainfall even as plants release less moisture. Some scientists dispute the study conclusions, noting that climate models poorly simulate water cycling.
A most unlikely hope: How the companies that destroyed the world’s forests can save them (commentary) [06/28/2018]
- In the age of Trump, lamenting the lassitude of governments may be satisfying, but it does little to solve our planet’s foremost existential crisis. It is for this reason that the hopes of billions of people now depend on the very companies most responsible for environmental destruction. - We’ve come to a pretty sorry pass if we’re depending in significant measure on these corporations to get us out of this mess. But it’s the pass we’re at, and there’s actually reason to hope that the same companies that got us into this mess can get us out. - In this commentary, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz writes that he feels confident these companies can make a difference because they’ve done it before. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The world lost an area of tropical forest the size of Bangladesh in 2017 [06/27/2018]
- According to new data, tropical countries lost 158,000 square kilometers (39 million acres) of tree cover in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh. The 2017 number is the second highest since the dataset began in 2001, and only a bit lower than the record high in 2016. - Brazil came out on top for the most tree cover lost of any tropical country, a reversal from the country’s deforestation reductions over the past 14 years. Tree cover loss also rose dramatically in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia. However, Indonesia’s numbers dropped by nearly half between 2016 and 2017. - Experts attribute the upward trend in tree cover loss primarily to continued land clearing for agricultural purposes. - The new dataset was discussed at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum, which is taking place this week in Norway.
PepsiCo to probe deforestation in palm oil supplier’s Leuser Ecosystem concession [06/27/2018]
- PepsiCo has launched an investigation into reports of deforestation in one of its supplier’s oil palm plantations, located in the Leuser Ecosystem, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to some of the last Sumatran tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants left on Earth. - The investigation comes in response to a complaint from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which says the company has failed to act since the deforestation allegations were first reported four years ago. - For its part, the supplier alleges that the deforestation was carried out by local villagers encroaching into its concession, and that it is in discussions with them on resolving the long-running dispute over the land tenure. - Separately, PepsiCo has also recently updated and expanded its policy on sustainable palm oil, which has been criticized by RAN for failing to ensure the elimination of labor rights violations and forest destruction from the company’s extensive supply chain.
Uncertainty around Madagascar mine in wake of cyclone [06/27/2018]
- The Ambatovy mine complex near Madagascar’s eastern city of Toamasina is a massive operation to extract nickel and cobalt from the country’s rich soil. - The $8 billion complex represents the largest-ever foreign investment in the country. - Over the years, local residents have suspected the mine of causing environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution. - Locals now fear that Tropical Cyclone Ava, which hit Toamasina hard in January, may have exacerbated these problems — fears that Ambatovy and local officials assert are unfounded.
Logging roads drive loss of intact forest in FSC-certified logging concessions [06/27/2018]
- Logging roads in Central Africa cause greater loss of intact forest landscapes, or IFLs, on certified timber concessions compared to non-certified concessions, an analysis shows. - Certified timber companies typically build more robust road networks that are more apt to show up on satellite imagery than non-certified companies. - The findings highlight an apparent contradiction between certification for logging and the protection of IFLs, leading some critics to argue that IFL protection should not be part of the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards.
‘Screen, not just green’ infrastructure projects to help economies and the environment [06/26/2018]
- Bill Laurance, a tropical ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University, argues that scientists should work to slow the pace of infrastructure development around the world. - ‘Delaying’ the process of development will allow time for the merits — and the potential dangers to the environment, communities and economies — to be debated publicly. - While many of these projects are viewed as wholly positive because they’re intended to connect markets and create jobs, a lot of them ‘should not happen,’ Laurance said.
Dutch pension fund divests from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesia [06/25/2018]
- APB, the Dutch pension fund for government and education employees, announced it would divest 300,000 euros from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesian Papua. - Norway’s pension fund divested from Posco Daewoo, and its parent company, Posco, in 2015. APB is still invested in Posco. - Posco Daewoo is owned by one of South Korean’s largest conglomerates.
Could El Niño and climate change spell the end for tropical forests? [06/25/2018]
- NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) allowed scientists to study the response of the world’s tropical rainforests to the 2015-16 El Niño in more detail than every before, potentially providing insight into the longer-term response of tropical forests to escalating climate change. - During the El Niño, OCO-2 recorded a sudden global surge in CO2 emissions (above 400 ppm for a full year, the highest in modern history), an effect significantly enhanced by tropical forest emissions in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all responded to the El Niño by temporarily shifting from carbon sink to carbon source. - However, each region responded differently: El Niño brought extreme drought to South America, and trees there stopped absorbing CO2. In Southeast Asia, major forest fires raged in extremely dry conditions, quickly releasing stored carbon. In Africa, rainfall was normal, but high temperatures drove increased ecosystem respiration. - Scientists worry that a tipping point could be reached where tropical forests collapse, but more study is needed. Given the great uncertainties as to how tropical forests will respond to a warming world, taking action now to keep forests standing and healthy may offer the single best hope for mitigating negative impacts, say researchers.
Indonesia turns to green finance for development projects [06/25/2018]
- Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, is turning to green finance markets to fund new development projects it promises will be both environmentally and socially friendly. - In issuing these ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ bonds, Indonesia joins a growing number of developing countries seeking to appeal to ecologically and socially conscious international investors. - But critics question just how green and sustainable these bonds really are, highlighting concerns about greenwashing.
DRC adopts a strategy that will bolster community forestry, conservation group says [06/25/2018]
- A new community forestry strategy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could help provide Congolese communities with a say in the management of the country’s forests. - A group of local and international organizations, government agencies and community groups developed the strategy to strengthen the capacity of provincial authorities and ensure that the country’s community forestry laws do in fact include and benefit communities. - The plan calls for an “experimental phase” over the next five years to gradually provide access to areas of the roughly 700,000 square kilometers (more than 270,000 square miles) of available forest through community management permits.
Winning farmer support to reduce deforestation (commentary) [06/24/2018]
- It is critical to win farmer support for strategies to address deforestation if they are to succeed; in Brazil, farmers are economically powerful, increasingly sophisticated as a political block, and they own or control half of Brazil’s native vegetation. - They have grown weary of being vilified as criminals, of unmet promises of positive incentives for shifting to sustainable production systems, and of the chronic challenges of changing and inefficient regulations. To gain the support of conservation-minded, responsible farmers for the deforestation agenda, a new narrative and set of actions is needed that recognizes, applauds and rewards them for their efforts as it effectively includes them in dialogues. - A shared agenda is needed between environmental groups and farm sectors in Brazil to help restore collaboration; there is strong potential to build that collaboration around core issues faced by the farm sector–transportation infrastructure and inefficient and changing licensing procedures. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Latam Eco Review: Ports imperil Colombian crocodiles [06/23/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of June 11 – 17. Among the top articles: Port projects in northern Colombia threaten the mangrove habitats of American crocodiles. In other news, the Waorani people of Ecuador use camera traps to record an astonishing diversity […]
Last Glimpses of a Cambodian Paradise? Documenting an area on the eve of its likely destruction (commentary) [06/22/2018]
- The sheer scale of the logging operations in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park makes it a wonder that there’s anything left of the forest, especially as the timber just keeps flowing into Vietnam unabated. In fact, Cambodia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. - Yet there is still plenty of wildlife, at least in Virachey National Park, where I have been part of a team that has been conducting a wildlife survey for four years now. - All hope could well be lost — man/progress must be served. But are the nails firmly placed in the biodiversity coffin and awaiting final pounding? Perhaps not. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
As Colombia expands its palm oil sector, scientists worry about wildlife [06/21/2018]
- Colombia’s aims to overtake Thailand to become the world’s third largest supplier of palm oil, a popular plant-based oil used in many products around the world. - Studies have shown that oil palm plantations provide poor habitat for wildlife, supporting a fraction of the species as neighboring forest. - Researchers say Colombia’s palm oil expansion could have minimal impacts on the country’s biodiversity if it takes places on already-degraded land, such as cattle pasture. They caution that development should not happen in areas that provide habitat for threatened species, or regions that are ecologically important. They say smaller plantations will have less of an impact, and recommend planting understory vegetation. - Biologists are also concerned the most common species of oil palm, called African oil palm, could hybridize with native palm plants and degrade the species’ genetic integrity.
New study provides blueprint to translate satellite data into conservation action [06/21/2018]
- A new paper offers a protocol to help conservation practitioners integrate forest-monitoring technology with policy to reduce illegal deforestation. - Public and private entities can more easily access the latest satellite-based remote-sensing technology to rapidly detect new deforestation, prioritize areas for action, identify the causes, and get the information to policymakers without delay. - The study calls for increased use of satellite technology to improve the monitoring, understanding and communication of deforestation events, as well as increase engagement between government institutions and civil society.
US/China trade war could boost Brazil soy export, Amazon deforestation [06/21/2018]
- President Donald Trump is pressing hard for a trade war with China. So far, he has imposed $50 billion in tariffs on the Chinese, and threatened another $200 billion; the Chinese are retaliating. An all-out U.S./China trade war could have serious unforeseen repercussions on the Brazilian Amazon, including increased deforestation, intensified pressures on indigenous groups, and escalated climate change. - The concern is that China will shift its commodities purchases, including beef and soy, away from the U.S. to Brazil. The Amazon and Cerrado biomes are already major exporters of both commodities, and are creating a boom in infrastructure construction to bring those products to market. Even without a trade war, experts expect Brazil to edge out the U.S. this year as the world´s largest soy producer. - The U.S. tariffs may already be prompting a shift in trade. Trump first threatened China with tariffs in January. By April, U.S. soy sales to China were down 70,000 metric tons compared to the same period last year. Data also shows a surge in Brazilian Amazon deforestation between February and April of 2018, compared to 2017, a possible response by Brazil soy growers eager to profit from a trade war. - If the U.S./China trade war results in a significant surge in Brazilian commodities production, deforestation rates there could soar. Scientists worry that Amazon deforestation, now at 17 percent, could be pushed past a 20-25 percent climate tipping point, converting rainforest to savanna, greatly swelling carbon emissions, and potentially destabilizing the regional and even global climate.
Indonesia to investigate death of journalist being held for defaming palm oil company [06/21/2018]
- Muhammad Yusuf, a journalist in Indonesia, reportedly died of a heart attack earlier this month while being held on charges of defaming a palm oil company owned by a powerful tycoon. - Activists and fellow journalists question the circumstances surrounding Yusuf’s arrest and death, and suspect the company used the defamation charges to silence Yusuf. - Indonesia’s national commission on human rights has vowed to investigate Yusuf’s death, which his widow has deemed unnatural.
Orangutan forest school in Indonesia takes on its first eight students [06/21/2018]
- A forest school in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, funded by the Vienna-based animal welfare organization Four Paws and run by the local organization Jejak Pulang, has just started training its first eight orangutan orphans to learn the skills they need to live independently in the forest. - Borneo’s orangutans are in crisis, with more than 100,000 lost since 1999 through direct killings and loss of habitat, particularly to oil palm and pulpwood plantations. - Security forces often confiscate juvenile orangutans under 7 years of age, and without their mothers to teach them the skills they need, they cannot be released back into the forest. - Jejak Pulang’s team of 15 orangutan caretakers, a biologist, two veterinarians and the center’s director aim to prepare the orphaned orangutans for independence.
Amber deposits yield oldest evidence of frogs in wet, tropical forests [06/20/2018]
- Scientists have found the oldest frog fossils known to have been preserved in amber, from deposits in northern Myanmar. - These fossils, together with other fossils of mosses and bamboo-like plants recovered from the same amber deposits, provide the first definitive evidence that the amber-trapped frogs lived in wet, tropical forests alongside dinosaurs some 99 million years ago, researchers say. - One of the four frogs, which was trapped in sap alongside an unidentified beetle, has a nearly intact skeleton, and has been described as a new, extinct species, Electrorana limoae.
Illegal mining creeps into southern Bahuaja-Sonene National Park [06/20/2018]
- A large amount of fuel trafficking takes place Massiapo, the capital of the district of Alto Inambari, mostly for use in illegal gold mining operations. - A regional committee against illegal mining in Puno is considering declaring the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park a mining exclusion zone.
Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Park at risk over illegal mining [06/19/2018]
- The illegal mining, which also takes place in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and in Tambopata National Reserve, has isolated part of the giant river otter population. - The current leaders of the Kotsimba indigenous community are creating a plan with the Ministry of Environment to abandon illegal mining, although an environmental disaster from over 10 years ago remains unaddressed.
Madagascar: Yet another anti-trafficking activist convicted [06/19/2018]
- Christopher Magnenjika, an activist working to stem corruption and wildlife trafficking in northeastern Madagascar, was tried, convicted, fined $9 and released earlier this month. - The charges against Magnenjika include “rebellion” and insulting local officials. - Magnenjika’s supporters say his arrest and conviction were a pretext for keeping him quiet about the illicit trade in rosewood, a valuable tropical hardwood. - Magnenjika is one of at least ten Malagasy activists who have faced imprisonment in recent years.
Animals are becoming night owls to avoid humans [06/19/2018]
- By analyzing 76 studies and activity patterns of 62 mammal species, including bears, deer, coyotes and tigers, researchers have found that large mammals are 1.36 times more active at night in areas with high human presence compared to areas with low human presence. - These results seemed to be consistent across species and continents. - Animals seem to be becoming more nocturnal not only to avoid direct threats like hunting, but to avoid even recreational human activities like hiking and mountain biking.
One tortoise at a time: Q&A with zoo veterinarian Justin Rosenberg [06/19/2018]
- In April, authorities discovered around 10,000 radiated tortoises, believed to be destined for the Asian pet trade, in an abandoned house in southwestern Madagascar. - The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) took the animals to its rescue center in Ifaty, and soon, veterinarians and keepers from around the world began traveling to Madagascar to help the animals. - Currently, between 9,000 and 10,000 tortoises are alive, with around 100 still in need of critical care. - Mongabay spoke with a veterinarian who spent several weeks at TSA’s facility about the ongoing efforts.
Oil palm plantations in Amazonia inhospitable to tropical forest biodiversity: Study [06/18/2018]
- According to a study published in the journal PloS One late last year, the Brazilian Amazon has about 2.3 million square kilometers (nearly 900,000 square miles) of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, making it one of the largest areas in the world for potential expansion of the palm oil industry. - Researchers investigated the responses of tropical forest mammals to living in a landscape made up of a mosaic of 39,000 hectares (more than 96,000 acres) of mature oil palm plantations and 64,000 hectares (a little over 158,000 acres) of primary Eastern Amazon forest patches in the Brazilian state of Pará. - They write in the study that their results in the Amazon “clearly” reinforce “the notion that oil palm plantations can be extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, as has been shown in more traditional oil palm countries in South-East Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.”
In a land hit by the resource curse, a new gold mine spooks officials [06/17/2018]
- A company in Indonesia plans to start mining gold in a district in the country’s West Papua province that forms part of the ecologically important Cendrawasih Bay National Park — an ostensibly protected area. - The company is currently applying for an environmental impact assessment that would allow it to obtain a mining permit, but local officials involved in the process say they see little benefit to the proposed mine. They say they prefer a development model built on tourism based on the region’s rich biodiversity. - The district chief, who has the final say in issuing the permit, has signaled he approves of the project — flip-flopping on a pledge he made at the end of last year to prioritize an environment-focused development framework.
Latam Eco Review: Paddington Bear Captured on Camera in Peru [06/15/2018]
Among the top articles from our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 4 – 10 was one about a golden spectacled bear named after Paddington Bear that was caught by a camera trap for the first time in Peru. In other news, the debate on hydroelectric plants intensifies in Colombia, and […]
Scientists find new snail-eating snakes, auction naming rights to save them [06/15/2018]
- An expedition in Ecuador has uncovered five new species of snail-eating snakes. - Four out of the five species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. - The researchers who conducted the expedition auctioned off their naming rights and used the funds to purchase and protect an area of forest where two of the most threatened new species are known to live.
Primate-rich countries are becoming less hospitable places for monkeys, apes and lemurs [06/15/2018]
- New research shows that many of the 65 percent of the world’s primate species found in four countries — Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo — face the threat of extinction. - The scientists involved in the study used maps of primate ranges and information on the threats they face to predict what might happen to the animals through the end of the 21st century. - They found that increases in the amount of land turned over for human food production could cause the primate habitats to shrink substantially in these countries. - However, the team also found that intensive conservation measures could dramatically reduce the loss of primate habitat by 2100 and potentially avert the mass extinction of these species.
Facebook video shows orangutan defending forest against bulldozer [06/15/2018]
- Dramatic footage released last week by an animal welfare group shows a wild orangutan trying in vain to fight off destruction of its rainforest home in Borneo. - The video, filmed in 2013 but posted on Facebook on June 5th for World Environment Day by International Animal Rescue (IAR), was shot in Sungai Putri, a tract of forest in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province. - Sungai Putri is one of the most important refuges for orangutans left in Indonesian Borneo. According to orangutan expert Erik Meijaard, Sungai Putri may be home to over 1,000 orangutans.
The diversity of biodiversity: Connecting shrews, ants and slime molds with carbon storage [06/14/2018]
- Research has shown that, in some cases, high-carbon forests support high levels of biodiversity. - But a recent study, which looked at a wide variety of species groups, demonstrates that regrowth forests can support a greater number of representatives of some species groups. - The findings support the conclusion that recovering forests should be included in conservation planning alongside old-growth forests.
Renowned wildlife conservationist Russell Mittermeier awarded 2018 Indianapolis Prize [06/13/2018]
- Mittermeier, a primatologist, herpetologist, and highly accomplished conservationist, is the seventh recipient of the prestigious prize, which has been awarded by the Indianapolis Zoological Society along with $250,000 in prize money every two years since 2006 to “the most successful animal conservationist in the world.” - He spent 11 years at WWF–U.S. before becoming president of Conservation International (CI) in 1989. It was while he was at CI that Mittermeier first heard of the concept of “biodiversity hotspots” — a concept he would go on to popularize and utilize to achieve a number of conservation successes. - “Russ Mittermeier is a consummate scientist, a visionary leader, a deft policy advocate and an inspiring mentor to many,” Michael Crowther, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, said in a statement. “Perhaps most important, he is a consistent winner in the battles for species and ecosystem survival.”
Audio: How soundscapes are helping us better understand animal behavior and landscape ecology [06/12/2018]
- On today’s episode, we take a look at soundscape phenology and the emerging role it’s playing in the study of animal behavior and landscape ecology. - The Mongabay Newscast previously looked at how soundscapes are being used in phenological studies when we talked about the great Sandhill crane migration on the Platte River in the US state of Nebraska. Today, we take a deeper dive into soundscape phenology with researcher Anne Axel, a landscape ecologist and professor at Marshall University in the US state of West Virginia. - Axel tells us all about this new field of study and plays a few of the recordings that have informed her research in this Field Notes segment.
Video: Mariyady, the priest investigating the corporate takeover of indigenous peoples’ forests in Borneo [06/11/2018]
- “Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them, a local priest named Mariyady, researched the contracts signed between villagers and the company, and determined they were ripped off by the compensation they were paid — he described it as “murder.”
Mexico’s ejidos are finding greater sustainability by involving youth and women [06/07/2018]
- Ejidos now control more than two-thirds of Mexico’s 64 million hectares (158 million acres) of forest. They have generally proven to be an effective means of preserving those forests while creating economic opportunities for local communities through sustainable farming, ranching, and forestry operations. - But ejidos themselves face challenges that must be overcome in order to ensure their sustainability. Chief among them has been the lack of inclusion of youth and women, an issue many ejidos have begun to seriously address over the course of the past decade. - The traditional hierarchies built into ejido communities once posed what many observers saw as a serious threat to the future viability of the ejido system. But young people now represent a hopeful future not just for the ejidos they come from and plan to return to in order to ply their newly acquired skills, but also, perhaps, for the future of conservation in Mexico.
Illegal logging persists in Borneo orangutan habitat despite government ban [06/07/2018]
- Illegal logging continues inside an orangutan habitat in Borneo that the Indonesian government had decreed off-limits last year, an investigation by Greenpeace has found. - The group reported at least six logging camps in the concession held by a timber company, but noted that it was unclear whether the company itself, PT Mohairson Pawan Khatulistiwa (MPK), was engaged in the illegal logging. - This is the second time Greenpeace has found indications of commercial exploitation in the area since the government ordered PT MPK to halt its operations last year.
How corrupt elections fuel the sell-off of Indonesia’s natural resources [06/07/2018]
- A major driver of Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis is the corrupt sell-off of land and resources by politicians, often to raise money for expensive political campaigns. - Some government officials trade business licenses for cash bribes, while others engage in more complex schemes. There is every indication that permit selling in the agribusiness and extractive sectors is rife across Indonesia, even if the true extent remains hidden. - This article was produced under a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the London-based investigations house Earthsight, as part of our Indonesia for Sale series.
Ecuador: Waorani people map their rainforest to save it [06/06/2018]
- Ecuador’s indigenous Waorani have undertaken a three-year mission to identify and map out the natural riches of their territory in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon — a region zoned by the government for oil exploration and exploitation activities. - The community’s efforts have covered 1,800 square kilometers (695 square miles) and identified 1,832 routes consisting of rivers, streams, hunting trails and paths. - The Waorani, who have seen the devastation wrought by the oil industry on other indigenous forest communities, have also determined to launch a campaign against outside intervention in their own territory, aimed at the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies.
Time is running out for palm oil certification (commentary) [06/06/2018]
- A number of voluntary schemes have been set up to address the environmental impacts of palm oil, which has experienced rapid growth in demand and has been identified as one of the leading drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss worldwide. - While there is some variation between them, none of the schemes has been very effective in slowing down deforestation. The range of schemes, and the existence of different modules within each scheme that allow members to opt for varying degrees of ambition, are leading to a watering down of sustainability outcomes in general. - For too long, certification has been considered as the one and only “possible and realistic” option for addressing the impacts of palm oil cultivation, but the fact is: we are running out of time. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Field Museum honors Peruvian organization for its conservation work with indigenous groups [06/05/2018]
- The Instituto del Bien Común, a Peruvian organization that works with indigenous communities, has received this year’s Parker/Gentry award for conservation from the Field Museum of Chicago. - The organization has mapped more than 7,000 indigenous territories in Peru, which serve as a baseline for the Peruvian government on indigenous land. - The group was also involved in the effort to designate Yaguas National Park, the country’s newest protected area, in January this year.
Paper giant denies secretly owning ‘independent’ suppliers [06/05/2018]
- A new NGO report details the links between Indonesia’s Sinarmas conglomerate and its “independent” wood suppliers. - Sinarmas and its Asia Pulp & Paper arm argue that some of the links are normal, but deny others. - NGO investigators speculate that Sinarmas may have structured its operations to deflect blame for the fires that burn nearly every year in its suppliers’ concessions, or even to evade taxes.
When palm oil meets politics, Indonesian farmers pay the price [06/05/2018]
- Activists have warned of a worrying number of farmers in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province being driven off their land by palm oil companies, often with the support of the local police and officials. - The province lost 10 percent of its tree cover between 2001 and 2016, and palm concessions now account for more than 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of land there, including pristine forests that are home to species found nowhere else on Earth. - Given the long history of district chiefs issuing a flurry of concessions in exchange for campaign funding ahead of elections, activists fear the elections later this month will set the stage for even more land conflicts.
To protect the Congolese peatlands, protect local land rights (commentary) [06/04/2018]
- In 2017, researchers reported the existence of the largest tropical peatland complex in the world in the Congo Basin. - In early 2018, a team of scientists, including the author, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to probe deeper into the peatlands, which cover an area about the size of England and hold some 30 billion tons of carbon. - Around the same time, the DRC government has awarded logging concessions that overlap with the peatlands, in violation of a 16-year-old moratorium on logging. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Ecuador: Tribe sees how oil industry affects forest on ‘Toxic Tour’ [06/01/2018]
- Guided by the indigenous people of Ecuador’s Sucumbíos province, which has been hit by oil exploitation, Waorani people from Pastaza province joined a “Toxic Tour” to learn how contamination has affected other communities in the Amazon. - Faced with the possible concession of their territory for oil activities, the Waorani community in Pastaza province is preparing to defend itself using a strategy they call “spear and law.” - “What I tell them is to be firm, to take care of their territory, because it’s like an inheritance that our ancestors have left us and I believe that it’s mandatory for us to defend it,” says one woman from an area already heavily affected by oil drilling.