Interview: Perils and Rewards
Of Protecting Congo’s Gorillas
It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous place to be a conservationist than the Democratic Republic of Congo, which for decades has been ravaged by war and civil
Virunga National Park/gorillacd.org
Emmanuel de Merode
strife that has left several million people dead. But it is against this backdrop that Emmanuel de Merode has waged a five-year struggle to protect Congo’s Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa and home to one of the last sizeable populations of mountain gorillas. De Merode is the chief warden of Virunga, a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses nearly 2 million acres of forests, mountains, savannahs, and iconic wildlife. Since 1996, more than 150 Virunga park rangers have been killed in the line of duty, with two murdered last October. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, de Merode discusses the challenges of protecting the mountain gorillas in a war-torn nation, the remarkable survival of the gorillas amid this strife, and how restoring order inside Virunga National Park could play a role in bringing peace to Congo.
Read the interview
11 Dec 2012:
NASA Visualization Captures
Record Year for Wildfires in the U.S.
This year has been an unusually severe one for wildfires in the U.S., with more than 9.1 million acres of land burned through the end of November, federal officials say. The total affected area, which is depicted in a new NASA map, is already the third-largest since records were first kept
in 1960, and will likely break previous
records by year’s end. The most intense fires occurred in the western U.S., where several major fires during the early summer — sparked by a combination of drought, light winter snow pack, and the long-term effects of climate change — forced evacuations in some areas. In the visualization, which shows all fires that occurred between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, areas of yellow and orange indicate larger and more intense fires, while many of the less intense fires, shown in red, represent prescribed burns started for brush clearing or agriculture and ecosystem management. The visualization was based on data collected by NASA satellites.
07 Dec 2012:
Populations of Large, Old Trees
Are Dying Off Worldwide, Report Says
Populations of large, old trees, which provide critical ecosystem services, are declining across the planet
and could eventually disappear altogether in some regions, according to a report by three leading ecologists. Writing in the journal Science
, the scientists say the loss of large trees is occurring in all kinds of forests and at all altitudes, from Yosemite National Park in the U.S., to African savannahs, to Amazon rainforests and northern boreal forests. The losses are being driven by numerous factors, including land clearing, agricultural expansion, human-designed fire regimes, logging, invasive species, and climate change. “We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet, of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world,” said Bill Laurance
, a scientist at James Cook University in Australia, who coauthored the report.
05 Dec 2012:
African Lion Populations
Plummet as Habitat Disappears, Study Says
More than two-thirds of Africa’s lions have disappeared over the last 50 years as the continent’s once-vast savannah regions have been lost to human
A lion in South Africa
development, a new study has found. Using high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth and human population data, Duke University researchers calculated that about 75 percent of the original savannah has been lost since 1960
, driven by land-use changes and deforestation. On the entire continent, they found, there are now just 67 remaining pockets of savannah suitable for lion habitat; only 10 of those areas would be considered lion “strongholds.” Overall, lion populations have dropped from 100,000 to roughly 32,000 in just five decades, according to the study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation
. Continued habitat loss projected over the coming decades could put these populations at increased risk, the study said.
29 Nov 2012:
China is Largest Importer
Of Illegally Harvested Timber, Report Says
China has become the world’s leading importer of illegally harvested timber, even as the growing economic giant has made strides in protecting its own forests, according to a new report
. Drawing on its own investigative research and the work of Interpol, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimates that China now imports about $4 billion in illegal timber
annually to meet rising demand for construction materials and furniture. According to the report, more than half of China’s raw timber imports are now coming from nations with “a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance,” including Cambodia, Laos, and Madagascar. Meanwhile, the report said, the Chinese government has taken critical steps in preserving and re-growing its own forests. “China is now effectively exporting deforestation around the world,” said EIA's Faith Doherty.
27 Nov 2012:
Pine Beetle Attacks Cause
Temperature Rise in Canadian Forests
The decimation of trees by mountain pine beetles in British Columbia has caused air temperatures in affected areas to climb by an average of 1 degree Celsius
during the summer months, according to a new study.
A mountain pine beetle
In an analysis of satellite and forest data collected between 1999 and 2010, scientists from the University of Toronto and University of California, Berkeley calculated that areas hit hardest by widespread pine beetle infestations
have experienced even sharper temperature increases of several degrees Celsius, as regions are increasingly deprived of the natural cooling effect of trees. Since water evaporation through leaves prevents some of the sun’s radiation from heating the ground surface, the widespread loss of trees causes the temperature increases, said Holly Maness, a UC Berkeley researcher and co-author of the study, published in Nature Geoscience
16 Oct 2012:
Increasingly Severe Droughts
Could Transform U.S. Forests, Study Says
Severe drought conditions in the southwestern U.S. in recent years could become normal in the years to come, a shift that could trigger increased tree mortality and ultimately transform the region’s forests
, a new study says. In an analysis of tree-ring data from conifer trees dating back to A.D. 1000, a team of scientists concluded that while the region endured several “mega-droughts” over the last 1,000 years, the long-term drought that began in the late-1990s could end up being the worst yet and may portend even drier periods in the future. After modeling the level of stress caused by droughts on forests — and considering other factors caused by these changes, including bark-beetle outbreaks and wildfires — the researchers calculated that tree mortality over the next four decades will be worse than at any time over the last 1,000 years. “With increasing drought stress, our forests of tomorrow will hardly resemble our forests of yesterday,” said Henri Grissino-Mayer, a geography professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and one of the authors of the study
published in the journal Nature Climate Change
12 Oct 2012:
New Disney Paper Policy
Promises Responsible Use and Sourcing
The Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, has announced a dramatic shift in how the company will use and source paper
, vowing to minimize the amount of paper it uses overall and eliminate its purchase of irresponsibly harvested timber products. In an announcement, the multinational media company, which had been under pressure from forest activists, said it would increase its use of recycled paper and paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and will avoid products coming from what it called “high conservation-value” and “high carbon-value” forests. In addition, executives say they will work with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and other groups to identify "regions with poor forest management and high rates of deforestation,” including Indonesia, where rampant deforestation for pulp and paper products is decimating rainforests. The policy shift comes two years after RAN launched a campaign against Disney, citing evidence that its publishing arm, which produces 50 million books and 30 million magazines annually, was using hardwood pulp likely sourced in Indonesia rainforests
10 Oct 2012:
U.S. Supreme Court Refuses
Chevron Challenge of Ecuador Damages
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Chevron Corp.’s challenge
of an $18.2 billion judgment issued by an Ecuadorian court over large-scale damages caused by oil drilling in the Amazon. The Supreme Court decision is the latest development in a long legal battle that led to a ruling last year by an Ecuadorean court that Chevron had to pay the damages for massive oil dumping by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron was challenging a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that would have effectively opened the way for worldwide enforcement of the judgment against Chevron. An Ecuadorean court found that an oil consortium run by Texaco dumped billions of gallons of oil and toxic sludge in the Amazon rainforest
from 1964 through 1992, badly polluting water supplies and causing health problems among some of the 30,000 plaintiffs in the Lago Ario region. Chevron vowed to continue to fight the Ecuadorean court’s decision, which it called “fraudulent” and tainted by judicial misconduct. Chevron contends that the decision is not enforceable under New York law.
08 Oct 2012:
Indonesian Palm Oil Is
Growing Source of CO2 Emissions
The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations in the world’s tropical regions, particularly Indonesian Borneo, is becoming an increasingly significant source of global carbon emissions
, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change
, researchers from Stanford and Yale universities project that the continued expansion of plantations will add more than 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020 — an amount greater than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions. Much of the expansion in recent decades has occurred in Indonesia, particularly on the island of Borneo, also known as Kalimantan. According to researchers, the loss of forest for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan led to the emission of more than 140 million metric tons of CO2 in 2010 alone, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 28 million vehicles. About 80 percent of planting leases remained undeveloped in 2010, the study says. If all these leases are developed, more than one-third of Kalimantan’s lowlands outside of protected areas would be covered with palm oil plantations.
05 Oct 2012:
Northern Conifers Are Younger
As a Result of Extreme Climate Shifts
Extreme climate cycles in the Northern Hemisphere over millions of years altered the evolutionary history of the hemisphere’s conifer trees
, encouraging the formation of new species that are millions of years younger than their counterparts in the Southern
Hemisphere, according to a new study. In an analysis of the fossil remains and genetic makeup of 489 of the world’s roughly 600 living conifer species, scientists found that while the majority of conifers belong to ancient lineages, most of those found in the Northern Hemisphere emerged in just the last 5 million years. Scientists suggest that the migration of trees species and changes to range sizes in response to glacial cycles resulted in isolated populations and the introduction of new species. “Extreme climatic shifts through time may have favored the replacement of older lineages with those better adapted to cooler and drier conditions,” said Andrew Leslie, a Yale researcher and co-author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. In the Southern Hemisphere, meanwhile, fragmented habitats and mild, wetter habitats likely helped the older conifers survive with greater diversity.
01 Oct 2012:
Organized Crime Groups Drive
Increase in Illegal Logging, Report Says
Illegal logging accounts for 15 to 30 percent of the global logging trade
, with an increasing number of illegal operations in the world’s tropical regions being driven by organized crime, a new report says. According to the report
, released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL, the illegal logging trade is now worth between $30 billion and $100 billion each year and is undermining global efforts to protect forests in the world’s most important tropical regions, including the Amazon, central Africa, and Southeast Asia. “Illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized, including shifting their illegal activities in order to avoid national and local police efforts,” wrote Achim Steiner and Ronald Noble, the heads of UNEP and INTERPOL, respectively. In the Brazilian state of Pará, for example, illegally obtained permits allowed logging cartels to steal an estimated 1.7 million cubic meters of forest in 2008. A year later, Brazilian investigators uncovered a scam involving 3,000 companies illegally exporting logged timber as allegedly “eco-certified” wood.
17 Sep 2012:
Forest Mortality in U.S. Declines
As Beetles Run Out of Food, Report Says
Tree deaths caused by insect infestation and disease in the western U.S. declined significantly last year
, largely because mountain pine beetles have devoured so many
A mountain pine beetle
forests that they are running out of food, according to a report by the U.S. Forest Service
. Researchers reported that about 6.4 million acres of forest died nationally in 2011, compared with 9.2 million acres in 2010 and a peak mortality of 11.8 million acres in 2009. Scientists say about 60 percent of the mortality was caused by one pest, the mountain pine beetle, a native insect that has decimated lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests across western North America because warmer winters are not killing off beetle larvae. While the researchers say a critical factor in the decline has been a reduced number of available lodgepoles, they say ponderosa pine and high-elevation white bark pine remain at risk. The greatest forest mortality was reported in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. “Native insects and diseases run in cycles, and right now we are grateful the trend is downward,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. He added, however, that forests still face significant threats, including from climate change and new invasive species.
06 Sep 2012:
Destruction of Tropical Forests
Reduces Regional Rainfall, Study Says
A new study has found that destruction of the world’s tropical forests may significantly reduce regional rainfall across large regions
, a phenomenon researchers say could have devastating effects for people living in and around the Amazon and Congo basins. Using satellite observations of rainfall and vegetation, as well as atmospheric wind flow patterns, researchers from the University of Leeds and the NERC Center for Ecology & Hydrology found that across 60 percent of the Amazon and Congo rainforests, air passing over extensive forest areas produces twice as much rain as air passing over areas with little vegetation. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature
, this effect in some cases can increase rainfall thousands of miles away. After combining these findings with projected deforestation rates and current trends, the researchers calculated that tropical forest loss could reduce rainfall across the Amazon basin during the wet season by 12 percent by 2050, and 21 percent during the dry season.
04 Sep 2012:
A Quarter of Liberian Land
Ceded to Logging Companies in Two Years
One quarter of Liberia’s total land area has been sold to logging companies over the last two years
, a development that threatens widespread devastation in West Africa’s most heavily forested nation, a new investigation has found. According to a report
by Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and the Sustainable Development Institute, logging companies have used what the investigators call a legal loophole in the nation’s forest laws to secretly parcel out dozens of logging contracts covering 26,000 square kilometers. Created to allow landowners to cut trees on their land, these so-called Private Use Permits contain no sustainability requirements and have left 40 percent of the nation’s forests, including nearly half of Liberia’s most pristine forests, open to clearing, the report says. Under the terms of the contracts, the companies are required to pay only 1 percent of the timber’s value to the Liberian government. In response, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended the head of the nation’s Forestry Development Authority and opened an investigation.
30 Aug 2012:
Falls Sharply in Past Eight Years
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 77 percent from 2004 to 2011, but carbon emissions did not drop as steeply
because of complex processes revealed during on-the-ground studies, scientists say. While analysis of satellite images showed the three-quarters drop in deforestation, researchers said that several factors — including the slow decay of roots and the later burning of wood biomass — meant that carbon emissions from deforestation fell by 57 percent during the same period, according to a study published in the journal Global Change Biology
. Another reason for the 20-percent lag in carbon emissions reductions is that logging in recent years has been moving into denser Amazon forests, so even the reduced amount of deforestation is leading to higher carbon emissions, researchers said. U.S. scientists praised their Brazilian colleagues for the sophisticated new techniques used to tease out the differences between reduced deforestation and lagging emissions reductions. “That’s where you’d like the rest of the world to be, where Brazil is,” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center.
15 Aug 2012:
Belo Monte Dam Halted By
Brazilian Judge Over Lack of Consultation
A Brazilian judge has ordered a suspension of the controversial Belo Monte dam project, saying that local indigenous people who will be affected by the massive hydroelectric project were not sufficiently consulted
Illustration of the Belo Monte proposal
during the environmental assessment process. In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente of the Federal Tribunal of Brazil’s Amazon region found that no consultations were held with local communities
before Congress approved what would be the world’s third-largest dam project. The $16 billion project, which is expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of energy, would flood 260 square miles of rainforest in Brazil’s Para state and displace more than 20,000 people
who depend on free-flowing rivers for their livelihoods. “Legislators can only give the go-ahead if the indigenous communities agree with the project,” Prudente wrote. The developer of the project, Norte Energia, will be fined $250,000 per day
if construction on the project continues. The company says it will appeal the decision.
Watch an e360 video report
15 Aug 2012:
Wildlife Vanishing in Brazil’s
Fragmented Atlantic Forest, Study Says
The fragmentation of tropical forests in eastern Brazil as a result of agricultural expansion and other human activities has decimated biodiversity even within the pockets of forest that still remain, a new study has found
. Using wildlife surveys and interviews conducted at 196 forest fragments across a 253,000-square-kilometer region inside Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a team of researchers estimated that only about 22 percent of the animals that once inhabited the region are still there — far lower than earlier estimates
. According to their findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE
, white-lipped peccaries have been “completely wiped out,” while jaguars, lowland tapirs, woolly spider-monkeys and giant anteaters are essentially extinct. The loss of wildlife has even extended to areas where forest canopies are still relatively intact, said Carlos Peres, an ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study. While the Atlantic Forest once covered more than 1.5 million square kilometers, about 90 percent has been cleared for agriculture, pasture, or urban expansion. Most remaining patches of forest, researchers say, are about the size of a football field.
08 Aug 2012:
Aging, Diseased Trees
A Large Source of Methane, Study Says
Aging and diseased trees emit significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere
, a phenomenon that may be contributing to global climate change, a new study says. In samples collected from a forest in northeastern Connecticut, researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies found that some trees emitted methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — at levels up to 80,000 times greater than ambient air levels. According to their findings, the emissions rate from the forest site may be the equivalent of burning 40 gallons of gasoline per hectare of forest per year, offsetting about 18 percent of the forest’s carbon sequestration capacity. “Because the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests, we believe we have found a globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas,” said Kristofer Covey, a Yale researcher and lead author of the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. The researchers found that trees producing methane were commonly older — 80 to 100 years old — and diseased with fungal infections that promote increased methane production.
07 Aug 2012:
New Bird Species Discovered
In Cloud Forest of Eastern Andes
A team of researchers says it has identified a new bird species
, a barbet marked by its colorful scarlet breast and black mask, in the eastern Andes of Peru. The bird, which scientists named the Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki
), was discovered during a 2008 expedition,
led by recent Cornell University graduates, to a remote ridge in the Cerros del Sira range. Although scientists recognized that the bird was closely related to the scarlet-banded barbet, subsequent genetic tests confirmed that it is a distinct species within the barbet family, distinguishable by the differences in color on its flanks, lower back and thighs, and its dark scarlet breast band. The researchers believe the bird may only be found in a 30-kilometer region of montane cloud forest within the range, located on an outlying ridge of the Andes. The scientific name, Capito fitzpatricki
, was selected to honor John W. Fitzpatrick, a former executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who named seven bird species in Peru during the 1970s and 1980s. The bird is described in the July 2012 issue of The Auk
, a publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.
02 Aug 2012:
Planet’s Carbon Storing Capacity
Keeping Pace with Human Emissions
A new study finds that earth’s oceans and lands continue to absorb more than half of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions
, suggesting that the planet has not yet reached its carbon-storage capacity even as emissions continue to escalate. Writing in the journal Nature
, a team of U.S. scientists calculate that the world’s natural systems — including seas, forests, and soils — have absorbed about 55 percent of the roughly 350 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted during the last 50 years. With human-based emissions rising steadily over five decades, those systems have had to absorb an ever-increasing amount of carbon, storing an estimated 5 billion tons in 2010 compared with 2.4 billion tons in 1960, the study found. These calculations are consistent with findings by the Global Carbon Project, according to Reuters
. The planet’s capacity to store carbon has been a critical factor in preventing an even greater increase in global temperatures, but authors of the new study say that storage capacity will not remain indefinitely. “It’s not a question of whether or not natural sinks will slow their uptake of carbon, but when,” said Ashley Ballantyne, a researcher at the University of Colorado and lead author of the study.
30 Jul 2012:
Scheme Opens Papua New Guinea Forests to Foreign Loggers, Report Says
More than 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) of community-held land in Papua New Guinea have been signed over to foreign and domestic corporations through a government leasing scheme, accelerating
©Paul Hilton/ Greenpeace
deforestation in the resource-rich nation, a new Greenpeace study says
. Using data and mapping analysis and government information, the group found that about 75 percent of the leased forest land — or about 3.9 million hectares — is controlled by foreign corporations for up to 99 years through a so-called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL) scheme. The report claims that many companies paid government officials to approve long-term leases and that in one case logging companies paid police to intimidate and assault landowners who opposed the leases. “People are losing their land and their livelihoods for up to three generations and their forests forever,” said Paul Winn, leader of the Greenpeace Forests Team. Greenpeace says Papua New Guinea’s logging exports increased 20 percent last year, due largely to the SABL scheme. The total amount of land leased through SABLs makes up 11 percent of the country’s land area
and 16 percent of accessible commercial forest.
30 Jul 2012:
Recent Historic Drought
May Be the ‘New Normal,’ Study Says
A multi-year drought from 2000 to 2004 that lowered crop productivity and reduced water levels across western North America may become “the new normal” over the next century
as the climate warms, a new study says. In an analysis of climate models and precipitation projections, a team of scientists predicts that 80 of the 95 years between 2006 and 2100 will have precipitation levels as low, or lower, than levels experienced during the recent historic drought. That drought — which, based on tree ring data, was worse than any other experienced by the western U.S. in many centuries — caused crop productivity to drop by 5 percent, reduced runoff in the upper Colorado River basin by half, and triggered increased mortality in forests. In addition, the dry conditions cut the carbon sequestration capacity of forests across the western U.S., Canada, and Mexico by 51 percent, said Beverly Law, a scientist at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience
. As forest vegetation wilted, it caused more CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, amplifying global warming, according to the study.
12 Jul 2012:
Mountain Roads Trigger
Longterm Consequences in Southeast Asia
The rapid expansion of roads across the rural mountains of Southeast Asia often triggers unintended environmental consequences
that in many cases
Roy C. Sidle
Logging roads in Myanmar
undermine the socioeconomic benefits, according to an article in the journal Nature Geoscience
. While international organizations have supported “aggressive” efforts to expand road networks to increase agricultural development, trade, and tourism in remote regions, poorly designed mountain roads can cause landslides, soil erosion, and increased deforestation, write researchers Roy Sidle and Alan Ziegler. An increase in road density has been “directly linked to drastic transformation, or even elimination, of traditional shifting cultivation methods (as practiced in rural uplands) and have been implicated in deforestation and land exploitation in remote regions,” they note. Without proper drainage systems, these roads can destabilize hillside and soil erosion, degrading water quality, aquatic habitats, and agricultural productivity.
02 Jul 2012:
African Savannas May Shift
To Forest as CO2 Levels Rise, Study Says
Large areas of African savanna may slowly transform into forest ecosystems by the end of the century
as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide continue to rise, a new study says. While earlier studies have suggested that rising CO2 “fertilization” will not trigger global vegetation shifts, researchers from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University Frankfurt say that savanna ecosystems may actually be vulnerable to relatively quick “regime shifts” as plants and trees struggle for ecosystem dominance. According to their findings, savanna trees “were essentially CO2 starved under pre-industrial CO2 concentrations, and… their growth really starts taking off at the CO2 concentrations we are currently experiencing,” said Steven Higgins, lead author of the study published in Nature
. According to their projections, small changes in the factors that regulate the ecosystem could potentially trigger a cascade of events that reinforce each other, causing the system to change even more rapidly.
29 Jun 2012:
Recent Policies May Undermine
Brazil’s Green Progress, Scientists Say
Recent policies enacted by the Brazilian government — including changes to its Forest Code and a push to build 30 new dams in the Amazon region — threaten to undermine critical environmental progress made by the nation over the last two decades, scientists say. In a declaration
published after its annual meeting in Bonito, Brazil, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
(ATBC) stated that government policies to reduce deforestation and protect indigenous lands had made Brazil a global conservation model over the last two decades. “But recent developments raise concerns,” said John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian Institution who is executive director of the ATBC. The group cited recent changes to Brazil’s forest protection laws that they say favor agribusiness and will likely increase deforestation in the Amazon, as well as numerous large-scale dam projects
that will interfere with critical fish migration routes and flood vast areas of rainforest and indigenous communities.
26 Jun 2012:
Forests in Southwest U.S.
Fail to Regenerate After Fires, Study Says
Mountain forests scorched by wildfires in the southwestern U.S. in recent years have failed to regenerate as forest ecosystems because of rising temperatures, decreased precipitation, and human intervention, according to a U.S. researcher
. Speaking at an environmental conference this week in Colorado, Craig Allen, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, described how since the mid-1990s the Southwest’s alpine forests have increasingly been replaced by grasslands and shrublands following fires, The New York Times
reports. While southwestern fires in the distant past typically remained close to the forest floor — a natural cycle that prevented the overcrowding of trees — a combination of cattle devouring grassy surface vegetation, new government policies to prevent fires, and a drier climate have significantly altered this ecosystem. As a result, Allen said, forest fires now climb to the top of the canopy and the species that live in mountainous areas, including ponderosa pines and juniper, cannot regenerate as temperatures climb and precipitation decreases. “These forests did not evolve with this type of fire,” Allen said.
22 Jun 2012:
Rio+20 Summit Ends, With
Little Faith Seen in Government Solutions
Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro promised an era of aggressive action on biodiversity loss and global warming, the United Nations Rio+20 sustainability summit ended Friday with recriminations and a growing sense that international institutions will play an increasingly diminished role in solving environmental problems.
World leaders — with the notable absence of the heads of the U.S., U.K, Germany, and Russia — approved an agreement that lacked specifics, commitments, and measurable targets on how to promote sustainable economic development. Numerous conservationists and officials said that cities, local governments, the private sector, and environmental groups will now have to play the key role in fostering sustainable economic growth, slowing climate change, and preserving biodiversity. “The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of world leaders,” said Lasse Gustavson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.
19 Jun 2012:
Being Killed at Alarming Rate, Report Says
At least one person is killed per week in disputes over environmental protection or land rights as the competition for natural resources globally becomes increasingly violent, according to a new report
. In a survey of incidents worldwide, the group Global Witness estimated that 711 environmental activists, journalists or community members have been killed during the last decade over disputes involving land and forest rights. In 2011 alone, the number was 106, which was twice the number of killings in 2009. The report's authors say it provides a stark reminder of a “hidden crisis” and highlights a culture of impunity and a lack of oversight in many countries. The greatest number of killings reportedly occurred in Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines and Peru. “It is a well-known paradox that many of the world's poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy,” the report said
. “Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line.”
Interview: Looking for Solutions
In the Fight to Preserve Biodiversity
For decades, conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy has repeatedly warned — sometimes in dire terms — about the loss of biodiversity. But Lovejoy, who last month was awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize
, remains an
optimist. “There is no point in being unduly pessimistic, because that just guarantees all the bad things will happen,” says Lovejoy, who received the environmental prize at the Rio+20 summit. Credited with introducing the term “biological diversity” to the scientific community, Lovejoy has spent his career promoting it, with stints at the Smithsonian Institution and the World Wildlife Fund. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lovejoy, who now teaches at George Mason University, talked about the multi-pronged threats to biodiversity, from habitat loss to climate change; the potential impact of major dam projects and other development on the Amazon; and why he supports market-based conservation schemes that benefit local residents. Read the interview