conservation news and environmental science news.
Palm oil, paper, biofuels production on peatlands drive large GHG emissions
(01/31/2013) Degradation of peat swamps for oil palm and timber plantations is a substantially larger source of greenhouse gas emissions than previously believed, finds a new study published in the journal Nature.
From slash-and-burn to Amazon heroes: new video series highlights agricultural transformation
(01/31/2013) A new series of short films is celebrating the innovation of rural farmers in the Manu region of Peru. Home to jaguars, macaws, and tapirs, the Manu region is also one of the top contenders for the world's most biodiverse place. It faces a multitude of threats from road-building to mining to gas and oil concessions. Still the impact of smallscale slash-and-burn farming—once seen as the greatest threat to the Amazon and other rainforest—may be diminishing as farmers, like the first film's Reynaldo (see below), turn to new ways of farming, ones that preserve the forest while providing a better life overall.
Gorilla paradise: new park safeguards 15,000 western lowland gorillas
(01/31/2013) In 2008 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced a jaw-dropping discovery: remote swamp forests in northern Republic of Congo contained a stunning population of 125,000 western lowland gorillas that had somehow gone unnoticed by scientists. At the time the President of WCS, Steven E. Sanderson, called the area the "mother lode of gorillas," and expressed hope that the discovery would lead to a new park. Well, late last year, a park was finalized.
14 Bornean elephants found dead, likely poisoned
(01/31/2013) Wildlife officials in the Malaysian state of Sabah have found the bodies of 14 Bornean elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, and suspect that more may be found dead. While tests are pending, they believe the elephants were likely poisoned due to damage in the animals' digestive tracts. Only around 2,000 Bornean elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are left on the island of Borneo with the vast bulk found in Sabah.
Asian bear farming: breaking the cycle of exploitation (warning: graphic images)
(01/31/2013) In the forests of Asia, bears are being captured. These captives will be sent to bear farms, most unregulated and illegal, where they will be kept alive in a small cage, locked away for life. Their bodies will be used as renewable natural resources, from which profit will be made through the extraction of internal organs and fluids. By surgically inserting a permanent catheter into the bears' gall bladders, "farmers" extract several ounces of their bile. In a cycle of exploitation across east Asia, traditional medicine shops receive these daily shipments of bear bile products, while consumers support the industry through the purchase of these products, sustaining a supply-and-demand chain that puts more and more bears in cages as wild populations dwindle.
China responsible for 46 percent of global coal consumption
(01/30/2013) A new chart by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows how China's coal habit has grown to such an extent that it now accounts for 46.9 percent of the world's consumption. In 2011 coal consumption hit 3.8 billion tons in China, making up nearly half the world's coal use of 8.1 billion tons. Coal comes with a number of environmental issues—including toxic air and water pollution—but the most pressing globally is climate change.
Featured video: the miracle of mangroves
(01/30/2013) Mangroves are among the most important ecosystems in the world: they provide nurseries for fish, protect coastlines against dangerous tropical storms, mitigate marine erosion, store massive amounts of carbon, and harbor species found no-where else. However, they are vanishing at astonishing rates: experts say around 35 percent of the world's mangroves were lost in just twenty years (1990 to 2010).
Controversial research outlines physics behind how forests may bring rain
(01/30/2013) It took over two-and-a-half-years for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics to finally accept a paper outlining a new meteorological hypothesis in which condensation, not temperature, drives winds. If proven correct, the hypothesis could have massive ramifications on global policy—not to mention meteorology—as essentially the hypothesis means that the world's forest play a major role in driving precipitation from the coast into a continent's interior. The theory, known as the biotic pump, was first developed in 2006 by two Russian scientists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva of the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics, but the two have faced major pushback and delays in their attempt to put the theory before the greater scientific community.
Loans tied to environmental compliance reduced Amazon deforestation by 15%
(01/30/2013) A rural credit law that ties loans to environmental compliance made a significant contribution to reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2008 and 2011, argues a study published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI).
World Bank's forestry investments failing to meet conservation, rights, and anti-poverty goals, finds internal audit
(01/30/2013) The World Bank's investments in forestry over the past decade have failed to meet key objectives of reducing poverty, preserving forests, slowing climate change, or benefitting local communities, according to a report developed by its internal auditing body.
Killer kittens: U.S. cats kill up to 25 billion birds and small mammals per year
(01/30/2013) Domesticated cats in the United States kill far more animals than previously thought — 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 – 20.7 billion small mammals per year — finds a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications.
100 companies disclose their forest impact
(01/30/2013) 100 companies have reported on the impact of their operations on the world's forests.
Claim of human and tiger 'coexistence' lacks perspective
(01/29/2013) Nepal's Chitwan National Park was the site of a study, published in September 2012 by Carter and others, which concluded that, tigers coexist with humans at fine spatial scales. This paper has ignited a scientific debate regarding its implications for large carnivore conservation worldwide, with scientists at institutions worldwide questioning the validity of claims of coexistence. At the foundation of this debate, perhaps, is the unresolved question, "what is coexistence?"
Beyond the resorts: traveling the real and wild Dominican Republic (photos)
(01/29/2013) For its stunning variety of ecosystems, the Dominican Republic is like a continent squished into half an island. Lowland rainforests, cloud forests, pine forests, dry forests, mangroves, savannah, coastal lagoons, salt lakes, a rift valley, karst land formations, four mountain ranges—including the highest mountain in the Caribbean—and not to mention some of the best beaches, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the hemisphere can all be reached within just a few hours drive of the capital, Santo Domingo. Yet, bizarrely, most tourists who visit the Dominican Republic never venture out of their all-inclusive resort, missing out on some of the most stunning landscapes—and accessible wildlife viewing—in the Caribbean.
Miners win ruling over indigenous groups in Guyana
(01/29/2013) A judge in Guyana's high court has ruled that indigenous groups do not have the right to expel legal miners from their land. The judge, Diana Insanally, found that if the miners in question held a government-approved license than the local community had no right to dispute the mining. The ruling has sparked protests by indigenous groups and is expected to be appealed.
NASA data registers strong deforestation signals in Sumatra, Borneo, Brazil, Gabon
(01/29/2013) NASA satellites picked up signals of extensive potential deforestation in Sumatra, Borneo, Central Africa, the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, the Chocó in Colombia and Ecuador, and the Chaco region of Paraguay between October 1 and December 31, 2012, according to the latest update on Mongabay.com's Global Forest Disturbance Alert System (GloF-DAS).
HarperCollins establishes policy barring paper sourced from rainforest destruction
(01/29/2013) HarperCollins has established a policy that excludes paper sourced from destruction of tropical rainforests and old growth forests. The revised policy, posted on its web site earlier this month, is a response to a campaign by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an activist group that is targeting companies linked to clearing of Indonesian rainforests and peatlands for pulp and paper production:
New palm oil concession imperils orangutan population in Borneo
(01/28/2013) Three conservation groups warn that a proposed palm oil plantation puts a significant Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) population at risk in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The plantation, which would cover 400 hectares of private forest land, lies adjacent to Kulamba Wildlife Reserve, home to 480 orangutans.
Popular pesticides kill frogs outright
(01/28/2013) Commonly used agrochemicals (pesticides, fungicides and herbicides) kill frogs outright when sprayed on fields even when used at recommended dosages, according to new research in Scientific Reports. Testing seven chemicals on European common frogs (Rana temporaria), the scientists found that all of them were potentially lethal to amphibians. In fact, two fungicides—Headline and Captain Omya—wiped out the entire population of frogs at the recommended dosage. The study warns that agricultural chemicals could be having a large-scale and largely unrecorded impact on the world's vanishing amphibians.
Over $8 billion invested in watersheds in 2011
(01/28/2013) Unlike cars, hamburgers, and computers, clean drinking water is a requirement for human survival. In a bid to safeguard this essential resource, more and more nations are moving toward protecting ecosystems, such as forests, wetlands, and streams. In fact, according to a new report by Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace, nations spent $8.17 billion in 2011 to secure freshwater by conserving watersheds.
Scientists could name every species on Earth in 50 years
(01/28/2013) A bold new paper in Science argues that the world's species could be named and described before they vanish into extinction, though the threat of eventual extinction will remain for many, especially as climate change worsens. The scientists say that contrary to popular belief, there are more taxonomists working than ever before and there are likely less species on Earth than often reported, making finding and naming the world's species within reach this century.
Cute koalas have become 'urban refugees'
(01/28/2013) According to Susan Kelly, koalas have become "urban refugees," under siege by expanding cities that bring with them deforestation, dogs, traffic, and other ills for native wildlife. Director of Global Witness, and writer, producer and director of the new documentary Koala Hospital, Kelly has spent 3 years working to understand the rising threats to one of the world's most beloved marsupials. While Koala Hospital highlights the many perils facing koalas, including climate change due to record fires across Australia, it also looks at the efforts of individuals who work to save koalas one—by—one at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, taking in patients who have been orphaned, hit by cars, scarred in fires, or attacked by dogs.
Energizing Sustainable Cities: Assessing Urban Energy - book review
(01/28/2013) Energizing Sustainable Cities: Assessing Urban Energy, edited by Arnulf Grubler and David Fisk, is a very well written book describing challenges and opportunities to define, analyze, and implement sustainable energy development for 21st Century urban centers. Urban populations, while roughly 50% of the global population, consume over 75% of the globe's energy. Therefore, developing frameworks to assess, analyze and implement sustainable energy systems that meet the criteria for these urban populations is foundational to mitigating climate change, halting biodiversity loss, and improving water quality globally.
Helping Borneo's indigenous people fight for their forests
(01/28/2013) In the 1980's and 1990's more timber was removed from the rainforests Borneo than from all of Africa and South America combined. This tragic loss of habitat, with its attendant loss of wildlife and indigenous cultures, has gone largely unrecognized in the United States. Joe Lamb, a Berkeley-based writer, activist, and arborist, has worked to change that.
Bolivia takes step to boost agriculture and curb surging deforestation
(01/28/2013) Bolivia has passed a land use law that aims to boost food security and slow deforestation in a region that is wracked by illegal forest clearing. Approved earlier this month, Ley 337 seeks to regulate land use in the Bolivian Amazon where deforestation for industrial agricultural production is surging. The law requires landowners who illegally deforested land prior to 2011 to either reforest or establish 'productive agriculture' on the land and pay reduced fines for past transgressions.
Large blocks of Sumatra's endangered rainforest may be put up for mining, logging
(01/28/2013) The Indonesian province of Aceh on the western tip of the island of Sumatra may be preparing to lift the protected status of key areas of lowland rainforest potentially ending its bid to earn carbon credits from forest conservation and putting several endangered species at increased risk, according to reports.
Brazil to inventory the Amazon
(01/27/2013) Brazil will launch a comprehensive inventory of trees in the Amazon rainforest for the first time in more than 30 years, reports BBC News.
Experts outline how REDD+ credits could fit into California's cap-and-trade program
(01/27/2013) Carbon credits generated by forest conservation activities in tropical countries could play a role in California's cap-and-trade program, helping mitigate climate change and providing benefits to local communities, said a panel of experts on Friday.
UK authorizes guns for Madagascar despite threat of lemur extinctions
(01/27/2013) Britain has authorized the export of thousands of guns to Madagascar, according to TanaNews.com, sparking concerns that the firearms could be used for hunting endangered lemurs.
Photos: Population of critically-endangered black macaque on rebound
(01/26/2013) An important population of critically endangered Sulawesi black macaques (Macaca nigra) is showing signs of recovery after years of decline in an Indonesian forest reserve, reports a study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Primatology.
Typhoon Bopha decimated coral reefs
(01/24/2013) When Typhoon Bopha, also known as Pablo, ran ashore on Mindanao, it was the largest tropical storm it ever hit the Philippine island. In its wake the massive superstorm left over 1,000 people were dead and 6.2 million affected with officials saying illegal logging and mining worsened the scale of the disaster. However, the Category 5 typhoon also left a trail of destruction that has been less reported: coral reefs.
Forests in Kenya worth much more intact says government report
(01/24/2013) Kenya's forests provide greater services and wealth to the nation when they are left standing. A landmark report by The Kenyan Government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) addresses the importance of forests to the well-being of the nation, putting Kenya among a pioneering group of countries that aim to center development plans around nature-based assets.
Illegally logged trees to start calling for help
(01/24/2013) Illegal loggers beware: trees will soon be calling—literally—for backup. The Brazilian government has begun fixing trees with a wireless device, known as Invisible Tracck, which will allow trees to contact authorities after being felled and moved.
Religion, Chinese government drive global elephant slaughter
(01/24/2013) By some estimates, more than 30,000 elephants were slaughtered across the savannas and forests of Africa and Asia for the ivory trade during 2012. The carnage represents as much as 4 percent of the world's elephant population. Accordingly, some conservationists are warning that elephants face imminent extinction in some of their range countries. While the plight of elephants is increasingly visible due to media coverage, less widely understood is the role religion plays in driving the ivory trade. This issue was explored at length in an explosive cover story published in National Geographic by Bryan Christy last October. The story, titled Blood Ivory, detailed how demand for religious trinkets is driving large-scale killing of Earth's largest land animal.
Scientists point to research flaw that has likely exaggerated the impact of logging in tropical forests
(01/23/2013) The impact of logging on tropical forest species has likely been exaggerated by statistical problems, according to a new study in Conservation Biology. Reviewing 77 studies on how logging affects tropical biodiversity, scientists found that 67 percent were flawed by a technical problem known as 'pseudoreplication.' The debate over logging in tropical forests has garnered significant attention recently as some scientists argue that well-managed logging areas can actually retain impressive numbers of species, while others say logging does irreparable harm to the ecosystem's ecology.
Birds of the Masai Mara - book review
(01/23/2013) Birds of the Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy, is the first dedicated bird book to the Masai Mara region. This handy guidebook, covering over 200 species of birds, on purpose avoids any unnecessary ornithological techno-jargon while presenting the region’s birds using high-quality photographs followed by short text. Building upon the recently published Animals of the Masai Mara, the format of this guidebook is user-friendly and filled with entertaining stories.
Getting intimate with a giant, yet poorly known flightless bird: the cassowary
(01/23/2013) For large, conspicuous, and somewhat notorious animals, relatively little is known about cassowaries, a group of flightless birds that roams the rainforests of Northern Australia and New Guinea. This fact is highlighted in Cassowaries, a recent documentary by Australian journalist and film producer Bianca Keeley. Cassowaries tells the story of cassowaries struggling to survive after a major cyclone destroyed their rainforest home.
Global warming - 56 million years ago
(01/23/2013) Sandy, Irene, Katrina... Hurricanes are fast becoming household names and have many people worried over the connection between extreme weather and the amount of greenhouse gases people are pumping into the atmosphere. No one can predict for sure what will happen decades or centuries from now as such gas concentrations increase. But scientists have a pretty good picture of what did happen in the past; greenhouses gases were released into the atmosphere in massive amounts at least once before—around 56 million years ago.
From the brink of extinction: elephant seals stage remarkable comeback
(01/23/2013) In the 19th century the Northern Pacific Elephant was thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered on an island of Baja California in 1892. Since then, the species has staged a remarkable comeback which was greatly accelerated by protective measures adopted by the U.S. and Mexican governments. The recovery is especially evident on the beaches of California's Año Nuevo State Park. Until the 1950s so individuals were observed in the park. In the 1960s pups started to be born on Año Nuevo's sandy shores. By the 1990s thousands of pups where born each year, capping the elephant seal's turnaround. 'Beachmaster', a new film by Christopher Gervais and Stan Minasian, tells the conservation success story of their recovery.
Split Derivatives – Sandor’s argument for financial innovation for the environment tells us little other than his life story
(01/23/2013) The Petraeus scandal reminded us that all biographers are inappropriately infatuated with their subject matter, and nowhere is this truer than in Richard Sandor's autobiographical memoir.
Photos: Scientists discover tapir bonanza in the Amazon
(01/22/2013) Over 14,000 lowland tapirs (Tapirus terrestris), also known as Brazilian tapirs, roam an Amazonian landscape across Bolivia and Peru, according to new research by scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Using remote camera trapping, thousands of distribution records, and interviews, the researchers estimated the abundance of lowland tapirs in the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program made up of three national parks in Bolivia (Madidi, Pilón Lajas and Apolobamba) and two in Peru (Tambopata and Bahuaja Sonene).
Climate change melting glaciers in the Andes
(01/22/2013) Glaciers are melting faster than ever in the tropical Andes, warns a new study published in The Cryosphere, which puts the blame for vanishing glaciers squarely on climate change. The study — the most comprehensive to date — found that since the 1970s glacier melt in the region has been speeding up, threatening freshwater supplies in Peru and Bolivia.
Save Lolita: new film urges release of captive killer whale
(01/22/2013) Through his new 90-second PSA, Save Lolita, filmmaker Daniel Azarian wanted to connect people to the plight of Lolita on a deeply human level; the only problem: Lolita is an orca, also known as a killer whale. But the stark, moving PSA succeeds, given the sociability of an individual—human or orca—who was stolen from her family and held in captivity for the past 42 years at Miami's Seaquarium.
Obama: 'We will respond to the threat of climate change'
(01/21/2013) In Obama's second inauguration speech today, the newly re-elected president of the U.S. reaffirmed his commitment to taking action on climate during his second term. Noting that ignoring climate change would "betray our children and future generations," Obama argued whole-heartedly for a transition to clean energy.
Living beside a tiger reserve: scientists study compensation for human-wildlife conflict in India
(01/21/2013) During an average year, 87% of households surrounding Kanha Tiger Reserve in Central India report experiencing some kind of conflict with wild animals, according to a new paper in the open-access journal PLOS One. Co-existence with protected, free-roaming wildlife can be a challenge when living at the edge of a tiger reserve. "Local residents most often directly bear the costs of living alongside wildlife and may have limited ability to cope with losses" wrote the authors of the new paper.
Three developing nations move to ban hunting to protect vanishing wildlife
(01/21/2013) Three developing countries have recently toughened hunting regulations believing the changes will better protect vanishing species. Botswana has announced it will ban trophy hunting on public lands beginning in 2014, while Zambia has recently banned any hunting of leopards or lions, both of which are disappearing across Africa. However, the most stringent ban comes from another continent: Costa Rica—often considered one of the "greenest" countries on Earth—has recently passed a law that bans all sport hunting and trapping both inside and outside protected areas. The controversial new law is considered the toughest in the Western Hemisphere.
Telling the story of the father of sea turtle conservation
(01/21/2013) In 1959, visionary Archer Carr founded the world's first conservation group devoted solely to sea turtles. Working with these marine denizens in Costa Rica, Carr was not only instrumental in changing local views of the turtles—which at the time were being hunted and eaten at unsustainable rates—but also in establishing basic practices for sea turtle conservation today. Now a new film by Two-Head Video, Inc. tells the story of Carr's work and the perils still facing marine turtles today.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Local and Regional Policy - a book review
(01/21/2013) The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Local and Regional Policy, edited by Heidi Wittmar and Haripriya Gundimeda, provides thoughtful and actionable approaches to integrate nature’s benefits into decision-making frameworks for local and regional policy and public management institutions. Filled with numerous case studies, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Local and Regional Policy, delivers a compendium of concepts and ideas.
Amazon deforestation rate pacing ahead of last year
(01/18/2013) Data released by Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO, shows that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to pace well ahead of last year's record low rate.
Palm oil sustainability initiative must rule out deforestation, says group
(01/18/2013) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) must implement standards that protect forests and account for greenhouse gas emissions to remain credible, said an environmental group ahead of a that will determine the body's 'Principles and Criteria' for the next five years.
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