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Ecuador will have referendum on fate of Yasuni after activists collect over 700,000 signatures

(04/16/2014) In what is a major victory for environmentalists, campaigners with United for Yasuni have collected 727,947 signatures triggering a national referendum on whether or not oil drilling should proceed in three blocs of Yasuni National Park in Ecuador.


Featured video: celebrities speak out for Yasuni

(04/02/2014) A group of celebrities, including recent Academy Award winner Jared Leto, Law and Order's Benjamin Bratt, and Kill Bill's Daryl Hannah, have lent their voices to a new Public Service Announcement to raise signatures to protect Ecuador's Yasuni National Park from oil drilling.


Study warns of possible REDD+ land grab

(03/30/2014) A UN program to reduce global carbon emissions may be putting indigenous communities at risk, jeopardizing local land rights and laying the groundwork for large-scale “carbon grabs” by governments and private investors, argues a new report.


Indigenous communities demand forest rights, blame land grabs for failure to curb deforestation

(03/25/2014) Indigenous and forest-dependent peoples from Asia, Africa and Latin America have called for increased recognition of customary land rights in order to curb deforestation and ensure the survival of their communities. The Palangkaraya Declaration on Deforestation and the Rights of Forest Peoples calls on governments to uphold forest peoples’ rights to control and manage their customary lands and to halt rights-violating development projects being carried out without consent from local communities.


Next big idea in forest conservation? Offer health care for forest protection

(03/21/2014) Dr. Kinari Webb has a superpower: the ability to provide high-quality health care in a remote and rural landscape. And she uses her power not only to save lives, but also to protect the remaining Bornean rainforests. Twenty-one years ago, Kinari Webb traveled to Borneo to work with orangutans. She witnessed the faltering health of both the people and the environment and saw that the two issues were inseparable. When families must choose between the health of their children and the health of the forest that supports them, everyone loses. But in the region of Gunung Palung National Park — where an estimated 10 percent of the world's orangutans live — illegal logging and slash and burn farming methods paid the bills and locals saw few alternatives. Kinari vowed to study medicine and return with more to offer.


Oil or rainforest: new website highlights the plight of Yasuni National Park

(03/20/2014) A new multimedia feature story by Brazilian environmental news group, ((o))eco, highlights the ongoing debate over Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, arguably the most biodiverse place on the planet.


Featured video: indigenous tribe faces loggers, ranchers, and murder in bid to save their forests

(03/19/2014) A new short film, entitled La Trocha, highlights the plight of the Wounaan people in Panama, who are fighting for legal rights to their forests even as loggers and ranchers carve it up. The conflict turned violent in 2012 when local chief, Aquilo Puchicama, was shot dead by loggers.


Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie

(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.


Controversial Amazon dams may have exacerbated biblical flooding

(03/16/2014) Environmentalists and scientists raised howls of protest when the Santo Antônio and Jirau Dams were proposed for the Western Amazon in Brazil, claiming among other issues that the dams would raise water levels on the Madeira River, potentially leading to catastrophic flooding. It turns out they may have been right: last week a federal Brazilian court ordered a new environmental impact study on the dams given suspicion that they have worsened recent flooding in Brazil and across the border in Bolivia.


New web tool aims to help indigenous groups protect forests and navigate REDD+

(03/12/2014) A new online tool, dubbed ForestDefender, aims to help indigenous people understand and implement their rights in regard to forests. The database, developed by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), brings together vast amounts of legal information—both national and international—on over 50 countries.


Cocaine: the new face of deforestation in Central America

(03/11/2014) In 2006, Mexico intensified its security strategy, forming an inhospitable environment for drug trafficking organizations (also known as DTOs) within the nation. The drug cartels responded by creating new trade routes along the border of Guatemala and Honduras. Soon shipments of cocaine from South America began to flow through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). This multi-national swathe of forest, encompassing several national parks and protected areas, was originally created to protect endangered species, such as Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and jaguar (Panthera onca), as well as the world's second largest coral reef. Today, its future hinges on the world's drug producers and consumers.


New forest map for Sarawak reveals large-scale deforestation, encroachment on indigenous territories

(02/24/2014) A new online platform released by the Bruno Manser Fund reveals large-scale destruction of Sarawak's rainforests, peatlands, and traditional lands. Drawing from a variety of sources, the Sarawak Geoportal includes data on logging concessions, oil palm plantations, existing and proposed dams, historical forest cover, the extent of indigenous cultivated areas, election results, and area where there are current native customary rights (NCR) disputes.


The lemur end-game: scientists propose ambitious plan to save the world's most imperiled mammal family

(02/20/2014) Due to the wonderful idiosyncrasies of evolution, there is one country on Earth that houses 20 percent of the world's primates. More astounding still, every single one of these primates—an entire distinct family in fact—are found no-where else. The country is, of course, Madagascar and the primates in question are, of course, lemurs. But the far-flung island of Madagascar, once a safe haven for wild evolutionary experiments, has become an ecological nightmare. Overpopulation, deep poverty, political instability, slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging for lucrative woods, and a booming bushmeat trade has placed 94 percent of the world's lemurs under threat of extinction, making this the most imperiled mammal group on the planet. But, in order to stem a rapid march toward extinction, conservationists today publicized an emergency three year plan to safeguard 30 important lemur forests in the journal Science.


Local communities key to saving the Critically Endangered Mexican black howler monkey

(02/14/2014) For conservation initiatives around the world, community involvement is often crucial. An additional challenge is how to conserve species once their habitats have become fragmented. A primatologist in Mexico is bringing these together in a celebration of a Critically Endangered primate species: the Mexican black howler monkey. In 2013 Juan Carlos Serio-Silva was part of a team that not only helped to secure the establishment of a protected area for the Mexican black howler monkey, but also engaged local communities in a week of festivities, dubbed the First International Black Howler Monkey Week.


Helping the Amazon's 'Jaguar People' protect their culture and traditional wisdom

(02/11/2014) Tribes in the Amazon are increasingly exposed to the outside world by choice or circumstance. The fallout of outside contact has rarely been anything less than catastrophic, resulting in untold extinction of hundreds of tribes over the centuries. For ones that survived the devastation of introduced disease and conquest, the process of acculturation transformed once proud cultures into fragmented remnants, their self-sufficiency and social cohesion stripped away, left to struggle in a new world marked by poverty and external dependence


Gas company to drill in Manu National Park buffer zone, imperiling indigenous people

(02/04/2014) The Peruvian government has approved plans for gas company Pluspetrol to move deeper into a supposedly protected reserve for indigenous peoples and the buffer zone of the Manu National Park in the Amazon rainforest. The approval follows the government rescinding a highly critical report on the potential impacts of the operations by the Culture Ministry (MINCU), the resignation of the Culture Minister and other Ministry personnel, and repeated criticism from Peruvian and international civil society.


Through careful management, indigenous people have shaped Asian rainforests for 11,000 years

(01/28/2014) Humans have been actively managing vast areas of Southeast Asia's forests for longer than previously believed, according to research by paleoecologists from the United Kingdom presented in the current Journal of Archaeological Science. Strong evidence suggests that humans in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam have engaged in agricultural practices for the last 11,000 years. These findings may help bolster the claims of local indigenous peoples under threat of eviction from their traditional lands.


Land conflicts complicate effort to spare forests from palm oil in Borneo

(01/17/2014) A widely-heralded effort to spare carbon-dense rainforests and peatlands from palm oil development in Indonesian Borneo is facing new criticism after an investigation by rights groups found evidence of unresolved conflicts over community land. The report, published Friday by the Forest Peoples Program and TUK-Indonesia, looked at a carbon conservation pilot project run by Golden Agri Resources (GAR), a Singapore-based agribusiness giant that is one of Indonesia's largest palm oil producers.


Brazil begins evicting illegal settlers from hugely-imperiled indigenous reserve

(01/06/2014) Months after closing sawmills on the fringes of an indigenous reserve for the hugely-imperiled Awá people, the Brazil government has now moved into the reserve itself to evict illegal settlers in the eastern Amazon. According to the NGO Survival International, Brazil has sent in the military and other government agents to deal with massive illegal settlements on Awá land for logging or cattle.


Rainforest news review for 2013

(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.


Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013

(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.


Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century: a new tapir

(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.


Indonesia urged to implement decision recognizing indigenous rights to land

(12/10/2013) Indigenous rights groups are circulating a petition asking the Indonesian government to immediately implement a court ruling that would take management of million of hectares of customary forest out of the hands of the Ministry of Forestry and turn it over to traditional communities. The petition was posted on Change.org by Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).


Ecuador's government shuts down indigenous rights organization over oil battle

(12/10/2013) Last Wednesday, the government of Ecuador shutdown the indigenous rights NGO, Fundación Pachamama, in Quito over the group's opposition to oil drilling in indigenous areas. More than a dozen government officials showed up at Pachamama's office with a resolution by the Ministry of Environment that officially dissolved the organization, the first such moved by the government which in June passed an Executive Decree that tightened governmental oversight of the country's NGOs.


Flawed from inception? Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT initiative threatened indigenous groups with simple mapping errors

(11/13/2013) The plan from Ecuador’s government was simple: Pay us and we won’t destroy the planet's most extraordinary ecosystem. Dubbed the Yasuni-ITT initiative, the plan called upon developed nations to pay for protecting Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park from oil companies. Now, a recent study claims the plan was fraught with flaws as basic as drawing lines on a map.


Murum dam blockaders may be suffering human rights violations warns NGOs

(11/12/2013) A coalition of nearly 30 organizations has sent a letter to top authorities in Sarawak and Malaysia warning them of possible human right violations against a group of indigenous Penan who are blocking roads to the construction site for Murum Dam. Over 100 indigenous people have been blocking a road for over a month as they demand more compensation and land after being forced to move from their traditional lands to make way for the 900 megawatt dam.


Redeeming REDD: a conversation with Michael Brown

(11/11/2013) In Redeeming REDD: Policies, Incentives and Social Feasibility for Avoided Deforestation, anthropologist Michael Brown relays a constructive critique of the contemporary aims, standards and modalities for mitigating climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). Brown advocates for REDD as a viable mechanism for the long-term pro-poor conservation and restoration of tropical forests as well—but only if local forest dwellers and Indigenous. Peoples can join the negotiating table and act as forest stewards. Local people must first be empowered to make 'socially feasible' decisions that are necessary for their livelihoods and well-being. In other words, there can be no environmentalism without credible local leadership, which requires investment in capacity building at the local level for sustainable institutions.


Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?

(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.


Indigenous groups expel workers, blockade another dam in Sarawak

(11/05/2013) Hundreds of tribal people in Sarawak have started blockading a second big hydroelectric dam project being built by a government, which critics accuse of nepotism and corruption. Late last month around 200 native Kenyah, Kayan and Penan people chased away workers and set up a blockade on a road leading to the site of the proposed 1200 megawatt Baram dam.


Rebranded as the Rainforest Trust, green group launches push to protect 6M acres of Amazon rainforest

(10/30/2013) The Rainforest Trust, which from 1988 until last month was known as the World Land Trust-US, has kicked off an effort to preserve some 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of rainforest in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon.


'Sustainable' tropical timber trade a misnomer, says group

(10/24/2013) The production and trade in 'sustainable' timber products in Southeast Asia is mostly 'a mirage' due to questionable forestry practices and loopholes in import regulations, alleges a new report from Friends of the Earth International.


Tapirs, drug-trafficking, and eco-police: practicing conservation amidst chaos in Nicaragua

(10/10/2013) Nicaragua is a nation still suffering from deep poverty, a free-flowing drug trade, and festering war-wounds after decades of internecine fighting. However, like any country that has been largely defined by its conflicts, Nicaragua possesses surprises that overturn conventional wisdom. Not the least of which is that the Central American country is still home to big, stunning species, including jaguars, giant anteaters, pumas, and the nation's heaviest animal, the Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii). Still, not surprisingly given the nation's instability, most conservationists have avoided Nicaragua. But tapir-expert Christopher Jordan, who has worked in the country for over four years, says he wouldn't have it any other way.


Borneo tribesmen block road as controversial rainforest dam impoundment begins

(09/27/2013) Indigenous leaders have set up roadblocks in Malaysian Borneo to protest Sarawak's newest dam, report environmental activists who oppose the project.


Japanese firms buying illegal timber from Malaysia’s endangered rainforests

(09/10/2013) Japanese companies are failing to keep illegally logged timber from entering their supply chains, international human rights and environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a report released today. The report links several major Japanese firms to logging companies that are destroying tropical rainforests in Malaysian Borneo through illegal and destructive logging practices in Sarawak province.


Amazon rainforest tribe sells REDD+ credits to Brazilian cosmetics giant

(09/10/2013) The Paiter-Suruí, a rainforest tribe that in June became the first indigenous group to generate REDD+ credits under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), has now closed their first deal. As reported by Ecosystem Marketplace, Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura Cosméticos has purchased 120,000 tons of carbon offsets from the the Surui Forest Carbon Project in Rondônia, Brazil.


Large-scale opposition among Borneo villagers to deforestation

(09/10/2013) Nearly two-thirds of villagers surveyed across rainforests in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo are against large-scale deforestation due to the adverse impacts on livelihoods and the environment, finds a comprehensive new study across 185 communities. The research, conducted over a one-year period by an international team of scientists, is published in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE. The study found that people who live near forests place the greatest value on the benefits they afford, including medicinal plants, game, clean water, and fiber.


Isolated Amazonian tribe makes another appearance in Peru (video)

(08/26/2013) Over 100 members of a voluntarily isolated tribe emerged from the jungles of Peru in a rare appearance on the Las Piedras River across from the a Yine Indian community in late June. Belonging to the Mascho-Piro Indians, members of the "uncontacted" tribe are occasionally seen on riverbanks during the dry season, but appearances in such numbers and so close to a local community was unprecedented.


Yasuni could still be spared oil drilling

(08/26/2013) When Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, announced on August 15th that he was abandoning an innovative program to spare three blocs of Yasuni National Park from oil drilling, it seemed like the world had tossed away its most biodiverse ecosystem. However, environmental groups and activists quickly responded that there may be another way to keep oil companies out of Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs: a national referendum.


Colombia establishes giant rainforest park to protect 'uncontacted' tribes

(08/16/2013) Next week the Colombian government will officially double the size of its largest national park, reports El Espectador.


Endangered chimps and forest elephants found in rainforest to be logged for palm oil

(08/08/2013) A biological survey of forests slated for destruction for a palm oil project in Cameroon has uncovered 23 species of large mammals, including the world's most endangered chimpanzee subspecies, the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti). The project in question, operated by U.S.-based company Herakles Farms, has come under stiff criticism both locally and abroad for threatening one of Africa's most biologically rich forest lands and arguably undercutting local peoples' access to traditional lands.


Featured video: Sumatra's last elephants versus palm oil

(08/05/2013) A new video by The Ecologist documents the illegal destruction of the Leuser protected area in Sumatra for palm oil production, a vegetable oil which has become ubiquitous in many mass-produced foods and cosmetics. The destruction of the forest has pushed elephants and people together, leading to inevitable conflict with casualties on both sides. Elephants are increasingly viewed as agricultural pests for crop-raiding while locals—some of them squatting in protected land—lack the means and resources to keep elephants at bay. Meanwhile, palm oil plantations often see elephants as a threat to the palms.


Weak laws governing Malaysia's indigenous people complicate conservation efforts

(07/22/2013) The balance between biodiversity conservation, land acquisition, natural resource utilization and indigenous peoples is often wrought with conflict. Legislation governing the use of natural resources should ideally protect biodiversity and address the needs of indigenous peoples, but in many places, falls short of these ambitions. In a recent study published in Biodiversity Conservation, researchers examined the weaknesses in select natural resource laws that affect the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, and compared these laws with data on a specific group of indigenous people’s use of natural resources, collected through questionnaires. In addition to suggesting potential solutions to address legislative weaknesses, the researchers make a strong case for why natural resource legislation is a matter of concern for conservationists.


Brazil's military takes on illegal loggers to protect nearly-extinct tribe

(07/18/2013) Brazil has launched a military campaign to evict illegal loggers working from the fringes of an indigenous reserve home to the Awá people, reports Survival International. Inhabiting the Amazon rainforest in northeastern Brazil, only around 450 Awá, also known as Guajá, survive today, and around a quarter of these have chosen voluntary isolation.


Forgotten species: the arapaima or 'dinosaur fish'

(07/15/2013) Let's go back some 14,000 years (or up to 50,000 depending on who you talk to), since this is the first time humans encountered the meandering, seemingly endless river system of the Amazon. Certainly, the world's first Amazonians would have been astounded by the giant beasts of the region, including ground sloths and mastodons (both now extinct), as well as giant anteaters, armadillos, and tapirs, currently the biggest land animal on the continent. But these first explorers might have been even more surprised by what dwelled in the rivers: anaconda, caiman, and the arapaima. Wait, the what?


Featured video: Indonesian community uses mapping to fight palm oil takeover

(07/15/2013) Communities across Indonesia are facing the questions: palm oil or no? A new short documentary Mapping our Future explores the issue through one community's efforts in West Kalimantan to map our their ancestral lands as they attempt to take control of their future.


Activists raise alarm over park that will dispossess Borneo tribe of land

(07/10/2013) Rights activists are warning that a proposal to classify islands forming in the midst of the Bakun Dam reservoir will further deprive indigenous forest people of their traditional land.


Making movies to save Uganda's great apes

(07/03/2013) A new series of films aims to protect Uganda's great ape species (mountain gorillas and chimpanzees) by bringing entertaining and educational movies to a rural audience living on the edges of Kibale National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Produced with heavy input from locals, these films are acted with an all-Ugandan task to teach those living near great apes about the species and their conservation-needs.


Amazonian students help monitor threatened frog populations

(07/01/2013) According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on Earth: currently around 30 percent of the world's amphibians are listed as threatened with extinction. However this percentage doesn't include those species about which too little is known to evaluate (26 percent). Amphibians face many threats but two of the largest are habitat loss and the lethal chytrid fungus, which has rapidly spread worldwide and is likely responsible for numerous extinctions. But conservationists are coming up with innovative and creative ways to keep amphibians from disappearing, including a program from the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) that is working with students in the Peruvian Amazon to monitor frog populations.


Over 30 tons of explosives to be detonated in Manu National Park buffer zone

(06/24/2013) A consortium of gas companies headed by Pluspetrol and including Hunt Oil plans on detonating approximately 38 tons of explosives in the south-east Peruvian Amazon in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. The detonations are part of 2D and 3D seismic tests planned by Pluspetrol in its search for new gas deposits in the Camisea region—plans that are currently pending approval by Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM).


Building a new generation of local conservationists: how improving education in Uganda may save one of the world's great forests

(06/20/2013) Conservation work is often focused on the short-term: protecting a forest from an immediate threat, saving a species from pending extinction, or a restoring an ecosystem following degradation. While short-term responses are often borne of necessity, one could argue that long-term thinking in conservation and environmental work (as in all human endeavors) is woefully neglected, especially in the tropics. This is why programs like the Kasiisi Project are so important: by vastly improving education for primary kids near a threatened park in Uganda, the project hopes to create a "generation of committed rural conservationists," according to founder and director, Elizabeth Ross.



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