20 Sep 2011:
Biodiversity Loss in SE Asia
Highest Among Tropical Regions, Study Says
The forests of Southeast Asia have suffered the greatest biodiversity loss of any tropical region over the last 50 years
, according to a study by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia. According to the study, published in the journal Nature
, the region has experienced the highest rates of deforestation for agricultural use, palm oil plantations, timber production, and other human uses, and now has the highest densities of human population among major tropical regions. In an analysis of 138 studies, the Adelaide researchers found that most forms of forest degradation have had an “overwhelmingly” detrimental impact on biodiversity. The authors say the link between human interference and biodiversity loss suggests that restoration or revegetation of disturbed forest is no substitute for maintaining natural, or so-called primary, forests. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think the damage can be reversed,” said Barry Brook, a researcher at the university’s Environment Institute and co-author of the study.
12 Sep 2011:
Decades of Deforestation
Contributed to Africa Famine, Group Says
Decades of forest destruction have turned once-productive lands into desert across the Horn of Africa, worsening a devastating famine
that has killed tens of thousands of people in Somalia and elsewhere, forestry experts say. A new study by the Center for International Forestry Research, conducted in 25 countries, shows that forests provide about one-quarter of household income for people living in or near them, offering a critical defense against poverty. In parched regions like the Horn of Africa, forests help retain moisture and soil nutrients, providing a defense against wind erosion and a source of food and energy. According to an international coalition, the clear-cutting of forests and degradation of land across the region have done more than the drought to convert once-productive grazing areas into a barren landscape. The group, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, has called for increased investments in reforestation and agroforestry projects across the region, saying similar efforts in Kenya and Niger have revitalized forests and provided critical food and other resources.
31 Aug 2011:
Invasive Beetle Threatens
New England Maple Forests, Study Says
Invasive beetles that have infested maple trees in U.S. cities could pose a threat to New England’s iconic hardwood forests
, a new study says. While earlier outbreaks of the Asian longhorned beetle have occurred on tree-lined streets in city neighborhoods, including in Chicago, New York and Boston, the study by U.S. researchers says the pests could disperse into natural forest landscapes. While the insect feeds on numerous types of hardwood trees in urban areas, in forests it disproportionately attacks maples, researchers say. In 2008, scientists first detected the beetle in Worcester, Mass., a city surrounded by heavily wooded forest that is part of a corridor stretching from New York to Vermont and Maine. Since then, foresters have established a 98-square-mile containment area to prevent the spread of the beetle. “The [beetle] apparently has been in the Worcester area for at least 10 years, and, undetected, could have easily spread to even larger tracts of continuous forest,” said David A. Orwig, a forest ecologist at the National Science Foundation’s Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site and co-author of the study, published in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research
30 Aug 2011:
Deforestation Rates Higher
In ‘Protected’ Forests, Study Says
A new study says deforestation rates in tropical forests designated as “protected” areas are typically much higher than in community-managed forests
. In a comparison of recent studies covering 40 protected areas and 33 community forests in 16 countries — including 11 in Latin America, three in Asia, and two in Africa — researchers found that protected areas lost an average of 1.47 percent of forest cover annually while community-managed forests lost only about 0.24 percent per year. “Our findings suggest that a forest put away behind a fence and designated ‘protected’ doesn’t necessarily guarantee that canopy cover will be maintained over the long term compared to forests managed by local communities,” said Manuel Guariguata, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the study, published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management
. While the researchers do not contend that the designation of forest areas as protected is “useless,” they say the evidence suggests community-based efforts can lead to increased local participation, reduced poverty, and greater economic opportunities and are a key part of forest conservation efforts globally.
Video: Illegal Logging Is Pushing
Rare Madagascar Lemur to the Brink
For the last 10 years, researcher Erik Patel has focused on the plight of the silky sifaka lemur, an endangered primate whose forest habitat in a remote corner of Madagascar is being cleared by rampant illegal logging. Now a new video, Trouble in Lemur Land
— shot in Madagasgar’s Marojejy National Park and Masoala National Park — features Patel and captures scenes of the rare lemur in the mountainous habitat that has kept it safe for thousands of years and of the logging operations that are feeding a robust market for rosewood, ebony, and pallisandre. According to scientists, as few as 300 of these lemurs remain — none outside this remote region.
Watch the video
10 Aug 2011:
New Trees Will Rejuvenate
Declining Midwestern Forests, Study Says
A new generation of native trees is poised to rejuvenate the aging forests in the U.S.’s Upper Great Lakes region
, providing a critical source of carbon capture in the 21st century, according to a new study. While some research suggests that mature forests store less carbon over time, Ohio State University researchers say the aging trees across the upper Midwest — which they likened to baby Boomers — are being replaced with a more diverse and complex mix of trees. “They may even outdo the boomer generation and be more productive,” said Peter Curtis, an Ohio State professor and lead researcher. In a comprehensive study conducted in northern Michigan, scientists stripped the bark off thousands of aging trees to accelerate a generational shift, and then observed the characteristics of the trees replacing them. Among other preliminary findings, they determined that the canopy created by the new trees uses light more efficiently to produce carbohydrates and release oxygen than the canopy of their predecessors. And using sophisticated instruments, they found that nitrogen losses throughout the system were small even after the deaths of thousands of trees, suggesting that the forests will robustly regenerate and remain an effective carbon sink.
29 Jul 2011:
Vietnam Army a Key Player
In Illicit Laos Timber Trade, Report Says
A new report says that the Vietnamese military is playing a central role in a multi-billion dollar operation to smuggle illegally cleared timber from neighboring Laos
. During a two-year investigation, agents from the
UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), posing as timber buyers, found that a ban on the export of raw timber from Laos is regularly flouted, with an estimated 500,000 cubic meters of logs being funneled to Vietnamese furniture factories each year. That trade is fueling Vietnam’s surging wood processing industry but poses a threat to millions of rural and indigenous people who depend upon those dwindling forests, the report says. And according to the report, Crossroads: The Illicit Timber Trade Between Laos and Vietnam
, one of the biggest loggers in Laos is the Vietnamese Company of Economic Cooperation, which is owned by the Vietnamese military. “EIA first exposed the illicit log trade between Laos and Vietnam in 2008, and our latest investigations reveal that sadly nothing has changed,” said Faith Doherty, head of EIA’s Forest Campaign. Much of the illegal timber, the EIA report says, ultimately ends up in stores in the U.S. and Europe.
15 Jul 2011:
Forests Absorb One-Third
Of Fossil Fuel Emissions, Study Finds
Forests play an even greater role in Earth’s climate system than previously known, according to the most comprehensive assessment yet of the carbon storage potential of the world’s wooded areas. Between 1990
and 2007, the planet’s tropical, temperate, and boreal forests absorbed about 2.4 billion tons of carbon annually
, or the equivalent of about one-third of fossil fuel emissions, and re-growth of trees in previously cleared lands absorbed an additional 1.6 billion tons, according to a study published in the journal Science
. During the same period, however, rampant deforestation — particularly in the world's tropical regions — released 2.9 billion tons of carbon annually. Overall, the planet’s forests provide a net carbon sink of about 1.1 billion tons of carbon, or the equivalent of about 13 percent of the emissions produced by humankind annually. According to researchers, the findings suggest that forest protection should play an even more important role in strategies to protect the planet’s climate, including the emergence of carbon markets. “The amount of savings which are up for grabs is very large, certainly larger than what we thought,” said Josep Canadell, an Australian scientist and co-author of the study.
07 Jul 2011:
Brazil Offers Protection for
Activists Targeted with Death Threats
The Brazilian government says it will provide security protection for at least 131 people threatened with murder over land use disputes
in the Amazon rainforest after a series of killings in recent months. Those
Via Amazoom Press
José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva
receiving death threats — including environmentalists, human rights activists, and local farmers defending their land against ranchers — will receive various levels of protection, from regular visits to 24-hour armed security, an official with the government’s human rights secretariat said. While violent disputes over land and natural resources are common in the Amazon, calls for a government response have grown since four people were killed last month. The violence attracted international attention in May when activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, were gunned down by unknown assailants a day after Brazil’s lower house of congress voted to ease forest protection laws. The couple had spent more than a decade fighting illegal logging, ranchers, and charcoal producers. After their deaths, activists provided the Brazilian government a list of 207 people who had received death threats, including 42 who had already been murdered.
22 Jun 2011:
Rockies Wilderness Area
Sought as Buffer to Climate Change
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is recommending that 888,000 acres of public lands in Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem receive federal wilderness protection
to prevent habitat loss for species most vulnerable to the effects of climate change,
Grizzlies in the Crown of the Continent
including wolverines, bighorn sheep, bull trout, and grizzly bears. Drawing on the latest research on how climate change may affect these species, WCS senior scientist John Weaver mapped their distribution across the Rocky Mountains from Glacier National Park to the Canadian Rockies, including prime wildlife habitats and the areas that connect them. Weaver also spent four months surveying the terrain and its wildlife on foot and on horseback. As temperatures continue to warm, he said, different species will continue to seek out suitable, year-round habitats, and it is critical to protect those ecosystems. “To help vulnerable fish and wildlife cope with new challenges, we need to build upon existing protected areas and enhance connectivity across diverse habitats,” he said. Of the 1.3 million acres of public lands in the region, Weaver recommended 67 percent be added to the National Wilderness system, which guarantees the highest level of protection, and 23 percent be managed to include non-motorized recreational activities.
10 Jun 2011:
Mattel Vows to Stop Using
Paper from Accused Asian Clear-Cutter
Toymaker Mattel Inc. says it will stop using packaging from a Singapore-based company accused of clear-cutting
swaths of Indonesian rainforest. Mattel’s action follows a campaign by Greenpeace that targeted, among other products, the packaging used in Mattel’s popular
Barbie doll. While Mattel said it does not typically dictate where its suppliers obtain their materials, the company said it has now “directed” packaging suppliers to stop using pulp from Sinar Mas/APP, one of the world’s largest palm oil and paper companies, until Mattel is able to investigate allegations of illegal deforestation. “Additionally, we have asked our packaging suppliers to clarify how they are addressing the broader issue in their own supply chains,” the company said in a statement. Greenpeace has accused Mattel — as well as Hasbro, Lego, and Disney — of buying paper packaging sourced from disappearing rainforests, especially in Indonesia, where about 40 percent of rainforest has been cleared in recent decades. A Greenpeace campaign launched this week drew global attention after an online video spoofing its Barbie character as a rainforest “serial killer
” attracted more than a half-million viewers.
09 Jun 2011:
Instant Identification of Trees
Is Possible Using Smartphone App
Botanists from the Smithsonian Institution have helped develop a smartphone app that can identify tree species
within seconds using visual recognition software and then share the location with a database of tree populations. After a user takes a photo of a leaf with his or her smartphone device, the so-called Leafsnap
app searches a library of leaf photographs compiled by Smithsonian and almost immediately delivers high-resolution photographs of the likely species, along with information on flowers, fruits, seeds, and bark. In addition, the geographical data of that query is shared with a community of scientists tracking flora across the U.S. Currently, the app covers all trees found in New York City's Central Park and Washington’s Rock Creek Park, but will eventually provide a database of trees nationwide, said John Kress, a Smithsonian research botanist who developed the app with engineers from Columbia University and the University of Maryland.
07 Jun 2011:
Global Land Fluorescence
Is Mapped For the First Time
NASA scientists have for the first time used satellite imagery to produce a global map of how land plants fluoresce
, a breakthrough that should enable researchers to more quickly identify when vegetation is stressed and
to better track the carbon cycle in terrestrial ecosystems. When land plants undergo photosynthesis, they emit a difficult-to-detect reddish glow that produces fluorescence. Using data collected in 2009 aboard a Japanese GOSAT satellite, NASA scientists were able to produce the fluorescence map by analyzing an unusually dark section of the infrared portion of the solar spectrum that indicates fluorescence. To date, scientists have used satellites to track plant and forest health primarily by examining imagery that indicates the “greenness” of a landscape. But NASA scientists said the new technology will enable them to produce a more detailed picture of plant health, and the fluorescence imagery will indicate that plants are under stress weeks before they begin turning yellow or brown. Such technology could help farmers respond to extreme weather or make it easier for aid workers to detect and react to famines, NASA said.
07 Jun 2011:
Sustainable Forests Grow
But Large Areas Remain Unmanaged
A new report finds that the area of sustainably managed forest in the world’s tropical regions increased from 36 million hectares (89 million acres) to 53 million hectares from 2005 to 2010, but that 90 percent of the planet’s tropical forests remain either poorly managed
or not managed at all. In a comprehensive survey of forestry management in 33 countries — including nations across Africa, Asia, and Latin America — the Japan-based International Tropical Timber Organization
(ITTO) found that efforts to preserve forest resources had a significant impact over the last five years, including campaigns to stimulate demand for sustainably harvested timber. The ITTO also said that the UN-based initiative known as REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, was leading to improved forest management in places as developed nations pay developing nations to preserve forests. But the report warned such efforts could be overwhelmed in the long term by forces driving deforestation, including higher food and fuel prices. Demand for certified wood will likely only affect a small portion of the world’s tropical forest areas, said Emmanuel Ze Meka, ITTO's executive director. While some countries have embraced climate-related schemes to preserve forests as a revenue source, he said those funds “may not materialize to the extent hoped for.”
02 Jun 2011:
Deforestation Rate Decreased
in World’s Largest Forests, UN Says
The rate of deforestation in the world’s three largest tropical rainforest regions declined nearly 25 percent during the last decade
compared with the net forest loss during the 1990s, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. In the Amazon basin, the Congo basin, and the forests of Southeast Asia, about 5.4 million hectares of forest were cleared annually between 2000 and 2010, while about 7.1 million hectares were cleared annually during the previous decade, the report said. Nations such as Brazil and Indonesia have achieved significant reductions in forest loss through government reform and increased conservation awareness, said Mette Wilkie, author of the report
. But with forest loss continuing at an “alarming” rate in many of the 30 nations within the planet’s rainforest basins, Wilkie warned the report is not cause for complacency. In Indonesia, for instance, forests have been decimated for cultivation of palm oil crops, and an expected 70 percent increase in the demand for food worldwide by 2050 will add an enormous strain on remaining tropical forests. Only 3.5 percent of the forests surveyed are currently under effective forest management, the report noted.
23 May 2011:
Satellite Photos Capture
Illegal Clearing of Tribal Forest
Recent satellite images reveal that logging companies have illegally cleared sections of forest
inhabited by the last “uncontacted” tribe in South America outside the Amazon, according to the advocacy group Survival International
. Between October and December of 2010,
Click to enlarge
Illegal logging in Paraguay, Oct.-Dec. 2010
loggers cleared forest in Gran Chaco, an arid area of scrub forest in Paraguay claimed by the indigenous Ayoreo, a tribe that had no contact with outsiders until the mid-20th century. The deforestation, which Survival International said was being carried out by the companies River Plate and BBC S.A., violates a logging moratorium in the region that is claimed by the tribe and ranchers. Between 2006 and 2010, commercial ranchers cleared about 10 percent of the Paraguayan Chaco’s forest. “It simply adds to the massive deforestation going on in the Chaco that is, bit by bit, removing the very life source of the Ayoreo,” said Rebecca Spooner of Survival International. Two years ago, the advocacy group used satellite photos to show that a Brazilian company was operating on the tribe’s land despite a suspension of its license by the Paraguayan government.
19 May 2011:
Brazil Deforestation Escalates
as Nation Debates Easing Forest Code
Satellite photographs reveal that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has intensified significantly
during the last two months, a trend environmental advocates say is linked to an ongoing national debate over easing forest protection laws. According to Brazil’s National Space Research Agency, about 593 square kilometers of forest was cleared during March and April, compared to just 103 square kilometers in March and April 2010. Eighty-one percent of the recent clearing occurred in the state of Mato Grosso, a center of soybean production. The steep rise in forest loss stands in stark contrast to recent trends in Brazil, where annual deforestation had fallen almost 80 percent since 2004. Some say the recent deforestation is a direct consequence of the debate over changes to Brazil’s Forest Code, which requires property owners in the Amazon region to maintain 80 percent of their holdings as forest. Greenpeace’s Marcio Astrini told Reuters
that deforestation is surging in Mato Grosso because landowners, anticipating that a weakening of the code would grant amnesty for deforestation, are rapidly clearing forest for agriculture.
16 May 2011:
Google Earth Animation
Highlights Region Targeted for Logging
A new animation produced by the group WWF-Indonesia offers a tree-level tour of a biodiversity rich region of Sumatran rainforest
targeted for destruction by logging companies. The animation, created using Google Earth, highlights proposed logging efforts in a
region known as Bukit Tigapuluh, or “Thirty Hills,” a landscape that is home to endangered Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos, and orangutans, and represents one of the last large blocks of untouched forest in the area. While some parts of the region are protected as a national park, a large segment of lowland forest is located outside protected areas and is already concessioned for logging by major logging conglomerates. Google Earth has become an increasingly popular campaign tool
for environmental organizations. Groups such as the Amazon Conservation Team and Amazon Watch have used it in efforts to halt illegal logging and the proposed construction of a dam on the Amazon River.
10 May 2011:
Quebec Plans to Develop
Mineral-Rich Regions of Far North
Quebec has launched a 25-year plan to develop its remote northern and Arctic regions,
which are rich in mineral deposits, timber, and swiftly flowing rivers that could provide hydroelectric power. While the so-called Plan Nord
includes development of 11 mining projects, as well as roads and other infrastructure, about half of the 465,000-square-mile area (1.2 million square kilometers) region would be protected from industrial development. “It is one of the world’s last virgin territories,” said Quebec Premier Jean Charest
. “It’s also a fragile territory and a territory of great richness and it’s also a responsibility.” The region to be developed lies above the 49th parallel and has a population of only 120,000 people, many of them Inuit. Quebec officials say the region contains huge deposits of nickel, cobalt, and other metals, and also can be sustainably logged in places and produce large amounts of hydroelectric power. Environmentalists praised the commitment to preserve half of the region from industrial development, but said they wanted to carefully study details of the development plan.
02 May 2011:
World’s Largest Beef Company
Agrees to New Restrictions in Amazon
The world’s largest producer of beef, JBS-Fribol, has agreed to stop buying cattle from ranches associated with illegal deforestation
in the Amazon. After being accused by Brazilian officials of purchasing large quantities of cattle from illegally deforested land and facing $1.3 billion in fines, the company has signed agreements with prosecutors in eight states in the Amazon stating that it would not purchase beef from areas classified as conservation units or indigenous territories, or listed as off-limits by state environmental authorities. JBS-Fribol also said it would stop purchasing cattle from ranches accused of labor abuses, including slave labor. In exchange for promises to begin changing its operations by September 2012, the company will avoid the $1.3 billion in fines, state prosecutors said. Although hailed as an important step in efforts to slow deforestation in the Amazon, the agreement faces significant challenges, including corruption at the local level. Cattle production is the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon, and a crackdown on the beef industry is one reason deforestation in the region has slowed in recent years.
21 Apr 2011:
Nearly Half of Amazon
Is Protected But Vulnerable, Report Says
While nearly 44 percent of the Brazilian Amazon has protected status, poor management and limited oversight make many areas susceptible to human encroachment and development
, including logging and mining, according to a new report. As of late 2010, almost 2.2 million square kilometers of the Amazon was protected, with about half of that area falling within the borders of national parks and the other half protected as indigenous territories. But even within those areas, more than 12,000 square kilometers of forest were cleared from 1998 to 2009, particularly in areas designated as “sustainable use” reserves, according to the study by Imazon and the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). The main threat is lack of planning or oversight, researchers say. Half of the protected areas have no approved management plan, and 45 percent have no management council. According to the report, 1,338 mining titles have been granted in protected areas and another 10,348 are awaiting approval.
19 Apr 2011:
Richard Branson Proposes
Lemur Reserve on Private Caribbean Island
Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire head of the Virgin Group of companies, is planning to establish a controversial reserve for threatened ringtailed lemurs
on a 124-acre island he owns in the Caribbean, about 8,000 miles away from primates’ native Madagascar.
Branson, who has been involved in other projects to protect endangered species, says efforts to protect the lemur on Madagascar have been hampered by rampant deforestation, and he hopes an island colony on Moskito — an island he bought for £10 million ($16 million) in 2007 — will provide a “safe haven” for the species. “We brought in experts from South Africa to Moskito Island and they said it would be perfect,” Branson told the Guardian
, saying that if lemurs thrived there they could eventually be reintroduced on Madagascar. While British Virgin Islands officials have approved the transport of 15 lemurs from zoos in Canada, Sweden, and South Africa to Moskito, some wildlife experts have warned that the potential harm of introducing lemurs to a new environment could outweigh the benefits. Others have reserved judgment for now. “It could be a brilliant or terrible idea but we just don’t know yet,” said Penelope Bodry-Sanders, founder of the Florida-based Lemur Conservation Foundation.
18 Apr 2011:
Reserve for Asian ‘Unicorn’
Established in Central Vietnam
The government of Vietnam has created a 39,000-acre reserve to protect the elusive saola
, a critically endangered two-horned antelope-like mammal known locally as the “Asian unicorn.” The saola, or Pseudoryx nghetinhensis
, which is described as a primitive
member of the bovine family, was first discovered by the outside world during a survey of the forests of north-central Vietnam in 1992. While wildlife experts say it is unclear how many saolas exist, there are likely no more than a few hundred left in the face of threats from local hunters and poachers seeking their horns. “If no reserve activities are launched now, the danger of the saolas’ extinction is clear,” said Pham Thanh Lam, director of the Forest Bureau in Vietnam’s Quang Nam province. The new reserve is located in the Annamite mountains, along the Vietnam-Laos border. Preservation efforts will include working with local communities to improve economic conditions and minimize hunting. According to the conservation group WWF, no saolas have survived in captivity.
15 Apr 2011:
Mining Threatens Grand Canyon
and Other Landmark U.S. Sites, Report Says
Mining companies have exploited outdated U.S. laws to stake claims for gold, uranium, and other minerals
at 10 national parks and wilderness areas, including the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, according to a report by
National Park Service
The Grand Canyon
the Pew Environment Group. While mining operations can legally occur adjacent to, or even within, protected areas under an 1872 law, the frequency of claims has increased in recent years — including a 2,000-percent increase in uranium claims since 2004 — because of rising global demand, the report says
. According to U.S. estimates, mining interests take an estimated $1 billion in metals annually from publicly owned land. Claims have also been staked within the borders of Joshua Tree National Park in California, New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, and near the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The Obama administration sought to remove 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon from further staking of claims for two years in 2009, and it is now considering a 20-year extension. But meanwhile, mining of existing claims can go forward. According to federal officials, there are about 3,500 uranium claims around the canyon.
Interview: Forging a Defense
For Rhinos in Troubled Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe ranks number 4 on Foreign Policy
magazine’s “Failed State Index,” with its shattered economy, pervasive hunger, and entrenched dictator. And that makes it all the more surprising that Raoul du
Raoul du Toit
Toit, who was awarded the 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa this week, has managed not only to spend nearly 30 years protecting the critically endangered black rhino in his homeland, but that Zimbabwe actually saw an increase in black rhino numbers this past year. Du Toit says that with the number of black rhinos still abysmally low, this is no time for complacency. The problem is poaching, which is on the upswing because of the demand for rhino horn for use in traditional Asian medicines. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, du Toit discusses his hopes of getting Zimbabwean communities and schools involved in programs to protect the rhino, and he talks about the challenges of trying to protect wildlife in a nation where the political leaders show virtually no interest in environmental issues. “In general,” he said, “I have to bluntly say that they don’t normally give a damn about conservation.”
Read the interview
11 Apr 2011:
Cambodia Halts Large Mine,
Sparing A Vital Threatened Rainforest
The Cambodian government has canceled a controversial titanium mining project
in one of the last remaining intact rainforests in Southeast Asia, citing environmental concerns. In an unexpected announcement, Prime Minister Hun Sen withdrew a concession already granted to the United Khmer Group to mine a 4,400-hectare area in the Cardamom Mountains, citing “the impact on the environment and biodiversity as well as the living standards of the people.” Environmental groups and local media had fought the project, saying it would threaten Cambodia’s growing ecotourism industry and critical habitat for 70 threatened and vulnerable species, including the critically endangered Siamese crocodile. The mine also would have blocked the migration route for the largest population of elephants in Cambodia. “United Khmer Group had promised staggering revenues for the government, and we applaud the courageous decision of the prime minister to see the greater value of the forest as it currently stands,” said Suwanna Gauntlett
, CEO of the nonprofit Wildlife Alliance, which led the campaign against the project.
Interview: Extolling the Value
Of Forests Shaped by Humans
Susanna Hecht, a political ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been a controversial figure in the conservation community, which is not surprising given her assertion that many of the world’s deforested
lands are recovering and that forests altered by human activity play a vital ecological role. Her studies of humanity’s interaction with forests have revealed how major social forces, such as globalization, affect our environment, sometimes in unanticipated — and positive — ways. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Hecht argues it’s time to start thinking about a new strategy for the world’s forests, one that focuses less on setting aside preserves for wildlife and biodiversity and more on the unprotected areas where people live. Hecht espouses what she calls the “new rurality,” which wrings the most biodiversity from a patchwork landscape of crops, pastures, agroforestry plantations, and abandoned farmland reverting to forest. “There has been a recognition,” says Hecht, “that inhabited environments can have major conservation values.”
Read the interview
04 Apr 2011:
Tree-killing Pine Beetles
Moving East, Canadian Study Finds
The mountain pine beetle that has decimated large swaths of lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests across western North America in recent years is migrating eastward
, according to report by Canadian researchers.
A mountain pine beetle
Scientists at the University of Alberta say they have found evidence that the insect has infested jack pines as far east as Slave Lake in Alberta, about 120 miles north of Edmonton. The jack pine is the dominant pine species of Canada’s boreal forest, which stretches east from Alberta to the Maritime provinces. Since the late-1990s, oubreaks of the mountain pine beetles — linked to warmer winters — have devastated more than 70,000 square miles of forest in western Canada and the U.S. According to the new report, published in the journal Molecular Ecology
, the beetle — which can fly — was able to cross a wide swath of forest where lodgepoles and jack pines interbreed to create hybrid trees. While it can be difficult to distinguish between the hybrid trees and jack pines, the scientists used molecular markers to conclude that the infested trees are indeed jack pines. The pine beetles have flourished recently
as milder winters have failed to kill the beetle larvae.
29 Mar 2011:
Malaysian Forestry Claims
Refuted by Google Earth Satellite Images
While officials in the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo have insisted that 70 percent of the region’s forest cover is intact, satellite images indicate that far more widespread deforestation is taking place
. A review
of Google Earth images collected from GeoEye, TerraMetrics, and other satellite programs by the tropical forest Web site, Mongabay, reveals a network of logging roads and cleared forest across Sarawak. In contrast, the satellites reveal largely intact forests covering nearby Kalimantan — the Indonesian portion of Borneo — and the nation of Brunei. Advocacy groups have claimed that as much as 90 percent of Sarawak’s primary forest have been logged. Sarawak’s Chief Minister, Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, under pressure from environmental groups that claim his family has acquired millions of dollars worth of holdings for his role in Sarawak’s forestry sector, last week invited independent inspectors to visit the state
to verify the extent of forest cover.
25 Mar 2011:
Important Vegetation Shift
Documented in Siberia’s Vast Boreal Forest
As Russia’s enormous boreal forest undergoes rapid warming, a significant shift in tree species is occurring
, with evergreen trees such as spruce and fir creeping poleward as the iconic tree of Russia’s far north, the larch, is in decline, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Virginia said the shift is expected to further hasten warming because of a fundamental difference between larch trees and evergreens. Larch is a species of conifer, but in the fall it sheds its golden needles, allowing sunlight to shine through the tree’s bare branches and reflect solar radiation off the snow and back into space, further cooling Russia’s northern regions. But as more warmth-tolerant evergreen species spread north, these trees — which do not shed their needles — absorb heat and increase temperatures, according to the research, published in Global Change Biology
. The shift in species thus acts as a so-called positive feedback, further warming the region. This cycle of temperature increases could hasten the melt of permafrost, releasing large amounts of methane and CO2. “What we’re seeing is a system kicking into overdrive,” said Hank Shugart, professor of environmental sciences. “Warming creates more warming.”