Illegal loggers ‘cook the books’ to harvest Amazon’s most valuable tree [05/24/2018]
- A new study finds that illegal logging, coupled with weak state-run timber licensing systems, has led to massive timber harvesting fraud in Brazil, resulting in huge illicit harvests of Ipê trees. This process is doing major damage to the Amazon, as loggers build roads deep into forests, causing fragmentation and creating greater access. - To reduce document fraud, the Brazilian federal government this month required that all states register or integrate their timber licensing systems within a national timber inventory and tracking system known as Sinaflor. While this should reduce fraudulent paperwork, onsite illicit timber harvesting practices remain a major problem. - Better oversight of forest management plans and more onsite inspections of timber operations are needed to curb illegal logging practices and to prevent harvesting on public lands and in indigenous reserves. The high value of Ipê wood — selling for up to $2,500 per cubic meter at export — makes it very profitable for illegal loggers. - Ipê wood is largely shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Analysts say that buyers all along the timber supply chain turn a blind eye toward fraud, with sawmills, exporters, and importers trusting the paperwork they receive, rather than questioning whether the lower prices they pay for Ipê and other timber may be due to timber laundering.
Hunters are wiping out hornbills in Ghana’s forests [05/23/2018]
- According to a new study, Ghana is losing hornbill species to “uncontrolled” hunting, mostly for meat, from its forested parks and reserves. - The researchers found that the five largest species of hornbills in the Bia Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have disappeared in recent decades. - The authors of the paper suggest that increased enforcement will help protect threatened hornbills, as well as other wildlife species, in areas under intense pressure from humans.
Trio of studies challenges Indian government claim of increasing forest cover [05/23/2018]
- Three studies published over the past seven months show that forest cover in India is declining, contrary to findings from the latest Forest Survey of India report. - One study found 16 to 30 percent forest loss in the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, while another study found that the Eastern Ghats lost nearly 16 percent of their forest area between 1920 and 2015. - The third study, which analyzed patterns of forest cover across India from 2001 to 2014, found “significant negative changes” in the seasonal green cover, with the highest decline recorded in tropical moist deciduous forests.
Brazil has the tools to end Amazon deforestation now: report [05/18/2018]
- A coalition of environmental NGOs known as the Zero Deforestation Working Group has developed a practical plan called “A Pathway to Zero Deforestation in the Amazon.” First proposed at the COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany, last November, the NGOs propose workable strategies for ending deforestation quickly in Brazil, while also yielding significant economic and social benefits. - Deforestation continues, the report says, because cleared land is worth more than forested land in the Amazon, so there is a strong economic incentive to buy up large amounts of forestland and clear it. Also, enforcement of Brazilian forestry laws remains weak. Finally, markets have been slow to make, and implement, commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains. - Deforestation solutions require a new development vision for the Brazilian Amazon, say analysts, with policies that promote the sustainable use of forest products, and policies that end the expansion of agro-commodities into native forests, and promote agribusiness growth on the nation’s surplus of 15-20 million hectares of already deforested and degraded land. - Law enforcement to curb illegal land grabbing also needs to happen, especially on the 70 million hectares of public land in Amazonia not allocated for specific uses. Also, government must start tracking cattle from point of origin with indirect suppliers, where deforestation occurs, to slaughterhouses. A key step to a solution: open talks between agribusiness and environmentalists.
How an island of mice is changing what we know about evolution [05/17/2018]
- Researchers have identified the smallest-known island where multiple species of mammals evolved from a single founding species. The Philippine island of Mindoro is the size of Yellowstone National Park and host to four species of earthworm mice. - Genetic analysis indicates all members from these four species descended from just a few individuals that rafted to Mindoro from a neighboring island millions of years ago. - Three of the species are endemic to Mindoro, and the researchers believe they evolved on different mountains. The study’s findings highlight the pivotal role mountains can play in speciation, and provide evidence that evolution can occur even in small areas. - The researchers say this underlines the importance of protected areas not just for species preservation, but for species emergence as well. The apparent success of such a small founding population may also give hope for species currently hovering on the precipice of extinction.
Humans are leaving their mark on the world’s protected areas, study finds [05/17/2018]
- About one-third of the world’s total protected area — around 6 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) — bears the scars of substantial degradation at the hands of humans, according to research published in the journal Science. - The researchers found that large parks and reserves held to the toughest standards are doing significantly better than those with laxer controls. - The authors argue that assessments of the effectiveness of protected areas should be considered, especially as governments try to meet one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets calling for protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land area by 2020.
Brazilian Amazon oil palm deforestation under control, for now [05/17/2018]
- Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP), launched in 2010, aims to prevent primary and secondary forest clearing for new oil palm plantations in Legal Amazonia. As part of the plan, a bio-physical suitability zoning map excluded legally protected parks, indigenous reserves and intact forest areas from those areas available for oil palm cultivation. - With 31.2 million hectares (120,463 square miles) of degraded land existing in Legal Amazonia that could be put into oil palm production without severe ecological consequences, it was thought at the time that there would be no need for deforestation by the industry. A recent study gauges SPOPP’s success from 2006 to 2014. - The study surveyed oil palm cultivation over a 50,000 square kilometer area in Pará state, finding that 90 percent of production expansion over that time occurred on former pasture, not forest. In fact, direct conversion of intact forest to oil palm declined 4 percent from 2006-2010, to less than 1 percent from 2010-2014 in the study area. - Researchers fear that major deforestation due to an oil palm production boom could occur in the near future if transportation infrastructure is markedly improved, and if Brazil’s economy, political and institutional stability increases. The study didn’t address escalating conflicts between Amazon oil palm plantations and traditional communities.
Greenpeace disowns paper giant over deforestation allegations [05/16/2018]
- Environmental NGO Greenpeace will end its engagement with the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Group and its pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). - A new mapping analysis by the NGO showed 80 square kilometers of forests and peatlands has been cleared since 2013 in two concessions that are linked to the paper giant. - Greenpeace said this finding put APP’s commitment to end deforestation in jeopardy.
‘Rainbow’ chameleon among three new species described from Madagascar [05/16/2018]
- Researchers discovered the brilliantly colored rainbow chameleon, now named Calumma uetzi, during an expedition to the remote Sorata massif in northern Madagascar in 2012. - Over surveys between 2015 and 2016, the researchers found another new species of chameleon, now dubbed Calumma juliae, in a 15-square-kilometer patch of forest. The researchers were unable to find any males of this species. - They also found only a single male specimen of the third new chameleon species, Calumma lefona, spotted in Andrevorevo in northern Madagascar.
The destruction of nature in S. Sumatra has given rise to a criminal generation (commentary) [05/16/2018]
- Reports of criminal activity have increasingly trickled out of Indonesia’s South Sumatra province. - Could these incidents of violence, lawbreaking and general lack of respect for order be related to diminishing natural resources and destruction of the landscape? This article explores this idea. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author alone.
Study links malaria to deforestation in the Amazon [05/15/2018]
- A study published recently adds evidence to the argument that deforestation aids the spread of malaria. - Researchers compared deforestation patterns to malaria rates in nine states in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that places with the highest incidences of malaria were impacted forest patches between 0.1 and 5 square kilometers in size. - The researchers write that these forest patches contain the shaded, watery, forest-edge habitat preferred by the mosquitos that transmit malaria. - To keep malaria from becoming an even bigger threat, the authors call for better monitoring of mosquito populations, land planning, and income generation schemes for forest-dwelling communities.
Attack of the turtles: ruralists assault environmental laws, Amazon [05/15/2018]
- With the Brazilian public focused on the October elections, and many members of congress gone home to organize runs for office, the bancada ruralista, rural lobby, has launched a raft of amendments, attached to unrelated bills, that would undo many of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protections. There is a strong chance of passage. - These stealth measures are known as “jabutis” or “turtles.” Two jabutis, attached to an energy bill, could lead to the privatization of Brazil’s electricity sector, and to allowing the ownership of land by foreigners, currently forbidden in Brazil, for the purpose of building dams, transmission lines, and other energy facilities. Passage could greatly benefit China. - Another rider, attached to a bill giving emergency humanitarian assistance to Venezuelan refugees, would abolish a legal requirement to consult with indigenous communities about new energy projects to be built beside roads and railways that already cross their lands. The rider would immediately impact the Waimiri-Atroari Indians in Roraima state. - Another jabuti would benefit Cerrado agribusiness by classifying all proposed irrigation projects as “projects of public interest,” making them easier to approve, with less rigorous environmental impact studies. Another jabuti would simplify the environmental licensing process for small hydroelectric dams, potentially harming both the Amazon and Pantanal.
Sifaka lemurs listed as “critically endangered” amid mysterious die-off [05/15/2018]
- In the last month and a half, at least 31 Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi) have died in Berenty Reserve near Madagascar’s southern tip. - It’s one of the largest lemur die-offs scientists can remember. - Experts believe that a parasite or tick-borne disease is likely to blame, but the exact cause remains unknown. - At a large IUCN meeting held last week in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, primate specialists decided to uplist all nine sifaka species from endangered to critically endangered.
Typo derails landmark ruling against Indonesian palm oil firm guilty of burning peatland [05/15/2018]
- A district court in Indonesia has shielded an oil palm company from a Supreme Court ruling ordering it to pay $26.5 million in fines for burning peatlands in a high-biodiversity area, citing a typo in the original prosecution. - The verdict has stunned activists, who had hoped that the original guilty verdict would set a strong precedent for the judicial fight against environmental crimes. - The government is appealing the latest ruling, which, ironically, is fraught with typos that — under the same legal logic — would render it just as invalid as the original guilty verdict.
Higher incomes, not higher carbon dioxide levels, drive forest gains, study finds [05/15/2018]
- New research indicates that higher levels of economic development, rather than carbon dioxide, are responsible for some countries’ gains in forest cover. - The findings contradict several climate change models that point to the role that higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere can play as a “fertilizer” for plants. - Policy decisions should account for the role that development plays in the health of forests, the authors say.
Damming the Amazon unfettered after Brazilian purge (commentary) [05/14/2018]
- In January 2018, two key Brazilian officials, Paulo Pedrosa, executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), and Luiz Augusto Barroso, the head of Energy Research Enterprise, an MME agency responsible for energy planning, announced a shift away from destructive Amazon mega-dam construction. - They said the reason for the shift was the heavy environmental and social impacts of such dams. - After the appointment of Moreira Franco, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, both MME officials were replaced. Franco is under investigation in the lava jato (car wash) corruption probe. Amazon dams are particularly prone to corruption. - There has been no mention since January that any planned Amazonian dams listed for construction by 2026 will be cancelled. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indonesia enlists plantation companies to ensure haze-free Asian Games [05/14/2018]
- Organizers of the Asian Games in August are wary of the major sporting event being hit by haze from brush and peat fires, an annual occurrence in Sumatra, where one of the host cities is located. - The government has called on pulpwood and oil palm companies with concessions in fire-prone areas to take steps to restore degraded peatlands and prevent fires during this year’s dry season, which runs from June through September. - The companies are legally obliged to restore areas of deep peat, and some are fast-tracking their other fire-prevention programs in light of the Asian Games.
New species of shrew discovered on a single mountaintop in the Philippines [05/11/2018]
- The newly described Palawanosorex muscorum, or the Palawan moss shrew, is known to live only near the peak of Mount Mantalingajan on Palawan Island in the southern Philippines. - The shrew has a stout body and broad forefeet with long claws, which it uses to dig through humus on the forest floor to look for earthworms. - The moss shrew has no close known relatives in Asia, and how it came to live on Mount Mantalingajan is a mystery, researchers say.
Sumatran habitat for tigers, orangutans gets a partial reprieve from development [05/10/2018]
- The Aceh provincial government has vowed to protect Gunung Leuser National Park, the core part of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, by canceling infrastructure projects in the park. - However, questions linger over the future of the remaining part of the wider ecosystem, where planned infrastructure projects remain unaffected by the latest pledge. - Activists have called on the provincial government to recognize the wider Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh’s spatial plans so that the region is excluded from any infrastructure development that could threaten the habitat of the many endangered species living there.
Debate ensues over British supermarket chain’s decision to ban palm oil [05/10/2018]
- Iceland Foods recently decided to remove palm oil from its own-label products. The move follows a vote by the European Parliament to ban the use of palm oil in European biofuels. - An aggressive lobbying campaign spearheaded by actors from Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top palm oil producers, have framed the ban as an attack on small farmers, although the industry is dominated by large companies. But Iceland’s move has also spurred debate among scientists and conservationists, some of whom say Iceland would do better to source palm oil that has been produced “sustainably.” - Iceland says it doesn’t believe there is enough “truly sustainable palm oil…currently available on the mass market” for that to be a practical solution. The credibility of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the world’s largest association for ethical production of the commodity, for example, is widely seen as questionable, as it has repeatedly failed to enforce its standards. - Greenpeace described Iceland’s move as a “warning shot from a tiny UK company, that could start to grow bigger if palm oil producers and governments don’t tackle the scourge of deforestation.”
A forgotten people: traditional Amazon hamlet fights for its territory [05/09/2018]
- In the early 20th century, rubber tappers established traditional communities along the middle reaches of the Xingu River in the Amazon. In the late 20th century these communities endured the threats of illegal loggers and land thieves. - In the early 2000s, São Sebastião do Xingu residents were told that a group of elite landowners had bought the land on which their hamlet stood, and that the community would be forced to vacate, which it did, moving upstream. Then, in 2005, the people were told again they would have to move to make way for Serra do Pardo National Park. - This time, the residents of São Sebastião resisted and stayed on the land, despite intense pressure from the Brazilian government to leave. They argued that they were not properly informed of the government’s plan to establish the park, that their livelihoods are sustainable, and that they live in harmony with the local ecology, rather than harming it. - São Sebastião residents continue to negotiate to stay on their land with officials from ICMBio, the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation. And while those talks have been painfully slow, the traditional people hope that the conflict will be resolved soon, and that they will be able to keep their homes and territory.
Indonesian activists protest China-funded dam in orangutan habitat [05/09/2018]
- The Chinese government plans to fund a massive hydroelectric power dam in the Batang Toru ecosystem in North Sumatra, Indonesia, where the newly described Tapanuli orangutan lives. - Activists staged a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta on May 8, coinciding with a state visit by Premier Li Keqiang, to condemn Beijing’s involvement in the project. - In a letter submitted by the demonstrators to the embassy, they demanded China withdraw its support for the project due to the massive environmental threats posed by the endeavor.
Pleistocene climates help scientists pick out targets for conservation in Brazil’s forests [05/08/2018]
- A team of scientists looked for places in the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest that have had stable weather patterns for a long time — going back to the Pleistocene Epoch — but that don’t fall within the boundaries of existing parks or reserves. - They measured the efficiency of the current network of protected areas in these areas, and they also came up with a prioritization scale for conservation efforts that incorporated the locations of intact forest landscapes. - The team reports that protected areas in the Amazon are four times as efficient at safeguarding these “climatically stable areas” as protected areas in the Atlantic Forest.
Four regions in Peru exposed to mercury contamination [05/08/2018]
- People living in the regions of Madre de Dios, Huancavelica, Puno, and Cusco have mercury levels higher than those considered safe. - It is estimated that in the last 20 years, more than 3,000 tons of mercury have been dumped into rivers in the Peruvian Amazon.
‘Rarest’ ape’s path to survival blocked by roads, dams and agriculture [05/03/2018]
- According to a new study, the Tapanuli orangutan, one of only seven species of non-human great ape alive today, faces serious threats to its survival as infrastructure development and agriculture threaten more than one-quarter of its habitat. - In November, a team of scientists reported that a new species of orangutan living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was distinct from Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. - They believe that fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans survive. - Conservationists and scientists warn that a proposed 510-megawatt hydroelectric dam could push the new species closer to extinction.
What’s next for Indonesia’s stalled indigenous rights bill? [05/03/2018]
- The fate of a long-awaited bill on the rights of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples appeared to be in jeopardy last month when the home ministry, which had been tasked by the president with shepherding the bill’s passage into law, expressed the view that the bill was not necessary. - Though the ministry has since backtracked on its position following an outcry from indigenous rights advocates, it remains uncertain whether the bill will make it through the legislative process before the end of the current parliament term. - But even those pushing for the bill to be passed say it is far from perfect. Among the critiques is that it creates new hoops for indigenous communities to jump through on the path to securing tenure over their land and forests.
Religious leaders mobilize to protect indigenous people and forests [05/02/2018]
- Religious leaders joined forces with indigenous peoples from Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Meso-America and Peru at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo in 2017 to launch the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI). - The IRI plans to mobilize high profile religious leaders to intervene in policy forums and advocate for forests and indigenous people with support from UN Environment. - It has been estimated that one third of climate change mitigation is from tropical rainforests and securing land rights for indigenous peoples is an effective and low-cost method of reducing carbon emissions.
New film shines light on cattle industry link to Amazon deforestation [05/01/2018]
- Approximately one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been cut down, and nearly 80 percent of this deforestation is attributable to the cattle industry, says a new nearly hour-long documentary, “Grazing the Amazon.” - Many ranchers are outspoken in their justification for deforestation, possibly because they feel safe from prosecution under Brazilian law because of the bancada ruralista, the powerful agribusiness lobby that has a huge influence in congress and on the Temer administration. - One of the major problems driving deforestation is “cattle washing,” illicit techniques for raising cattle on newly deforested land by falsifying records, or shifting the cattle from illegal pasture to legal pasture, before sending them to slaughterhouses. Better recordkeeping could help to illuminate and limit this practice. - Government and/or banking sanctions and incentives are also badly needed to motivate cattle ranchers to move away from deforestation, and to support already proven techniques for sustainable livestock production in the Brazilian Amazon.
First record of ultrasound communication in the mysterious Sunda colugo [05/01/2018]
- Until recently, the Sunda colugo was known to only produce calls in the audible range. But scientists have now published the first-ever record of these animals producing ultrasound calls in the Penang Hill forests of Malaysia. - Overall, the researchers recorded colugo ultrasound calls 16 times and spotted seven individuals likely associated with those calls. - The team has yet to determine the purpose of the ultrasound calls.
Major Islamic financier singled out for deforestation in Indonesia [05/01/2018]
- Lembaga Tabung Haji is a Malaysian Islamic financial institution whose listed palm oil arm, TH Plantations, owns dozens of estates in Malaysia and Indonesia. - The firm was the subject of a recent report by Chain Reaction Research that alleges it cleared hundreds of hectares of carbon-rich forest and peatland for oil palm expansion in 2017. - The firm supplies major refiners and users of palm oil, such as Wilmar, ADM, Nestlé and Unilever, some of which have promised to stop sourcing palm oil linked to environmental destruction.
New species of Malaysian water beetle named after Leonardo DiCaprio [04/30/2018]
- A new species of water beetle has been named after actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. - The species was discovered in Borneo during a survey organized by Taxon Expeditions, which sets up trips for citizen scientists to discover undescribed species. - The discoverers chose to honor DiCaprio for his support of environmental causes.
Palm oil supplier to food giants clears forest, peatland in Indonesia, Greenpeace says [04/30/2018]
- The Yemen-based Hayel Saeed Anam Group, which sells palm oil to Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever through subsidiaries, is responsible for clearing 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) of rainforest and peatland in Indonesia’s Papua province between 2015 and 2017, according to Greenpeace. - Staff from the environmental organization shot video revealing the extent of the destruction. - Greenpeace campaigners have raised concerns that Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are not upholding their commitments to get rid of deforestation, peatland destruction and exploitation from their supply chains.
3,000 indigenous people gather in Brasilia to protest ruralist agenda [04/30/2018]
- From 23-27 April, 3,000 indigenous people from a hundred groups all across Brazil came together in Brasilia for the 15th annual encampment to demonstrate against government policies and to demand justice. While last year’s event saw police crowd control with teargas, this year’s was peaceful. - This year’s encampment, like last year’s, was among the largest ever, catalysed by rising violence against indigenous leaders and activists, and by what participants see as the repressive and authoritarian policies of the Temer government and Congress, both of which are dominated by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby. - Among other demands, the demonstrators called for demarcation of ancestral lands, guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, but not yet carried out in many indigenous areas. Protestors also asked the government to obey International Labour Organization Convention 169, which Brazil signed, and assures pre-consultation of groups impacted by large infrastructure projects. - Indigenous women had an exceptionally strong presence at this year’s encampment, and there was further collaboration with traditional riverine group representatives, who in the past were sometimes indigenous opponents. Now, indigenous and traditional people are joining together to prevent the loss of their lands and cultures, and to preserve their way of life.
More gorillas and chimpanzees living in Central Africa’s forests than thought [04/27/2018]
- A study led by WCS researchers pulled together wildlife survey data collected between 2003 and 2013 at 59 sites in five countries across western Central Africa. - They then developed mathematical models to understand where the highest densities of gorillas and chimpanzees are and why, as well as broader trends in the populations. - They found that more than 361,000 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and almost 129,000 central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) inhabit these forests — about 30 percent more gorillas and 10 percent more chimpanzees than previously estimated. - The team’s analyses also demonstrate that western lowland gorilla numbers are slipping by 2.7 percent a year.
Photos: Meet the 2018 ‘Green Oscars’ winners [04/27/2018]
- The six winners of 2018 Whitley Award are Munir Virani of Kenya; Shahriar Caesar Rahman of Bangladesh; Kerstin Forsberg of Peru; Dominique Bikaba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Anjali Chandraraj Watson of Sri Lanka; and Olivier Nsengimana of Rwanda. - Each recipient was awarded £40,000 ($56,000) in project funding over one year at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, U.K., on April 25. - A seventh conservationist, Pablo “Popi” Garcia Borboroglu from Argentina, who won the Whitley Award in 2010, received the Whitley Gold Award for his commitment to safeguarding the world’s penguin species.
‘Shocking and worrying’: Selective logging has big, lasting impact on fish [04/26/2018]
- A new study finds nearly as few fish species in selectively logged forests as they did in forests clear-cut for plantations. Both selectively logged and clear-cut areas had around half the number fish species present in protected, intact forests. - These findings run counter to conventional wisdom that holds selective logging is not as ecologically destructive as complete deforestation. - The study also found a similar number of fish species in streams in oil palm plantations with and without remnant forest buffers, which are often mandated in the hopes of safeguarding biodiversity. - The study’s authors say their findings underline the importance of protecting remaining primary forest.
Environmental defenders fear backlash as defendant sues expert over testimony [04/26/2018]
- Basuki Wasis, an environmental expert whose testimony helped convict a provincial governor of abuse of power, now faces a lawsuit brought by the latter for alleged inaccuracies in his calculations of environmental damage. - The lawsuit against Basuki is similar to one he faced last year from a palm oil company that was fined for setting fires on its concession. The earlier lawsuit was dropped, but the company now appears to be targeting another expert witness who testified against it. - The litigation has sparked concerns among environmental experts and activists alike, who fear it will have a silencing effect and allow environmental crimes to go unpunished. - They also worry that without financial assessments of damages caused to the environment, prosecutors trying corruption cases in the natural resources sector will not be able to push for longer prison sentences and heavier fines.
‘Monumental’ bust in Madagascar triggers effort to save thousands of endangered tortoises [04/25/2018]
- Authorities discovered 9,888 starving and dehydrated radiated tortoises in a vacant house in southwestern Madagascar on April 10. - Since then, a team of organizations led by the Turtle Survival Alliance has been working to provide care for the critically endangered tortoises, 574 of which died during the first week. - The tortoises, endemic to Madagascar, have lost around 40 percent of their habitat to deforestation, and poachers commonly capture them for the pet trade in Asia and the United States.
Study puts a figure to hidden cost of community-company conflict in palm oil industry [04/25/2018]
- Two studies have revealed the extraordinary costs of social conflicts between local communities and palm oil firms in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the vegetable oil. - One study found that more than half of local household expenditure at present was going on things they would have obtained for free in the past, such as water and fruits, from the forests that were cleared to make way for palm plantations. - The other study highlighted the hidden burden of these same conflicts on the companies, amounting to millions of dollars in tangible and intangible costs, including reputational damage.
Papuan chef Charles Toto serves up sustainability and environmental protection in a platter [04/24/2018]
- Charles Toto is the founder of the Jungle Chef Community, a network of enthusiasts from across the Indonesian region of Papua who promote sustainable living and environmental protection through local cuisine. - Toto came up with the idea after seeing foreign documentary makers and tour groups embarking on weeks-long treks in the Papuan wilderness with nothing more than instant and canned food. - Over the years, he has learned to make the best use of the ingredients served up by the forest and the sea, and has taken his unique mission to culinary shows across Indonesia and abroad. - But for Toto and his group, the opening up of Papua’s forests to palm oil and other commercial operators, aided by a government-backed infrastructure push, threatens the region’s natural wealth and heritage.
Restoring flagging oil palm plantations to forest may benefit clouded leopards, study finds [04/24/2018]
- A team of biologists fitted four clouded leopards in the Kinabatangan region of Malaysian Borneo with satellite collars, and they gathered several months of data on the animals’ movements. - They found that the cats stuck to areas with canopy cover, and they avoided land cleared for oil palm. - Converting underperforming oil palm plantations back to forest could help the clouded leopard population with minimal impact on the state’s production of palm oil, the authors predict.
Conservation Effectiveness series sparks action, dialogue [04/23/2018]
- Our in-depth series examined the effectiveness of six common conservation strategies: Forest certification, payments for ecosystem services, community-based forest management, terrestrial protected areas, marine protected areas, and environmental advocacy. - We also examined how four of the biggest groups that dominate today’s conservation landscape — The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) — make decisions about which conservation strategy to employ. - Our series generated a lot of discussion and attracted a wide variety of feedback. - We hope to keep our databases of scientific studies and our infographics alive and relevant by developing a platform that allows researchers to update them by adding studies. We welcome ideas on this effort.
Island logging must go beyond current ‘best practices’ to avoid erosion: New study [04/23/2018]
- In a new study, a team of ecologists modeled what would happen if companies were allowed to log the forests of Kolombangara Island under several management scenarios, including those designed to minimize soil erosion and protect water quality. - As the model simulated higher proportions of land clearance, the most stringent methods couldn’t stop the soil erosion that would foul clean water and agricultural land for the island’s people, as well as the habitats of local aquatic plants and animals. - The Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association is spearheading an effort to get intact forests at elevations higher than 400 meters (1,310 feet) designated as a national park on the island.
Save intact forests for humanity’s sake, urge experts [04/20/2018]
- The world’s largest forests can help solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, but only if we move to safeguard them, argues a New York Times op-ed by Tom Lovejoy and John Reid. - Lovejoy and Reid make a case for protecting the planet’s last “intact forest landscapes” for the role they can play in addressing critical social and environmental challenges. - They argue that while the extent of intact forests have declined by 7 percent so far this century, there are “practical and affordable” options for protecting them. - “aving forests more than just a nice thing to do; it’s a survival skill we’re going to need over the next hundred years or more,” Reid told Mongabay in an interview.
Bid to protect indigenous Indonesians hit by ministry’s doubts over rights bill [04/20/2018]
- Indonesia’s Home Affairs Ministry has shocked indigenous-rights advocates with its assessment that a bill currently before parliament on indigenous peoples is “not a necessity” and will only give rise to more problems. - That stance goes against the long-held commitment of the administration of President Joko Widodo to recognize and protect the rights of the country’s myriad indigenous communities, including their rights to ancestral forests. - The ministry, however, has played down the uproar, saying discussions on the bill are still in their early stages and other ministries and government agencies have yet to weigh in on the matter.
Latam Eco review: Colombian reserves fail large vertebrates [04/20/2018]
Below are summaries of the most read stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of April 9 – 15. The top two articles reported on high expectations for Peru’s new environmental minister, and the two sides of Colombian conservation, from a history of great success to threats to its most iconic […]
New species of ‘exploding ant’ discovered in Borneo [04/19/2018]
- Researchers have revealed a new species of exploding ant, which they discovered living in the rainforest canopy of Brunei on the island of Borneo. - Named Colobopsis explodens, the new ant ruptures its abdomen when threatened, killing itself in the process. This rupturing releases a sticky, yellow, toxic goo that has a spicy smell. - The researchers expect more exploding ant species will be described in the near future.
Tambopata: Where forest conservation and opportunity meet [04/19/2018]
- Robin Van Loon is founder of Camino Verde in Peru, an organization working to go above and beyond sustainable agro-economics in favor of regenerative agro-economics. - The Tambopata Region of the Peruvian Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet where new species are still being discovered. It’s home to species of trees used and nurtured by Camino Verde for profit and forest health. - The vision of Robin Van Loon and his team at Camino Verde: see the forest for the trees, and you’ll find a way to preserve both for generations to come.
Brazil’s actual forest-related CO2 emissions could blow by Paris pledge [04/19/2018]
- Brazil is reporting its CO2 emissions within U.N. guidelines, but those rules ignore significant sources of national greenhouse gas emissions ¬by disregarding carbon emitting processes related to forests, say scientists. None of this underreporting is likely unique to Brazil, but it is perhaps more acute there than in other nations due to Brazil’s vast forests. - The U.N. doesn’t require Brazil and other developing nations to count certain greenhouse gas emissions in detail, especially sources it classifies as non-anthropogenic. This, for example, includes CO2 released from wildfires. However, most fires in the Brazilian Amazon are set by people clearing land, so those CO2 emissions are largely human-caused. - Forest degradation, methane emitted from reservoirs, and carbon released from soils where forests are converted to croplands or pastures go partly or totally untallied in emission reports, sometimes because data is lacking, or because the UN hasn’t included the source in its reporting criteria. Another problem: low-resolution satellite monitoring allows small-scale deforestation to go undetected, so is unreported. - As a result, Brazil’s actual carbon emissions are almost certainly higher than the figures reported to the United Nations — how much higher is unknown. But, experts say, that if this missing carbon were added to Brazil’s reported emissions, the nation would likely not meet its 2025 Paris Climate Agreement goal.
Unified land-use map for Indonesia nears launch, but concerns over access remain [04/19/2018]
- A unified database integrating all of the land-use maps currently in use in Indonesia is set for an earlier-than-expected launch this August, as the government scrambles to collate outstanding data from various agencies and regions. - The one-map policy is seen as key to resolving a host of development and planning problems caused by overlapping and often contradictory maps wielded by different agencies, including the issue of plantations being permitted inside forest areas. - The government, however, says access to the database will be restricted, and is drafting regulations that will govern who gets to see it.
Earth Day founding organizer calls for end to plastic pollution [04/18/2018]
- Denis Hayes was the principal national organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, and he took the event to the international stage in 1990. - Earth Day 2018 is slated for April 22 and focuses on plastic pollution, so Mongabay asked him about this event and what else is on the mind of this key leader of the international environmental movement. - Earth Day is said to be the most widely observed secular holiday in the world, with activities happening in most countries around the world. - Hayes is also active in sustainability issues in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. and his work is housed in one of the greenest office buildings in the world.
It’s time to confront the collusion between the palm oil industry and politicians that is driving Indonesia’s deforestation crisis (commentary) [04/18/2018]
- An investigation released today by Mongabay and Earthsight’s The Gecko Project reveals the deep connections between the international palm oil industry and the corruption of Indonesian democracy. - Some of the biggest firms in the industry, that are supplying supermarkets in the EU and U.S., are buying palm oil from plantations linked to corrupt politicians. - Six million hectares of rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands remains in licenses issued in opaque circumstances. If the role of corruption is confronted, through action in Indonesia, by overseas consumer companies and the international community, much of this forest could be saved.
Ghosts in the Machine: The land deals behind the downfall of Indonesia’s top judge [04/18/2018]
- This is the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, an in-depth series on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis. - Indonesia for Sale is a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative reporting initiative established by UK-based nonprofit Earthsight. - The series is the product of 16 months of reporting across the Southeast Asian country, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and plantation companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them.
Colombia grants ‘historic’ protections to rainforest, indigenous groups [04/13/2018]
- In a move described as “unprecedented,” Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday that the country intends to add 8 million hectares (80,000 square kilometers or 31,000 square miles) to its protected areas. - Santos also signed a decree granting indigenous communities the ability and autonomy to govern their own territories. - He said the government will be spending the next two weeks defining the bounds of the new protected areas, and that residents of local indigenous communities will be granted land titles giving them the autonomy to manage them. - Norway has committed $250 million towards Colombia’s initiative.
Small farmers not ready as Indonesia looks to impose its palm oil sustainability standard on all [04/13/2018]
- The Indonesian government plans to make its sustainable palm oil certification scheme, the ISPO, mandatory for small farmers by 2020. These farmers account for 40 percent of the total oil palm plantation area nationwide, but were exempted from the initial ISPO rollout. - A recent study shows that these smallholders are not ready to adopt the standard. They face a variety of challenges, largely stemming from the tenuous nature of their land ownership claims. - The Ministry of Agriculture fears that under the existing ISPO compliance regulation, many farmers will end up in prison for failing to comply by the deadline. The government is now drafting an updated ISPO regulation.
Most Popular Stories from Mongabay Latam, April 2 – 8 [04/13/2018]
These are the most popular stories at Mongabay Latam from April 2 – 8. The oil spill in Colombia is an ongoing environmental disaster. The search for the causes of the tragedy and the work to save affected animals were the most read stories of the week. The image above, a spectacular vista of the […]
Brazil’s high court curbs executive power to dismember protected areas [04/12/2018]
- Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) ruled that MP 558, a Provisional Measure, was unconstitutional, making it unlawful for the executive branch to use the administrative decree to reduce seven conservation units by 100,000 hectares — five of those units were in the Tapajós basin. - In addition, the STF ruled that in future it would be unconstitutional for the executive branch to use MPs to alter the boundaries of already established conservation units. Such reductions can only be approved by the legislature. - MPs can continue to be used in setting other policies, some harmful to the environment. Past MPs approved the building of new coal burning power plants, and for dramatically revising the Terra Legal program, revising it not to benefit the landless poor, but wealthy elites and land grabbers, say critics. - In another win for conservationists, environment minister José Sarney Filho created five new Brazilian conservation units last week, covering 1.2 million hectares. Two were created in Bahia state, in the Cerrado savanna biome; and three in Maranhão state, in the Caatinga tropical dry forest biome.
India’s new forest policy draft draws criticism for emphasis on industrial timber [04/12/2018]
- The Draft National Forest Policy 2018 is now open for public comments, and will replace the older 1988 policy once it comes into force. - Critics are apprehensive about how the draft policy deals with community participation and industrial forestry. - The current draft is bereft of knowledge-driven solutions, some experts say.
How a family of local elites is still pitching to control a district in Borneo [04/11/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the seventh and final part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of […]
Indonesian billionaire using ‘shadow companies’ to clear forest for palm oil, report alleges [04/11/2018]
- Two plantation companies linked to Anthoni Salim, Indonesia’s third-richest man, are deforesting a peat swamp in Borneo, according to new research by Aidenvironment. - In response to the findings, Citigroup said it was cancelling all lending agreements with IndoAgri, the Salim Group’s agribusiness arm. - The Salim Group was previously accused of being behind four companies at the forefront of illegal oil palm expansion in Indonesia’s Papua region, employing a complex network of shared directorships and offshore companies to obfuscate its responsibility. - “It is not just the Salim Group; most of the main palm oil groups have these ‘dark sides’ that continue to deforest,” said Selwyn Moran, founder of investigative blog awas MIFEE.
New remote-sensing technique used to determine carbon losses in Sub-Saharan Africa [04/10/2018]
- Research published yesterday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution finds that pressures from human activities and climate change caused the African continent to lose as much as 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon between 2010 and 2016. - The study not only shows that there was an overall net carbon loss across sub-Saharan Africa, but also that substantial losses occurred in drylands — savannahs and woodlands that fall outside of humid zones — which lost approximately 5 percent of their total carbon stocks each year. - In order to quantify changes in above-ground biomass-carbon in sub-Saharan Africa, an international team of scientists used a new remote sensing technique based on a satellite system that employs low-frequency, passive microwave signals as opposed to the more common high-resolution photography.
Indonesia land swap, meant to protect peatlands, risks wider deforestation, NGOs say [04/09/2018]
- Under a government program, pulpwood and logging companies in Indonesia are eligible for a land swap if their existing concessions include at least 40 percent protected peatland. - However, a lack of transparency over how the substitute areas are selected has led to fears that up to half the land that could potentially be awarded may be natural forest, thereby speeding up deforestation in the name of protecting peatland. - There are also fears that granting eligible companies these substitute areas, which the government says will be on abandoned or undeveloped timber concessions, will reignite conflicts with local communities. - The government has promised to publish a map of the land swap areas, adding it wants to ensure the new lands don’t include natural forests and won’t spark conflicts with local communities.
How loopholes in Indonesia’s corruption law let environmental crime persist [04/09/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the fifth part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]
Indonesian conservation bill is weak on wildlife crime, critics say [04/06/2018]
- Lawmakers in Indonesia have submitted for review to President Joko Widodo’s administration a bill that would overhaul the country’s 28-year-old conservation law. - While environmental advocates have long pushed for updates to the law, the new draft has alarmed many with its various provisions that critics say represent a regression from the existing legislation. - Problem articles include a “self-defense” clause that would waive criminal charges for killing protected wildlife; a more nebulous definition of wildlife crime that some fear could make it harder to crack down on traffickers; and the opening up of conservation areas to geothermal exploration and other “strategic development” projects. - The ball is now in the court of the government, which is required to review the bill before sending it back to parliament for final passage. However, a minister says the government will “hold off” on its review, and suggests the existing conservation law is sufficient.
Vine-like lianas alter the edges of fragmented forests: New study [04/06/2018]
- A new study has found that a group of climbing plants called lianas spring up in higher numbers along the edges of fragmented forests than they do in less-disturbed patches. - Previous research has shown that lianas can cause trees to die or to stockpile less carbon, and they can also affect the mix of tree species present in the forest. - To ensure a healthy, functioning ecosystem, managers can set aside a buffer zone around the edges of these patches or increase the size of the protected area as a whole.
South Korean company under fire for alleged deforestation in Papua oil palm concession [04/05/2018]
- A report by WRI shows ongoing deforestation in an oil palm concession in Papua, Indonesia, operated by a subsidiary of South Korea’s POSCO Daewoo. - The company has responded by saying its operations in Papua are legal and fully permitted. - Concerns over deforestation by POSCO Daewoo have prompted other companies to say they will not allow its palm oil into their supply chains. These include big-name brands such as Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L’Oreal, Mars and Unilever. - POSCO Daewoo has issued a temporary moratorium on land clearing in its Papua concession and hired a consultant to advise it on how to proceed with its operations there.
New sloth book features amazing photographs and busts myths [PHOTOS] [04/05/2018]
- Sloths have gained in popularity in recent years but some misconceptions about them remain, such as their being ‘lazy,’ which is not true. Rather, it’s increasingly clear that sloths are quite active and incredibly stealthy. - A new book by an award-winning wildlife photographer and a world expert on sloths aims to raise awareness of facts like this, and raise funds for their conservation. - Sloths in fact sleep just 8-10 hours a day, and are otherwise quite active. And when they swim, they can move quite quickly. - Mongabay interviewed the authors and shares here several of the stunning images printed in the book.
NGOs denounce Tapajós basin intimidation, violence, Brazil inaction [04/04/2018]
- Thirty-eight national and international civil society organizations (CSOs), including social movements and NGOs, have condemned the Brazilian government and the builders of four Teles Pires River dams in the Amazon. The groups denounce the dam consortium for acts of intimidation against indigenous groups, especially involving the newly built São Manoel dam. - This dam was built by the Sao Manoel Energy Consortium, headed by the Brazilian subsidiaries of China Three Gorges Corporation, Energia de Portugal, and state company Furnas. The CSOs/NGOs say the Temer government sent in a national police unit as a “private security firm” to defend the dam builders and intimidate indigenous groups. - The CSOs/NGOs also say the government is in violation of numerous laws regarding the São Manoel dam, including a failure to properly consult with indigenous communities, threats made to those groups, incomplete environmental impact studies, and failure to implement agreed to “conditions” made by authorities in return for dam authorization. - Elsewhere, riverside communities on the Tapajós River, frustrated with government delays to meet a legal obligation to demarcate their lands, took action to mark the borders themselves. Illegal loggers and miners responded with threats of violence. The Brazilian government has done nothing so far to protect these traditional communities.
Ire and ore: Demands grow for clarity around Cambodian gold mine [04/03/2018]
- Earlier this year, residents of Tropeang Tontem in the province of Preah Vihear submitted a petition to the government Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. It complained about their treatment by local officials and a mining company. - According to Cambodian media, the petition was signed by 56 families. It states that government and company officials “forced us, coerced us and cheated us into thumb-printing a document that stated that we were farming on part of the company‘s land.” The petition requests that the document be “annulled in its entirety.” - Residents are also concerned about the intensive chemical processing of the gold ore in the open environment, a process that uses highly toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury. - A representative from a Cambodian NGO said the organization will be opposed to the mine until an environmental impact assessment of its operations is conducted, and until there is more clarity regarding mine activity.
Indonesia’s dying timber concessions, invaded by oil palms, top deforestation table [04/03/2018]
- A study shows that selective-logging leases accounted for the highest rate of deforestation in three provinces studied from 2013 to 2016. - While the discovery came as a surprise, the researchers attributed part of that deforestation to the illegal encroachment of oil palm plantations into many of these timber concessions. Another factor is the cutting of more trees than permitted by logging operators. - Environmentalists warn the problem could get even worse if the government follows through on plans to lift a ban on exports of unprocessed logs, which has been in place since 1985 (with a brief hiatus from 1997 to 2001).
New study discovers 81 lost human settlements in the Amazon rainforest [04/02/2018]
- By looking at satellite images of a previously unexplored part of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a team of archaeologists has identified 81 pre-Columbian human settlements. - The team also found that the settlements weren’t near major rivers, but closer to smaller streams and creeks, challenging a commonly held belief that pre-Columbian people tended to live close to fertile floodplains of large rivers, leaving the rest of the forest relatively untouched. - The researchers’ computer model predicted that the southern rim of the Amazon likely supported up to 1 million people in pre-Columbian times, a population that’s much larger than previous estimates.
Study: Indonesia’s ambitious peat restoration initiative severely underfunded [03/30/2018]
- Indonesia will need an estimated $4.6 billion to restore some 20,000 square kilometers (7,720 square miles) of degraded peatland by its self-imposed deadline of 2020, a study suggests. - To date, however, funding for the project that began in 2016 amounts to less than $200 million, with the result that only 5 percent of the restoration target has been achieved. - The study authors say the Indonesian government faces a dilemma over whether to concentrate its resources in a smaller area or risk potentially ineffective restoration methods to cover the entire target area.
Greenpeace International ends its Forest Stewardship Council membership [03/30/2018]
- Greenpeace International announced on March 26 that it would not renew its membership with the FSC. - The environmental organization says the FSC is not meeting its aims of protecting forests and ensuring that human rights are respected. - Greenpeace and the FSC both say they intend to continue to engage with each other, despite the end of a long formal relationship.
Agroforestry bolsters biodiversity and villages in Sri Lanka [03/29/2018]
- Residents of the rural Sri Lankan village of Pitekele relied on the nearby rainforest as a source of food, fuel, fiber and medicine for generations, until it was made into a park. - The forest’s new conservation status and rules for accessing traditional products caused traditional “home garden” agroforestry plots to replace the forest’s role in villagers’ incomes and food procurement strategies. - These unusually diverse agroforestry systems have reduced the pressure on native primary rainforest and serve to provide habitat, forest cover, biodiversity and food security within the buffer zone, where land is otherwise increasingly being used for tea cultivation. - Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot, and its home gardens are very diverse too: Pitekele’s home gardens support a richness of 219 species in 181 genera and 73 families.
Do environmental advocacy campaigns drive successful forest conservation? [03/29/2018]
- How effective are advocacy campaigns at driving permanent policy changes that lead to forest conservation results? We suspected this might be a difficult question to answer scientifically, but nevertheless we gamely set out to see what researchers had discovered when they attempted to do so as part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness.” - We ultimately reviewed 34 studies and papers, and found that the scientific evidence is fairly weak for any claims about the effectiveness of advocacy campaigns. So we also spoke with several experts in forest conservation and advocacy campaigns to supplement our understanding of some of the broader trends and to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. - We found no evidence that advocacy campaigns on their own drive long-term forest conservation, though they do appear to be valuable in terms of raising awareness of environmental issues and driving people to take action. But it’s important to note that, of all the conservation interventions we examined for the Conservation Effectiveness series, advocacy campaigns appear to have the weakest evidence base in scientific literature.
In a land untouched by mines, indigenous holdouts fight a coal invasion [03/28/2018]
- Despite opposition from local officials and the absence of a required environmental impact assessment, a coal company was granted a permit to mine in Indonesian Borneo’s Central Hulu Sungai district. - The local Dayak people have vowed to fight the mine, and an environmental NGO is suing the central government for issuing the permit. - The permit was issued after changes to the law — said to simplify the process of issuing permits — allowed mining firm PT MCM to sidestep local officials.
Borneo’s elephants prefer degraded forests, a new study finds [03/27/2018]
- New research has found that Bornean elephants most often use degraded forests with canopy heights topping out at around 13 meters (43 feet). - Less than 25 percent of the state’s protected intact forests, which include primary forests, are suitable for elephants, the authors concluded. - The team suggests that maintaining suitable elephant habitat in Malaysian Borneo will require the protection of relatively small patches of degraded forests that elephants favor.
How Indonesia’s Seruyan district became an epicenter of fires and haze [03/26/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the third part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]
Colombia scraps Amazon highway plans due to deforestation concerns [03/23/2018]
- The Marginal de la Selva highway is part of $1 billion infrastructure project that would have opened a trade route for heavy land cargo to pass from Venezuela to Ecuador through Colombia without having to enter the treacherous Andes mountains. - Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos declared earlier the controversial project will not be completed, citing rampant deforestation and potentially irreversible environmental impacts to a sensitive ecological corridor near three national parks if the highway were developed as planned. - Conservationists are lauding the President’s announcement, calling it “extraordinary news for deforestation mitigation and restoration efforts” to restore the region’s ecological integrity.
How to build a Guardian: students learn about making technology work in the field [03/23/2018]
- Students in several science and tech schools in California are learning to design and build Guardians, acoustic monitoring devices to help protect rainforests from illegal logging while keeping a record of the sounds made by forest wildlife. - Led by the non-profit Rainforest Connection, the students are constructing the Guardians from old, recycled smartphones armed with solar power and Google’s open source machine learning framework, TensorFlow, which transforms them into field-tough listening tools. - The program also addresses the challenges of designing and developing technology for humid, rugged, remote field conditions typical of indigenous reserves and protected areas.
Indigenous Amazonian women demand end to extraction [03/22/2018]
- After long journeys by foot and bus, the women gathered in Ecuador’s capitol Quito to protest last week and call for a meeting with Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno. - After several days of protest, Moreno agreed to a meeting with the group today. - Amazonian leaders say they plan to discuss their mandate, particularly the sexual exploitation and harassment they face due to extractive activities in the Amazon and the loss of economic opportunity.
Company outed for fires in Indonesian palm lease still clearing forests in timber concession, NGO finds [03/22/2018]
- Agribusiness conglomerate Korindo has since 2017 implemented a moratorium on forest clearing in its oil palm concessions, after it was found to be burning forests in Indonesia’s Papua province. - A new report indicates that since then, the company may have degraded more than 30 square kilometers of pristine forest to build logging roads in one of its timber concessions — an area excluded from the self-imposed moratorium. - The NGO Mighty Earth has called on the company to extend both the forest clearing moratorium and a high carbon stock approach, which it employs on its oil palm concessions, to its timber operations.
More than 40 percent of Madagascar’s freshwater life sliding toward extinction, IUCN finds [03/22/2018]
- In an assessment of 653 freshwater plant and animal species living on Madagascar and nearby islands, biologists found that 43 percent are threatened with extinction or there isn’t enough information to assess how well they’re doing. - Nearly 80 percent of endemic plants examined in the study face extinction. - The team lists unsustainable farming practices, deforestation, dam construction, mining and the overuse of natural resources, such as overfishing, as causes for the widespread declines.
How the son of a tailor rose to power in Indonesia’s palm oil heartland [03/22/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the second part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son […]
Brazilian lawmakers funded by donors guilty of environmental crimes: report [03/21/2018]
- The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has 513 members. Of those, 249 received a total of 58.9 million reais (US$18.3 million) in official donations during the 2014 election from companies and people who committed environmental crimes, including illegal clearing of forests, says a recent report by Repórter Brasil. - Receiving these donations is not a crime, but it does provide insight into how environmental offenders are connected to, and potentially influencing, lawmakers and their decisions. Of the 249 deputies who received tainted donations, 134 are members of the Bancada Ruralista, the pro-agribusiness rural caucus that dominates the chamber. - Since the 2014 general election, Brazil’s election laws have been tightened. In 2015, the Federal Supreme Court passed a decree that made it illegal for companies to donate to candidates and political parties. These new rules will be in effect for the October 2018 presidential election. - Analysts still worry that money from those who have committed environmental crimes will go right on flowing to politicians — possibly illegally or utilizing newly discovered campaign finance law loopholes — risking the possibility of influence peddling.
Leopards could reduce rabies by controlling stray dog numbers in India, study finds [03/21/2018]
- Stray dogs make up about 40 percent of the diet of the roughly 40 leopards currently living in Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, according to a recent study. - Dog bites lead to perhaps 20,000 deaths from rabies each year in India, according to the World Health Organization. - A team of scientists figures that leopards kill 1,500 stray dogs each year, reducing the number of bites by about 1,000 per year and the number of rabies cases by 90.
‘A real surprise’: Study reveals low phosphorus doesn’t hinder rainforest growth [03/20/2018]
- Phosphorus is an important nutrient for plants and is required for protein synthesis and cell division, among other critical processes. But phosphorus is typically scarce in the soils underlying tropical forests. - A group of researchers investigated this by looking at trees in the forests of Panama, where soil phosphorus levels vary considerably. - The researchers were surprised to find that tree species in low-phosphorus soils grew faster on average than species in high-phosphorus soils. Their results also indicate the growth rates of tree communities comprised of a variety of species doesn’t change doesn’t change in relation to soil phosphorus amount. - The authors and other scientists say the study’s findings further our understanding of the dynamics between tropical plants and phosphorus and could help farmers grow crops more effectively without having to use environmentally harmful fertilizers.
Pearl Jam invests in Amazonian reforestation to offset emissions from current Brazil tour [03/20/2018]
- Rock band Pearl Jam has partnered with Conservation International (CI) in purchasing carbon offsets for the estimated 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that will be generated by its Brazilian tour dates taking place this month. - Proceeds from the offset purchase will be used to support a tropical forest restoration project that aims to plant 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon by 2023, said to be the largest reforestation effort in the world. - “As a band, it’s important for us to recognize the environmental impact of our tours and do what we can to mitigate that,” Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said in a statement.
Audio: Exploring humanity’s deep connection to water, plus the sounds of the Sandhill crane migration [03/20/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss humanity’s deep connection to water and hear sounds of one of the most ancient animal migrations on Earth, that of the Sandhill crane. - Our first guest today is marine biologist and conservationist Wallace J. Nichols, the author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, & Better at What You Do. - Our second guests are Ben Gottesman and Emma Brinley Buckley, researchers who are using bioacoustics to document Sandhill cranes on the Platte River in the U.S. state of Nebraska as the birds make a stopover during their annual migration. We’ll hear recordings of the cranes and other important species in this Field Notes segment.
How one of Indonesia’s biggest companies cut a secret deal to plant oil palm in Borneo [03/20/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the first part of that article, which can be read in full here. (Baca juga dalam Bahasa […]
Sarawak’s Penan now have detailed maps of their ancestral homeland [03/20/2018]
- Some 63 Penan communities came together to create 23 maps of their territory in central Borneo over the past 15 years. - For three days in late November 2017, the Penan of the region celebrated the completion of the maps. - The Penan now believe they are armed with the information that will help them hold on to their land in the face of pressure from outside timber and industrial agriculture interests.
Radar returns to remote sensing through free, near-real-time global imagery [03/19/2018]
- The European Space Agency’s launch of the Sentinel-1 satellite has made 20-meter resolution radar imagery of the whole planet freely available. - The “all-weather, day-and-night supply of imagery of Earth’s surface” complements standard optical satellite imagery in detecting forest loss, even under heavy cloud cover. - The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) demonstrates the benefits of analyzing free radar imagery to accurately quantify wet season loss of rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon.
FSC-certified timber importer failed to check legality of shipment from Cameroon [03/19/2018]
- Hardwood Dimensions, a timber importer in the U.K., violated the EU Timber Regulation by not properly verifying the legality of a shipment of Cameroonian ayous in January 2017. - A judge ordered Hardwood Dimensions to pay 4,000 pounds ($5,576) plus court costs in the case. - The case calls into question the effectiveness of Forest Stewardship Council certification, which Hardwood Dimensions has held since 2000.
Oil palm plantations’ dearth of biodiversity rubs off on nearby forests, study shows [03/19/2018]
- Oil palm plantations in Malaysian Borneo host a lower number of frog species than forests in same area. - However, the plantations exhibit an edge effect that extends as far as 4 kilometers, resulting in a decline in the diversity of frog species in adjacent forests. - The researchers suggest that for small forest patches or narrow corridors to be of long-term conservation value in oil palm landscapes, their sizes and widths need to adequately account for these edge effects.
Madagascar: Conservation official arrested for killing 11 endangered lemurs [03/16/2018]
- Two weeks ago, the bodies of 11 critically endangered lemurs were discovered in the Zahamena Ankeniheny Corridor protected area in eastern Madagascar. - The lemurs were allegedly killed by one of the local officials charged with protecting them, to the dismay of conservation leaders. - The alleged poacher was arrested on Feb. 27, and this week the police set out to arrest his suspected accomplices. - The Madagascar government reacted to the poaching incident at the highest level, including pledges by the prime minister and minister of the environment to crack down on poaching.
Better agricultural planning could prevent 88% of biodiversity loss, study finds [03/16/2018]
- Results of a new study reveal that nearly 90 percent of the biodiversity that scientists expect will be lost to future agricultural expansion could be saved if more effective land-use planning directed this expansion to areas with the fewest species. - It found that 10 countries possessed the lion’s share of this potential, and could by themselves reduce the expected loss of the world’s biodiversity by 33 percent. - However, there are caveats. The researchers write that most of these countries are among the “20 worst-ranked” in terms of environmental impacts and have governance and political issues that would impede effective land-use planning at a national level. And they say global land-use optimization aimed at protecting the natural resources of the world’s most biodiverse countries may come “at the expense of their own production opportunities and economic development.” - The researchers write that in order for the world’s most biodiverse countries to reach their full conservation potential while providing for their human communities, global land-use policy and research need to better integrate the governance, political and economic challenges present in these countries.
Save the Sumatran rhino ‘because we can’ (commentary) [03/16/2018]
- Mongabay sent contributing editor Jeremy Hance to Indonesia in 2017 to visit the last remaining Sumatran rhinos in the forests and protected sanctuaries where captive breeding is having some limited success. - Hance argues today in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald that we should save the Sumatran rhino, not only because losing biodiversity is bad for the health of humanity’s environment, but also “because we can.” - To keep these ‘lovably weird’ rhinos from extinction, the Indonesian government must act, he argues, because even if there’s 100 left, that size population is unlikely to be viable in the long term.
Report finds projects in DRC ‘REDD+ laboratory’ fall short of development, conservation goals [03/16/2018]
- The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released a new report that found that 20 REDD+ projects in a province in DRC aren’t set to address forest conservation and economic development — the primary goals of the strategy. - The Paris Agreement explicitly mentions the role of REDD+ projects, which channel funds from wealthy countries to heavily forested ones, in keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century. - RRI is asking REDD+ donors to pause funding of projects in DRC until coordinators develop a more participatory approach that includes communities and indigenous groups.
Five years after zero-deforestation vow, little sign of progress from Indonesian pulp giant [03/15/2018]
- Environmental watchdogs have criticized Indonesian paper behemoth Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) for not making good on the zero-deforestation pledge it made five years ago. - The NGOs have highlighted several key problems in the implementation of APP’s Forest Conservation Program, including virtually no progress in addressing longstanding land conflicts with local communities, and the glacial pace of peatland restoration. - APP has acknowledged some of the shortcomings in the implementation of its pledge, but says many of the outstanding issues and complex and that it remains committed to its goal.
Camera traps nab crop-raiding animals near farms in the Amazon [03/14/2018]
- A team of scientists from the U.K. and Brazil used an array of 132 camera traps to snap more than 60,000 photographs around 47 farming communities in the Amazon. - They also conducted 157 interviews with local farmers about the animals that they found most frequently in their fields. - The researchers found that the animals that were most destructive to crops were also among the ones nabbed most frequently by their cameras.
Illegal cattle ranching deforests Mexico’s massive Lacandon Jungle [03/14/2018]
- According to authorities and residents, cattle from Central America are brought to Mexico illegally over the porous border with Guatemala and left to graze in the Lacandon Jungle, a protected area. - The Lacandon Jungle in Chiapas state once covered 1.5 million hectares. Today, it is only a third of that size and continuing to shrink. - A potent mix of poverty, porous borders and lack of government control of protected areas has contributed to the proliferation of small cattle ranches throughout the area, which, combined, have a major impact on the ecosystem.
Two dozen Latin American countries sign agreement to protect environmental defenders [03/14/2018]
- The Principle 10 treaty deals mainly with the defense of environmentalists, promoting transparency in public access to environmental information, and shoring up environmental democracy and justice. - The principles were approved on March 4 in the so-called Escazú Agreement in Costa Rica, by 24 countries from around Latin America and the Caribbean. It must now be ratified by the member countries. - Environmental activists have hailed it as a massive step forward in the protection of environmental defenders, in a region where such advocates face the greatest threats to their lives.
Small hydropower a big global issue overlooked by science and policy [03/13/2018]
- Brazil recently announced an end to its mega-dam construction policy, a strategy other nations may embrace as understanding of the massive environmental and social impacts of big dams grows. - However, a trend long neglected by scientists and policymakers ¬ the rapid growth of small dams – has been spotlighted in a new study. - Nearly 83,000 small dams in 150 nations (with 11 small dams for each large dam), exist globally, while that number could triple if all capacity worldwide is used. More than 10,000 new small dams are already in the planning stages. But small dam impacts have been little studied by scientists, and little regulated by governments. - Environmentalists say that, with the rapid construction of new small dams, it is urgent for researchers to assess the impacts of different types of small dams, as well as looking at the cumulative impacts of many small dams placed on a single river, or on main stems and tributaries within watersheds.
Debates heat up as Indonesian palm oil moratorium is about to be signed [03/13/2018]
- Announced two years ago, a moratorium on new oil palm permits in Indonesia is about to be signed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. - But a coalition of environmental NGOs has criticized the latest draft of the moratorium, saying it contains many loopholes. - The coalition has submitted a list of recommendations to the government, which has promised to follow up on their concerns.
Video: Rare newborn western lowland gorilla filmed in the wild [03/13/2018]
- The baby gorilla was born on Feb. 17 in the rainforests of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, according to WCS. - The infant is the offspring of a female gorilla named Mekome and a male silverback named Kingo, who has been studied by the WCS Congo researchers of the Mondika Gorilla Project for about two decades. - Mekome’s newest baby is her fifth offspring, and represents hope for the species, researchers say.
Sarawak makes 80% forest preservation commitment, but some have doubts [03/12/2018]
- The Malaysian state of Sarawak is committing to the preservation of 80 percent of its land area as primary and secondary forest, according to an announcement by Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg. - According to data, concession boundaries for oil palm and other kinds of tree plantations covered 32.7 percent of Sarawak’s land area as of 2010/11, suggesting that if Sarawak is to fulfill its commitment to preserve 80 percent of its land as primary and secondary forest, then it may need to cancel some of these concessions. - The director of environmental and human rights watchdog organization Earthsight expressed doubts that Sarawak will follow through on the commitment, and recommends the state increase transparency and crack down on illegal logging.
Oil palm, rubber could trigger ‘storm’ of deforestation in the Congo Basin [03/12/2018]
- Earthsight documented approximately 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of deforestation to clear the way for new rubber and oil palm plantations in Central Africa’s rainforest countries in the past five years. - The team also found that companies in five Central African countries hold licenses for industrial agriculture on another 8,400 square kilometers (3,243 square miles) of land. - The investigators warn that thousands of hectares of forest could fall to industrial agriculture in the COngo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, if governance of the forest doesn’t improve.
How deforestation risks for investors can become opportunities for conservation (commentary) [03/09/2018]
- Deforestation can damage a company’s reputation and business performance, presenting a real risk for investors. - Recent research showcases examples of how companies have suffered from failing to properly manage deforestation-related issues. Impacts include multi-million dollar fines, loss of key customers, falling share prices, and even liquidation. - Investors and companies can reduce these risks by adopting, implementing, and transparently reporting on credible zero-deforestation policies, and joining partnerships to improve production in key landscapes. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
NGOs seek suspension of forest-related funding to DRC in response to proposed end to logging moratorium [03/08/2018]
- More than 50 conservation and human rights organizations have called on international donors to halt forest conservation-related funding to the Democratic Republic of Congo. - The call comes in response to signals by the country’s leaders of their intention to end a 16-year-old moratorium on new logging licenses in the country, including a secretive push to alter the DRC forest code. - The NGOs argue that opening DRC up to logging will destabilize the country and damage the environment and forest-dependent communities.
Tropical deforestation: the need for a strategy adjustment (commentary) [03/08/2018]
- Ecologist Dan Nepstad is the founder and executive director of the Earth Innovation Institute. - In this commentary, Nepstad makes the case for building stronger government support to end deforestation in tropical countries. - Without this support, it may not be possible to further curb tropical deforestation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Video: Arkani, the Dayak known as Jenggot Naga — Dragon Beard [03/08/2018]
- “The palm oil fiefdom” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article reveals how Darwan Ali, the former head of Indonesia’s Seruyan district, presided over an elaborate scheme to use shell companies as vehicles to make money from major palm oil firms. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of those affected by Darwan’s licensing spree, including an indigenous man from Borneo named Arkani.
Brazilian ‘quilombo’ community entitled with 220,000 hectares of rainforest [03/07/2018]
- Longtime residents of one of the country’s thousands of Quilombo communities have been given land titles for the first time. - Quilombo communities are Brazilian peoples of African descent whose ancestors were slaves – they have long lived in rural communities throughout Brazil. - The Cachoeira Porteira quilombo community of 500 people in Brazil’s Pará state was formally entitled with some 220,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest earlier this month.
Jaguar numbers rising at field sites, WCS says [03/07/2018]
- WCS reports that jaguar numbers have risen by almost 8 percent a year between 2002 and 2016 at study sites in Central and South America. - The sites cover around 400,000 square kilometers (154,440 square miles) of jaguar habitat. - Despite the promising findings, WCS scientists caution that habitat destruction, hunting in response to livestock killings, and poaching for their body parts remain critical threats to jaguars.
Analysis: the Brazilian Supreme Court’s New Forest Code ruling [03/07/2018]
- Last week Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge by environmentalists, upholding the constitutionality of most, though not all, of Brazil’s New Forest Code – legislation crafted in 2012 by the powerful bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress. - The 2012 code is weaker than the old Forest Code, which was approved in 1965, but never well enforced. - Many environmentalists have expressed concern that the high court ruling endorses legislation that prioritizes the economic importance of industrial agriculture over basic environmental protections. - Conservationists also say that the decision rewards those who have illegally infringed on environmental laws at a time when pressures on forests are growing more intense, especially in the Amazon. This story includes a chart that provides a detailed analysis of the environmental pros and cons of the Supreme Court decision.
Video: Budiardi, labeled a ‘provocateur’ and jailed in a dispute with a palm oil company [03/06/2018]
- “The palm oil fiefdom” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article reveals how Darwan Ali, the former head of Indonesia’s Seruyan district, presided over an elaborate scheme to use shell companies as vehicles to sell plantation licenses to major palm oil firms. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of those affected by Darwan’s licensing spree, including a Dayak man named Budiardi.
Ecotourism payments for more wildlife sightings linked to conservation benefits in Laos [03/05/2018]
- A four-year research project in a national protected area in Laos established a connection between higher payments for more wildlife sightings and improved protections for wildlife. - Over the course of the study, sightings of common wildlife rose by more than 60 percent. - Payments were funded by the entry fees paid by tourists. - They were placed in village development funds, which would then finance projects like school construction and healthcare.
Amazon forest to savannah tipping point could be far closer than thought (commentary) [03/05/2018]
- In the 1970s, scientists recognized that the Amazon makes half of its own rainfall via evaporation and transpiration from vegetation. Researchers also recognized that escalating deforestation would reduce this rainfall producing effect. - A 2007 study estimated that with 40 percent Amazon deforestation a tipping point could be reached, with large swathes of Amazonia switching from forest to savannah. Two newly considered factors in a 2016 study – climate change and fires – have now reduced that estimated tipping point to 20-25 percent. Current deforestation is at 17 percent, with an unknown amount of degraded forest adding less moisture. - There is good reason to think that this Amazon forest to savannah tipping point is close at hand. Historically unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015 would seem to be the first flickers of such change. - Noted Amazon scientists Tom Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre argue that it is critical to build in a margin of safety by keeping Amazon deforestation below 20 percent. To avoid this tipping point, Brazil needs to strongly control deforestation, and combine that effort with reforestation. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
In eastern Indonesia, a forest tribe pushes back against miners and loggers [03/05/2018]
- The Forest Tobelo, an indigenous tribe in Indonesia’s North Maluku province, faces constant threat from illegal loggers and the expansion of mining leases. - More than one third of the province’s total area has been allocated for mining leases. - The community has chosen to fight back by drawing up its own maps of the land to which it has long laid claim, and by reporting illegal incursions into its forests.
Mangrove deforestation may be releasing more CO2 than Poland, study finds [03/02/2018]
- A new study calculates that, worldwide, mangroves were storing 4.19 billion metric tons of carbon in 2012, representing a 2 percent loss since 2000. It estimates that number had dropped further to 4.16 billion metric tons by 2017. - In total, the study estimates that this lost carbon translates to as much as 317 million tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of around 67.5 million passenger vehicles in the U.S. and more than the 2015 emissions of Poland. - The researchers found Indonesia harbors the lion’s share of the world’s mangroves – around 30 percent – while also experiencing the biggest proportion of its 2000-2012 mangrove carbon loss, with deforestation there accounting for more than 48 percent of the global total. Other parts of Southeast Asia, such as Myanmar, are also undergoing high rates of mangrove deforestation, making the entire region a hotspot of global mangrove carbon loss. - Previous research estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of the world’s mangroves have been lost over the past 50 years. Deforestation for shrimp, rice and palm oil are among the biggest drivers of mangrove decline.
Brazil high court Forest Code ruling largely bad for environment, Amazon: NGOs [03/01/2018]
- In a tight decision, the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) upheld the constitutionality of much of Brazil’s 2012 New Forest Code, that had been created under the powerful influence of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. The upheld 2012 New Forest Code is a weaker body of environmental regulations than the 1965 code created under Brazil’s military government. - The court ruling made constitutional a declared amnesty for those who illegally cleared their Legal Reserves (lands, by law, they must not clear) before 22 July 2008, eliminating required fines and tree replantings. It allows for the reduction of Legal Reserves in states or municipalities largely occupied by indigenous reserves or protected areas. - The STF decision also allows for the reduction in size of APAs (Areas of Permanent Protection), even when considered fundamental by environmentalists for maintaining water supplies and preventing climate disasters such as floods and mudslides. - The ruling allows farmers who have already illegally cleared protected APAs, to get authorization to clear even more land, and approves farming activities on steep slopes and hilltops. Environmentalists were critical of the high court decision, while agribusiness praised it.
Pepsi cuts off Indonesian palm oil supplier over labor, sustainability concerns [03/01/2018]
- PepsiCo has announced the suspension since January 2017 of its business ties with IndoAgri, one of Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producers, citing concerns over the company’s labor rights and sustainability practices. - IndoAgri has been criticized for alleged abuses of workers’ rights in some of its plantations in North Sumatra province. - PepsiCo has demanded that IndoAgri resolve these outstanding issues before its considers resuming their business partnership.
‘S.O.S.’ carved out of former plantation shines a light on palm oil-driven deforestation [03/01/2018]
- A dramatic S.O.S. sign has been carved out of a stand of oil palms on a former plantation in Sumatra, serving to highlight the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests. - The work is part of a campaign by a Lithuanian artist, a conservation group and a cosmetics firm to raise awareness about palm oil-driven deforestation in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the commodity. - Extensive deforestation has for decades threatened the lives of the island’s native wildlife and the people who depend on the forests for a living.
Javan rhino population holds steady amid ever-present peril [03/01/2018]
- The latest survey from the Indonesian government shows the population of the Javan rhino, one of the world’s most endangered large mammals, holding steady in its last remaining habitat. - While the findings indicate a healthy and breeding rhino population, wildlife experts warn of the dangers looming over the animal’s existence, including human encroachment into its habitat and the ever-present threat of a volcanic eruption and tsunami. - The Javan rhino is one of the last three Asian rhino species — alongside the Sumatran and Indian rhinos — all of which have been pushed to the brink of extinction.
Andes dams twice as numerous as thought are fragmenting the Amazon [02/28/2018]
- A new study identified 142 dams currently in operation or under construction in the Andes headwaters of the Amazon, twice the number previously estimated. An additional 160 are in the planning stages. - If proposed Andes dams go ahead, sediment transport to the Amazon floodplains could cease, blocking freshwater fish migratory routes, disrupting flow and flood regimes, and threatening food security for downstream communities, impacting up to 30 million people. - Most dams to date are on the tributary networks of Andean river main stems. But new dams are planned for five out of eight major Andean Amazon main stems, bringing connectivity reductions on the Marañón, Ucayali and Beni rivers of more than 50 percent; and on the Madre de Dios and Mamoré rivers of over 35 percent. - Researchers conclude that proposed dams should be required to complete cumulative effects assessments at a basin-wide scale, and account for synergistic impacts of existing dams, utilizing the UN Watercourses Convention as a legal basis for international cooperation for sustainable water management between Amazon nations.
Detecting disasters on community lands in the Amazon: film highlights indigenous struggle [02/27/2018]
- For decades, indigenous communities across the western Amazon have protested the contamination of their water, soil and other natural resources by oil companies. - A short film, “Detecting Disasters,” explores the use by the Kukama Kukamiria and other indigenous groups of small drones to strengthen their case to officials and reduce future damage to their health and that of their forest resources. - The successful, consistent use of drones and other new technologies by remote communities requires overcoming several basic challenges, including adequate electricity, training time, and availability of parts to make repairs.
Why intact forests are important [02/26/2018]
- Overall, the world lost more than 7 percent of its intact forest landscapes in just over a decade, a trend that appears to be accelerating. - A new study discusses how intact forests are critically important for mitigating climate change, maintaining water supplies, safeguarding biodiversity and even protecting human health. - However, it warns that global policies aimed at reducing deforestation are not putting enough emphasis on the preservation of the world’s dwindling intact forests, instead relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that may end up doing more harm than good. - The researchers urge more inclusion and prioritization of intact forests in global commitments and policies aimed at curbing deforestation.
Belo Monte legacy: harm from Amazon dam didn’t end with construction (photo story) [02/26/2018]
- The controversial Belo Monte dam, operational in 2016 and the world’s third biggest, was forced on the people of Altamira, Pará state, and is now believed to have been built largely as payback to Brazil’s construction industry by the nation’s then ruling Workers’ Party for campaign contributions received. - The dam was opposed by an alliance of indigenous and traditional communities, and international environmentalists, all to no avail. Today, the media coverage that once turned the world’s eyes toward Belo Monte, has gone away. But that hasn’t ended the suffering and harm resulting from the project. - Tens of thousands of indigenous and traditional people were forced from their homes, and had to give up their fishing livelihoods. Meanwhile, the city of Altamira endured boom and bust, as workers flooded in, then abandoned it. The Belo Sun goldmine, if ever built, also continues to be a potential threat. - In this story, Mongabay contributor Maximo Anderson and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim document the ongoing harm being done by the giant dam. Belo Monte, today, stands as a warning regarding the urgent need to properly assess and plan for mega-infrastructure projects in Amazonia.
Scientists aim to give engineers the tools for ecologically sensitive development [02/26/2018]
- EIAs, or environmental impact assessments, are notoriously flawed and don’t always provide an accurate assessment of the risks of development projects. - A recent article by a team of scientists is part of a larger effort to give planners and engineers the data for more environmentally sensitive development. - The article appears in the February issue of Jurutera: The Journal of Malaysian Engineers.
DRC breaches logging moratorium for Chinese-owned companies [02/23/2018]
- 6,500 square kilometers of logging concessions in the DRC’s central Congo have been awarded. - The deal – with two Chinese companies – is an apparent violation of a 2002 logging moratorium. - The logging concessions are located on a 145,000 square kilometer tropical peatland complex – the largest in the world.
Tropical forest fragmentation nearing ‘critical point,’ study finds [02/23/2018]
- In addition to having severe repercussions for animals like jaguars and tigers that require vast tracts of connected habitat, forest fragmentation has a big carbon footprint. - A new physics-based study finds fragmentation of tropical forests may be reaching a threshold past which fragmentation will shoot up sharply. At this threshold, even a relatively small amount of deforestation could lead to dramatic fragmentation – and significant habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions. - The team calculated that at current deforestation rates, the number of fragments will increase 33-fold in Central and South America by 2050, and their average size will drop from 17 hectares to 0.25 hectares.
Activists: Palm oil must not get wider access to EU under Indonesia trade talks [02/22/2018]
- The prospect of greater access for Indonesian palm oil to the 28-nation EU market is expected to dominate trade negotiations taking place this week. - Environmental activists from both Indonesia and Europe warn that granting this access could lead to even greater deforestation and more social conflicts in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil. - For its part, the Indonesian government is seeking to push back against EU measures to phase out palm oil for use in biofuels by 2021.
Drought-driven wildfires on rise in Amazon basin, upping CO2 release [02/22/2018]
- Despite a 76 percent decline in deforestation rates between 2003 and 2015, the incidence of forest fires is increasing in Brazil, with new research linking the rise in fires not only to deforestation, but also to severe droughts. - El Niño, combined with other oceanic and atmospheric cycles, produced an unusually severe drought in 2015, a year that saw a 36 percent increase in Amazon basin forest fires, which also raised carbon emissions. - Severe droughts are expected to become more common in the Brazilian Amazon as natural oceanic cycles are made more extreme by human-induced climate change. - In this new climate paradigm, limiting deforestation alone will not be sufficient to reduce fires and curb carbon emissions, scientists say. The maintenance of healthy, intact, unfragmented forests is vital to providing resilience against further increases in Amazon fires.
DJ and ornithologists create wildlife music game [02/21/2018]
- Wildlife DJ Ben Mirin has teamed up with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell Hip Hop Collection on a new online game that uses wildlife recordings. - Players take sound recordings of wild creatures and transform them into loops, creating a wide variety of song clips. Players also learn about the animals and the habitats they live in. - Mirin was also a guest on Mongabay’s podcast in 2017.
Audio: Exploring the minds and inner lives of animals [02/20/2018]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with an author of a new book about the minds and lives of animals – about their amazing memories and minds, how they dream, and more – and we’ll also learn what Mongabay’s newest bureau just launched in India is reporting about. - Our first guest is Sy Montgomery, the author of two dozen books for adults and kids about animals. She recently teamed up with her friend and fellow animal writer Elizabeth Marshall Thomas to write Tamed and Untamed: Close Encounters of the Animal Kind, and is here to share a few of the fascinating stories from the book with us. - Our second guest today is Sandhya Sekar, program manager for Mongabay India, who’s here to tell us about the environmental challenges India is facing and what kinds of coverage you’ll find at india.mongabay.com.
‘It’s our home’: Pygmies fight for recognition as forest protectors in new film [02/20/2018]
- A recent short film, Pygmy Peoples of the DRC: A Rising Movement, tracks the push for the recognition of indigenous land rights in the DRC. - The film catalogs the importance of the forest to pygmy groups, as well as their role as stewards of the forest. - A raft of recent research has shown that indigenous groups around the world often do a better job of protecting forests than parks and reserves.
Scientists from Indonesia, Germany and the Netherlands win Indonesian Peat Prize [02/20/2018]
- A team of scientists from Indonesia, Germany and the Netherlands has won the Indonesian Peat Prize for coming up with a fast, accurate and cost-effective way to map Indonesia’s vast tropical peatlands. - The judges praise the winning methodology’s versatility, speediness and accuracy in mapping peatlands. - Indonesia will have two years to fully adapt the winning methodology into the new peat-mapping standard, although some government agencies are clamoring to start adopting the system immediately.
As Indonesia gears up for elections, activists brace for an environmental sell-off [02/19/2018]
- This year, Indonesia will hold elections for governors, district heads and mayors across 171 regions, many of them home to vast natural resources. - Environmental activists are worried that, as in previous election years, the campaigning this year will be rife with corruption, as candidates take kickbacks from plantation and mining operators in a quid pro quo for permits and other favors once in office. - A key factor in the issue is the greater autonomy that local leaders enjoy managing their lands and resources, to the extent that they can even skirt some of the controls imposed by the central government. - The central government has made assurances that its processes now are more transparent and accountable, making potential abuses at the local level less likely. Activists, though, are unconvinced, citing a longstanding lack of strong enforcement.
Protected areas with deforestation more likely to lose status in Brazilian state [02/18/2018]
- A recent study finds that ineffective protected areas stand a lower chance of surviving if deforestation has occurred within their boundaries. - The research took place in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon. - The team of scientists also found that protected areas that work are less likely to be carved up for development. - The authors argue that removing safeguards, even from degraded areas, does not take into account the benefits that we may derive from existing protected areas, including carbon storage and clean water.
Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon dropped 13 percent in 2017 [02/16/2018]
- A new analysis of satellite imagery and data finds 143,425 hectares of forest were lost in the Peruvian Amazon in 2017, down 13 percent from 2016. - The analysis identified newly deforestation hotspots in the San Martín and Amazonas regions. - The main causes of the loss of forest in the Amazon appear to be cultivation of crops, small- and medium-scale ranching, large oil palm plantations and gold mining.
East Africa’s Albertine Rift needs protection now, scientists say [02/15/2018]
- The Albertine Rift in East Africa is home to more than 500 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. - Created by the stretching apart of tectonic plates, the unique ecosystems of the Albertine Rift are also under threat from encroaching human population and climate change. - A new report details a plan to protect the landscapes that make up the Rift at a cost of around $21 million per year — a bargain rate, scientists argue, given the number of threatened species that could be saved.
Brazilian Supreme Court ruling protects Quilombola land rights for now [02/13/2018]
- Brazil’s Supreme Court has soundly rejected a lawsuit filed in 2003 by a right wing political party that would have drastically limit the ability of quilombolas (former slave communities) to legitimize claims to their traditional lands. - There are 2,962 quilombolas in Brazil today, but just 219 have land titles, while 1,673 are pursuing the process of acquiring legal title. Titled quilombola territories include 767,596 hectares (1.9 million acres); these settlements have a good record of protecting their forests. Brazil’s total quilombola population includes some 16 million people. - While advocates for quilombola rights cheered the Supreme Court decision, major threats to the communities loom: successive administrations have drastically slashed the budget for titling quilombola lands, almost completely stalling the demarcation process. Also, a constitutional amendment, PEC 215 is moving through Brazil’s Congress. - PEC 215 would shift authority from the Executive branch to Congress for giving out land titles to quilombolas, recognizing indigenous claims to ancestral lands, and creating protected areas. With Congress dominated by the ruralist caucus and agribusiness, PEC 215 threatens Brazilian forests and indigenous and traditional communities.
Bridgestone aims for full sustainability by 2050 [02/13/2018]
- Bridgestone is the world’s largest tire and rubber manufacturer. - The company joins Pirelli and Michelin in committing itself and its suppliers to a sustainable supply chain by 2050. - The move could be particularly beneficial in places like Cambodia, where deforestation has closely tracked the global price for rubber.
Ecuador votes to reduce oil exploitation in Yasuní National Park [02/12/2018]
- In a recent referendum, 67.5 percent of Ecuador’s voting population voted in favor increasing Yasuní National Park’s Intangible Zone by at least 50,000 hectares and reducing the oil extraction area in the park from 1,030 to 300 hectares. - Ishpingo Field, which forms part of Block 43 of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) Initiative, is the only field that has not yet been exploited. Drilling was slated to begin there in mid-2018, but the referendum’s “yes” vote may prevent exploitation. - Ishpingo is located on Yasuni’s Intangible Zone, which protects Indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation. Environmentalists hope that a technical commission will be formed to define where the Intangible Zone will expand.
Scientists discover 18 new spider-hunting spiders from Madagascar [02/09/2018]
- Researchers have added 18 new species to the assassin spider family, upping the total number of known Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea species to 26. - Assassin spiders, also known as pelican spiders, have special physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to hunt other spiders. - The new species were discovered in Madagascar’s forests and through examination of previously collected museum specimens. - Madagascar is currently experiencing high levels of deforestation. Researchers say the loss of Madagascar’s forests is putting the new assassin spiders – as well as many other species – at risk of extinction.
Cattle invade Colombian national park [02/08/2018]
- An analysis of satellite data shows incursions into La Paya National Park in southern Colombia. - The data indicate La Paya lost around 9,500 hectares of rainforest between 2001 and 2016. - Researchers say satellite imagery show evidence that these clearings are being used for cattle pasture. - Conservationists worry deforestation will continue to rise with the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC rebel group, whose presence in the country’s forests kept logging and agriculture at bay for decades.
Faith in the forest helps Indonesia’s Dayaks keep plantations, loggers at bay [02/08/2018]
- Indigenous Dayak tribes of Borneo have longstanding traditions of performing various rituals throughout the agricultural cycle. - These rituals keep communities united in protecting their forests, with which the Dayak maintain a reverential relationship — not just as a resource for food and livelihood, but also for spiritual fulfillment. - The rituals also help ensure that the bounty of harvests is shared among all members of the community, even those who have experienced a poor yield.
Audio: The cutting-edge technologies allowing us to monitor ecosystems like never before [02/06/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss the cutting-edge remote sensing technologies used to monitor ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs. We also listen to a few ecoacoustic recordings that are used to analyze species richness in tropical forests. - Our first guest today is Greg Asner, who leads the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution for Science. Asner invented a technique he calls “airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy” that utilizes imaging spectrometers mounted on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory airplane to produce highly detailed data on large and complex ecosystems like tropical forests. - Our second guest is Mitch Aide, the principal investigator at the University of Puerto Rico’s Tropical Community Ecology Lab. In this Field Notes segment, Aide will play us a few of the audio recordings he’s uploaded to Arbimon as part of his recent research and will explain how these recordings are used to examine species richness in tropical forests.
Scientists find ‘surprising’ connections between tropical forests [02/05/2018]
- For a new study, researchers genetically analyzed the evolutionary relatedness of tree species that live in tropical and sub-tropical forests around the world. - Their results indicate the world’s tropical forests are divided into two main “floristic regions,” one that comprises most of Africa and the Americas and another in the Indo-Pacific region. - The analysis also indicates dry tropical forests around the world – from Madagascar and India to Africa and South America – are unexpectedly similar to one another. - The findings go against traditional assumptions about the relationships between tropical forests, and the researchers believe they could aid the development of more region-appropriate responses to climate change.