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Earth Day pictures: International Year of Forests

(04/22/2011) In my nearly 12 years of running mongabay.com, I have had the good fortune to visit spectacular forests around the world. So this Earth Day, instead of writing something pithy (Jeremy has done a fine job in his Earth Day post recognizing the value of what nature gives us), I'm just posting some of my favorite forest pictures I've taken in my travels.


What does Nature give us? A special Earth Day article

(04/22/2011) There is no question that Earth has been a giving planet. Everything humans have needed to survive, and thrive, was provided by the natural world around us: food, water, medicine, materials for shelter, and even natural cycles such as climate and nutrients. Scientists have come to term such gifts 'ecosystem services', however the recognition of such services goes back thousands of years, and perhaps even farther if one accepts the caves paintings at Lascaux as evidence. Yet we have so disconnected ourselves from the natural world that it is easy—and often convenient—to forget that nature remains as giving as ever, even as it vanishes bit-by-bit. The rise of technology and industry may have distanced us superficially from nature, but it has not changed our reliance on the natural world: most of what we use and consume on a daily basis remains the product of multitudes of interactions within nature, and many of those interactions are imperiled. Beyond such physical goods, the natural world provides less tangible, but just as important, gifts in terms of beauty, art, and spirituality.


Photos: Visiting Gunung Palung in Indonesian Borneo

(03/30/2011) A description of mongabay.com's Rhett Butler's recent visit to Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. In my travels in Kalimantan, the forest of Gunung Palung around Cabang Panti ranks among the best. Within 24 hours of arriving I had already seen wild orangutans, red leaf monkeys, gibbons, bearded pigs, a variety of lizards and frogs, a cobra (a little too close for comfort), and an innumerable diversity of insects.


Pulp and paper firms urged to save 1.2M ha of forest slated for clearing in Indonesia

(03/17/2011) Indonesian environmental groups launched a urgent plea urging the country's two largest pulp and paper companies not to clear 800,000 hectares of forest and peatland in their concessions in Sumatra. Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs, released maps showing that Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) control blocks of land representing 31 percent of the remaining forest in the province of Riau, one of Sumatra's most forested provinces. Much of the forest lies on deep peat, which releases large of amount of carbon when drained and cleared for timber plantations.


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.


Breakthrough? Controversial palm oil company signs rainforest pact

(02/09/2011) One of the world's highest profile and most controversial palm oil companies, Golden Agri-Resources Limited (GAR), has signed an agreement committing it to protect tropical forests and peatlands in Indonesia. The deal—signed with The Forest Trust, an environmental group that works with companies to improve their supply chains—could have significant ramifications for how palm oil is produced in the country, which is the world's largest producer of palm oil.


Monitoring deforestation: an interview with Gilberto Camara, head of Brazil's space agency INPE

(02/08/2011) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the world's best deforestation tracking system is found in the country with the most rainforest: Brazil. Following international outcry over immense forest loss in the 1980s, Brazil in the 1990s set in motion a plan to develop a satellite-based system for tracking changes in forest cover. In 2003 Brazil made the system available to the world via its web site, providing transparency on an issue that was until then seen as a badge of shame by some. Since then Brazil has become recognized as the standard-bearer for deforestation tracking and reporting—no other country offers the kind of data Brazil provides. Space engineer Gilberto Camara has overseen much of INPE's earth sensing work and during his watch, INPE has released several new exciting capabilities.


Environmental groups deny 'conspiracy' claims by Madagascar's acting leader

(02/03/2011) Two environmental groups investigating the illegal rosewood trade flatly rejected claims by Madagascar's acting president that they are involved in a campaign to undermine his rule. Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital city of Antananarivo who assumed power following civil strife in March 2009, claimed last month in an interview with Revue de l’océan Indien that the London-based Global Witness and the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency were attempting to sully his image through their undercover investigation into the rosewood trade. The groups found evidence suggesting that Rajoelina was involved in rosewood trafficking. The evidence included video footage of Chinese rosewood traders claiming to deal directly with Rajoelina.


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.


Woman turns home bird sanctuary into effort to save rare birds

(02/02/2011) Twelve percent of the world's species are considered threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List, the authority on such matters. While habitat destruction and alien invasive species bear the brunt of the responsibility, the commercial pet trade has contributed to the decline of some of the world's most beautiful species. But with several species on the brink of extinction in the wild, captive-breeding efforts have taken on new significance. Now a San Francisco Bay Area resident is working to take such efforts to a new level. Michele Raffin is at the forefront of the new wave of bird breeders who believe that unless some of these birds are bred for conservation purposes, they will die out both in the wild and in captivity.


Africa's vanishing wild: mammal populations cut in half

(01/27/2011) The big mammals for which Africa is so famous are vanishing in staggering numbers. According to a study published last year: Africa's large mammal populations have dropped by 59% in just 40 years. But what is even more alarming was that the study only looked at mammal populations residing in parks and wildlife areas, i.e. lands that are, at least on paper, under governmental protection. Surveying 78 protected areas for 69 species, the study included global favorites such as the African elephant, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, and even Africa's feline king, the lion. "We weren’t surprised that populations had dropped but we were surprised by how large the drops had been," lead author Ian Craigie told mongabay.com in an interview.


Greening the world with palm oil?

(01/26/2011) The commercial shows a typical office setting. A worker sits drearily at a desk, shredding papers and watching minutes tick by on the clock. When his break comes, he takes out a Nestle KitKat bar. As he tears into the package, the viewer, but not the office worker, notices something is amiss—what should be chocolate has been replaced by the dark hairy finger of an orangutan. With the jarring crunch of teeth breaking through bone, the worker bites into the 'bar'. Drops of blood fall on the keyboard and run down his face. His officemates stare, horrified. The advertisement cuts to a solitary tree standing amid a deforested landscape. A chainsaw whines. The message: Palm oil—an ingredient in many Nestle products—is killing orangutans by destroying their habitat, the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.


Marathon swimmer: an interview with the first man to swim the length of the Amazon

(01/23/2011) Explorers have been making their way down the world's mightiest river for hundreds of years. Untold numbers of people have not completed the journey, drowning in its murky waters, being eaten by animals, losing their way, succumbing to tropical disease, being killed by pirates or hostile local populations. But today a trip down the Amazon is less special—it has even been rafted and kayaked by a few intrepid souls. Traversing the majority of the Amazon can be done easily by commercial boat, provided you have the time and a lot of patience. But then in 2007 a Slovenian did something amazing: he swam the entire length of the river. The adventure took 66 days and exacted a heavy physical and mental toll, but Martin Strel survived and in so doing conveyed a simple, but powerful message to the world: we are part of the our environment.


American cougars on the decline: 'We’re running against the clock,' says big cat expert

(01/17/2011) It holds the Guinness World Record for having the most names of any animal on the planet, with 40 in English alone. It's also the widest-ranging native land animal in the Americas, yet is declining throughout much of its range. Mongabay talks with big cat expert Dr. Howard Quigley about the status and research implications of the elusive, enigmatic, and unique cougar.


Does chopping down rainforests for pulp and paper help alleviate poverty in Indonesia?

(01/13/2011) Over the past several years, Asia Pulp & Paper has engaged in a marketing campaign to represent its operations in Sumatra as socially and environmentally sustainable. APP and its agents maintain that industrial pulp and paper production — as practiced in Sumatra — does not result in deforestation, is carbon neutral, helps protect wildlife, and alleviates poverty. While a series of analyses and reports have shown most of these assertions to be false, the final claim has largely not been contested. But is conversion of lowland rainforests for pulp and paper really in Indonesia's best economic interest?


Converting palm oil companies from forest destroyers into forest protectors

(01/02/2011) In efforts to save the world's remaining rainforests great hopes have been pinned on "degraded lands" — deforested lands that are presently sitting idle in tropical countries. Optimists say shifting agriculture to such lands will help humanity produce enough food to meet growing demand without sacrificing forests and biodiversity and exacerbating social conflict. But to date, degraded lands remain an enigma, especially in Indonesia, where deforestation continues at a rapid pace. Degraded lands are often misclassified by various Indonesian ministries—land in a far-off province may be listed as "wasteland" by Jakarta, but in reality is blanked by verdant forest that sequesters carbon, houses wildlife, and affords communities with food, water, and other essentials. Granting logging and plantation concessions on these lands can result in conflict and environmental degradation.


Will Indonesia's big REDD rainforest deal work?

(12/28/2010) Flying in a plane over the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, rainforest stretches like a sea of green, broken only by rugged mountain ranges and winding rivers. The broccoli-like canopy shows little sign of human influence. But as you near Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, the tree cover becomes patchier—a sign of logging—and red scars from mining appear before giving way to the monotonous dark green of oil palm plantations and finally grasslands and urban areas. The scene is not unique to Indonesian New Guinea; it has been repeated across the world's largest archipelago for decades, partly a consequence of agricultural expansion by small farmers, but increasingly a product of extractive industries, especially the logging, plantation, and mining sectors. Papua, in fact, is Indonesia's last frontier and therefore represents two diverging options for the country's development path: continued deforestation and degradation of forests under a business-as-usual approach or a shift toward a fundamentally different and unproven model based on greater transparency and careful stewardship of its forest resources.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2010

(12/20/2010) Below is a quick review of some of the biggest environmental stories of 2010: Climate change rears it ugly head; Oil spill in the Gulf; Agreement to save global biodiversity; Illegal logging crisis in Madagascar; REDD kicks off in Indonesia; Brazil deforestation falls to its lowest level; Hungary's red sludge; Nestle caves to social media activists; New mammals galore' and Global climate framework back on the table?


Year-end highlights: environment pictures

(12/17/2010) Over the course of another busy year of reporting for mongabay.com, I spent nearly four months on the road, visiting nine countries and adding more than 10,000 new photos to the site. Most of my pictures this year are from Indonesia (two trips: North Sulawesi, Sumatra, and Bali in May and Papua, West Papua, and Bali in July and August), Colombia (Amazon, Darien, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Tayrona, and Chicaque in March), Mexico (COP16 in Cancun and nearby areas in December), Kauai (November), and California (various trips around the Bay Area throughout the year).


Teaching orangutans to be wild – orangutan rehabilitation

(12/15/2010) Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the process of rehabilitating orphaned orangutans and teaching them to be wild. This is the second in a two-part interview. The first part covered orangutan biology, habits and the interconnected threats, from the pet trade to habitat loss and expansion of oil palm plantations, facing these creatures. This second part focuses on what happens to surviving orangutans.


The secrets of animal TV: many nature shows rely on unethical tactics

(12/14/2010) Classic animal series like Shark Week hosted by the Discovery Channel and Wild America by Marty Stouffer have captivated audiences for years, bringing them closer than ever to nature from the comfort of their living room. Unfortunately what the audience doesn’t know is that many of those wildlife films incorporate unethical behavior including animal harassment, staged scenes, and the use of trained animals. These claims come from Chris Palmer, a veteran wildlife filmmaker with over 300 hours of original programming for prime time television and the giant screen, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University and author of Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom (Sierra Club Books, 2010). Palmer concedes that his films have used these unethical techniques and that significant proportion of the wildlife programming we find ourselves enthralled with is as fake and scripted as any Hollywood movie.


The problem-solving ape: what makes orangutans special and why they are threatened

(12/13/2010) Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, spoke with Laurel Neme on her “The WildLife” radio show and podcast about orangutans. In the first part of her interview, they discussed orangutan biology, habits and the interconnected threats, from the pet trade to habitat loss and expansion of oil palm plantations, facing these creatures. The second part covers the process of rehabilitating orangutans and teaching them to be wild.


Sulawesi groups recognized for efforts to save endangered wildlife, forests

(12/08/2010) Two groups working with local communities to conserve forests in Sulawesi have won mongabay.com's 2010 Conservation Award. The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo), which works in Central Sulawesi, and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program, which operates in North Sulawesi, were recognized for their efforts to protect endangered forests on the Indonesian island, which is known for its high levels of endemic species.


Can RED Hot California Heat Up A Sedated Cancun?

(12/07/2010) In his concession speech after the 2010 mid-term elections, President Obama said that prospects for meaningful U.S. climate change legislation are doubtful and will be for years. With the US and the international community unable to take even modest steps to combat global warming, the State of California has stepped up in a big, big way. Despite record unemployment rates, deficits and unemployment, California voters trounced a measure that would have suspended AB 32, California's landmark climate change law. California's AB 32 cap and trade program will soon be the biggest market for compliance emission reductions outside of Europe. In the wreckage of the Copenhagen talks and the new political landscape in America, California is the most dynamic jurisdiction for climate change implementation.


Saving Sulawesi's 'pig-deer', the babirusa

(12/06/2010) The babirusa of Sulawesi may be one of the world's oddest looking—and acting—mammals. Literally meaning 'pig-deer' the babirusa, which includes four species, belongs to its own genus 'Babyrousa' in the pig family. Males are especially unique, sporting four tusks, two of which appear to come right out of the animal's snout. To make it to the top of the babirusa hierarchy, males will combat each other in an activity dubbed 'boxing' where they will rear up on their hind legs and club at each other. Despite their many oddities, the babriusa were not formally studied until the late 1980s when Dr. Lynn Clayton spent four years in Sulawesi's forest observing them.


Corporations, conservation, and the green movement

(10/21/2010) The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation. Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom. Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.


Losing nature's medicine cabinet

(10/04/2010) In all the discussions of saving the world's biodiversity from extinction, one point is often and surprisingly forgotten: the importance of the world's species in providing humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines so far, as well as the certainty that more vital medications are out there if only we save the unheralded animals and plants that contain cures unknown. Already, species have provided humankind everything from quinine to aspirin, from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. "As the ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin commented, the history of medicine can be written in terms of its reliance on and utilization of natural products," physician Christopher Herndon told mongabay.com. Herndon is co-author of a recent paper in the journal Biotropica, which calls for policy-makers and the public to recognize how biodiversity underpins not only ecosystems, but medicine.


Brazil’s Operation Jaguar: Busting a Poaching Ring

(10/03/2010) Twenty years ago Brazil's most notorious jaguar hunter, Teodoro Antonio Melo Neto, also known as 'Tonho da onça' or 'Jaguar Tony,' swore off poaching after logging 600 kills. The foe turned ally of the jaguar then convinced environmental and research institutes, such as the non-governmental organization Instituto Pró-Carnívoros, of his about face and to employ his tracking skills for conservation. Thus began years of assisting these agencies find the animals so that they could monitor their movements and research their habits. His dramatic change of heart even became the subject of a children’s book titled Tonho da onça, which related a conservation message. But on July 20, 2010, 'Jaguar Tony,' now 71 years old, revealed his true spots when federal agents arrested him along with seven others preparing for another in a long series of illegal hunts.


Free availability of satellite imagery has boosted deforestation monitoring applications, but risk of data gap looms

(09/29/2010) In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of satellite-based monitoring applications and technologies, which is perhaps best exemplified in the eyes of the public by Google Earth, which allows anyone with a decent internet connection to view overhead images of nearly any place on Earth. But these new applications are also helping scientists more effectively monitor environmental change, including the fluctuations in polar sea ice, shifts in oceanic plankton, and deforestation. An important factor in the expanded use of satellite imagery has been the U.S. government's free Landsat Data Distribution Policy, which allows free or inexpensive access to data captured by Landsat satellites, which have been collected data on a regular basis since 1972. But the Landsat program is not presently operating at its full capacity, increasing the risk of a 'data gap' before a new system is in place in 2012.


Conserving nature with economics

(09/29/2010) While many factors come into consideration when the fate of forests are being determined, economics often play a key role in land use decisions. When the perceived value of forest land is higher as cattle pasture, cropland, or plantation, then trees fall. But what happens when economic assumptions underlying these decisions are wrong? Forests, including the services they provide and the biodiversity they shelter, are lost in vain, much to the detriment of society and the planet. Working to avoid these costly outcomes is the Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF), a California-based nonprofit that trains conservationists to use economics and strategic thinking as assets to conserve natural ecosystems in countries around the globe. CSF runs training programs that help emerging conservation leaders build and strengthen parks, influence policies, and avert damage from infrastructure projects.


Asia Pulp & Paper fumbles response to deforestation allegations by Greenpeace

(09/28/2010) A new audit that seems to exonerate Asia Pulp & Paper from damaging logging practices in Indonesia was in fact conducted by the same people that are running its PR efforts, raising questions about the much maligned company's commitment to cleaning up its operations. The audit slams Greenpeace, the activist group that accused Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) of illegal and destructive logging in Sumatra in its July 2010 report, How Sinar Mas is Pulping the Planet. It runs through each of the claims laid out in the Greenpeace report, arguing some are speculative or improperly cited. But the audit doesn't actually deny that APP is clearing forests and peatlands for pulp plantations. In fact, the audit effectively confirms that the company is indeed engaged in conversion of 'deep' peat areas, but argues that this activity isn't illegal under Indonesian law.


Is Brazil’s Sustainable Development Really Sustainable?

(09/26/2010) Sustainable development seems to have left the realms of institutional debate in Brazil and has emerged into a reality for businesses to remain competitive in their markets. It is also being used as a tool to stimulate the country’s economic growth. A notable example of this is hydroelectricity, as the country has strived for many years to generate electricity in innovative ways, rather than relying on the use of fossil fuels. Companies are also voluntarily signing up and engaging in Brazil’s GHG Protocol Program with a view to reduce carbon emissions and businesses large and small are leading on sustainable business practices. While Brazil has received a lot of respect for this forward thinking approach to sustainability, they have also been heavily criticized for hydro projects since the 1980s; in recent months the target has notably been the decision to move forward with the plan to build 3 dams on the Xingu River, which lies in the Amazon Basin.


Determining which birds cause airplanes to crash: an interview with a feather expert

(09/19/2010) Marcy Heacker, a wildlife forensic scientist at the Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Lab in Washington, DC, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about wildlife forensics, bird strikes and feather identification, and how her analyses help airports manage wildlife to enhance airline safety. She also discussed how she and other forensic scientists at this lab helped analyze the crash of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, otherwise known as the 'miracle on the Hudson.'


As a tiny island nation makes a big sacrifice, will the rest of the world follow suit?

(09/15/2010) Kiribati, a small nation consisting of 33 Pacific island atolls, is forecast to be among the first countries swamped by rising sea levels. Nevertheless, the country recently made an astounding commitment: it closed over 150,000 square miles of its territory to fishing, an activity that accounts for nearly half the government's tax revenue. What moved the tiny country to take this monumental action? President Anote Tong, says Kiribati is sending a message to the world: 'We need to make sacrifices to provide a future for our children and grandchildren.'


Indigenous tribes, ranchers team to battle Amazon fires

(09/14/2010) Facing the worst outbreak of forest fires in three years, cattle ranchers and indigenous tribesmen in the southern Amazon have teamed up to extinguish nearly two dozen blazes over the past three months, offering hope that new alliances between long-time adversaries could help keep deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon on a downward trajectory.


Frogs and friends at risk from booming global wildlife trade

(09/08/2010) Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel at Defenders of Wildlife and Chair of the Species Survival Network's (SSN) Amphibian Working Group, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the global amphibian trade. In her interview, Alejandra Goyenechea discusses the benefits of frogs and the many threats – such as habitat loss, climate change, pollution, invasive species, disease, and overexploitation – to their survival. Did you know frogs indicate environmental quality, like canaries in a coal mine? Or that many have medicinal properties, like the phantasmal poison dart frog which produces a painkiller 200 times the potency of morphine?


Fraud allegations against Indonesian palm oil giant widen, tarnishing auditors and sustainable palm oil initiative

(08/19/2010) Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate whose holdings include Asia Pulp and Paper, a paper products brand, and PT Smart, a palm oil producer, was sharply rebuked Wednesday over a recent report where it claimed not to have engaged in destruction of forests and peatlands. At least one of its companies, Golden Agri Resources, may now face an investigation for deliberately misleading shareholders in its corporate filings.


Indonesian people-not international donors or orangutan conservationists-will determine the ultimate fate of Indonesia's forests

(07/29/2010) Many of the environmental issues facing Indonesia are embodied in the plight of the orangutan, the red ape that inhabits the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Orangutan populations have plummeted over the past century, a result of hunting, habitat loss, the pet trade, and human-ape conflict. Accordingly, governments, charities, and concerned individuals have ploughed tens of millions of dollars into orangutan conservation, but have little to show in terms of slowing or reversing the decline. The same can be said about forest conservation in Indonesia: while massive amounts of money have been put toward protecting and sustainable using forests, the sum is dwarfed by the returns from converting forests into timber, rice, paper, and palm oil. So orangutans—and forests—continue to lose out to economic development, at least as conventionally pursued. Poor governance means that even when well-intentioned measures are in place, they are often undermined by corruption, apathy, or poorly-designed policies. So is there a future for Indonesia's red apes and their forest home? Erik Meijaard, an ecologist who has worked in Indonesia since 1993 and is considered a world authority on orangutan populations, is cautiously optimistic, although he sees no 'silver bullet' solutions.


How Greenpeace changes big business

(07/22/2010) Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s. But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs. These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world's remaining tropical forests in that environmental groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers. In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation. A prime example of this power is evident in a string of successful Greenpeace campaigns, which have targeted some of the largest drivers of deforestation, including the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia and the soy and cattle industries in the Brazilian Amazon. The campaigns have shared a common approach: target large, conspicuous consumer-facing companies that sell in western markets.


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.


Top officials busted in Amazon logging raids, but political patronage may set them free

(07/08/2010) After two years of investigations, the Brazilian Federal Police arrested some of the most important politicians and authorities for illegal logging in the Amazon. Code-named Operation Jurupari, the Brazilian Federal Police uncovered a massive illegal logging scheme that resulted in the arrests of over 90 people and caused an estimated $500 million in damage to the Amazon rainforest. Over 496 square kilometers (192 square miles), an area the size of California or Spain, were affected and an estimated 1.5 million cubic meters (642 million board feet) of timber was illegally extracted. While the investigation focused on activities in the state of Mato Grosso, which is located in the southern Amazon and is one of the most deforested regions largely due to clearing land for expanding soya farms, it touched numerous others, including São Paulo, Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais and Distrito Federal.


The changing nature of illegal logging - and illegal logging investigations - in Brazil's Amazon

(07/08/2010) Operation Jurupari followed on several previous Brazilian Federal Police investigations into SEMA, including: Operation Curupira I (June 2005); Curupira II (August 2005); Mapinguari (2007), Arc of Fire (2008), Termes (April 2008); and Caipora (2008). It was led by Franco Perazzoni, Brazilian Federal Police "Delegado" (or chief), who, since 2006, has headed the environmental crimes unit in Mato Grosso and been responsible for about 300 investigations on environmental crimes, of which about 75% were on illegal deforestation in federal areas. The nature of the illegal deforestation has changed over the years.


Tiger farming and traditional Chinese medicine

(06/27/2010) The number of wild tigers has plummeted from 25,000-30,000 animals 50 years ago to around 3,200 today. A large part of the drop is from habitat loss and fragmentation. Tiger habitat has been reduced by 40 percent over the last decade, and tigers now occupy less than 7 percent of their historical range. Poaching has also contributed significantly to these dramatic population declines, particularly to supply parts for use in traditional medicine. In an interview with Laurel Neme, Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), notes that, although the Chinese government has made significant efforts to reduce demand for tiger products by eliminating tiger bone from the official pharmacopeias, raising consumer awareness and identifying cheaper and more effective herbal alternatives to tiger bone for use in TCM, tiger farms threaten to reopen demand for tiger products by breeding tigers excessively, stockpiling tiger carcasses, and stoking demand by making and selling wine made from tiger bone.


Indonesia's plan to save its rainforests

(06/14/2010) Late last year Indonesia made global headlines with a bold pledge to reduce deforestation, which claimed nearly 28 million hectares (108,000 square miles) of forest between 1990 and 2005 and is the source of about 80 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would voluntarily cut emissions 26 percent — and up to 41 percent with sufficient international support — from a projected baseline by 2020. Last month, Indonesia began to finally detail its plan, which includes a two-year moratorium on new forestry concession on rainforest lands and peat swamps and will be supported over the next five years by a one billion dollar contribution by Norway, under the Scandinavian nation's International Climate and Forests Initiative. In an interview with mongabay.com, Agus Purnomo and Yani Saloh of Indonesia's National Climate Change Council to the President discussed the new forest program and Norway's billion dollar commitment.


Plight of the Bengal: India awakens to the reality of its tigers—and their fate

(06/06/2010) Over the past 100 years wild tiger numbers have declined 97% worldwide. In India, where there are 39 tiger reserves and 663 protected areas, there may be only 1,400 wild tigers left, according to a 2008 census, and possibly as few as 800, according to estimates by some experts. Illegal poaching remains the primary cause of the tiger's decline, driven by black market demand for tiger skins, bones and organs. One of India's leading conservationists, Belinda Wright has been on the forefront of the country's wildlife issues for over three decades. While her organization, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), does not carry the global recognition of large international NGOs, her group’s commitment to the preservation of tigers, their habitat, and the Indian people who live with these apex predators, is one reason tigers still exist.


Timber certification is not enough to save rainforests

(06/02/2010) In the 1980s and 1990s pressure from activist groups led some of the world's largest forestry products companies and retailers to join forces with environmentalists to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification standard that aims to reduce the environmental impact of wood and paper production on natural forests. Despite initial skepticism on whether buyers would pay a premium for greener forest products, FSC quickly grew and by 2000 had become a standard in many markets, including Europe and the United States. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ikea are today strong supporters of the FSC. But the FSC has not been without controversy. In recent years some activists have voiced concern about FSC standards as well as the credibility of auditors that certify timber operations. Among the initiative's supporters is the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a group best known for its aggressive protest tactics. RAN says engagement with the FSC is better than the alternative: leaving the timber industry to devise its own sustainability standards.


Nestle caves to activist pressure on palm oil

(05/17/2010) After a two month campaign against Nestle for its use of palm oil linked to rainforest destruction spearheaded by Greenpeace, the food giant has given in to activists' demands. The Swiss-based company announced today in Malaysia that it will partner with the Forest Trust, an international non-profit organization, to rid its supply chain of any sources involved in the destruction of rainforests. "Nestle’s actions will focus on the systematic identification and exclusion of companies owning or managing high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation," a press release from the company reads, adding that "Nestle wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint."


A nation of tragedies: the unseen elephant wars of Chad

(05/12/2010) Stephanie Vergniault, head of SOS Elephants in Chad, says she has seen more beheaded corpses of elephants in her life than living animals. In the central African nation, against the backdrop of a vast human tragedy—poverty, hunger, violence, and hundreds of thousands of refugees—elephants are quietly vanishing at an astounding rate. One-by-one they fall to well-organized, well-funded, and heavily-armed poaching militias. Soon Stephanie Vergniault believes there may be no elephants left. A lawyer, screenwriter, and conservationist, Vergniault is a true Renaissance-woman. She first came to Chad to work with the government on electoral assistance, but in 2009 after seeing the dire situation of the nation's elephants she created SOS Elephants, an organization determined to save these animals from local extinction.


Taking back the rainforest: Indians in Colombia govern 100,000 square miles of territory

(05/10/2010) Indigenous groups in the Colombian Amazon have long suffered deprivations at the hands of outsiders. First came the diseases brought by the European Conquest, then came abuses under colonial rule. In modern times, some Amazonian communities were virtually enslaved by the debt-bondage system run by rubber traders: Indians could work their entire lives without ever escaping the cycle of debt. Later, periodic invasions by gold miners, oil companies, colonists, and illegal coca-growers took a heavy toll on remaining indigenous populations. Without title to their land, organization, or representation, indigenous Colombians in the Amazon seemed destined to be exploited and abused. But new hope would emerge in the 1980s, thanks partly to the efforts of Martin von Hildebrand, an ethnologist who would help indigenous Colombians eventually win control over 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest—an area larger than the United Kingdom.


Why we are failing orangutans

(03/01/2010) It is no secret that orangutans are threatened with extinction because their rain forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Ten years ago, Shawn Thompson, a writer, former journalist and university professor, set out to chronicle the threat to orangutans in a book released in March 2010. The book is called The Intimate Ape: Orangutans and the Secret Life of a Vanishing Species. The book spends most of the time talking about the nature of orangutans and the relationships between orangutans and people. But the ultimate underlying message is there about the source of the peril to orangutans and the solution. Thompson says that the problem of saving orangutans has to do with communications and human nature.



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