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Mongabay.com news articles on rhett butler in blog format. Updated regularly.





Discarded cell phones to help fight rainforest poachers, loggers in real-time

(06/24/2014) A technology that uses discarded mobile phones to create a real-time alert system against logging and poaching will soon be deployed in the endangered rainforests of Central Africa. Rainforest Connection (RFCx), a San Francisco-based non-profit startup, is partnering with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to install its real-time anti-deforestation technology at sites in Cameroon. 30 RFCx devices — recycled from old Android handsets — will monitor 10,000 hectares or nearly 40 square miles of rainforest, listening for audio signals associated with logging and poaching.


Protecting rainforests could sequester equivalent of a third of global emissions annually

(06/13/2014) liminating deforestation, peatlands and forest degradation, and forest fires in the tropics could reduce global carbon emissions by two billion tons a year, or nearly a fifth, argues a new study published in Global Change Biology. The research analyzed various emissions sources and sinks across the tropics. They found that carbon emissions from activities that damage and destroy forests are nearly counterbalanced by forest regrowth, reforestation, and afforestation.


In cutting deforestation, Brazil leads world in reducing emissions

(06/05/2014) Brazil's success in reducing deforestation in the world's largest rainforest has been much heralded, but progress may stall unless farmers, ranchers and other land users in the region are provided incentives to further improve the environmental sustainability of their operations, argues a study published this week in the journal Science.


Singapore intercepts massive illegal shipment of Madagascar rosewood

(06/03/2014) Authorities in Singapore have made the largest-ever international seizure of rosewood logs, providing further evidence that industrial-scale smuggling of Madagascar's rainforest timber continues despite an official ban on the trade. Details of the seizure remain sparse since the investigation is still active, but leaked correspondence between officials in Madagascar indicates that the shipment amounts to 3,000 tons, or more than 29,000 illicit rosewood logs.


Logger continues to destroy Indonesian rainforest despite green promises (Photos)

(06/03/2014) Indonesian logging giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) is continuing to destroy endangered rainforests on Sumatra despite a high profile commitment to clean up its operations, reveal aerial photos captured by Greenpeace last month.


Indonesian activist: strong company commitments, media push government on forest issues

(05/23/2014) Indonesia has become notorious for its high rate of forest loss, but there are nascent signs of progress. The central government has implemented a moratorium across some 14.5 million hectares of forest and peatlands, while a handful of Indonesian companies have adopted policies that establish social and environmental safeguards.


Intensifying cattle production in Brazil could cut global deforestation emissions 25%, says study

(04/28/2014) Brazil could reduce more than a quarter of emissions linked to deforestation worldwide by intensifying cattle production in the Amazon, argues a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


APP commits to conserve, restore 1M ha of Indonesian forest; WWF pledges support

(04/28/2014) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company and a long-time target of environmental campaigners, has committed to protect and restore a million hectares of forest across Indonesia. The pledge, which represents an area equivalent to the total plantation area from which it sourced pulp in 2013, was immediately welcomed by WWF, which until today has remained one of APP's staunchest critics.


Earth Day Picture Gallery: Celebrating Indonesia

(04/22/2014) This Earth Day, we've decided to highlight the spectacular natural wonders of Indonesia, which is arguably the most biodiverse country on Earth. Indonesia is rich with wildlife thanks to its geography: some 17,000 islands spanning 1.9 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) of tropical seas. Accordingly, the country is home to an incredible array of habitats ranging from rainforests to tropical glaciers to coral reefs, which support untold numbers of species.


Behind the scenes of Showtime's blockbuster series on climate change

(04/18/2014) For years climate change activists and environmentalists have been clamoring for a high-profile, high-impact TV series about climate change to make Americans more aware of an issue that will affect billions of people around the globe in coming decades. This week they finally got it when Showtime released the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously, a big-budget TV series featuring a number of Hollywood's biggest stars as reporters and corespondents.


Cargill commits to zero deforestation, but environmentalists have questions

(04/09/2014) After years of criticism from environmental groups, Cargill says it will establish policies to eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. But activists aren't yet sure what to make of the agribusiness giant's pledge. On Tuesday Cargill released a letter it sent to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets eco-certification standards, in response to a Greenpeace Report linking it to deforestation.


Saving rainforests by buying them

(04/04/2014) For more than twenty five years, an international non-profit known as the World Land Trust has been working to protect tropical forests through land purchase and partnerships with local groups. Last year, the U.S. arm of the group decided to rebrand itself as the Rainforest Trust to better convey its core mission to the outside world. Since then, the Rainforest Trust has launched its most ambitious project yet: conserving 5.9 million acres of tropical forest in Peru.


Community's push to clear forest for plantation challenges efforts to conserve in Indonesia

(03/20/2014) In the swampy peatlands of Basilam Baru in Sumatra's Riau Province a conflict between a community and a woodpulp company is illustrating some of the intractable challenges of conserving forests and addressing deforestation in Indonesia. On first glance the story seems depressingly familiar. One actor wants to preserve the forest, which serves as critical habitat for endangered Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards. The other wants to clear it for a plantation.


APP pledges to restore forests, if given the opportunity

(03/18/2014) Over the past 20 years, Sumatra's lowland rainforests have been destroyed at a virtually unmatched rate and scale. Since 1990, the island's primary forests shrank by 40 percent while its overall forest cover declined by 36 percent, mostly the result of logging, agricultural expansion, and conversion for oil palm and timber plantations. What little forest does survive is often degraded — today less than 8 percent of Sumatra retains primary forest.


Will zero deforestation commitments save Indonesia's forests?

(03/17/2014) Skirting the Malacca Strait near the Indonesian city of Dumai the air is thick with haze from peat fires burning below. As the sky clears, a landscape of sharply-cut geometric shapes becomes apparent. What was once carbon-dense peat forests and rainforests are today massive oil palm and wood pulp plantations.


After GAR expands policy, over 50% of world's palm oil bound by zero deforestation commitments

(03/03/2014) Over half the world's palm oil traded internationally is now bound by zero deforestation commitments after Singapore-based Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) extended its forest conservation policy across all palm oil it produces, sources and trades. In a filing posted Friday Singapore Stock Exchange, GAR announced its breakthrough forest conservation policy now applies to all the palm oil it trades.


Procter & Gamble's palm oil suppliers linked to deforestation (photos)

(02/26/2014) A year-long investigation by Greenpeace has found companies that supply Procter & Gamble (P&G) (NYSE:PG) with palm oil are engaged in clearing of rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia, suggesting that Head & Shoulders shampoo and other consumer products made by the company may be linked to forest destruction.


Revolutionary Google-backed system unlocks power of 'big data' to save forests

(02/20/2014) World Resources Institute (WRI) today announced the release of a tool that promises to revolutionize forest monitoring. The platform, called Global Forest Watch and developed over several years with more than 40 partners, draws from a rich array of big data related to the word's forests and translates it into interactive maps and charts that reveal trends in deforestation, forest recovery, and industrial forestry expansion. Global Forest Watch is the first tool to monitors global forests on a monthly basis, allowing authorities and conservationists to potentially take action against deforestation as it is occurring.


APP, environmentalists talk future of Indonesia's forests

(02/20/2014) In February 2013, one of the world's most notorious forestry companies announced it would no longer chop down rainforests and peatlands to produce pulp and paper. The move was met with considerable skepticism by critics who had seen the company break previous high profile commitments to end deforestation. Why would this time be any different?


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


Rainforest Alliance to independently audit APP's zero deforestation commitment

(01/29/2014) The Rainforest Alliance has agreed to conduct an audit of Asia Pulp & Paper's progress in implementing the zero deforestation policy the forestry giant signed last year. The deal, announced Thursday in Jakarta, could help boost the credibility of APP's policy, which while heralded as a breakthrough by several environmental groups, is still viewed with skepticism by some prominent critics, who remember past broken commitments from the paper producer.


287 amphibian and reptile species in Peruvian park sets world record (photos)

(01/28/2014) It's official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world. Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park in 2010.


Norwegian insurance giant blacklists palm oil companies

(01/27/2014) Storebrand, one of Norway's largest life insurance and pension savings companies, has sold off holdings in eleven palm oil companies due to environmental concerns. In a statement issued last week, Storebrand said it divested after it found the companies had breached its sustainability standards.


New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists

(01/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon. Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil's Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.


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.


In precedent-setting case, palm oil company fined $30M for destroying orangutan forest

(01/09/2014) In a precedent-setting case, an Indonesian court has found a palm oil company guilty of violating environmental laws and ordered it to pay $30 million in fines and reparations for clearing an area of protected peat forest that is a stronghold for endangered orangutans in Indonesia's Aceh Province. In a ruling handed down Wednesday, the Meulaboh district court concluded that PT Kallista Alam illegally cleared and burned forest within the the protected Tripa peat swamp in northwestern Sumatra.


Most popular eco news articles of 2013

(01/01/2014) The most popular environmental news article on mongabay.com during 2013 was a story about the recovery of the endangered Huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) in Chile. The story, written by Alexander Holmgren, was visited 308,000 times, due largely to Reddit.


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.


Our favorite nature pictures from 2013

(12/24/2013) With 2013 drawing to a close, here are 100 nature pictures taken during my various Mongabay reporting trips in 2013, including Indonesia, the Pacific Northwest, Costa Rica, Namibia, and South Africa. Overall I added more than 15,000 new images — spanning rainforests, deserts and oceans — to the photo section of the site during the year.


Biggest new animal discoveries of 2013 (photos)

(12/23/2013) Thousands of species were scientifically described for the first time in 2013. Many of these were 'cryptic species' that were identified after genetic analysis distinguished them from closely-related species, while others were totally novel. Below are some of the most interesting "new species" discoveries that took place or were formally announced in 2013.


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.


Ongoing deforestation reported in Borneo concession held by APP supplier

(12/18/2013) Up to 1,400 hectares of forest have been cleared in a concession belonging to an Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) supplier in Borneo, potentially putting the company in breach of the forestry giant's zero deforestation commitment, reports a coalition of local NGO's. In a report released Tuesday, Relawan Pemantau Hutan Kalimantan (RPHK), a coalition of NGO's in part supported by WWF-Indonesia, said that blocks of natural forest have been cleared in a concession belonging to PT Daya Tani Kalbar (DTK), an APP supplier. The clearing has taken place since APP's moratorium went into effect February 1, 2013.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013

(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.


World's biggest palm oil company makes zero deforestation commitment

(12/05/2013) Wilmar, the world's largest palm oil trader and a long-time target of environmentalists, has signed a landmark policy that commits the company to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. The deal, if fully implemented, has the potential to transform the palm oil industry, which has emerged over the past decade as one of the world's most important drivers of tropical forest destruction.


Malaysia has the world's highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest map

(11/15/2013) Malaysia had the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012, according to a new global forest map developed in partnership with Google. Malaysia's total forest loss during the period amounted to 14.4 percent of its year 2000 forest cover. The loss translates to 47,278 square kilometers (18,244 square miles), an area larger than the country of Denmark.


Deforestation accelerates in Indonesia, finds Google forest map

(11/14/2013) Forest loss in Indonesia has sharply risen over the past 12 years, reports a new study published in the journal Science. The study, led by Matt Hansen of University of Maryland, finds that Indonesia lost 15.8 million hectares between 2000 and 2012, ranking it fifth behind Russia, Brazil, the United States, and Canada in terms of forest loss. Some 7 million hectares of forest regrew during the period.


Zero net deforestation is the wrong target, warn experts

(11/14/2013) Environmental initiatives that target zero net deforestation may miss their mark when it comes to slowing climate change and protecting biodiversity, warns a commentary published in this week's issue of the journal Science. While zero net deforestation may seem like a worthy target in efforts to curb forest loss, Sandra Brown and Daniel Zarin argue that the goal is at best, ambiguous, and at worst, may lead to perverse outcomes for the world's forests.


Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide

(11/14/2013) Researchers today released a long-awaited tool that reveals the extent of forest cover loss and gain on a global scale. Powered by Google's massive computing cloud, the interactive forest map establishes a new baseline for measuring deforestation and forest recovery across all of the world's countries, biomes, and forest types. The map has far-reaching implications for efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities, according to the authors of the paper that describes the tool and details its first findings.


3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years

(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.


Palm oil giant to forgo development of New Guinea rainforest

(11/06/2013) Palm oil giant Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) will forgo development of an oil palm plantation in an area of rainforest in Indonesian New Guinea in order to comply with its forest conservation policy. The decision by GAR — which is the parent company for PT SMART, one of Indonesia's largest private palm oil companies — was disclosed in a report on its high carbon stock pilot project, which is a key component of the company's forest conservation policy (FCP).


Thought-to-be-extinct 'halloween' frog rediscovered in Costa Rica

(11/04/2013) A breeding population of a critically endangered harlequin toad thought to be extinct in Costa Rica has been discovered in a tract of highland forest in the Central American country, reports a paper published in Amphibia-Reptilia. Atelopus varius, an orange-and-black harlequin toad, was once relatively common from central Costa Rica to western Panama. But beginning in the 1980's the species experienced a rapid population collapse across most of its range.


Gold mining in the Amazon rainforest surges 400%

(10/28/2013) The extent of gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon has surged 400 percent since 1999 due to rocketing gold prices, wreaking havoc on forests and devastating local rivers, finds a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The assessment, led by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science, is based on a combination of satellite imagery, on-the-ground field surveys, and an advanced airplane-based sensor that can accurately measure the rainforest canopy and sub-canopy vegetation at a resolution of 1.1 meters (42 inches).


Illegal logging remains rampant in Brazil

(10/23/2013) Illegal logging remains pervasive in the Brazilian state of Pará, finds an assessment released Monday by Imazon.


Nature tours in Costa Rica: an economic alternative to palm oil?

(10/16/2013) Oil palm plantations have been rapidly expanding across the tropics for the better part of the past twenty years due to high returns from palm oil production. But palm oil isn't necessarily the most profitable form of land use in wildlife-rich areas, as one conservation entrepreneur is demonstrating in Costa Rica.David Lando Ramirez, a landowner in Sarapiqui, northeastern Costa Rica, has converted a small patch of oil palm into a thriving ecotourism business centered around people's love of the Central American nation's stunning diversity of birds.


Environmental journalism: rich with stories but 'extremely under-resourced'

(10/15/2013) Erik Hoffner is an environmental journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Orion, The Sun, Northern Woodlands, Yale Environment 360, Earth Island Journal, and World Ark. Recently two of his stories triggered strong public reactions: an exposé on damaging logging practices in Sweden and a photo feature on suburban fracking in Colorado. In an October interview with Mongabay.com, Hoffner discusses the fallout from these stories as well as his career in environmental journalism.


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.


Indonesia should convert logging concessions to protected areas to stop deforestation for plantations, argues study

(09/05/2013) Reclassifying logging concessions as permanent forest estates and thereby barring them from conversion to industrial plantations would be an effective strategy for helping conserve Indonesia's fast-dwindling forests, argues a new study published in PLoS ONE. The study analyzed forest loss in areas zoned for different uses in Indonesian Borneo. It found that deforestation rates in timber concessions and protected areas were 'not significantly different' provided logging concessions were not reclassified as industrial plantation concessions.


Deforestation surges as Ecuador kills Amazon protection plan

(09/04/2013) Data released this week by Terra-i, a collaborative mapping initiative, shows that deforestation in Ecuador for the first three months of 2013 was pacing more than 300 percent ahead of last year's rate. The report comes shortly after Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa killed off a proposed plan to prohibit oil drilling in Yasuni National Park in exchange for payments equivalent to half the value of the park's unexploited oil.


Palm oil now biggest cause of deforestation in Indonesia

(09/03/2013) Conversion of forests for palm oil production now appears to be the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia, accounting for roughly a quarter of forest loss between 2009 and 2011, asserts a new Greenpeace report that accuses the sector's main certification standard of failing to stop forest destruction. The report, titled Certifying Destruction, uses satellite imagery, government concession data, field investigations, and third party analysis to conclude that several recent and current members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — the industry's chief eco-certification body — are continuing to buy or trade palm oil produced via the conversion of rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands in the Southeast Asian nation.


Palm oil licenses provide cover for logging in New Guinea

(08/14/2013) Developers are seeking palm oil concessions to as a means to circumvent restrictions on industrial logging in Papua New Guinea, finds a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters. The research, led by Paul Nelson and Jennifer Gabriel of James Cook University, is based on analysis of 36 proposed oil palm concessions covering nearly 950,000 hectares in PNG. The study assessed the likelihood of the concessions coming to fruition. It found that only five concessions, covering 181,700 ha, are likely to be developed.



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