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Mongabay.com news articles on Environmental Law in blog format. Updated regularly.









Scientists urge Papua New Guinea to declare moratorium on massive forest clearing

(04/19/2011) Forests spanning an area larger than Costa Rica—5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres)—have been handed out by the Papua New Guinea government to foreign corporations, largely for logging. Granted under government agreements known as Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), the land leases circumvent the nation's strong laws pertaining to communal land ownership. Now, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world's largest professional society devoted to studying and conserving tropical forests, is urging the Papua New Guinea government to declare a moratorium on SABLs.


US wolves lose to politics

(04/17/2011) A 'rider' attached to the most recent budget passed this week in the US congress has stripped gray wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, a first in the law's nearly 40-year-history. The rider, which was signed into law under the budget on Friday by US President Barack Obama, hands gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Oregon from Federal protection to state control. Hunting is expected to begin soon.


Indonesia and the EU reach agreement on illegal wood trade

(04/17/2011) A new agreement will work to keep illegal wood from Indonesia out of European Union markets. The Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) will force Indonesia to only ship wood to the EU that has been approved as legal by a national authority, while EU customs workers are set to send any unapproved wood back to Indonesia. The VPA is a step forward in tackling the illegal timber market in Indonesia that is estimated to be worth $1 billion and has been responsible, in part, for leveling rainforests across the Indonesia islands.


Pro-deforestation group calls for weakening of U.S. law against illegal logging

(04/14/2011) A group that lobbies on behalf of forestry conglomerates in Indonesia and Malaysia is calling on the U.S. to roll back legislation intended to fight illegal logging. World Growth International, a Washington D.C.-based group that portrays itself as a humanitarian organization, yet consistently pushes policies that favor industrial forestry interests over those of rural communities, has submitted formal comments to the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) review of the implementation of the revised Lacey Act provisions that prohibit trade in illegally logged wood products, including timber and paper.


Gas from 'fracking' not climate friendly

(04/13/2011) It appears every time a fossil fuels industry claims its energy is 'green' or 'climate-friendly', scientists discover this just isn't so. The most recent culprit is natural gas produced by an already controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, which extracts the gas from shale basins. A new study in Climatic Change has found that the process of fracing is worse than coal over a 20-year period and about equal over 100-years. Coal had long been considered the worst climate offender of all energy options.


Satellite evidence of deforestation in uncontacted tribe's territory sparks legal action

(04/12/2011) The destruction of 3,600 hectares (8,900 acres) of the Gran Chaco forest in Paraguay by large Brazilian cattle ranching companies has led to a legal complaint filed by a local indigenous-rights organization, since the land in question was one of the last refuges of a group of uncontacted indigenous people in the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe. The loss of the forest was revealed in part by satellite images of the remote area.


Major Brazilian banks sued for loans linked to deforestation

(04/03/2011) Brazilian prosecutors have filed suit against the state-run Banco do Brasil and Banco da Amazonia for providing loans to companies that illegally cleared Amazon rainforest and used slave-like labor, reports Reuters.


5 million hectares of Papua New Guinea forests handed to foreign corporations

(03/23/2011) During a meeting in March 2011 twenty-six experts—from biologists to social scientists to NGO staff—crafted a statement calling on the Papua New Guinea government to stop granting Special Agricultural and Business Leases. According to the group, these leases, or SABLs as they are know, circumvent Papua New Guinea's strong community land rights laws and imperil some of the world's most intact rainforests. To date 5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres) of forest have been leased under SABLs, an area larger than all of Costa Rica. "Papua New Guinea is among the most biologically and culturally diverse nations on Earth. [The country's] remarkable diversity of cultural groups rely intimately on their traditional lands and forests in order to meet their needs for farming plots, forest goods, wild game, traditional and religious sites, and many other goods and services," reads the statement, dubbed the Cairns Declaration. However, according to the declaration all of this is threatened by the Papua New Guinea government using SABLs to grant large sections of land without going through the proper channels.


Top forest policies recognized

(03/23/2011) 19 forest policies have been nominated for an award by the World Future Council, a global think tank.


Goodbye national parks: when 'eternal' protected areas come under attack

(03/17/2011) One of the major tenets behind the creation of a national park, or other protected area, is that it will not fade, but remain in essence beyond the pressures of human society, enjoyed by current generations while being preserved for future ones. The protected area is a gift, in a way, handed from one wise generation to the next. However, in the real world, dominated by short-term thinking, government protected areas are not 'inalienable', as Abraham Lincoln dubbed one of the first; but face being shrunk, losing legal protection, or in some cases abolished altogether. A first of its kind study, published in Conservation Letters, recorded 89 instances in 27 countries of protected areas being downsized (shrunk), downgraded (decrease in legal protections), and degazetted (abolished) since 1900. Referred to by the authors as PADDD (protected areas downgraded, downsized, or degazetted), the trend has been little studied despite its large impact on conservation efforts.


CEO sentenced for smuggling elephant ivory into US

(03/14/2011) A judge sentenced Pascal Vieillard, CEO of A-440 Pianos Inc., to 3 years probation for illegally smuggling elephant ivory into the US, while the Georgia-based company has been fined $17,500. Vieillard had earlier pleaded guilty to importing pianos with ivory parts.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Illegal wildlife trader busted in Jakarta

(02/19/2011) Indonesian authorities busted a man selling illegal wildlife products on the Internet, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


California proposes ban on selling shark fin

(02/16/2011) Last year Hawaii banned the sale of shark fins; California may be next. Bill 376, introduced by two Democrats, would outlaw the sale of shark fins, including the popular Asian delicacy shark fin soup, in the US's most populous state.


Selling the Forests that Saved Britain

(02/15/2011) I confess that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to auction off all 650,000 acres of England’s national forests to the highest bidder came as a bit of a shock to me – especially as the contained such world-famous national treasures as Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Dean and the New Forest. Although warned by my Irish mother that Tories can never be trusted, Mr. Cameron’s passionate pledge to deliver the “greenest government ever” seemed sincere, especially given his ambitious plans to cut Britain’s pollution. Anyway, even if he turned out to be as slippery as his predecessors, his deep green Liberal Democratic coalition partners would, I thought, keep the planet high on his priority list.


Chevron found guilty, ordered to pay $8.2 billion in epic oil contamination fight

(02/14/2011) It was the environmental legal battle that some believed would never end (and they may still be right). But today in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, after 18 years of an often-dramatic court case, Chevron was found guilty of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.2 billion in damages, however the oil giant says it will appeal the ruling. The lawsuit was filed by indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon who argue that poor environmental safeguards from Texaco in the 1970s and 80s led to widespread oil contamination and high rates of diseases, including cancer, among the populace. In 2001 Chevron purchased Texaco and inherited the legal fight. For its part, Chevron has dubbed the ruling "illegitimate" and with an appeal will drag the case on longer.


Chief financier of Belo Monte dam ties social and environmental requirements to controversial project

(02/04/2011) The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) has announced it will not grant a $640 million loan for the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam until 40 social and environmental conditions are met. In response, the company contracted to build the dam, Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA), has stated it may drop the bank's loan altogether and seek less discriminating private funding to start construction. Last week the Brazilian government's environmental agency IBAMA announced that the dam had been granted a partial license, an aberration in Brazilian law, to jumpstart construction. But BNDES also says it will not hand out the loan until a full license is granted.


Sarawak's last nomad: indigenous leader and activist, Along Sega, dies

(02/03/2011) Along Sega never knew exactly how old he was, but when he passed away yesterday in a hospital far from the forest where he born, he was likely in his 70s. Leader among the once-nomadic hunter and gatherer Penan people of Borneo and mentor to Swiss activist, Bruno Manser, Along Sega will be remembered for his work to save the Penan's forest—and their lifestyle and culture—from logging companies, supported by the Sarawak government and provided muscle by the state police.


U.S. passes legislation to protect sharks

(01/05/2011) The U.S. Senate has passed the Shark Conservation Act, legislation that bans shark finning in U.S. waters.


Local rules trump regulations imposed by outsiders in Madagascar

(12/19/2010) Unwritten rules and social norms can be an effective means to manage protected areas in rural parts of Madagascar, reports a new study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.


California approves cap-and-trade under global warming law

(12/17/2010) The California Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to adopt cap and trade regulations for AB32, California's 2006 climate law. The move, which establishes the first compliance carbon trading system in the United States, opens the door for carbon offsets generated via forest conservation projects.


Australia cracks down on illegal timber

(12/16/2010) The Australian government has announced the creation of new legislation which will put further restrictions on the import of foreign wood products in effort to halt the flow of illegally logged timber. Taking effect next year, the laws will require importers to disclose the sources of all timber products, even paper.


Bad books: US paper products are breaking the law and devastating rainforests

(11/18/2010) Everyone knows books are made of paper, but few think of where that paper comes from. However, two new reports may change that. Both the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) have found that some paper used in books, including popular children's books, is linked to forest devastation in Indonesian, even targeting endangered trees that have been harvested illegally.


Critics say Obama slow on endangered species

(11/15/2010) The Obama Administration is lagging behind past administrations in its listing of dwindling species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To date the US Fish and Wildlife Service has added 51 species to the ESA since Obama's took office, according to the conservation group, Center for Biological Diversity. By contrast, the Clinton Administration averaged 65 species a year with a total of 522 species protected. Obama is more proactive than George W. Bush, however, who was seen by many critics as actively undercutting the ESA. Only one of the species protected so far by the Obama Administration is found in the continental US.


Mato Grosso moves to strip protection of the Amazon rainforest

(11/07/2010) The Mato Grosso state assembly passed a bill that would substantially reduce protections for the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, a biologically-rich wetland, according to a statement signed by 27 organizations. The bill, which was approved 19 votes to one, would replace the ecological zoning system proposed by the state's former governor, Blairo Maggi, after three years of consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. The bill reduces areas set aside for conservation by 73 percent and calls for a 67 percent increase in the area zoned for agriculture intensification.


US elects barrage of climate change deniers, threatening support for green energy

(11/03/2010) The US midterm election, which won Republicans the House but safeguarded the Senate for Democrats, has brought in a number of self-proclaimed climate change deniers, ending any likelihood that an energy bill will be passed over the next two years and essentially stumbling the White House's strategy on climate change. Newly elected Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marc Rubio of Florida, both members of the nascent Tea Party, have stated they do not believe in climate change despite that scientists overwhelming agree the Earth is warming due to human impacts.


Undercover for animals: on the frontline of wildlife crime in the US

(11/03/2010) Special Agent O’Connor is a veteran wildlife law enforcement officer, with over 20 years of service under belt. She began her career in wildlife law enforcement as a Conservation Police Officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, where she served for eight years. She then moved to federal wildlife law enforcement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, where she was first posted to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to St. Paul, Minnesota. During that time, she investigated several major cases that led to felony convictions for violations of wildlife laws. She now serves as a training officer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the interagency law enforcement training organization that serves 88 Federal agencies, in Georgia.


Over 20,000 pangolins illegally poached in Borneo

(10/28/2010) Notebooks confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) reveal that 22,000 Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) were illegally poached from May 2007 to January 2009 in the Malaysian state in northern Borneo. The number, in fact, may be significantly higher since the logbooks didn't cover over a third of the time period. The logbooks were analyzed by TRAFFIC, an organization devoted to combating the illegal trade in wildlife.


California puts fate of tropical rainforests up for vote

(10/27/2010) When you vote on Nov. 2, remember that Peru is planning to save all of its rain forest. To reach the zero deforestation goal, a new environmental policy put in place last year calls for innovative payments to indigenous people and peasants, who control around a quarter of the forest, and a mosaic of protected areas and sustainable timber production for much of the rest. Environmental costs are being rolled into environmental impact assessments, and the country is formulating new ways to mitigate and compensate for the effects of big development projects, such as roads and dams. Meanwhile, California is poised to make a headlong leap in the other direction. Proposition 23 on the Nov. 2 ballot would kill the state's 2006 climate law by permitting it to kick in only if California becomes a full-employment economic utopia of a sort not yet seen on this continent. While much of the Proposition 23 debate revolves around the important effects here, this policy U-turn could thwart budding environmental efforts around the world, such as those in Peru.


Already Critically Endangered, bluefin tuna hit hard by BP oil disaster

(10/19/2010) Using satellite data from the European Space Agency, researchers estimate that over 20% of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico were killed by the BP oil spill. Although that percentage may not seem catastrophic, the losses are on top of an 82% decline in the overall population over the past three decades due to overfishing. The population plunge has pushed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to categorize the fish as Critically Endangered, its highest rating before extinction.


'Green' paper company allegedly complicit in land grabs against Chinese communities

(10/07/2010) Finnish paper company, Stora Enso, may lose its green and socially responsible reputation over a new report by Rights and Resources International (RRI) and the Rural Development Institute (RDI). The report finds that the company broke Chinese laws and even worked with middlemen who physically threatened local farmers, all in an effort to lease 120 thousand hectares for a vast eucalyptus plantation in southern China. Just last year, a lawyer working to defend farmers landed in a hospital after being beaten for his involvement.


The Nestlé example: how responsible companies could end deforestation

(10/06/2010) The NGO, The Forest Trust (TFT), made international headlines this year after food giant Nestlé chose them to monitor their sustainability efforts. Nestlé's move followed a Greenpeace campaign that blew-up into a blistering free-for-all on social media sites. For months Nestle was dogged online not just for sourcing palm oil connected to deforestation in Southeast Asia—the focus of Greenpeace's campaign—but for a litany of perceived social and environmental abuses and Nestlé's reactions, which veered from draconian to clumsy to stonily silent. The announcement on May 17th that Nestlé was bending to demands to rid its products of deforestation quickly quelled the storm. Behind the scenes, Nestlé and TFT had been meeting for a number of weeks before the partnership was made official. But can TFT ensure consumers that Nestlé is truly moving forward on cutting deforestation from all of its products?


Fighting poachers, going undercover, saving wildlife: all in a day's work for Arief Rubianto

(09/29/2010) Arief Rubianto, the head of an anti-poaching squad on the Indonesian island of Sumatra best describes his daily life in this way: "like mission impossible". Don't believe me? Rubianto has fought with illegal loggers, exchanged gunfire with poachers, survived four days without food in the jungle, and even gone undercover—posing as a buyer of illegal wildlife products—to infiltrate a poaching operation. While many conservationists work from offices—sometimes thousands of miles away from the area they are striving to protect—Rubianto works on the ground (in the jungle, in flood rains, on rock faces, on unpredictable seas, and at all hours of the day), often risking his own life to save the incredibly unique and highly imperiled wildlife of Sumatra.


Traveler caught with 200 pounds of elephant ivory in four suitcases

(09/27/2010) Customs officials found 16 pieces of cut ivory on searching a 62-year-old Malaysian man at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Thailand in August. Recently released information shows that the traveler was carrying nearly 200 pounds (90 kilograms) of ivory in four suitcases after arriving from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Could industrial interests ruin payments for environmental services?

(09/27/2010) One of the biggest ideas in the conservation world over the past decade is Payments for Environmental Services, known as PES, whereby governments, corporations, or the public pays for the environmental services that benefit them (and to date have been free), i.e. carbon, biodiversity, freshwater, etc. For example, Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is the largest such proposed PES concept, yet many others are emerging. However, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that in order for PES to be effective—and not perversely lead to further harm—decision-makers must consider the danger of paying industrial and commercial interests versus financially supporting local populations, as originally conceived, to safeguard the environment.


Will Brazil Change its Forest Code – and Kill the Amazon rainforest?

(09/22/2010) Many credit Brazil’s 75-year old Forest Code with helping to slow destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, but an unlikely amalgamation of right-wing and left-wing politicians are trying to gut the law. In this first of two articles, Ecosystem Marketplace examines the state of the debate. In the second part, Ecosystem Marketplace takes a look at the law's implications for the Amazon – and for the forest-carbon marketplace in Brazil.


Indonesia implements export ban on non-certified timber

(09/15/2010) Indonesia has begun implementing a ban on exports of illegally harvested timber and wood products, reports The Jakarta Post.


Goats, cats trigger near extinction of Hawaiian bird in past 7 years

(09/14/2010) A new survey by the United States Geological Survey shows the population of the Palila (Loxioides bailleui), a beautiful songbird found only in Hawaii, has fallen from 4,400 birds to 1,200 birds since 2003, a decline of nearly 75 percent. The bird is being driven toward extinction by introduced sheep and goats, which are destroying the Palila's key food source, and feral cats, which are killing off adult birds and hatchlings, according to the American Bird Conservancy.


Chinese traders fear new import restrictions on illegal timber

(09/02/2010) The China Timber and Wood Products Circulation Association (CTWPCA) is seeking to establish a body to help importers navigate new environmental regulations in the United States and Europe that restrict trade in illegally logged timber, reports the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).


Snakes on a plane! Malaysian reptile trafficker busted at airport

(08/28/2010) A notorious reptile smuggler has been busted at Malaysia Kuala Lumpur International Airport after his luggage was found to contain 98 snakes and a turtle, reports the Malaysian Star.


The biology and conservation of declining coral reefs, an interview with Kristian Teleki

(08/15/2010) Coral reefs are often considered the "rainforests of the sea" because of their amazing biodiversity. In fact, coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is not unusual for a reef to have several hundred species of snails, sixty species of corals, and several hundred species of fish. While they comprise under 1% of the world’s ocean surface, one-quarter of all marine species call coral reefs their home. Fish, mollusks, sea stars, sea urchins, and more depend on this important ecosystem, and humans do too. Coral reefs supply important goods and services–from shoreline protection to tourism and fisheries–which by some estimates are worth $375 billion a year.


APP refutes Greenpeace charges on deforestation, though audit remains absent

(08/12/2010) Asia Pulp & Paper, which has long been a target of green groups for deforestation and threatening imperiled species, is touting a new audit the pulping company says finds allegations made by environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace and WWF, are "baseless, inaccurate, and without validity". Conducted by the international accounting and auditing firm Mazars, the audit itself has not been released; however Mazars has signed off on the validity of a 24 page document entitled "Getting the Facts Down on Paper".


Activist against illegal mining shot dead in India

(07/21/2010) On July 20th two unidentified men rode up to Amit Jethwa on a motorcycyle as he was coming out of his office in Ahmedabad and shot him dead at point blank range. Jethwa had recently filed a petition against illegal logging in the Gir Forest, the last home of the Asiatic lion, a subspecies of the African lion listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.


Illegal logging declining worldwide, but still 'major problem'

(07/15/2010) A new report by the Chatham House finds that illegal logging in tropical forest nation is primarily on the decline, providing evidence that new laws and international efforts on the issue are having a positive impact. According to the report, the total global production of illegal timber has fallen by 22 percent since 2002. Yet the report also finds that nations—both producers and consumers—have a long way to go before illegal logging is an issue of the past.


Large-scale forest destruction in Sumatra undermines Indonesia's deal with Norway

(07/13/2010) While the Indonesian government basks in a recent agreement with Norway to slow deforestation to the tune of a billion US dollars, a new report by Eyes on the Forest shows photographic evidence of largely government sanctioned deforestation that flouts several Indonesia laws. Potentially embarrassing, the report and photos reveal that two companies, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resource International (APRIL), have destroyed 5 percent of Riau province's forests since 2009, including deep peatlands, high conservation value forests (HCVF), Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger habitat, and forest within the Giam Siak Kecil- Bukit Batu UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In total, over 130,000 hectares (an area larger than Hong Kong) of mostly peat forest were destroyed for pulp.


Dangerous and exploitative: a look at pet wild cats

(07/13/2010) From bobcats, lynx, and pumas to the thousands of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, and little wildcats living in captive environments, the WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society is solely devoted to ending the commercial exploitation of all wildcats. Its primary objectives are to drastically reduce and subsequently eliminate the private ownership of wildcats as pets; wildcats held in roadside zoos and pseudo-sanctuaries; using wildcats for entertainment purposes; as well as hunting, trafficking, and trade of wildcats. Lisa Tekancic is an attorney in Washington, DC and founder and president of WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society. Their mission is to protect and defend all native and non-native wildcats. Lisa is an active member of the DC Bar’s Animal Law Committee and has organized and moderated two legal conferences: 'Trafficking, Trade, and Transport of Wildlife,' and 'Wildlife and the Law.' She presented a paper on the methodology of 'Animal Ethics Committee' for the International Conference on Environmental Enrichment, and for four years was volunteer staff at the National Zoological Park’s, Cheetah Station.


Controversial changes to Brazilian forest law passes first barrier

(07/08/2010) An amendment to undermine protections in Brazil's 1965 forestry code has passed it first legislative barrier, reports the World Wide Fund for Nature-Brasil (WWF). Yesterday the amendment passed a special vote in the Congress's Special Committee on Forest Law Changes.



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