Where the forest has no name [05/24/2019]
- North America’s temperate rainforest extends some 2,500 miles from California to the Gulf of Alaska, providing important habitat for many species and playing a big role in global carbon sequestration. However, despite its uniqueness, there is no officially recognized name for the whole of the forest. - This forest has been beset by logging over the last century, with little unprotected old growth remaining. The Trump administration’s plans to allow logging in roadless areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest could ramp up its loss in the coming years. - Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate, editors of Cascadia Times, argue an official name could help galvanize action to save this forest. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Tall and old or dense and young: Which kind of forest is better for the climate? [05/23/2019]
- Scientists say reforestation and better forest management can provide 18 percent of climate change mitigation through 2030. But studies appear to be divided about whether it’s better to prioritize the conservation of old forests or the replanting of young ones. - A closer look, however, reconciles these two viewpoints. While young forests tend to absorb more carbon overall because trees can be crowded together when they’re small, a tree’s carbon absorption rate accelerates as it ages. This means that forests comprised of tall, old trees – like the temperate rainforests of North America’s Pacific coast – are some of the planet’s biggest carbon storehouses. - But when forests are logged, their immense stores of carbon are quickly released. A study found the logging of forests in the U.S. state of Oregon emitted 33 million tons of CO2 – almost as much as the world’s dirtiest coal plant. - Researchers are calling on industry to help buffer climate change by doubling tree harvest rotations to 80 years, and urge government agencies managing forests to impose their own harvest restrictions.
New report examines drivers of rising Amazon deforestation on country-by-country basis [05/23/2019]
- A new report examines the “unchecked development” in the Amazon that has driven deforestation rates to near-record levels throughout the world’s largest tropical forest. - The main drivers of deforestation vary from country to country, according to the report, a collaborative effort by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Andes Amazon Fund. - While the causes of Amazonian forest destruction vary, one thing that is common throughout the region is a lack of adequate resources for oversight and enforcement of environmental regulations. And “signs suggest this problem is only growing,” according to the report.
Plants are working hard to keep pace with increasing carbon dioxide [05/23/2019]
- Global photosynthesis in terrestrial plants, or the amount of atmospheric carbon that plants are absorbing to create organic matter, has increased in nearly constant proportion to the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels, a new study has found. - Using computer models, researchers found that elevated carbon dioxide levels drive increase in leaf area of plants in the tropics. In higher latitudes, though, rising global temperatures appears to be what’s driving increases in both leaf area and growing seasons. - This increase in global photosynthesis will likely slow in the future, the researchers say. - Plants are providing a helping hand by slowing down the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and we should take advantage of that by reducing emissions and conserving forests, the researchers say.
Former Brazilian enviro ministers blast Bolsonaro environmental assaults [05/23/2019]
- A new manifesto by eight of Brazil’s past environment ministers has accused the rightist Bolsonaro administration of “a series of unprecedented actions that are destroying the capacity of the environment ministry to formulate and carry out public policies.” - The ministers warn that Bolsonaro’s draconian environmental policies, including the weakening of environmental licensing, plus sweeping illegal deforestation amnesties, could cause great economic harm to Brazil, possibly endangering trade agreements with the European Union. - Brazil this month threatened to overhaul rules used to select deforestation projects for the Amazon Fund, a pool of money provided to Brazil annually, mostly by Norway and Germany. Both nations deny being consulted about the rule change that could end many NGOs receiving grants from the fund. - Environment Minister Riccardo Salles also announced a reassessment of every one of Brazil’s 334 conservation units. Some parks may be closed, including the Tamoios Ecological Station, where Bolsonaro was fined for illegal fishing in 2012 and which he’d like to turn into the “Brazilian Cancun.”
Documentary on world’s rarest ape generates film festival buzz [05/23/2019]
- The first documentary ever made about the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest and most threatened species of great apes, is racking up awards at film festivals around the world. - U.K.-based filmmaker Matt Senior says his interest in the orangutan, which was only described as a new species in 2017, was piqued by a Mongabay article. - Only 800 of the apes are believed to exist in the Batang Toru forest in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Their habitat is under threat from a massive Chinese-funded hydropower project being built in the area. - Matt says he hopes the documentary will raise public awareness about this newest species of orangutan and the very real threats pushing it toward extinction.
The health of penguin chicks points scientists to changes in the ocean [05/22/2019]
- A recent closure of commercial fishing around South Africa’s Robben Island gave scientists the chance to understand how fluctuations in prey fish populations affect endangered African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) absent pressure from humans. - The researchers found that the more fish were available, the better the condition of the penguin chicks that rely on their parents for food. - This link between prey abundance in the sea and the condition of penguin chicks on land could serve as an indicator of changes in the ecosystem.
Bauxite mining and Chinese dam push Guinea’s chimpanzees to the brink [05/21/2019]
- Guinea is home to about half of the world’s critically endangered western chimpanzees. - A bauxite mining boom is driving the chimpanzees from their habitats in Guinea’s Boké region. To compensate, two mining firms agreed in 2017 to fund the establishment of Moyen-Bafing National Park, home to an estimated 5,300 chimpanzees. - The national park is itself threatened by a bauxite mine and a proposed hydroelectric dam — projects that could kill as many as 2,800 of the great apes.
Interest in protecting environment up since Pope’s 2015 encyclical [05/21/2019]
- New research into the usage of environmentally related search terms on Google suggests that interest in the environment has risen since Pope Francis released Laudato Si’ in 2015. - Laudato Si’, a papal encyclical, argues that it is a moral imperative for humans to look after the environment. - Researchers and scholars believe that the pope’s support for protecting the environment could ripple well beyond the 16 percent of the world’s population that is Catholic.
Bolivia: Nature rights tribunal condemns TIPNIS project [05/20/2019]
- Bolivia has “violated the rights of nature and of indigenous peoples as defenders of Mother Earth and have failed to comply with its obligation to respect, protect, and guarantee the rights of Mother Earth…” the International Rights of Nature Tribunal has ruled. - In 2018, a delegation from the tribunal was refused entry to the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory. The group was trying to assess the claims of communities affected by the project, but they were blocked from entering the area.
‘Resisting to exist’: Indigenous women unite against Brazil’s far-right president [05/20/2019]
- Brazil today is home to 900,000 indigenous people, speaking 274 languages and with widely differing cultural traditions. Indigenous rights were enshrined in Brazil’s 1988 constitution, including the demarcation and protection of indigenous ancestral lands. - But indigenous people have felt seriously threatened since Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, as illegal invasions of indigenous territories have rapidly escalated, and as the administration threatens to put policies in place to limit further indigenous demarcations, eliminate indigenous comments on infrastructure projects, and cut back on health services. - Many of the leaders in the fight against Bolsonaro’s policies are women; in this story, they give voice to their outrage at the danger to their homelands, communities and families.
Solomon Islanders imprisoned for trying to stop the logging of their forests [05/17/2019]
- A group of residents of Nende Island in the Solomon Islands claim corrupt government practices allowed a logging company to get a license to log the island’s primary forests, as well as cropland. Activists also allege the company, Malaysia-based Xiang Lin SI Ltd, logged outside of its concession area. - The “Nende Five,” as they’ve become known, say they were never given an opportunity to object to the logging of their land, and Xiang Lin proceeded without obtaining the consent of the majority of residents. - The protesters say they tried to stop the logging through legal processes. When heavy equipment was destroyed last year, the Nende Five were taken into custody. However, they say they’re innocent of the charges against them. - Their trial has been adjourned 29 times for lack of evidence, and was recently vacated after two days in court due to allegations that the police had not followed due process in obtaining evidence from one of the defendants. The trial is expected to resume in June. Meanwhile, deforestation is ramping up on Nende as logging roads multiply and displace the island’s old growth rainforest.
A new election brings little hope for Solomon Islands’ vanishing forests [05/17/2019]
- Longstanding allegations of corruption plague forest governance in the Solomon Islands, with residents and NGOs claiming government officials are allowing logging to illegally penetrate primary forests on community and ancestral land. - Satellite data show several surges in deforestation across the country since the beginning of the year. - Many were hoping the Solomon Islands’ recent national election would bring needed change. However, Manasseh Sogavare was elected Prime Minster last month, a move observers say is, at best, an extension of the status quo. - In the meantime, mining companies appear to be moving in to extract mineral resources from areas that have been logged.
In Indonesia, a flawed certification scheme lets illegal loggers raze away [05/16/2019]
- The seizure of more than 400 containers of illegally logged timber in a series of busts since last December has shone a spotlight on Indonesia’s mechanism for certifying legal timber. - Some of the wood has been traced back to companies certified under the country’s SVLK scheme. That’s the same scheme that the EU relies on to ensure that its imports of Indonesian timber are legally harvested. - The seizures and findings by activists highlight increased illegal logging in the relatively pristine eastern Indonesian regions of Maluku and Papua. - Companies engaged in illegal logging exploit a variety of methods, from cutting in abandoned concessions to using farmers’ groups and indigenous communities as fronts for harvesting in areas that would otherwise be off-limits for commercial logging.
’Green’ bonds finance industrial tree plantations in Brazil [05/16/2019]
- The Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a group of some 140 NGOs with the goal of making the pulp and paper industry more sustainable, released a briefing contending that green or climate bonds issued by Fibria, a pulp and paper company, went to maintaining and expanding plantations of eucalyptus trees. - The report suggests that the Brazilian company inflated the amount of carbon that new planting would store. - The author of the briefing also questions the environmental benefits of maintaining industrial monocultures of eucalyptus, a tree that requires a lot of water along with herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer that can impact local ecosystems and human communities.
Canopy-dwelling rainforest mammals most sensitive to human disturbance [05/15/2019]
- New research using arboreal camera traps finds that canopy-dwelling mammals are particularly sensitive to the impacts of human disturbance in rainforests and that these effects are easily missed by more traditional survey methods. - Large-bodied arboreal species like the endangered Peruvian woolly monkey and the endangered black-faced spider monkey were found to be most impacted by forest disturbance, according to the study, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions last week. - These larger primates are important seed dispersers for hardwood trees, which contribute disproportionately to the biomass of tropical forests. The loss of these species could thus lead to cascading ecosystems effects that might pose a significant threat to the carbon storage potential of degraded tropical forests.
Public education could curb bushmeat demand in Laos, study finds [05/15/2019]
- A recent survey of markets in Laos found that the demand for bushmeat in urban areas was likely more than wildlife populations could bear. - The enforcement of Laos’s laws controlling the wildlife trade appeared to do little to keep vendors from selling bushmeat, but fines did appear to potentially keep consumers from buying bushmeat. - The researchers also found that consumers could be turned off of buying bushmeat when they learned of specific links between species and diseases.
On the island of Java, a social forestry scheme creates jobs at home [05/15/2019]
- Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pledged to transfer 127,000 square kilometers of state land to communities, but progress has been slow. - In Kalibiru, outside the central Javan city of Yogyakarta, one community forest management program has generated impressive revenues for local governments and incomes for community members. - Some locals say they’re now less likely to migrate away from Kalibiru for higher pay.
Audio: Exploring a hidden rainforest on an isolated mountain in Mozambique [05/14/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Julian Bayliss, a conservation scientist and explorer who recently discovered a hidden rainforest on top of an isolated mountain in Mozambique. - Like many other mountains in eastern Africa, Mount Lico is what’s known as an “inselberg” — a German word that means “island mountain.” Bayliss initially spotted the forest atop Mount Lico using Google Earth. He then confirmed its existence via drone reconnaissance, before mounting a campaign to actually scale Mount Lico’s sheer, 410-foot cliffs and explore the forest firsthand. - On this episode, Julian Bayliss discusses what it was like to behold the unspoiled forest atop Mount Lico for the first time, the new species he found there, and the significance of the pottery he discovered in the rainforest even though no locals have ever been to the top of the mountain.
The heat is on: Amazon tree loss could bring 1.45 degree C local rise [05/14/2019]
- A new modeling study finds that largely unrestricted “business-as-usual” Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado deforestation could result in the loss of an estimated 606,000 square kilometers of forest by 2050, leading to local temperature increases of up to 1.45 degrees Celsius, in addition to global rises in temperature. - Under a Brazil Forest Code enforcement model, researchers predict deforestation would be limited to 79,000 square kilometers, with reforestation occurring over 110,000 square kilometers, leading to an average local increase of just 0.02 degrees Celsius. - Researchers say loss of tree cover must be halted and reforestation program begun to protect people and wildlife, and curb regional warming. - Reptiles and amphibians would be especially vulnerable to deforestation-triggered temperature rises and loss of humidity.
UK supermarkets implicated in Amazon deforestation supply chain: report [05/13/2019]
- Deforestation due to cattle ranching has increased in Brazil since 2014. With between 60 and 80 percent of deforested Amazon lands used for pasture, European retailers who source beef from Brazil risk amplifying Amazonian forest destruction unless international action is taken. - A report from the UK organization Earthsight finds that UK supermarket chains — including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Lidl — are still importing corned beef from Brazil’s largest beef producer, JBS, despite the company being implicated in a long string of corruption and illegal deforestation scandals over the last decade. - JBS, one of the largest food companies in the world, has faced multiple corruption charges leading to the arrest of two of its former CEOs and was fined $8 million in 2017 for illegal deforestation in the Amazon. - Many hope the forthcoming EU Communication on Stepping Up Action to Halt Deforestation will propose legislation to ensure EU companies and suppliers are not contributing to deforestation and human rights abuses. However, experts say such an agreement will only work if corporate standards are mandatory not voluntary.
Wariness over Indonesian president’s vow to get tough on land disputes [05/10/2019]
- President Joko Widodo says land claimed by both companies and local communities should be given to the latter, especially if they have occupied the territory for a long time. - The statement is a radical departure from the Indonesian government’s record of siding with companies and moving slowly to recognize community land rights. - But any benefits promised look to be undercut by another administration announcement, just days later, that plantation permit data will not be made publicly accessible — thus denying claimants a way to see if their land rights have been violated. - The latter policy shores up an earlier prohibition on sharing permit data that Indonesia’s Supreme Court ruled illegal. Activists have filed a police report against the land minister over his refusal to comply.
A Malagasy community races the timber mafia to save its forest [05/10/2019]
- The Vohibola forest is one of the last remaining primary forests along Madagascar’s eastern coast, supporting a large variety of endemic species found nowhere else on Earth. - Under a renewed contract finalized this week the responsibility for its management was delegated to Razan’ny Vohibola, an association of volunteers from four surrounding villages. - The task of protecting the forest, which is rapidly disappearing because of illegal logging, pits the local protectors against not just the timber mafia but also officials whom the villagers allege are complicit. - Members of Razan’ny Vohibola were arrested in April on charges of aiding the illegal logging allegedly at the behest of corrupt officials, but released after the central environment ministry intervened.
Social media enables the illegal wildlife pet trade in Malaysia [05/09/2019]
- Conservationists say that prosecuting wildlife traffickers in Malaysia for trading in protected species isn’t easy, as traders have several loopholes to aid their efforts. - One wildlife trafficker known as Kejora Pets has been operating in Peninsular Malaysia for years, selling “cute” pets to individuals through social media. - Malaysia’s wildlife act doesn’t address the posting of protected animals for sale on social media, and operators like Kejora Pets appear to avoid ever being in possession of protected animals, allowing them to skirt statutes aimed at catching illicit traders. - Proposed changes to Malaysia’s wildlife act could offer some relief to besieged populations of protected species by making it easier to prosecute online trafficking of protected animals.
Pressure mounts on EU to curb Brazilian deforestation, human rights abuses [05/09/2019]
- Concern is rising among Brazilian socioenvironmental NGOs and internationally over the new threats to indigenous people and rising deforestation seen under President Jair Bolsonaro — his administration completed its first 100 days in office in April. - The EU is Brazil’s second largest trading partner, but currently lacks any binding trade regulations on agricultural goods linked to eliminating deforestation, reducing environmental degradation, and protecting against human rights violations. - A new report by more than 20 NGOs — including FERN, Forest Peoples Programme, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Amazon Watch — is calling on the EU to include provisions in trade agreements now under negotiation, such as the EU/MERCOSOR agreement, that would fully protect forests and indigenous rights.
Goldman Prize winner survives armed attack on Afro-Colombian social leaders [05/09/2019]
- Last week on May 4, two bodyguards were wounded when armed gunmen tried to storm a meeting of Afro-Colombian activists that included 2018 Goldman Prize winner Francia Márquez. - The community leaders had been meeting to discuss future actions following a massive land rights protests last month in Colombia’s Cauca region in which one protester was killed by armed forces. - In March and April, Afro-Colombian activists participated in an indigenous-led protest with 20,000 people against the government’s environmental and social policies.
Dismantling of Brazilian environmental protections gains pace [05/08/2019]
- In his first 100 days in office, Jair Bolsonaro has moved fast to change personnel and reduce the authority of IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, and ICMBio, which manages its conservation areas. His actions are seen as most benefiting ruralists — wealthy elite agribusiness and mining interests. - Presidential Decree No. 9,760 creates “conciliation centers” to investigate environmental fines, and provides multiple new ways for appealing fines, while also preventing funds gathered via penalties from being distributed to NGOs for environmental projects. - Some worry the government may use the new decree as a precedent for forgiving the hefty R$250 million (US$63.4 million) fine imposed by IBAMA on Brazil’s gigantic Vale mining company for environmental law infractions related to the Brumadinho tailings dam disaster, in which 235 people died. - A large number of IBAMA staff have been fired, including 21 of its 27 regional superintendents, responsible for combating deforestation. Many of Bolsonaro’s replacements within the top ranks of the Environment Ministry, IBAMA and ICMBio are coming from the military.
What we learned from two years of investigating corrupt land deals in Indonesia [05/08/2019]
- The now-concluded investigative series “Indonesia for Sale” examined the corruption underpinning Indonesia’s land rights and climate crisis in unparalleled depth. - The series was a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative journalism initiative founded at Earthsight in 2017. - In this final commentary, we explore how tackling corruption is a vital precondition for Indonesia to meet its climate targets and resolve land conflicts, and the role of government and civil society in doing so.
Historic win by Ecuador’s Waorani could re-shape extraction activities [05/07/2019]
- The Waorani indigenous community in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest filed a lawsuit against three government bodies earlier this year for conducting a faulty consultation process in 2012 that resulted in putting their territory up for an international oil auction. - A regional court tribunal ruled in favor of the community, saying the 2012 consultation process violated the community’s rights. - The ruling is historic, as it gives communities an extra legal tool to demand their right to self-determination and opens the door to reshape the country’s free, prior and informed consent laws.
’Unprecedented’ loss of biodiversity threatens humanity, report finds [05/07/2019]
- The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a summary of far-reaching research on the threats to biodiversity on May 6. - The findings are dire, indicating that around 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction. - The full 1,500-page report, to be released later this year, raises concerns about the impacts of collapsing biodiversity on human well-being.
China, EU, US trading with Brazilian firms fined for Amazon deforestation: report [05/06/2019]
- Soy, cattle, timber and other commodity producers fined for Amazon illegal deforestation in Brazil continue to sell their products to companies in China, the European Union and United States according to a new report. The document names 23 importing companies, including giants Bunge, Cargill and Northwest Hardwoods. - Large international investment firms, such as BlackRock, also continue to pump money into Brazilian firms, despite their being fined for illegal Amazon forest loss by the Brazilian government, according to the report. Many Brazilian producers deny the accuracy of the Amazon Watch document. - Forest losses in the Brazilian Amazon jumped 54 percent in January 2019 compared to a year ago, and are expected to increase under the Bolsonaro administration which has announced plans for extensive environmental deregulation, and is making an aggressive push to develop the Amazon rainforest for agribusiness and mining. - With Brazilian government checks on deforestation diminishing, many analysts feel that the only way to limit the loss of Amazon forests now will be to shed a bright light on global commodities supply chains in order to make consumers worldwide aware of the participation of international companies in deforestation.
Most communities not seeing promised oil palm payoff in Borneo, study finds [05/06/2019]
- A new study analyzing standards of living over a 14-year period across more than 5,000 villages in Indonesian Borneo finds that oil palm development can have both positive and negative impacts on various aspects of a village’s well-being. The key difference: how intact their forest was to begin with. - For market-based communities, which have already experienced a higher rate of previous forest degradation, oil palm expansion brought a mixed bag of impacts. These villages saw an increase in “basic” and “financial” well-being over all time scales when compared with similar communities without new plantations, but also suffered more rapid detriment to “environmental” and “social” factors. - The impacts were much starker for subsistence-based communities, which depend upon the forest for their livelihoods. These villages suffered overall decreases in all well-being categories in the wake of new oil palm development when compared to similar communities without. The proportion of houses without access to electricity and toilets increased with the influx of migrant workers.
All you need is human feces: The strange world of dung beetle sampling [05/06/2019]
- Dung beetles have emerged as one of the most intensively studied animal groups in tropical rainforests. - They are very easy and cheap to survey and are strong indicators of the health of rainforests and the presence of diverse mammal communities. - Dung beetles also carry out critical roles and functions in rainforests, including spreading seeds and nutrients, but some of these are unraveling as humans drive species to extinction.
In Indonesia, bigger catches for a fishing village protecting its mangroves [05/03/2019]
- For years, weak law enforcement and low public awareness meant environmentally dangerous practices were commonly employed in countries like Indonesia. - But local and national government reforms, combined with customary traditions and ambitious NGO programs, are beginning to address the problem. - One village in western Borneo has seen a dramatic recovery in fish stocks after temporary fisheries closures were enacted.
Illegal logging poised to wipe Cambodian wildlife sanctuary off the map [05/02/2019]
- Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary has lost more than 60 percent of its forest cover since it was established in 1993, with most of the loss occurring since 2010. - A big driver behind the deforestation in Beng Per and in many other Cambodian protected areas was Economic Land Concessions (ELCs), which are areas of land – often in protected areas – allocated by the government to corporations aiming to invest in agriculture for short-term financial gains. Large areas of Beng Per were carved out for ELCs in 2011. - While the Cambodian government stopped officially allocating ELCs in 2012, deforestation is still hitting the park hard as small-scale illegal logging gobbles up remaining forest outside ELC areas. And once the land is denuded, it’s considered fair game for new plantation development. - Experts working on the ground say corruption is fuelling the widespread destruction of Cambodia’s forests, and is deeply entrenched in many different sectors including the federal government and local forest protection agencies.
Bolsonaro administration authorizes 150+ pesticides in first 100 days [05/02/2019]
- With Brazil’s Bolsonaro administration in power for just 100 days, it has already approved 152 new pesticides for use, a record in such a short period of time, while another 1,300 pesticide requests for authorization from transnational companies await action. Most requests are from U.S., German and Chinese companies. - Brazil is already the world’s largest user of pesticides and has an acknowledged pesticide poisoning problem, with 100,000 cases reported annually, with likely many more not reported. Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina denies that pesticide fast tracking will cause any serious environmental or health problems. - Newly authorized this year are the fungicide mancozeb (mostly banned in Canada), pesticide sulfoxaflor (associated with bee colony collapse disorder), and insecticide chlorpyrifos (banned in the U.S. in 2018 and associated with development disabilities in children). - The control of both the executive and legislative branches of the Brazilian federal government by the bancada rualista agribusiness lobby means that it is very likely that bill PL 6299/2002 — called “the poison package” by critics — will be voted up this year. The legislation would greatly deregulate the approval process for pesticides.
Changing energy use in rural Africa with power from solar, clean stoves…and women [05/02/2019]
- Widespread use of fuelwood and charcoal for cooking and heating is a notable barrier to achieving development and conservation goals in sub-Saharan Africa, yet previous attempts at introducing better fuel technologies have largely failed. - To address energy use at the source, recent efforts are underway that seek to improve adoption of new technologies, such as solar-powered equipment or efficient cookstoves, in rural communities. - Rather than impose a new method or technology onto a community, encouraging behavior change by wrapping the technology in a collaborative or entrepreneurial envelope could encourage longer-lasting change.
Huge rubber plantation in Cameroon halts deforestation following rebuke [05/01/2019]
- A massive rubber plantation operated by rubber supply group Halcyon Agri through its subsidiary Sudcam has come under fire in recent years for what many say are unsustainable environmental practices, lack of transparency, and negative impacts on local communities. Reports document the displacement of indigenous communities to make way for development, and felling has occurred right up against the intact rainforest of Cameroon’s Dja Faunal Reserve. - Initially silent about the rebuke of Sudcam, Halcyon unveiled a number of sustainability measures late last year and has actively sought to open a dialogue with NGOs. In response to criticisms, the company issued a “cease and desist” order on logging in Sudcam, developed a Sustainable Natural Rubber Supply Chain Policy, and created an independent Sustainability Council. - Satellite imagery indicates no further clearing has happened since the deforestation ban was issued in Dec. 2018. - Representatives of conservation NGOs that have been critical of the plantation in the past say they are pleased with Halcyon Agri’s response, and hope that the company will continue to improve conditions at its Sudcam plantation.
Controversial aquaculture projects threaten Myanmar’s remaining mangroves [05/01/2019]
- Business tycoons have illegally obtained land permits to develop aquaculture in Tanintharyi without consulting the forestry department for input. - Villagers living nearby say the aquaculture facilities impact water quality and their ability to fish. - Authorities are looking more closely at the development of aquaculture in Tanintharyi following a visit in March by the state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spoke with locals complaining about the impacts of the industry on their daily lives.
Western chimp numbers revised up to 53,000, but development threats loom [05/01/2019]
- A new survey of data from the IUCN’s Apes Database indicates that there are nearly 53,000 western chimpanzees in West Africa. - The number is significantly higher than previous estimates, which placed the population closer to 35,000, but the subspecies remains categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. - The authors of the study say their findings can help governments in the region ensure that proposed infrastructure projects do as little harm to the remaining chimpanzee populations as possible.
Audio: Saving forests and biodiversity by providing affordable healthcare [04/30/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Kinari Webb, founder of Health in Harmony, an organization using healthcare for humans to save rainforests and their wildlife inhabitants. - In the decade since Heath in Harmony launched its healthcare-for-conservation program in Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park, infant deaths in local communities have been reduced by more than two-thirds, the number of illegal logging households in the park has gone down by nearly 90 percent, the loss of forest has stabilized, 20,000 hectares of forest are being replanted, and habitat for 2,500 endangered Bornean Orangutans has been protected. - Webb talks about radical listening, the tremendous impacts for rainforests and orangutans of providing affordable healthcare to local communities, and her plans to expand Health in Harmony’s efforts outside of Indonesia on this episode of the Newscast.
Why Myanmar villagers still engage in illegal logging of mangroves [04/30/2019]
- The Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar used to be rich in mangroves, but only 20 percent of the original coverage remains today. - Although it’s illegal to log mangrove wood, people who live in villages without electricity still cut the increasingly fragmented mangrove forests of the delta for fuelwood for cooking. - Logging isn’t just physically dangerous; it’s also legally risky. - Fuel-efficient stoves, access to alternative fuels, and opportunities for employment could help reduce the amount of illegal logging of mangroves.
Amazon fish kill at Sinop spotlights risk from 80+ Tapajós basin dams [04/29/2019]
- Evidence shows that a 2019 fish kill in which 13 tons of dead fish were found in Brazil’s Teles Pires River was likely caused by anoxia (lack of oxygen) created by the filling of the Sinop dam’s reservoir by the Sinop HPP consortium (which includes French and Brazilian firms responsible for construction and operation). - Scientists and environmentalists had warned of this and other ecological risks, but their calls for caution were ignored by regulators and resisted by the builder. Only 30 percent of vegetation was removed from the area of the reservoir, rather than the 100 percent required by law, which helped cause the die-off. - The concern now is that similar incidents could occur elsewhere. There are at least 80 hydroelectric plants planned for the Juruena / Teles Pires basin alone — one of the Brazilian Amazon’s most important watersheds. - Of immediate concern is the Castanheira dam on the Arinos River to be built by the federal Energy Research Company (EPE). Critics fear that, under the Jair Bolsonaro government, environmental licensing and construction will advance despite serious threats posed to indigenous reserves and the environment.
Brazil Supreme Court land demarcation decision sparks indigenous protest [04/26/2019]
- On January 1, the first day of his presidency, Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (MP 870) shifting decision-making power regarding indigenous reserve demarcations from Funai, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Ministry of Agriculture. - MP 870 was quickly challenged as unconstitutional in Brazil’s Supreme Court, but on April 24 Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso rejected that challenge, though he did agree that if the Agriculture Ministry failed to carry through with indigenous demarcations in future, further legal action could go forward at that time. - At their annual encampment in Brasilia from April 24-26, approximately 4,500 indigenous people from across Brazil protested Barroso’s demarcation decision by marching on the Supreme Court building. During the three-day encampment, indigenous groups also protested Bolsonaro’s plan to allow mining and agribusiness within indigenous reserves. - Of special concern to indigenous people is the administration’s move toward adopting a policy of assimilation, which could result in the erosion of indigenous autonomy within ancestral reserves, and the absorption of indigenous cultures and traditions into Brazil’s predominant culture.
Stinging ants: Amazon indigenous group girds itself to hold ancestral lands [04/25/2019]
- The ancestral home of the Sateré-Mawé indigenous group is the Andirá-Marau Indigenous Reserve, an officially demarcated, heavily forested region covering 780,000 hectares (3,011 square miles) in Amazonas and Pará states, Brazil. - The reserve itself — along with indigenous villages around it that were not included in the demarcated area — are increasingly under attack from illegal loggers and land grabbers. - To steel themselves against the challenges posed by invading outsiders, and to create unity among their tribal groups, Sateré young men participate in a ritual known as Waumat, in which they endure the painful bites of stinging ants. - They also renew their commitment to active resistance through dances and songs that celebrate myths, past wars, victories, losses, and terrible exploitation by the colonial Portuguese. The Sateré are feeling especially challenged today by the anti-indigenous rhetoric and policies of the rightist Bolsonaro administration.
The world lost a Belgium-size area of old growth rainforest in 2018 [04/25/2019]
- Newly released data indicate the tropics lost around 120,000 square kilometers (around 46,300 square miles) of tree cover last year – or an area of forest the size of Nicaragua. - The data indicate 36,400 square kilometers of this loss – an area the size of Belgium – occurred in primary forest. This number is an increase over the annual average, and the third-highest amount since data collection began. - Indonesia primary forest loss dropped to the lowest level recorded since 2002. Brazil’s numbers are also down compared to the last two years, but still higher than the 18-year average. - Meanwhile, primary rainforest deforestation appears to be on the rise elsewhere. Colombia recorded the highest level since measurement began at the beginning of the century. Madagascar had the highest proportion of its tropical forest lost in 2018; Ghana experienced the biggest proportional change over 2017.
Bolsonaro draws battle lines in fight over Amazon indigenous lands [04/24/2019]
- Parintins, site of Brazil’s big annual indigenous festival, is typical of towns in the Brazilian Amazon. The Sateré, and other indigenous groups living or working there, often endure discrimination and work analogous to slavery. Civil rights are few and indigenous populations inhabit the bottom rung of the economic ladder. - Now more than ever, indigenous groups fear the loss of their cultural heritage and land rights as guaranteed under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. New president Jair Bolsonaro wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased. - The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories. The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby is strong in Congress, and it supports Bolsonaro. - The Sateré, along with other indigenous groups, have endured a long history marked by extermination and exploitation. Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people are increasingly joining together to fight the anti-indigenous policies proposed by the Bolsonaro administration and supported by the ruralists.
Not in my backyard: Indonesian official fights corrupt palm concession [04/24/2019]
- A district chief in Indonesia is seeking to overturn a decision by the environment ministry to approve a request that would allow a palm oil company to clear forest for plantation in Buol district, on the island of Sulawesi. - The case has been controversial since the start, with the company initially being awarded the concession after bribing the previous district chief for the permit. - The recent approval also goes against a moratorium issued last year on the issuance of permits for new plantations. - However, the environment minister exploited loopholes in a pair of regulations to push through the approval, despite the opposition of the Buol administration and residents.
In Indonesia, a paper giant shuffles a litany of land conflicts [04/24/2019]
- Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its suppliers are mired in more than a hundred land conflicts with communities in Indonesia, with a potential 600 additional disputes looming, activists say. - Many of the conflicts center on the lack of clear boundaries between the company’s concessions and community lands. - The company says it is working to resolve these disputes, but adds that the process is long and complicated. - All sides agree that the government, in charge of demarcating village boundaries, needs to be more involved in the conflict-resolution process.
Can rice husk briquettes stem the tide of mangrove deforestation in Myanmar? [04/23/2019]
- Despite the knowledge about the role mangroves play to protect inland areas from storm swells, and a nationwide ban on logging, Myanmar continues to lose mangroves, particularly to communities in the Irrawaddy Delta where electricity is lacking and a reliance on mangroves as firewood and to make charcoal. - An enterprising rice mill owner, U Zayar Myo, uses discarded rice husks to create compact briquettes that can be burned as an alternative fuel to mangrove wood or charcoal. - These rice-husk briquettes are now being distributed to other businesses historically reliant on burning mangrove wood, and point to one way to reduce the rate of mangrove deforestation in Myanmar.
Camera trap study finds a threatened high-elevation mammal community in Peru [04/23/2019]
- A new camera trap study, the results of which were published in the journal Oryx last week, seeks to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the Cerros del Sira’s mammalian inhabitants. - An international team of scientists from Peru and the UK led by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, a biologist at Peru’s National University of Cusco, deployed 45 camera traps from 2015 to 2016 in the Sira Communal Reserve, part of the Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yánesha Biosphere Reserve. - Aside from revealing the distribution of and threats to the Cerros del Sira’s mammal community, the results of the camera trap survey led to a number of other insights.
On one island, a microcosm of Vietnam’s environmental challenges [04/22/2019]
- It is also a popular tourist destination, and like many parts of the country faces the challenge of balancing development with environmental protection. - Tenuous conservation success stories can be found here, but current and future developments in surrounding areas pose acute threats.
Peat protection rule may be a double-edged sword for Indonesia’s forests [04/22/2019]
- A government regulation issued in 2016 requires logging companies to restore peat with protected status in their concessions, mostly in Sumatra, and prohibits them from developing on it. - But activists say this prohibition threatens a massive supply shortfall for two of the world’s biggest paper producers, which they warn could push the companies to source wood from unprotected forests in other parts of Indonesia. - Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) face a supply crunch of up to 30 percent and 25 percent respectively, according to an analysis by NGOs. - Both companies dispute this finding, saying their supplies remain secure even as they seek to boost their output.
Singapore acquits trader in world’s biggest rosewood bust, worth $50m [04/19/2019]
- On April 8, Singapore’s highest court acquitted a businessman who brought Malagasy rosewood valued at $50 million into the city-state in 2014, one of the largest wildlife seizures in the history of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). - The move reversed the ruling of a lower court that had sentenced the businessman to jail time and imposed $1 million in fines for importing protected wildlife. - The court ordered Singapore authorities to return the rosewood to the businessman and his firm “as soon as practicable.” - Environmental groups have been looking on anxiously as the case wound its way through Singapore’s courts for nearly five years, only to be disappointed by the final verdict.
Peru’s first autonomous indigenous gov’t strikes back against deforestation [04/18/2019]
- The Wampis is an indigenous group comprised of thousands of members whose ancestors have lived in the Amazon rainforest of northern Peru for centuries. - Mounting incursions by loggers, miners and oil prospectors, as well as governance changes that favored industrial exploitation, left the Wampis increasingly worried about the future of their home. Representatives said they realized that only by developing a strong, legal organizational structure would they have a voice to defend their people and the survival of their forest. - After numerous meetings among their leaders, representatives of 27 Wampis communities, with a combined population of 15,000 people, came together in 2015. They invoked international recognition of the rights of indigenous people and on Nov. 29 declared the creation of an autonomous territorial government called the Wampis Nation to defend its territory and resources from the growing pressures of extractive industries. - Wampis Nation territory covers an area of rainforest one-third the size of the Netherlands along northern Peru’s border with Ecuador. Leaders say their newfound autonomy and authority has allowed them to directly expel illegal deforestation activities from their land.
Lift-off for thermal-imaging system to estimate wildlife populations [04/18/2019]
- A research team hailed a breakthrough in their imaging system’s ability to detect and identify orangutans in tropical rainforest. - They now plan for computer algorithms to report back what a thermal camera has seen in real time. - The researchers believe the system could also be used to spot poachers targeting rare species.
U.S. companies implicated in illegal timber trade from West Africa [04/18/2019]
- Illegally obtained timber from West Africa wound up in sidings and other wood products sold in hardware stores across the U.S., a report alleges. - Federal officials have launched an investigation into the U.S. importers of the wood, Evergreen Hardwoods and Cornerstone Forest Products. - The trade focused on timber from the okoumé tree, classified as vulnerable by the IUCN and which only grows in four countries in Africa.
Illegal charcoal trade threatens Myanmar’s remaining mangroves [04/18/2019]
- The depletion of mangroves in southern Myanmar is impacting local fisheries near the island villages. - The illegal charcoal trade persists due to a lack of law enforcement and oversight in Myanmar and Thailand. - Many Burmese labor workers, charcoal kiln owners and traders are indebted to the charcoal warehouses that they ultimately supply in Thailand, which guarantees a steady supply of charcoal into Thailand.
Shade or sun? Forest structure affects tree responses to Amazon drought [04/17/2019]
- Large-scale satellite data has shown that while large trees expand their crown during the dry season, small trees drop leaves – possibly due to limited light availability in the shaded understory. A new study finds that tree response to dry weather is far more complex, influenced by exposure to the sun and root depth. - Detailed measurements of leaf growth and leaf loss during the annual dry season and extreme drought events shows that small trees respond differently to water deprivation depending on their surrounding environment – shaded trees gain leaves but exposed trees tend to lose them, a possible sign of dehydration stress. - Two novel study approaches revealed a complex pattern of leaf growth and loss in response to dry weather: ground-based lidar imaging that produced high-resolution 2D image slices of forest structure, and statistical division of data based on an understory tree’s distance from the canopy top, rather than from the ground up. - Losing leaves could spell death for individual trees, but these small-scale changes can also impact transpiration and have consequences for regional weather patterns and regional climate change. Also, importantly, degraded forests, with many open clearings, could be less resilient to worsening Amazon drought.
IUCN calls for moratorium on projects impacting rarest great ape species [04/17/2019]
- The IUCN has cited “ongoing and new threats” to the Tapanuli orangutan, found in a single forest ecosystem in northern Sumatra, to call for a suspension and reassessment of projects being undertaken within the ape’s habitat. - With a population of no more than 800 individuals, the Tapanuli orangutan is the world’s rarest and most threatened great ape species. - Roads through the Batang Toru ecosystem where it lives have fragmented the orangutan’s population. - The most high-profile threat is a planned hydropower plant and dam in the ape’s habitat, which scientists and conservationists have increasingly called to be halted.
Amazon could be biggest casualty of US-China Trade war, researchers warn [04/16/2019]
- The US is the world’s largest soy producer and historically has exported the majority of its soybeans to China. - But after President Donald Trump’s high China tariffs resulted in a Chinese retaliation of a 25 percent import tariff on US agricultural goods last year, United States soy exports to China dropped 50 percent, and Chinese imports of Brazilian soybeans increased significantly. - Soy production has been linked to large-scale deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savanna — Brazil’s two largest and ecologically most important biomes. - If the US/China trade war continues, new research suggests that the amount of land dedicated to soy production in Brazil could increase by up to 39 percent in order to fill Chinese demand, causing new deforestation by up to 13 million hectares (50,139 square miles) of forest, an area the size of Greece, researchers estimate.
Palm oil, logging firms the usual suspects as Indonesia fires flare anew [04/15/2019]
- Fires have flared up once again on concessions held by palm oil and logging companies in Riau province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. - For many of the companies involved, this isn’t the first time fires have sprung up on their land, prompting activists to question the government’s ability to enforce its own regulations against slash-and-burn forest clearing. - Much of the affected area is peat forest, some of it being developed in violation of a ban on exploiting deep peatland, whose burning releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. - A failure by the government to collect on fines levied against the few companies prosecuted for setting fires on their concessions means there’s little deterrent effect for other companies that see slash-and-burn as the cheapest way to raze forests for plantations.
Deforestation diminishes access to clean water, study finds [04/15/2019]
- A recent study compared deforestation data and information on household access to clean water in Malawi. - The scientists found that the country lost 14 percent of its forest between 2000 and 2010, which had the same effect on access to safe drinking water as a 9 percent decrease in rainfall. - With higher rainfall variability expected in today’s changing climate, the authors suggest that a larger area of forest in countries like Malawi could be a buffer against the impacts of climate change.
In Bali, a village hews to unwritten rules to manage its forest [04/14/2019]
- Pengotan is a village of around 3,800 on the southern side of Bali’s Mount Batur. - Walk into a house here in Pengotan and chances are someone will be weaving bamboo to be used in offerings. - Much of the law of the land is informed by customary tradition, the perarem, handed down from previous generations.
How a sheriff in Brazil is using satellites to stop deforestation [04/12/2019]
- When Leonardo Brito became chief of police at the Police Specialized in Crimes Against the Environment (DEMA) in Brazil’s Amapá stated, he noticed that the department hardly ever investigated environmental crimes. The reason: locating isolated illegal deforestation events in Amapá’s Nepal-size rainforest was like finding a needle in a haystack. - So Brito started researching methods to make this easier. In the process, he discovered the online forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch and its mobile app, Forest Watcher. These tools visualize areas of tree cover loss detected by satellites. - Using Forest Watcher, DEMA has been able to detect 5,000 areas of deforestation in Amapá and conduct more than 50 operations combatting illegal deforestation over the past eight months. - Brito and his team are sharing their knowledge and techniques with environmental police and conservation officials in other states.
Human pressure on the Serengeti’s fringes threatens the wildlife within [04/12/2019]
- Spanning more than 40,000 square kilometers (15,400 square miles), the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in East Africa is one of the largest protected areas in the world. - A new study shows that human activities at the edges of the ecosystem are affecting wildlife migrations and pushing the animals deeper into the core of the protected area. - The displaced wildlife have less available land, triggering a cascade of events impacting soils and vegetation, putting the whole ecosystem at risk. - The study authors are calling for broader conservation strategies that address not only protected areas, but also their surroundings and local communities.
‘It’s getting worse’: National parks in Honduras hit hard by palm oil [04/11/2019]
- Production of oil palm has risen by nearly 560 percent in Honduras over the past two decades, making the country the eighth-largest producer worldwide and number three in the Americas. - By 2010, Jeanette Kawas National Park, which sits along the coast in northern Honduras, had lost approximately 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) to oil palm plantations. Nearby Punta Izopo National Park and Cuero y Salado National Park lost more than 8 percent and 4 percent of their tree cover, respectively, between 2001 and 2017. - Small-scale farmers, some living legally within park borders, are clearing deeper and deeper sections of forest. A growing number of residents are cultivating small-scale oil palm plantations and have become off-the-books suppliers for companies operating in the area, which has become a source of serious concern for conservation organizations. - Local officials say that due to bureaucratic red tape, cutting down even illegally planted oil palm trees can put them at risk of legal repercussions, making it difficult to restore forest after it’s been converted to oil palm plantations.
Scientists urge overhaul of the world’s parks to protect biodiversity [04/11/2019]
- A team of scientists argues that we should evaluate the effectiveness of protected areas based on the outcomes for biodiversity, not simple the area of land or ocean they protect. - In a paper published April 11 in the journal Science, they outline the weaknesses of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which set goals of protecting 17 percent of the earth’s surface and 10 percent of its oceans by 2020. - They propose monitoring the outcomes of protected areas that measure changes in biodiversity in comparison to agreed-upon “reference” levels and then using those figures to determine how well they are performing.
EU consumption drives ‘import’ of tropical deforestation [04/11/2019]
- A new study has calculated that one-sixth of the carbon footprint of the average diet in the EU can be directly linked to deforestation in tropical countries. - Although many developed countries have achieved stable forest cover, researchers found that one-third of net forest gains in these “post-forest transition” countries were offset by imports of commodities causing deforestation elsewhere. - In the face of growing criticism, the EU is preparing to launch a new initiative to tackle imported commodities directly linked to deforestation.
Indonesia’s threat to exit Paris accord over palm oil seen as cynical ploy [04/11/2019]
- A top Indonesian minister says the country may consider pulling out of the Paris climate agreement in retaliation for a European policy to phase out palm oil from biofuels by 2030. - Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs, says Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, can follow in the footsteps of the United States, which has declared its withdrawal from the climate pact, and Brazil, which is considering doing the same. - The threat is the latest escalation in a diplomatic spat that has also seen Indonesia and Malaysia, the No. 2 palm oil producer, threaten retaliatory trade measures against the European Union. - The EU says its policy is driven by growing consumer concerns about the sustainability of palm oil, which in Indonesia is often grown on plantations for which vast swaths of rainforest have had to be cleared.
Experts warn: As G-20 tariffs drop, carbon emissions skyrocket [04/10/2019]
- A study published by researchers in Japan shows that tariff reductions by G-20 countries will sharply increase global carbon dioxide emissions. - In some countries, cheaper imports would lead to “embodied carbon emissions” rising by more than 100%. - Experts say the findings demonstrate that trade arrangements have a heavy impact on emissions that outweighs the effect of national climate policies.
Sumatran governor jailed over bribes to award infrastructure projects [04/09/2019]
- A court in Jakarta has sentenced the governor of the province of Aceh, in Sumatra, to seven years in prison for taking bribes to award local infrastructure contracts. - Irwandi Yusuf had previously gained a reputation as a “green governor” for his policies championing environmental conservation and sustainable development of the province’s natural resources. - He was arrested last July for taking a bribe from the head of a district in Aceh to approve infrastructure projects there, and for taking kickbacks from members of his campaign team to farm out government contracts.
Natural forests best bet for fighting climate change, analysis finds [04/09/2019]
- Natural forests store more carbon for longer compared to plantations and agroforestry. - The carbon sequestration potential of natural forests is 40 times greater than that of plantations, a new analysis has found. - But countries like Brazil, China and Indonesia are relying more on expanding plantations to meet their regreening goals. - About 66 percent of forest restoration commitments in tropical and subtropical countries involve planting some kind of agricultural crop.
3 massacres in 12 days: Rural violence escalates in Brazilian Amazon [04/08/2019]
- The Amazon has seen 3 probable massacres in 12 days — likely a record for the region — as violence has exploded in areas of heavy deforestation where the building of large dams has brought a capital infusion, sent land prices soaring, and invited land speculation by land grabbers, loggers and ranchers. - A Brazilian landless movement peasant leader and a leading dam activist are among those killed. The attacks have been concentrated in areas centered around the Belo Monte mega-dam; in the Madeira basin near the Jirau dam; and near the Tucuruí dam on the Tocantins River in Pará state. - Investigations are ongoing, but early reports are that at least 9 people are dead, with some witnesses saying more have been killed, especially rural landless peasant workers. Before becoming president, Jair Bolsonaro expressed strong hostility against the landless peasant movement (Movimento dos Sem Terra, or MST). - The Bolsonaro Administration has yet to condemn or comment significantly on the recent wave of killings. As of this article’s publication, the international community has taken little notice of the spike in violence.
Planning without action will see the Javan rhino go extinct (commentary) [04/08/2019]
- Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia’s Java island is the last remaining habitat on Earth for the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros. - The rhino population is holding steady, but its survival is threatened by natural disasters and a genetic bottleneck due to its small population. - Conservation efforts, particularly finding a second home for these creatures in a lower-risk area, have long been planned, and now is the time to implement all of them to protect the rhinos from extinction. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Climb confirms that the world’s tallest tropical tree tops 100 meters [04/07/2019]
- A team of scientists has found and mapped the tallest tree on record in the tropics, standing at more than 100 meters (328 feet). - Climber Unding Jami with the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership scaled the tree and verified its height. - The structure of the tree, determined from airborne lidar surveys as well as laser scans from the ground and drone photographs, provides insight into why these trees grow so high.
Indigenous leaders decry Colombia’s deadly crackdown on land protesters [04/04/2019]
- Protesters have blocked the Pan-American Highway connecting Colombia to Ecuador. Duque has refused to travel to the department of Cauca to meet with indigenous organizations unless the blockade is first lifted. - Indigenous protesters face a crackdown by the government and violent attacks from illegal right-wing paramilitary groups. The mass collective action now includes 20,000 people from Afro-Colombian communities, student groups, and campesino associations critical of the government’s environmental and social policies. - Dialogue between the government and the indigenous organizations was temporarily suspended following a police crackdown aimed at breaking the blockades, during which an indigenous protester was reportedly killed.
Farming communities abused at troubled DRC mega-farm, campaigners say [04/04/2019]
- The Bukanga Lonzo agro-industrial park, located nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Kinshasa, was conceived as a way to boost mechanized food production in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - But now, the park is in shambles, and a new report by the Oakland Institute says that community members were misled and abused during its construction. - The primary investor in the park, Africom Commodities, is currently seeking nearly $20 million in damages from the Congolese government for non-payment of expenses at the park.
Conceived in a dream, new solar canoe will serve Amazon tribes [04/03/2019]
- A solar-powered canoe, just the second of its kind, is scheduled for launch around April 20 in the village of Sharamentsa on the Pastaza River in the Ecuadorean Amazon. - The canoe is part of a project that aims to connect nine remote indigenous communities through an alternative transportation system powered by the sun and channeled by Amazon rivers. - The launch coincides with the comeback of the first canoe, which has been grounded by technical problems, and the opening of a solar community center in Sharamentsa that will function as a canoe-recharging station and will eventually provide power to the village. - Project leaders intend to build similar solar centers in other villages that, along with the canoes, will ultimately form a large energy and transportation network powered by sunlight.
Brazil soy trade linked to widespread deforestation, carbon emissions [04/03/2019]
- Recent data released by the Brazilian government’s Prodes deforestation satellite monitoring system found that 220,000 square kilometers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes were deforested between 2006 and 2017. - Roughly 10 percent of that land was then used to grow soy, a native vegetation conversion of at least 21,000 square kilometres (with over 17,000 of that in the Cerrado), according to the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Global Canopy’s Trase platform, which analyze commodities supply chains. - Clearing native vegetation releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, while crop plantations store less CO2 – a one-two punch hindering efforts to curb climate change. About 140,000 square kilometers of Cerrado were lost from 2006-2017, releasing 210 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e). - The majority of Brazil’s soy is produced for export. So experts say the best way to protect the Cerrado under the Bolsonaro administration will be for commodities companies and NGOs to create market incentives. Plans now under consideration suggest momentum is building to protect Brazil’s most vulnerable ecoregion.
Panamanian indigenous people act to protect the forest from invading loggers [04/02/2019]
- The Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia has long been known as an impregnable stretch of rainforest, rivers and swamps inhabited by indigenous peoples as well as guerrillas, drug traffickers and paramilitaries. - Today the area is undergoing steady deforestation as timber colonists and oil palm entrepreneurs advance across the region, bringing strife and violence to the area’s indigenous residents. - In Panama, some of the Darién’s indigenous communities are working to reverse this situation. Mappers, a drone pilot, a lawyer, bird-watchers, a journalist and reforesters are carrying out ambitious projects to stop the degradation of the Darién Gap.
Indigenous groups in Ecuador convene to talk resistance in the Amazon [04/01/2019]
- The meeting was the first time the three groups met in their own territory. - The assembly was called in response to an announcement by Ecuador’s Minister of Energy and Non-renewable Resources in 2018, who said Blocks 86 and 87 in Ecuador’s eastern Amazon are for sale and “there will be no problems because the communities are in other blocks.” - In response, the three nations, whose territories overlap with Blocks 86 and 87, are demanding the free, prior and informed consent process and a stop to all oil, mining and hydroelectric projects in the Amazon.
Deadly fungal disease has devastated more than 500 amphibian species [04/01/2019]
- In 2007, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, was implicated in the decline or extinction of up to 200 species of frogs. - Now, by scanning through evidence, researchers have found that in all, chytrid fungus-linked deaths have contributed to the decline of at least 501 amphibian species — that’s 6.5 percent of all amphibian species described by science so far. - Of these, some 90 species are presumably extinct and another 124 are suffering severe declines, researchers say.
Virtual reality tool gives viewers the vision of a nocturnal primate [03/29/2019]
- Researchers teamed up with a student-based tech lab to develop an interactive virtual reality tool that gives users entry into the vision of another species–a tiny nocturnal primate with huge eyes that must catch prey in the dark. - Tarsier Goggles can simulate human and tarsier vision under varying ambient lighting conditions. - By simulating the tarsier’s superior night vision relative to humans, the interactive educational tool integrates anatomy with natural selection, an important connection, given how visual properties affect the ways animals forage. - Participating students expressed a preference for the interactive learning features – “Instead of hearing what life is like, you [can] actually experience it.”
Cargill pledges to stop forest to farmland conversions, but no results yet for the Cerrado [03/29/2019]
- Cargill has announced new and updated policies to achieve deforestation-free supply chains by 2030, including more transparency in supply chains for soy – a crop that is a major cause of large-scale deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado. - The announcement came just days after the Soft Commodities Forum announced a new framework for transparency and traceability in “high-risk” soy supply chains in Brazil, and two years after an investigation shed light on large-scale forest-clearing by Bolivian and Brazilian soy farmers selling to Cargill. - A newly released report shows that not a single company will achieve their 2020 deforestation-free pledges, and recent research questions the effectiveness of such commitments.
Video: Scientists surprised to discover tiny toadlets can glow [03/29/2019]
- Pumpkin toadlets (Brachycephalus ephippium) inhabit Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, where they crawl through the leaf litter in search of mates. - However, researchers found that they can’t hear their own high-frequency mating calls. - While investigating how they communicate to find mates, the researchers unexpectedly discovered that the frogs fluoresce when exposed to UV light. - The researchers aren’t sure why they do this, but say it could be a way to avoid predation or attract mates.
Meet Mini mum, Mini ature, Mini scule: Tiny new frogs from Madagascar [03/28/2019]
- Researchers have named three previously undescribed, extremely small species of frogs from Madagascar Mini mum, Mini ature, and Mini scule. All of them belong to Mini, a genus that is entirely new to science. - The new study describes two more species of tiny frogs, Rhombophryne proportionali, and Anodonthyla eximia, both smaller than thumbnails, just like the Minis. - The newly described frogs from Madagascar are, however, known only from a handful of locations. While the researchers recommend placing three of the species in a threatened category of the IUCN Red List, two species are data deficient.
How land grabbers co-opt indigenous ritual traditions in Papua: Q&A with anthropologist Sophie Chao [03/28/2019]
- Industrial-scale agriculture poses considerable risk to the indigenous peoples of
Papua, whose culture and livelihoods are closely linked to the region’s extensive
rainforest. - Last November, Mongabay and The Gecko Project published an investigative article exposing the murky dealings underpinning a mega-plantation project in Papua, as part of our series Indonesia for Sale. - Anthropologist Sophie Chao has studied the often fraught relationship between Papuans and plantation firms, and the mechanisms through which indigenous people are compelled to give up their land.
New report lays out low-carbon development path for Indonesia [03/28/2019]
- The Indonesian government published a report showing how the country could reap tremendous economic benefits by transitioning to a low-carbon economy. - According to the report, a low-carbon development path could deliver an average of 6 percent GDP growth per year until 2045, with continued gains in employment, income growth and poverty reduction. - This strategy would also cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions nearly 43 percent by 2030, exceeding Indonesia’s international climate target. - The low-carbon model would require Indonesia to cut its reliance on coal, whereas the government’s current plan is to build more coal-fired power plants.
Leading Amazon dam rights activist, spouse and friend murdered in Brazil [03/27/2019]
- Dilma Ferreira Silva, long time regional coordinator of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in the Tucuruí region of Pará state, was brutally murdered last Friday at her home, along with her husband, Claudionor Costa da Silva, and Hilton Lopes, a friend. - Silva was one of 32,000 people displaced during the construction of the Tucuruí mega-dam. The internationally recognized activist has in recent years been pushing the Brazilian government to adopt legislation establishing the rights of those displaced by dams, providing them with compensation; the government has so far done little to create such laws. - The killers of public officials, environmentalists, landless movement and indigenous activists in the Amazon are rarely found or brought to justice. However, in this case, Civil Police have arrested a large landowner, farmer and businessman, Fernando Ferreira Rosa Filho, known as Fernando Shalom. - While the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and deputies in the Brazilian Congress, have condemned the killing of dam activist Silva, her husband and friend, the Bolsonaro administration has failed to issue a statement of any kind.
No more fires in Indonesia? Blazes on Sumatran peatland say otherwise [03/27/2019]
- Forest fires have flared up in Sumatra again this dry season, belying the government’s claims that it has brought the annual problem under control. - All of the fires recorded so far have been on peat forests, a carbon-rich terrain that a slew of government policies have specifically targeted for restoration and protection since the disastrous fire season of 2015. - Environmental activists say there’s no transparency to gauge how well peat restoration efforts are progressing, and little engagement with NGOs on the ground. - They warn of a continuation of the “business-as-usual” approach that sees the government typically only respond to fires after they’ve broken out.
EU customers warned over possible illegal timber from the Congo [03/27/2019]
- In a briefing paper released March 14, Global Witness accused ten companies from the EU of importing timber harvested illegally from the DRC. - Industrie Forestiere du Congo (IFCO) logged outside of its approved operational area in a remote DRC forest, the watchdog group said. - According to Global Witness, the IFCO acquired the concession from company owners or shareholders whose identities have not yet been confirmed.
How digital technologies can transform nature conservation engagement (commentary) [03/26/2019]
- At this crucial time, a digital leap can provide an opportunity to drastically improve individuals’ engagement in nature conservation by addressing the gaps in the current customer experience preventing more people from getting involved. - Our market research indicates that 82 percent of donors do not fully know where their money is going or whether is having an impact. Donors get frustrated by their inability to track the impact of their donation and select the specific location, project, or wildlife they would like to support. This limited user experience lags behind digital norms and makes it particularly challenging to compel more people to get involved. - People should not have to sacrifice transparency and ease-of-use to reap the benefits of supporting nature conservation. With advanced consumer demands and technology trends, there is an opportunity for improved engagement models that address the current gaps. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Malaysian state chief: Highway construction must not destroy forest [03/26/2019]
- The chief minister of Sabah, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, said that the Pan Borneo Highway project should expand existing roads where possible to minimize environmental impact. - A coalition of local NGOs and scientific organizations applauded the announcement, saying that it could usher in a new era of collaboration between the government and civil society to look out for Sabah’s people and forests. - These groups have raised concerns about the impacts on wildlife and communities of the proposed path of the highway, which will cover some 5,300 kilometers (3,300 miles) in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Brazil fails to give adequate public access to Amazon land title data, study finds [03/25/2019]
- Brazil possesses vast tracts of public lands, especially in the Amazon, which exist in the public domain. Traditional peoples, landless movements, quilombolas (communities established more than a century ago by Afro-Brazilian slave descendants), and other homesteaders have the legal right to lay claim to these lands. - It is the job of state land tenure agencies to keep track of these public lands, regulating the allocation of land and property rights to secure protection for individuals and communities against forcible evictions, and to monitor against illegal deforestation, large illegal land grabs and other illicit activities. - However, a recent study found that none of eight Amazonian states met all the mandated transparency criteria. Active transparency indicators (data accessible on the internet or via public documents) were missing 56 percent of the time. Passive transparency indicators (data available on request) fared poorly as well. - The inefficiency of land tenure agencies in providing land titling information contributes to numerous land conflicts, and increases insecurity in the countryside. The lack of transparency also enhances the possibility of fraud. When the poor are deprived of rightful land title data, the wealthy often have the upper hand if land disputes go to court.
Liberia’s new land rights law hailed as victory, but critics say it’s not enough [03/22/2019]
- Areas allocated to rubber, oil palm and logging concessions cover around a quarter of Liberia’s total land mass. - Liberian activists and the international community have warned that land disputes on oil palm concessions were becoming a time bomb for conflict in the country, and urging lawmakers to give indigenous communities full rights to land the government had handed out as its own. - In September 2018, President George Weah signed the Land Rights Act into law. The law is ambitious and clearly asserts the right to what is known as “customary land,” territory that can be claimed through oral testimony and community agreement. - However, locked within the legislation is a flaw for those living on the quarter of the country’s land set aside for concessions: it is not retroactive. The law will not apply to those already living close to oil palm concessions, a difficult truth that is only just beginning to permeate thousands of villages in Liberia.
With the legal rights to their forest secure, an indigenous community plans for the future [03/21/2019]
- The indigenous Kasepuhan community in Lebak, Indonesia, is one of the lucky few for whom the government has recognized their rights to the lands they have occupied for generations. - Now, local youths are hoping to attract visitors from nearby Jakarta and boost coffee production as a means of creating jobs at home. - “Now we have this clarity,” says Engkos Kosasih, a young Karang man who hopes to put the Karang forest here on the map for ecotourism. “It’s easy to start making plans for the next five or 10 years.”
Forests scramble to absorb carbon as emissions continue to increase [03/21/2019]
- A recent study suggests global forests are absorbing more carbon dioxide as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations increase — but that they still can’t keep up with runaway CO2 emissions. - The study finds that tropical forests, where growth is more robust, are more effective per given area at removing carbon from the atmosphere. - Researchers say there’s still uncertainty about the ability of forests to increase their carbon-absorption capacity over the long term, especially if the climate heats up past a certain point.
Companies to miss 2020 zero-deforestation deadline, report says [03/21/2019]
- Major companies around the world with a self-imposed deadline of ending tropical deforestation in their supply chains by 2020 won’t meet the target, a report released for International Forest Day says. - The “Forest 500” report is an annual assessment of the zero-deforestation commitments made by 350 companies involved in four commodities — cattle, palm oil, soy and timber — and the 150 financial institutions bankrolling them. - Those commodities are responsible for the bulk of agricultural expansion in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Agricultural expansion, in turn, is responsible for most of the deforestation in these regions. - The report calls on the companies it assesses to do more to ensure their actions match their rhetoric on ending deforestation, regardless of the unlikelihood of meeting the 2020 deadline.
In Ethiopia, women and faith drive effort to restore biodiversity [03/20/2019]
- In Addis Ababa, approximately 35 percent of the household fuelwood – mainly eucalyptus – is systematically gathered from the Entoto Mountains just outside the city. - Ethiopia historically planted large areas with fast-growing eucalyptus, a non-native species, to meet the demand for fuelwood. But the trees’ water-hogging nature has had a destructive impact on the land. - There are efforts to reforest areas with native species, supported by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has a tradition of maintaining tree gardens throughout the country.
Mongabay’s top 5 forests stories of 2019 (so far) for International Forests Day [03/20/2019]
Forests have been at the core of Mongabay’s coverage since our founding 20 years ago. So for the International Day of Forests 2019, below are the top 5 most read stories about forests published so far this year at our site, in no particular order. You can also read all of our stories about forests […]
Tapirs could be key in helping degraded rainforests bounce back [03/20/2019]
- A new study has found that lowland tapirs spend more time in degraded forests than in pristine Amazon rainforest. - They also defecate and deposit three times more seeds in these degraded areas. - The results indicate that tapirs may help human-affected forests recover and grow back.
Bolsonaro on the move: International meetings push agribusiness agenda [03/20/2019]
- On his first trip outside Brazil to meet with a head of state, Jair Bolsonaro met with Donald Trump at the White House this week. Bolsonaro also visited the CIA and dined with Trump former strategist Steve Bannon, believed to have had a role in helping Bolsonaro get elected. - Bolsonaro and Trump are known to have discussed trade, but their meeting was conducted in secret. Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” has long expressed his interest in stronger U.S. relations, though Brazil’s agriculture minister is also courting China (U.S./China trade relations remain frosty, and Brazil hopes to sell more of its soy to the Asian nation). - In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bolsonaro stated that the Brazilian government wants more agreements with the United States in a number of areas, especially mining and agriculture. He added that there is much to be discovered in the Amazon, a likely reference to untapped resources and agribusiness possibilities there. - During the visit, a letter of intent was signed between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) “to work toward the launch of the first-ever biodiversity-focused impact-investment fund for the Brazilian Amazon,” with the US$100 million fund to be financed largely by the private sector.
Brazil’s key deforestation drivers: Pasture, cropland, land speculation [03/19/2019]
- New research shows that the expansion of cropland (row crops) in Brazil nearly doubled between 2000 and 2014, from 26 million hectares (100,387 square miles) to 46.5 million hectares (179,538 square miles). - 80 percent of new cropland in Brazil came as a result of the conversion of pastures, while only 20 percent resulted from the direct conversion of native vegetation to croplands, especially soy. - However, while pastureland “absorbs” cropland expansion, and displaces it away from forests, studies show Brazilian deforestation to be most highly driven by land speculation, whereby land speculators deforest an area, possibly selling off the timber, then converting the land to pasture, and then again quickly selling the land to a soy producer at a much increased price. - Study data also confirmed a strong correlation between the implementation of the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium and declines in forest-to-soy direct conversion. However, Amazon conversion to pasturelands remains high. Meanwhile, the Cerrado savannah has seen rapid deforestation due to both pasturelands and soy plantations.
Investors warn soy giants of backlash over deforestation in South America [03/18/2019]
- Investors have called on the world’s biggest soy companies to make firm commitments to end deforestation in wildlife-rich areas of South America such as the Cerrado and Gran Chaco. - Those that fail to do so risk being exposed by environmental activists to consumer boycotts, legal action and falling profits, experts warn. - Investors are leading the way as companies fail to appreciate the scale of the crisis, campaigners say.
Study identifies climate-resilient trees to help orangutan conservation [03/15/2019]
- Once written off as lost cause for conservation, Indonesia’s Kutai National Park supports one of the last intact forest canopies on Borneo’s eastern coast, a habitat for the critically endangered East Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus morio). - An IUCN study funded through the Indianapolis Zoological Society has identified tree species native to Kutai National Park that are resilient to climate change and support orangutan populations. - Climate change has become an emerging threat that is likely to intensify drought conditions and wildfires. Currently, land settlement and human-caused fires pose the greatest existential threat to the park’s ecosystem functions and biodiversity. - The study authors recommended that the fire-resistant native trees they identified in the study be planted in buffer zones around fire-prone areas. They hope the study will help spur research to enable forest restoration in other parts of the world.
Europe, in bid to phase out palm biofuel, leaves fans and foes dismayed [03/15/2019]
- Both palm oil producers and environmental activists alike have expressed dismay with a move by European officials to phase out palm-oil based biofuel by 2030. - Officials in Indonesia and Malaysia, which together produce 85 percent of global supply of the commodity, say the move is discriminatory and have vowed a vigorous response, including lobbying EU member states to oppose it, bringing the matter before the WTO, and imposing retaliatory measures on goods from the EU. - Environmental activists say the policy doesn’t go far enough, leaving loopholes that will allow palm oil produced under certain circumstances to continue being treated as a renewable fuel, thereby allowing for the expansion of palm estates into peat forests. - They have also criticized the policy’s failure to label soybean oil as high risk, in light of growing evidence that deforestation linked to the cultivation of soy may be just as bad as or worse than that of palm oil.
Indigenous Waorani, protesting ‘rushed’ hearing, shut down court with song [03/15/2019]
- The indigenous Waorani community filed a lawsuit against the Ecuadoran government in February for allegedly failing to properly consult with them before attempting to auction off Waorani land for oil drilling. - At their first hearing, on March 13, Waorani women sang in the courtroom and refused to let the hearing go on, until finally the judge deferred it. - The Waorani women were protesting what they felt was a rushed hearing held in the city of Puyo rather than in their territory in the Amazon, and the lack of a community-approved translator.
New maps show where humans are pushing species closer to extinction [03/15/2019]
- A new study maps out how disruptive human changes to the environment affect the individual ranges of more than 5,400 mammal, bird and amphibian species around the world. - Almost a quarter of the species are threatened by human impacts in more than 90 percent of their range, and at least one human impact occurred in an average of 38 percent of the range of a given species. - The study also identified “cool” spots, where concentrations of species aren’t negatively impacted by humans. - The researchers say these “refugia” are good targets for conservation efforts.
Local communities feared repression from WWF, investigation finds [03/14/2019]
- An investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed how for years, paramilitary anti-poaching forces funded and trained by WWF have killed and tortured indigenous villagers on the fringes of national parks. - Even after the conservation nonprofit was made aware of the human rights abuses in 2015, it continued supporting armed eco-guards around the world and pushed for a new national park in the Republic of Congo. - WWF was aware of concerns of violent repression raised by indigenous Baka communities in the Congo, but did not report this to the EU, one of the main funders of the new park. - WWF confirmed to Mongabay that the new park would not go ahead if consent couldn’t be obtained from the Baka.
Brazil to open indigenous reserves to mining without indigenous consent [03/14/2019]
- New Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque announced on 4 March that he plans to permit mining on indigenous lands in Brazil, including within the Amazon. He also said that he intends to allow mining right up to Brazil’s borders, abolishing the current ban along a 150-kilometer (93-mile)-wide swath at the frontier. - The Bolsonaro administration’s indigenous mining plan is in direct opposition to indigenous land rights as guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. The indigenous mining initiative will likely be implemented via a presidential decree, which will almost surely be reviewed, and possibly be rejected, by Brazil’s Supreme Court. - Mining companies stand ready to move into indigenous reserves, if the measure goes forward. Brazil’s mining ministry has received 4,073 requests from mining companies and individuals for mining-related activities on indigenous land. Indigenous groups are outraged and they plan to resist in the courts and by whatever means possible. - Brazil’s mining industry has a very poor safety and environmental record. As recently as January, Brazil mega-mining company Vale saw a tailings dam collapse at Brumadinho which killed 193 and left another 115 missing. Public outcry is strong against the industry currently, but how the public will respond to the indigenous mining plan isn’t yet known.
Defending the Amazon’s uncontacted peoples: Q&A with Julio Cusurichi [03/13/2019]
- Julio Cusurichi, a Shipibo-Conibo leader, has been working to protect the peoples and forests of his native Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru. - Increasingly, illegal gold miners as well as illegal loggers and drug traffickers are proving to be an existential threat for the indigenous people of the region, which concentrates some of the Amazon’s greatest biodiversity. - In recent years Cusurichi led a successful campaign to create a legally recognized indigenous territory and helped establish a network of indigenous forest monitors when the government abandoned the effort. - Now, he is working to gain a greater role for indigenous peoples in governing their territories. “The goal is for indigenous people to be the protagonists,” he told Mongabay on a recent visit to Peru’s capital, Lima. “We have to administer the Amazon regions that are our ancestral territories and not just leave it to the government.”
Brazil to build long-resisted Amazon transmission line on indigenous land [03/13/2019]
- The Brazilian state of Roraima is currently dependent for 70 percent of its power on Venezuela’s Guri hydroelectric dam. But socioeconomic chaos in Venezuela, and deteriorating political relations between the two nations, have caused Brazil to fast-track a 750-kilometer transmission line to replace the imported energy. - General Otávio Rêgo de Barros, using a national security justification, has announced that construction will begin at the end of June on a powerline running between the cities of Manaus and Boa Vista, connecting Roraima with Brazil’s national electrical power grid. - 125 kilometers of the planned transmission line will run through the Waimiri Atroari reserve, and the indigenous group has long resisted its construction. The Waimiri Atroari are concerned about detrimental impacts on the environment and on wildlife, as hunting is a primary way for their communities to obtain food. - Roraima state has done viability studies showing that wind and solar power offer cheaper alternatives to the transmission line. But the Bolsonaro administration has ignored those alternatives. “The Indians will be consulted, but national interest must prevail,” said the general.
Bank of China to review funding of dam in orangutan habitat in Sumatra [03/12/2019]
- A major Chinese state-owned bank has promised to evaluate a hydropower project that it’s helping fund in Sumatra, following criticism that it threatens the world’s rarest great ape species with extinction. - Bank of China said it was “committed to supporting environmental protection globally,” but stopped short of saying what actions it would take in its review of the Batang Toru hydropower project. - The project site is located in a forest that’s the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, a species only described last year. Conservationists estimate the population of the species at about 800. - There has been a mixed response to BOC’s statement, with some conservationists welcoming it and others saying it rings hollow, while a senior Indonesian official has condemned foreign NGOs’ opposition to the project as a form of outside intervention.
Combined effects of fire, fragmentation, and windstorms leave Amazonian trees particularly vulnerable [03/11/2019]
- Recent research finds that Amazonian trees in fragmented forest landscapes remain especially vulnerable to windstorms for several years after being impacted by fire — and that, in particular, larger trees that store more carbon are most at risk. - The research, the results of which were detailed in the Journal of Ecology last September, builds on the findings of a 2014 study that was based on data gathered during a decade-long field experiment involving three 50-hectare rainforest plots on the edge of agricultural fields in southeastern Amazonia — one plot was burned every year, another was burned every three years, and one control site was left unburned. - The researchers found that trees in the burned plots were not only more likely to be uprooted or to have snapped off, usually at the same height as the fire damage the tree had sustained in the past, but that those fire-and-windstorm-damaged trees were much more likely to die in ensuing years.
European Parliament to vote on timber legality agreement with Vietnam [03/11/2019]
- The European Parliament begins debate March 11 on a resolution to consent to the recently signed Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with Vietnam on the trade of timber and timber products from the Southeast Asian country. - The VPA is the result of nearly eight years of negotiations aimed at stopping the flow of illegally harvested timber into the EU. - Members of parliament are expected to vote in favor of the resolution on March 12, though officials in the EU and outside observers have voiced concerns about the legality of the wood imported into Vietnam from other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Encounters with the Javan rhino (commentary) [03/11/2019]
- Relatively little is known about the behavior of the Javan rhinoceros, a famously elusive species with a global population of less than 70 individuals. - Understanding the rhinos’ behavior and how they interact with their environment is key to conservation efforts. - In this commentary, researcher Haeruddin Sadjudin looks back on four decades of work with rhinos to compile anecdotes that shed light on some characteristics of the species. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Latam Eco Review: Scandal rocks famed Easter Island park and a freshwater crab discovery [03/09/2019]
Scandal surrounds indigenous management of a major Easter Island protected area, a newly described freshwater crab species in Colombia, declines in Central America’s peccaries, and a man who can recognize more than 3,000 birdsongs were among the recent top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Nepotism in Easter Island: Fraud scandal rocks famous park […]
Can jaguar tourism save Bolivia’s fast dwindling forests? [03/07/2019]
- Few countries in the tropics have seen trees chopped down as quickly as Bolivia did between 2001 and 2017. - Within Bolivia, nearly two-thirds of that loss occurred in just a single state—Santa Cruz—as agribusiness activity, namely cattle ranching and soy farming, ramped up. - This loss has greatly reduced the extent of habitat for some of Bolivia’s best known species, including the largest land predator in the Americas, the jaguar. On top of habitat loss, jaguars in Santa Cruz are both persecuted by landowners who see them as a danger to livestock, and targeted in a lucrative new trade in their parts, including teeth and bones. - Duston Larsen, the owner of San Miguelito Ranch, is working to reverse that trend by upending the perception that jaguars necessarily need be the enemy of ranchers.
Record levels of deforestation in Peruvian Amazon as gold mines spread [03/06/2019]
- Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon as a result of illegal gold mining hit record numbers in 2017 and 2018, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). - During that period, more than 180 square kilometers (70 square miles) of forest was destroyed,
Salt fiends: Search for sodium puts Rwanda’s gorillas in harm’s way [03/06/2019]
- A recent study has identified a craving for sodium as the likely reason that mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park raid eucalyptus plantations outside the park. - Eucalyptus bark contains 100 times more sodium than the gorillas’ normal diet and accounts for up to two thirds of their total sodium intake. - A proposed buffer zone of nutritionally unattractive plants could help deter gorillas from crop raiding, which is the primary cause of human-gorilla conflict in the area.
Audio: Scott Wallace on the importance of protecting uncontacted indigenous groups in the Amazon [03/05/2019]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Scott Wallace, a journalism professor at the University of Connecticut, National Geographic writer, and author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes. - The Unconquered tells the story of an expedition into remote Amazon rainforests undertaken by the head of Brazil’s Department of Isolated Indians in order to gather information about an uncontacted tribe known as “the Arrow People” and use that information to better protect the indigenous group from the ever-advancing arc of Amazonian deforestation. - Wallace discusses his travels in the Amazon, the latest developments affecting the Arrow People, his reporting on the threats facing isolated and uncontacted indigenous tribes, and why allowing these uncontacted indigenous groups to go extinct would be a “great stain” on our humanity.
Late timber kingpin who plundered Myanmar’s forests unmasked [03/05/2019]
- A Chinese kingpin managed to stockpile thousands of tons of high-grade Burmese teak after paying millions in bribes to corrupt officials in Myanmar, according to a new report. - Cheng Pui Chee, who died last year, “worked with the state to defraud the state,” say investigators from the Environmental Investigation Agency. - Some of this teak ends up in the EU and the U.S., in defiance of regulations meant to ensure imported wood is legally harvested and properly labeled and traded.
Activists fighting to save orangutan habitat from dam unfazed by legal setback [03/05/2019]
- An Indonesian court has ruled that construction of a hydroelectric dam in North Sumatra can proceed despite concerns it will harm the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. - Conservationists plan to appeal, citing “irregularities” in the decision and saying important issues raised during the hearing were not taken into account. - The loss of even one or two orangutans per year due to impacts from the hydroelectric project could lead to eventual extinction, experts say.
The hidden costs of hydro: We need to reconsider world’s dam plans [03/05/2019]
- As thousands of hydroelectric dams are planned worldwide, including 147 in the Amazon, a new study finds that the true socio-environmental and cultural costs of dams are rarely evaluated before construction. Were such factors counted into the lifetime cost of the dams, many would not be built. - Dam repairs and removal at the end of a project’s life are rarely figured into upfront costs. Nor are impacts on river flow reduction, loss of fisheries, and aquatic habitat connectivity, destruction of productive farmlands drowned by reservoirs, and the displacement of riverine peoples. - Lack of transparency and corruption between government and dam construction companies is at the heart of the problem preventing change. Researchers recommend that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and social impact assessments (SIAs) be granted enough weight so that if they turn out negatively it will prevent a bad dam from being built. - EIAs and SIAs should be done by third parties serving citizens, not the dam company. Better governance surrounding dams needs to be organized and implemented. There needs to be increased transparency about the true financial, social, cultural and environmental costs of dams to the public. Maintaining river flows and fish migrations is also critical.
Brazil’s New Forest Code puts vast areas of protected Amazon forest at risk [03/04/2019]
- A still controversial 2012 update to the Brazilian Forest Code that reduced the area required for legal reserves on rural private properties is endangering more than 15 million hectares (57,915 square miles) of Amazon forest, an area roughly the size of the U.S. state of Georgia, according to a recent study. - Under the 2012 New Forest Code changes, Amazon states that have protected at least 65 percent of their territory as conservation units or indigenous reserves can reduce the percentage of native vegetation required to be conserved on private lands, which could lead to even larger increases in Amazon forest loss in those states. - The updated 2012 code also pardoned illegal deforestation that occurred prior to 2008, leading to concerns among conservationists that such amnesties give private landowners a greenlight to clear native vegetation on their properties with impunity. Some analysts expect more deforestation pardons in the future. - Rather than changing Brazil’s laws, say experts, what is needed to curb Amazon deforestation is a sea change in Brazilian culture – ceasing to prioritize industrial agribusiness above conservation and other socioeconomic goals. Such a shift seems unlikely under President Bolsonaro, except via international market forces.
In Nigeria, hunters turn into guardians of the rarest gorilla on Earth [03/04/2019]
- The Cross River gorilla was thought to be extinct by the 1980s, even though people living and hunting in remote areas along the Nigeria-Cameroon border knew the apes were still present deep in the forest. - After the ape was formally rediscovered in the late 1980s, conservation groups and the Nigerian government worked to protect its habitat. - In one part of the Cross River gorilla landscape, the Mbe Mountains, traditional landowners organized themselves into a community conservation association, keeping the forest under their stewardship. - The association faces ongoing challenges, but with the support of NGOs like the Wildlife Conservation Society, it works to protect gorillas while improving the livelihoods of local people.
Architects bring bamboo revival to Indonesian village [03/04/2019]
- Local architects in Tanete, Indonesia, teamed up with the local government to build a new public space made primarily from bamboo. - Bamboo, long used as a construction material, is abundant in the area. - “Bamboo roots save a lot of water,” says Walid, who researches bamboo biomass in Indonesia. “This is what makes bamboo a very good conservation plant.”
As extinction looms, can Javan rhinos survive in Ujung Kulon? (Commentary) [03/04/2019]
- Indonesia’s Javan rhinos were widely hunted until they were protected by a Colonial-era law in 1910. Even then, enforcement was limited. - Since 1921, the Ujung Kulon peninsula in western Java has been protected as a reserve for Javan rhinos. It is now the species’ sole remaining habitat. - Ujung Kulon’s rhino population faces numerous challenges including invasive plants, competition from wild cattle and the risk of natural disasters and disease. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Malaysia to ban oil palm expansion? [03/02/2019]
- Malaysia may ban further expansion of oil palm plantations in an effort to improve the oilseed’s reputation abroad, Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok told Bloomberg. - Kok said the prime minister’s cabinet will weigh a proposal to cap Malaysia’s palm oil estate at 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres). Malaysia currently has 5.85 million hectares, so the cap provides allowances for about 150,000 hectares of expansion already underway. - Kok said that Malaysia could continue to increase palm oil production despite the cap by improving yields of existing plantations. - The proposed move comes in response to criticism over palm oil’s link to large-scale deforestation in Southeast Asia.
Norway divests from plantation companies linked to deforestation [03/01/2019]
- This week, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global – the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund – released its 2018 holdings. - Thirty companies were divested from on the basis that they “impose substantial costs on other companies and society as a whole and so are not long-term sustainable.” These “risk-based divestments” appear to include four plantation companies: Olam International, Halcyon Agri Corp, Sime Darby Plantation and Sipef. - These companies are involved in the production of commodity crops in tropical areas in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Oceania and have been criticized for destructive land use practices like deforestation.
Brazil to receive first-ever results-based REDD+ payment, but concerns remain [03/01/2019]
- The U.N.’s Green Climate Fund (GCF) has approved the first proposal for REDD+ emissions reductions payments, totaling $96 million for around 19 million tons of emissions reductions. - However, GFC board members and observer NGOs expressed concern over how the emissions reductions are calculated. - A study published last month sheds light on the difficulty of accurately calculating changes in forest cover and calls for a more standardized approach.
Latam Eco Review: Mining bust in Peru, mining boom in Chile [03/01/2019]
A state of emergency against illegal mining in Peru, open season for new mining ports in Chile, drones vs rats in the Galápagos, and jaguar corridors in Colombia are among the top recent stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Massive raid on illegal mining in Peru’s Madre de Dios Peruvian security forces descended en […]
In the Congo Basin, a road cuts through once-untouched ape wilderness [03/01/2019]
- The TRIDOM landscape, encompassing forests in Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, is home to more than 40,000 great apes as well as Central Africa’s largest elephant population. - TRIDOM is in the path of a planned road link between Cameroon and Congo. Associated projects include a hydropower dam. - While the project’s environmental impact assessment estimated only 750 hectares (1,850 acres) of woodland would be cleared for the road, on-the-ground observation of work in progress indicates the impact will be much greater. - In addition to the direct impact of forest clearing, conservationists fear the road will increase habitat fragmentation, facilitate hunting and mining, and encourage human migration into the area — something that is already happening.
Protests flare as pressure mounts on dam project in orangutan habitat [03/01/2019]
- Activists in Jakarta and cities around the world staged protests outside Bank of China branches and Chinese diplomatic missions on March 1. - They called on state-owned BOC to end its funding for a hydroelectric project in Sumatra that threatens the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest great ape. - A lawsuit is pending in an Indonesian court, and a verdict due on March 4 could see the developer’s environmental permit rescinded, essentially halting the project. - The protests come amid a revelation, first reported by Mongabay, that the signature of a scientist involved in the environmental impact analysis was forged to obtain the permit.
For the famed chimps of Gombe, human encroachment takes a toll [02/28/2019]
- The chimpanzee population in Gombe National Park in Tanzania has declined significantly in recent years. - Among other factors, loss of suitable habitats due to charcoal production and smallholder agriculture has contributed to this drop. - The Jane Goodall Institute, domiciled in Gombe, is now working with the communities living near the park to address these issues.
Abandoned plantations in forested areas may not recover fully: Study [02/27/2019]
- In a eucalyptus plantation in Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in southern India, abandoned for nearly 40 years and allowed to regenerate, researchers found that the number of tree species had increased since 2005, now making it similar that of the adjacent primary forest. - But the kinds of trees growing in the plantation were very different from those in the primary forest, suggesting that the latter provide ecosystem benefits, like greater carbon storage, that the plantation forests do not. - While plantation forests can provide benefits, such as serving as a corridor connecting primary forests, they are not a substitute for intact old-growth forests, the researchers conclude.
New study finds young forests have a huge climate impact [02/26/2019]
- A recent study finds young forests sequester more carbon per year than old-growth forests. In total, it estimates that intact, old-growth forests sequestered 950 million to 1.11 billion metric tons of carbon per year while younger forests – those that have been growing less than 140 years – stored between 1.17 and 1.66 billion metric tons per year. - The study also estimates that the world’s regenerating forests stand to uptake a further 50 billion metric tons of carbon as they grow. - These findings upend conventional wisdom that old-growth tropical rainforests are the planet’s biggest carbon sinks. - The authors say their research could be used to improve forest management and help mitigate climate change.
Fears of a dire precedent as Brazil seeks results-based REDD+ payment [02/25/2019]
- Critics worry that Brazil’s reference level for deforestation and the lack of guarantee that the carbon will stay locked up could set an unsustainable precedent for future payments. - The forest reference levels currently used in the proposal are high enough that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could double and Brazil would still qualify for “results-based” payments.
Allegation of forged signature casts shadow over China-backed dam in Sumatra [02/25/2019]
- A researcher has claimed that his signature was forged in a document used to obtain a permit for a Chinese-backed $1.6 billion hydropower project in Indonesia. - If his claim is proven true, the project’s environmental permit would presumably be rendered invalid, raising questions about the project’s future. - Environmentalists say the cancellation of the project is crucial for the future survival of the Tapanuli orangutan, a newly described great ape that is already at risk of extinction due to habitat fragmentation.
World’s largest bee filmed alive for the first time in Indonesia [02/25/2019]
- The world’s largest known bee, the Wallace’s giant bee, has been photographed and filmed in Indonesia’s North Maluku archipelago alive for the first time. - Wallace’s giant bee is listed as data deficient on the IUCN Red List and researchers know very little about the species. - But last year, researchers discovered listings of Wallace’s giant bee specimens up for auction on eBay. One specimen sold for $9,100, and another for $4,150. - Given that collectors already know that the bee is out there, researchers hope that the publicity of the bee will renew both research efforts to understand the bee’s life history better, as well as government efforts to protect the species.
Indonesian minister blasted over palm permit for graft-tainted concession [02/22/2019]
- Anti-corruption officials and environmental activists have criticized the Indonesian forestry ministry for allowing a company that obtained a forest concession through bribery to clear the land for a palm oil plantation. - PT Hardaya Inti Plantations (HIP) was allowed to keep the concession even after its owner, politician Hartati Murdaya Poo, was arrested and jailed for bribing the chief of Buol district to grant her company the concession in 2012. - The forestry minister has defended her decision, but in the wake of the controversy has sent investigators to review the concession.
Brazil wants to legalize agribusiness leasing of indigenous lands [02/21/2019]
- It is currently illegal under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution for outside agricultural producers to lease land within indigenous reserves from indigenous groups in order to grow commercial commodities crops there. It is also illegal for indigenous groups to convert forests within their reserves to commercial commodities crop production. - However, the Bolsonaro government, utilizing public events and public statements, has made it clear that it condones such activities. Brazil currently knows of 22 indigenous reserves in violation of the law, with areas illegally leased to agricultural producers totaling 3.1 million hectares (11,969 square miles). - Bolsonaro’s Agriculture Minister stated last week that she wants to see Congress move forward with new measures to make commercial commodities growing legal within indigenous reserves, provided the indigenous people living there agree to the crops and make land leasing agreements with producers. - Up until now, indigenous groups have been renowned as the best protectors of the Amazon rainforest. However, the Bolsonaro administration’s moves seem aimed at dividing indigenous groups into two camps, one that favors agribusiness conversion, and one that wants to protect reserve forests and indigenous traditions.
In a predator-infested forest, survival for baby birds comes by the road [02/21/2019]
- Fledglings of a common bird, the white-rumped shama, in a tropical forest in Thailand were more likely to survive if they came from nests near a roadway than if they fledged deeper in the forest, researchers have found. - The scientists believe that predators’ preference for the forest’s interior at this study site led to the difference in survival rates. - Still, they caution that the apparent benefits of one road for a small subset of a single species don’t necessarily extend to the broader bird community, and say that planners should avoid building roads through areas of high conservation value. - More research is necessary to determine if this effect is specific just to this study site.
Cambodia’s fragile Prey Lang forest remains under threat [02/21/2019]
- Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest has been under threat from illegal loggers for nearly 20 years, with deforestation spiking to 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) in 2016, the same year a wildlife sanctuary was declared. - A grassroots group that seeks to protect the ecosystem says it continues to find “alarming” evidence of illegal logging in and around the forest and protected area. - These activists say they fear loggers are able to escape because of a 2017 government regulation requiring them to seek permission before conducting any more patrols.
UN passes first ever declaration for peasant rights [02/20/2019]
- A new UN Declaration protects peasant rights to land, seeds, and adequate incomes with an emphasis on civil and social rights. - Peasants, which includes small-scale farmers, rural workers, fishing communities, pastoralists and landless agriculture workers, have been recognized as a vulnerable population with distinct needs for the first time ever. - By protecting peasant rights, the new status aims to also help reduce climate change and protect biodiversity.
New Species of orangutan threatened from moment of its discovery [02/20/2019]
- In a November 2017 article, an international team of scientists described a new species of great ape: the Tapanuli orangutan. - The announcement was based on years of researched that demonstrated the species exhibited genetic, physical and behavioral differences that distinguished it from Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. - Even as conservationists celebrated the description of a new species, they raised an alarm about the dangers facing the ape — notably, a hydropower dam planned for its sole remaining habitat. - This is the second in a two-part series about the discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan.
Bolsonaro government takes aim at Vatican over Amazon meeting [02/20/2019]
- The Catholic Church has scheduled a Synod for October, a meeting at which bishops and priests (and one nun) from the nine Latin American Amazon countries will discuss environmental, indigenous and climate change issues. - Members of the new rightist Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro are eyeing the event with suspicion, seeing it as an attack on national sovereignty by a progressive church. - To show its opposition to the Amazon Synod, the Brazilian government plans to sponsor a rival symposium in Rome, just a month before the Pope’s meeting, to present examples of “Brazil’s concern and care for the Amazon.” - At issue are two opposing viewpoints: the Catholic Church under Pope Francis sees itself and all nations as stewards of the Earth and of less privileged indigenous and traditional people. Bolsonaro, however, and many of his ruralist and evangelical allies see the Amazon as a resource to be used and developed freely by humans.