conservation news and environmental science news.
Congo legalizes 15 logging concessions, prompting concern that moratorium will be lifted next
(03/13/2011) The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has legalized 15 logging concessions that were previously listed as illegal under an effort to clean up the industry of widespread corruption. The environmental group, Greenpeace, fears that the move precedes an announcement to lift the DRC's moratorium on granting any new logging concessions, which would open the Congo Basin to widespread logging.
Japan's earthquake disaster may boost rainforest logging in Borneo
(03/13/2011) Malaysian loggers say Japan's recovery from last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami will boost demand for rainforest timber, reports the Borneo Post.
Cambodia approves rubber plantation—in national park
(03/13/2011) The Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has approved a 9,000 hectare (22,200 acre) rubber plantation in Virachey National Park despite its status as a protected area, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The park is also listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park.
Into Colombia's Sierra Nevada
(03/11/2011) The highest coastal mountain on the planet rises 18,942 feet (5,775-meters) above the Caribbean Sea; it’s snow-capped peaks piercing through the clouds some 24 miles from an idyllic tropical beach. But to the casual visitor, the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta in Colombia does not seem so grandiose. It slopes up and down until it disappears into the clouds, jealously concealing its tropical glacier. Somewhere up there, shrouded in mystery, like an ancient treasure, hides the most impressive summit in the Caribbean. People living along this part of the coastline say the snows of the Sierra are visible from some beaches, but to me they remain elusive even after many trips to the region. To catch a glimpse of the snows from the Caribbean would be a welcoming gift, but I have really come here to experience the Sierra, whatever it would reveal.
McDonald's launches new sourcing policy for palm oil, paper, beef to reduce global environmental impact
(03/11/2011) McDonald's announced a far-reaching sourcing policy that could significantly reduce the fast-food giant's impact on the environment, including global forests. Yesterday McDonald's unveiled its Sustainable Land Management Commitment, a policy that requires its suppliers to use 'agricultural raw materials for the company's food and packaging that originate from sustainably-managed land'.
Is Japan's tsunami linked to climate change?
(03/11/2011) Could the earthquake that triggered Japan's devastating tsunami be linked to climate change? The short answer is probably not, but recent research suggests that changing climate has the potential to influence earthquakes in some parts of the world
Cambodians prevented from protesting destruction of their forest
(03/10/2011) Cambodian villagers fighting to save their forest from rubber companies have been rebuked by the local government. Two days in a row local authorities prevented some 400 Cambodian villagers from protesting at the offices of the Vietnam-based CRCK Company, which the villagers contend are destroying their livelihoods by bulldozing large swaths of primary forests. Authorities said they feared the villagers would have grown violent while protesting.
Critically endangered capuchins make tools to gather termites
(03/10/2011) Less than 200 blond capuchins (Cebus falvius) survive in the highly-fragmented habitat of Brazil's Atlantic Forest. But this tiny group of monkeys, only rediscovered in 2006, is surprising scientists with its adept tool-using abilities. Displaying similar behavior to that which made the chimpanzees of Gombe famous worldwide, the blond capuchins modify sticks to gather termites from trees; however, according to the study published in Biology Letters the blond capuchins use two techniques never witnessed before: twisting the stick when inside the termite nest and tapping the nest before inserting the stick.
Fighting illegal logging in Indonesia by giving communities a stake in forest management
(03/10/2011) Over the past twenty years Indonesia lost more than 24 million hectares of forest, an area larger than the U.K. Much of the deforestation was driven by logging for overseas markets. According to the World Bank, a substantial proportion of this logging was illegal. Curtailing illegal logging may seem relatively simple, but at the root of the problem of illegal logging is something bigger: Indonesia's land policy. Can the tide be turned? There are signs it can. Indonesia is beginning to see a shift back toward traditional models of forest management in some areas. Where it is happening, forests are recovering. Telapak understands the issue well. It is pushing community logging as the 'new' forest management regime in Indonesia. Telapak sees community forest management as a way to combat illegal logging while creating sustainable livelihoods.
Report: corruption in Sarawak led to widespread deforestation, violations of indigenous rights
(03/10/2011) At the end of this month it will be 30 years since Abdul Taib Mahmud came to power in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Environmentalists are using the occasion, along with new revelations, to highlight corruption and nepotism they say have characterized his regime. Chief Minister Taib and his decades-long administration are no strangers to such allegations, but a new report from the indigenous-rights group Bruno Manser Fund (BMF)—amid criticism from independent media sources, such as Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak—are adding fuel to the fire. Most recently, the report describes in great detail how the tropical timber trade in Sarawak has undercut indigenous groups while toppling some of the world's greatest rainforests, all at the expense of the Sarawak people.
Mitsubishi and Walmart agree to clean up fish sourcing practices
(03/09/2011) Two big players in seafood today announced that they are changing the way their fish are caught. Mitsubishi, which owns the UK's most popular brand for tuna in a tin, Princes, and Walmart, which owns Asda, have agreed to stop buying from fishermen who use purse seines fishing in conjunction with fish aggregating devices (FADs) by 2014. These methods have been blamed in part for the vast overfishing of the world's tuna and helping to decimate other species, such as sharks and rays, as bycatch.
Photos: two new freshwater stingrays discovered in the Amazon
(03/09/2011) Few people probably realize that in the rivers and lakes of the Amazon rainforest large stingrays glide, searching for crustaceans and small fish. Equipped with a powerful barbed tail they are often feared by locals. However, even as big as these fish are, new species continue to be described. Recently, scientists have identified two new species of Amazonian freshwater stingray near Iquitos, Peru. The new stingrays are unique enough to be placed in a new genus (the taxonomic level above species) called Heliotrygon, the first new Amazonian stingray genus to be described in nearly 25 years.
Republicans believe in climate change but not global warming
(03/09/2011) A new study finds that self-described Republicans are less skeptical of "climate change" than "global warming", reports Miller-McCune.
Birds experience 'empathy' for their hatchlings
(03/09/2011) A new study has uncovered what many chicken owners would say is evident: a mother hen experiences empathy for her hatchlings. Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study found that mother hens show both physiological responses and changes in behaviors when their chicks are even mildly distressed.
Melting ice sheets largest contributor to rising sea levels
(03/08/2011) Researchers expected the shrinking ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland to eventually become the greatest contributor to the world's rising sea levels; they just didn't expect it to happen so quickly. A new study in Geophysical Research Letters has found that ice sheets have overtaken melting glaciers and ice caps.
Rich plant diversity leads to increased productivity, ecosystem services
(03/08/2011) A new study finds that diversity of plant species matters—big time. Analyzing nearly 600 research studies, the meta-study in the American Journal of Botany found that productivity in biodiverse plant ecosystems was 1.5 times higher than in monocultures. In other words, a prairie is more productive than a cornfield and forest more productive than a rubber plantation. The researchers warn that eroding plant diversity threatens essential ecosystems services such as food, water purification, oxygen production, carbon sequestration, and the availability of raw materials.
India plans to aid dwindling Ganges River dolphin
(03/08/2011) The Indian government has announced that it plans to develop a program to raise the population of its native Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica gagnetica), a subspecies of the South Asian river dolphin. During a question and answer session Jairam Ramesh, India's Environment and Forests Minister, said that the dolphin's current population was estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 individuals in the Ganges. However, other estimates have placed it lower.
Where is REDD heading? Forest carbon week in review
(03/08/2011) REDD may still be at a standstill in Indonesia, but there is positive news coming out of the United Nations REDD Program. UN-REDD released its five-year strategic plan, and Nigeria is finalizing its readiness proposal to submit to the UN-REDD policy. More news inside this week's Forest Carbon news.
Kellogg switches to 'greener' palm oil
(03/08/2011) Kellogg Company will support greener palm oil production through the purchase of 'sustainable' palm oil certificates until it can obtain a segregated, sustainable supply, said the food giant in a statement.
Deforestation gives some Brazil beef a big carbon footprint
(03/08/2011) Extensive deforestation for low-yielding cattle production means some Brazilian beef carries a disproportionately high carbon footprint, reports a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Elephants cooperate as well as chimps
(03/07/2011) A new study proves that elephants understand how sometimes two is better than one. Working with Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, researchers reconstructed a classic cooperation test that was originally developed for chimpanzees. Subjects must pull on a rope to receive a reward, such as food, however—and here's the crux—the treat is only released if two subjects cooperate by pulling on two different ropes simultaneously. The paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that elephants were as capable of cooperation as chimpanzees.
Foreign big agriculture threatens world's second largest wildlife migration
(03/07/2011) As the world's largest migration in the Serengeti plains—including two million wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelles—has come under unprecedented threat due to plans for a road that would sever the migration route, a far lesser famous, but nearly as large migration, is being silently eroded just 1,370 miles (2,200 kilometers) north in Ethiopia's Gambela National Park. The migration of over one million white-eared kob, tiang, and Mongalla gazelle starts in the southern Sudan but crosses the border into Ethiopia and Gambela where Fred Pearce at Yale360 reports it is running into the rapid expansion of big agribusiness. While providing habitat for the millions of migrants, Gambela National Park's land is also incredibly fertile enticing foreign investment.
First large-scale map of oil palm plantations reveals big environmental toll
(03/07/2011) Expansion of industrial oil palm plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia have laid waste to vast areas of forest and peatlands, exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions and putting biodiversity at risk, reports a new satellite-based analysis that maps mature oil palm estates across Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra.
Stopping export logging, oil palm expansion in PNG in 2012 would cost $1.8b, says economist
(03/07/2011) Stopping logging for timber export and conversion of forest for oil palm plantations would cost Papua New Guinea roughly $2.8 billion dollars from 2012 to 2025, but would significantly reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis published by an economist from the University of Queensland.
Birnam Wood in the 21st Century: northern forest invading Arctic tundra as world warms
(03/07/2011) In Shakespeare's play Macbeth the forest of Birnam Wood fulfills a seemingly impossible prophecy by moving to surround the murderous king (the marching trees are helped, of course, by an army of axe-wielding camouflaged Scots). The Arctic tundra may soon feel much like the doomed Macbeth with an army of trees (and invading species) closing in. In a recent study, researchers found that climate change is likely to push the northern forests of the boreal into the Arctic tundra—a trend that is already being confirmed in Alaska.
Green jeans: big companies start sustainable clothing initiative
(03/06/2011) Ever wonder how 'green' one pair of shoes was over another? Or how much energy, water, and chemicals went into making your pair of jeans? A new effort by over 32 companies, environmental organizations, and social watchdogs may soon allow shoppers to compare not only price and appeal, but sustainability too.
Moratorium on Amazon deforestation for soy production proving effective
(03/06/2011) The Brazilian soy industry's moratorium is proving effective at slowing deforestation for soy production in the Amazon rainforest, reveals a new study published in the journal Remote Sensing.
World's most controversial dam, Brazil's Belo Monte, back on
(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.
Reaching kids with a conservation message via animation
(03/06/2011) During the Wildlife Conservation Network's October 2010 Wildlife Expo, mongabay.com encountered an animation that powerfully illustrates the concept of biodiversity loss in less than two-and-a-half minutes. Yesterday's Zoo recounts species that have disappeared and warns that a similar fate could befall many more unless urgent conservation action is taken. The animation is being used to raise money for wildlife protection efforts. In a March Q&A with Shane DeRolf, President & Executive Producer of Yesterday's Zoo, Mongabay learned more the project.
Denver puts water fees toward forest conservation
(03/06/2011) Like many cities around the world, Denver gets its drinking water from rivers and reservoirs, which in turn get their water from forests. Many of those forests, however, are in trouble – thanks to funding cuts, climate change, and a horde of opportunistic beetles. That puts the city's water supply at risk as well, so Denver teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to funnel money it collects from water fees into forest restoration. And it's not the only city to do so.
February in Review: Palm oil giant goes green? Sabah cancels coal project
(03/04/2011) A review of mongabay.com's February 2011 stories.
February in Review: Palm oil giant goes green? Sabah cancels coal project
(03/04/2011) A review of mongabay.com's February 2011 stories.
Protecting forests can cut water filtration costs
(03/04/2011) Clean water doesn’t come cheap. Communities and businesses often rely on expensive water filtration infrastructure to ensure their clean water supplies. But communities around the world have been protecting upstream forests instead of building new, costly water treatment infrastructure. Can this strategy work in the US south?
World's sixth mass extinction still preventable
(03/03/2011) So, here's the good news: a mass extinction, the world's sixth, is still preventable. But the bad news: if species currently threatened with extinction vanish—even over the next thousand years—homo-sapiens will be the first single species responsible for a mass extinction. Comparing today's current extinction crisis with the big five that occurred in the past, a new study in Nature finds that while the situation is dire, the choice is ultimately up to humanity. "If you look only at the critically endangered mammals—those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations—and assume that their time will run out, and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal, and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm," explains lead author Anthony D. Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology.
Food prices hit new record high—again
(03/03/2011) Food prices in February hit a new record, breaking the previous one set in January and continuing an eight-month streak of rising prices, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Experts fear that rising food prices could lead to another food crisis similar to that of 2007-2008.
Women are key to global conservation
(03/03/2011) In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother's face and the child's condition affected us both profoundly, despite Rachel's relative youth.
Report: 90 oil spills in Peruvian Amazon over 3 years
(03/03/2011) A new report has uncovered 90 oil spills by Pluspetrol in northern Peru's Amazon rainforest over the past 3 years. Covering two oil blocs—1-AB and 8—the report, complied by the Federation of Indigenous Communities of the Corrientes River (FECONACO), recorded 18 major oil spills in just the last year. "A week after the landmark ruling against Chevron in Ecuador for $9 billion of damage from operations in the 1970's and 80's, this new report highlights the ongoing devastation caused by the oil industry on the fragile Amazon ecosystem and the people that live there," said Atossa Soltani, Executive Director at Amazon Watch, in a press release.
New species of zombie-creating fungi discovered
(03/02/2011) As everyone knows, human zombies are created when an uninfected human is bitten by a member of the brain-craving undead. But what about ant zombies? Yes, that's right: ant zombies.
Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe
(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.
Eastern cougar officially declared extinct
(03/02/2011) The Eastern cougar, a likely subspecies of the mountain lion, was officially declared extinct today by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, ending 38 years on the Endangered Species List (ESA). The cougar, which once roamed the Eastern US, had not been confirmed since 1930s, although sightings have been consistently reported up to the present-day.
Conservation groups propose ban on lion parts in US
(03/02/2011) It's not widely known that the African lion ((Panthera leo) is currently threatened with extinction in the wild, but listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, the king of animals has declined by over 90% in the past 50 years (from 450,000 lions to between 20,000 and 40,000 today). While conservation work to save the species is on-going in Africa, efforts have now moved to the US as well, where a coalition of conservation groups are filing a petition with the US Department of the Interior to list lions as 'endangered' under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Such a listing would make it illegal to bring lion parts in the country, including those killed by recreational trophy hunters.
New population of nearly extinct Madagascar chameleon discovered
(03/01/2011) Scientists have discovered a new population of the Belalanda chameleon (Furcifer belalandaensis), boosting hope for one of Madagascar's rarest chameleons.
Our favorite nature photos of 2012
Dead baby dolphins washing ashore in Gulf of Mexico
(02/28/2011) Every year a few baby dolphins in the Gulf don't make it and are found on the shores of the Gulf, but this year something is different. To date, 24 baby dolphins have been found dead in Alabama and Georgia, some are stillborn, others aborted fetuses. Researchers, who say death-toll is ten times the average, are currently studying the dead porpoises for clues to cause. These could include colder-than-average waters, algal blooms, disease, or the incident in the back of everyone's mind: the BP oil spill last year.
Great Green Wall gets go ahead
(02/28/2011) Spanning the entire continent of Africa, including 11 nations, the Great Green Wall (GGW) is an ambitious plan to halt desertification at the Sahara's southern fringe by employing the low-tech solution of tree planting. While the Great Green Wall was first proposed in the 1980s, the grand eco-scheme is closer to becoming a reality after being approved at an international summit last week in Germany as reported by the Guardian.
Video: camera trap proves world's rarest rhino is breeding
(02/28/2011) There may only be 40 left in the world, but intimate footage of Javan rhino mothers and calves have been captured by video-camera trap in Ujung Kulon National Park, the last stand of one of the world's most threatened mammals. Captured by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Indonesia's Park Authority, the videos prove the Javan rhinos are, in fact, breeding. "The videos are great news for Javan rhinos," said Dr. Eric Dinerstein chief scientist at WWF, adding that "there are no Javan rhinos in captivity—if we lose the population in the wild, we’ve lost them all."
Photo: slaughtered great hornbill by soldiers raises ire [warning: graphic image]
(02/27/2011) A photo of an illegally killed great pied hornbill (Buceros bicornis) by what appears to be Malaysian soldiers has angered environmentalists in Malaysia, according to the New Strait Times. The photo was posted on Facebook last year.
Treasure chest of wildlife camera trap photos made public
(02/27/2011) Photos taken by camera traps have not only allowed scientists to study little-seen, sometimes gravely endangered, species, they are also strangely mesmerizing, providing a momentary window—a snapshot in time—into the private lives of animals. These are candid shots of the wild with no human in sight. While many of the photos come back hazy or poor, some are truly beautiful: competing with the best of the world's wildlife photographers. Now the Smithsonian is releasing 202,000 camera trap photos to the public, covering seven projects in four continents. Taken in some of the world's most remote and untouched regions the automated cameras have captured such favorites as jaguars, pandas, and snow leopards, while also documenting little-known and rare species like South America's short-eared dog, China's golden snub-nosed monkey, and Southeast Asia's marbled cat.
Judge suspends Brazil's monster dam: contractor 'imposing' its interests
(02/27/2011) Construction on Brazil's planned mega-dam, the Belo Monte, has been ordered suspended by a federal judge, citing unmet environmental and social conditions. Just last month, the hugely controversial dam, was handed a partial license from Brazil's Environmental Agency (IBAMA). However, the judge, Ronaldo Destêrro, found that the partial license, the first of its kind in Brazil, was granted under pressure from the dam's contractor, Norte Energia or NESA.
Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra lose 9% of forest cover in 8 years
(02/25/2011) Kalimantan and Sumatra lost 5.4 million hectares, or 9.2 percent, of their forest cover between 2000/2001 and 2007/2008, reveals a new satellite-based assessment of Indonesian forest cover. The research, led by Mark Broich of South Dakota State University, found that more than 20 percent of forest clearing occurred in areas where conversion was either restricted or prohibited, indicating that during the period, the Indonesian government failed to enforce its forestry laws.
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