Newsletter 2018-08-30


Brazil hits emissions target early, but rising deforestation risks reversal by John C. Cannon [08/23/2018]

– The decline in deforestation between 2016 and 2017 saved emissions of the equivalent of 610 million metric tons (672 million tons) of carbon dioxide from the Brazilian Amazon and 170 million metric tons (187 million tons) from the Cerrado, Brazil’s wooded savanna, according to the Brazilian government.
– The emissions reductions, announced Aug. 9, eclipsed the targets that the Brazilian government set for 2020.
– However, amid rising deforestation over the past few years, particularly in the Amazon, experts have expressed concern that the reductions in emissions might not hold.

Amid corruption scandal, Malaysia switches track on future of rail network by Keith Schneider [08/16/2018]

– Before he was voted out of office and slapped with criminal charges, former prime minister Najib Razak presided over a hugely ambitious rail expansion plan.
– Newly elected prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has suspended several key projects, citing cost overruns and concerns about China’s involvement.
– Public transit programs in the Kuala Lumpur region made significant gains under Najib, but revelations about the nexus of infrastructure projects and corruption leave the future of rail development in question.
– This is the fourth in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia.

Colombia: Govt rushes to save national park from rampant deforestation by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [08/16/2018]

– Reports find more than 3 percent of Tinigua’s forest cover was cleared between February and April 2018. Officials worry the situation will worsen in the near future.
– The Secretary of Environment of the Colombian region of Meta says that the government and other entities are preparing combat deforestation.
– Tinigua Park is the only place in Colombia that connects the Orinoquía, the Andes and the Amazon. The park serves as a corridor for animals such as jaguars, mountain lions and brown woolly monkeys.


Community-run trading posts help Amazon forest people reverse rural exodus by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [08/23/2018]

– Riverine communities along the Xingu River basin in the Brazilian state of Pará are running their own trading posts that are significantly boosting the income of their members.
– By eliminating middlemen, the community-run posts are paying families up to twice as much for their Brazil nuts, rubber and other products collected in the forest.
– By buying in bulk, the posts are also able to sell essential household goods, such as salt, coffee, soap and boots, more cheaply to their members.
– These improvements mean that it is now economically viable for the families to go on living sustainably in the forest, and the rural exodus is being reversed.

Murder of activist in India highlights growing risk to environmental defenders by Karthikeyan Hemalatha [08/23/2018]

– Ajit Maneshwar Naik, a 57-year-old environmental activist who fought against the construction of new dams on the Kali River in the state of Karnataka in India, was killed last month.
– India has one of the highest rates of murders of environmental activists in the world, with 16 activists killed in 2016, up from six in 2015, according to a recent report.
– The city of Dandeli, where Naik worked, is especially notorious for crimes against environmental activists.

Indonesia seeks to get palm oil used as jet fuel in U.S., France by [08/23/2018]

– Indonesia wants the U.S. and France to let Indonesian companies build palm oil jet fuel plants in the Western countries.
– Indonesia’s trade minister said he had conveyed this request to the U.S. and French governments, and made it a condition for future purchases of Boeing and Airbus planes.
– The request comes amid a wider campaign by the Indonesian government to prop up demand for palm oil, of which it is the world’s top producer.

The Arctic’s oldest, thickest ice is breaking up by Gloria Dickie [08/22/2018]

– Strong southerly winds pushed sea ice away from Greenland’s north coast twice this year — a possible first.
– We’re unlikely to see a new record sea ice extent minimum in the Arctic Ocean come September 2018. Sea ice extent in the Arctic is currently clocking in at 5.396 million square kilometers (about 2.1 million square miles). That’s the good news.
– But the melt-out above Greenland has alarming implications for the future. If even the thickest, oldest ice is now susceptible to increased warming and changes in weather, what hope is there for the rest of the Arctic?

Online citizen science data platforms help scientists predict species ranges by Sue Palminteri [08/22/2018]

– Researchers paired museum collection information for two species of spiders, dating back several decades, with more recent information from online citizen science databases and compared them to climate data to find areas with conditions suitable for each species.
– They developed maps of predicted geographic distributions for each species and, despite limited data, their findings suggest ranges of both species have shifted northward over time.
– The researchers highlight the importance of citizen science data in generating long-term data sets on species distributions.

Saving rare orchids that are ‘confusingly difficult’ to grow in labs: Q&A with orchid expert Marc Freestone by Shreya Dasgupta [08/22/2018]

– Leek orchids are a group of small, native wildflowers found in bushlands across southern Australia. Of the 140-odd leek orchids known today, one-third are at risk of extinction, primarily from habitat loss.
– For some of the more threatened leek orchids with just a handful of plants known to exist, captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild might be the only way to save them, researchers say.
– But leek orchids are notoriously difficult to grow in labs, unlike many other orchids that can be easily artificially propagated.
– Mongabay spoke with orchid expert Marc Freestone who is trying to save leek orchids along with his colleagues at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Australia National University.

Is Indonesia’s celebrated antigraft agency missing the corruption for the trees? by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [08/22/2018]

– Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission is perhaps the most trusted institution in a country plagued with graft. But the KPK, as it is known, has prosecuted only a handful of cases in the plantation sector.
– Corruption in the plantation sector is a principle underlying cause of Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis. Our analysis found a range of obstacles preventing the KPK from taking action against corrupt politicians and the unscrupulous companies engaging in large-scale land deals.
– This article is part of the Indonesia for Sale series, produced through a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the London-based investigations house Earthsight.

Environmental issues to be a focus of Indonesian presidential debates: official by Basten GokkonIndra Nugraha [08/21/2018]

– Indonesia is scheduled to hold a presidential election in April next year, and environmental issues have been guaranteed a spot at the debates in the upcoming campaign.
– Much of the corruption that besets the country, particularly at the local level, revolves around the exploitation of natural resources and land, making environmental management a key topic for the candidates to address.
– The April 17 election will be a repeat of the previous vote in 2014, with President Joko Widodo facing off against retired general Prabowo Subianto.

In Brazil, a forest community helps seed new trees far and wide by Ignacio Amigo [08/21/2018]

– Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is dotted with quilombos, communities originally founded by former slaves, some of which have been around for more than 300 years.
– Following the example of indigenous communities in the Xingu area of Mato Grosso state, quilombos in São Paulo state’s Vale do Ribeira region are collecting and selling seeds as a source of income.
– They ship the seeds by mail, in mixed batches called muvuca, to landowners who use them to reforest degraded lands through direct seeding.
– The project has not only helped financially empower the quilombos, but also raised the communities’ understanding and appreciation for the native trees and plants of their land.

Audio: The superb mimicry skills of an Australian songbird by Mike Gaworecki [08/21/2018]

– Today we take a listen to field recordings of the superb lyrebird, an Australian songbird known for its elaborate vocal displays and mimicry of other species’ songs.
– Our guest is Anastasia Dalziell, an ornithologist who has studied the superb lyrebird extensively. Males of the species clear a patch of forest floor for their stage, and sing their complex songs — for which they often borrow the songs of other species — to attract a mate.
– But female superb lyrebirds are also known to sing songs, and to produce calls that capably mimic other species as well as sounds from their environment, such as the creaking of trees blowing in the wind.
– In this Field Notes segment, Anastasia Dalziell tells us all about why scientists think male and female lyrebirds sing their songs and imitate other species — and plays a number of lyrebird songs that she’s recorded out in the field so you can hear their mimicry for yourself.

Poachers caught on video killing mother bear and cubs at den in Alaska by [08/21/2018]

– Two hunters allegedly killed a female bear and her cubs at the animals’ den in April, in violation of hunting laws.
– The mother bear was part of a wildlife study and wore a tracking collar.
– As part of the study, a video camera had been set up near the den and captured the hunters’ alleged actions.
– The U.S. Humane Society says proposed changes to federal hunting laws that would make killing bears in their dens legal are “cruel and unsporting,” while several hunting groups argue that the law changes are necessary to stop the federal government’s overreach into Alaska’s wildlife management.

Fight to protect the world’s most threatened great ape goes to court by Hans Nicholas Jong [08/21/2018]

– Indonesia’s leading environmental watchdog has filed a lawsuit to block a project to build a dam and hydroelectric power plant in the Sumatran habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s newest known and most endangered great ape.
– The lawsuit claims a series of administrative oversights in the project’s environmental impact permit, as well as a breach of zoning laws by building along a known tectonic fault line.
– An online petition has also taken off, with more than 1.3 million people signing to call on President Joko Widodo to scrap the project.
– Opposition to the project has also drawn the attention of top scientists from around the world, who last month signed an open letter to the president to press their case for the habitat to be preserved.

Report finds APP and APRIL violating zero-deforestation policies with wood purchases from Djarum Group concessions in East Kalimantan by Hans Nicholas Jong [08/21/2018]

– Paper giants APP and APRIL might have defaulted on their zero-deforestation commitments, a new report by a coalition of NGOs says.
– The report alleges APP and APRIL purchased wood cut down from natural forest in Indonesian Borneo.
– Both companies have denied the allegations, with APRIL saying the wood was sourced from non-high conservation value (HCV) areas, and APP saying it received the wood after an administrative lapse and had since quarantined the shipment.

Scientists call on California governor to OK carbon credits from forest conservation by [08/21/2018]

– A group of prominent scientists is calling on California governor Jerry Brown to incorporate tropical forest conservation into the state’s cap-and-trade regulation.
– California has been mulling the inclusion of tropical forests in its cap-and-trade regulation, which was authorized by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32), for a decade.
– If California were to adopt the tropical forest standard in its climate law, the move would signal to tropical forests nations that industrialized countries are willing to put money into forest conservation efforts as part of their climate change mitigation frameworks, say the scientists.

Komodo protesters say no to development in the dragons’ den by Basten Gokkon [08/21/2018]

– Two private developers are set to build a restaurant and accommodation on islands that are home to the rare and threatened Komodo dragon in Indonesia.
– Residents have protested the plans, however, saying the giant lizards’ island habitat should be kept in pristine condition.
– They have also questioned the government’s commitment to the conservation of the dragons and their own livelihoods.
– For its part, the government says the developments will have a minimal footprint and will boost tourism revenue.

Wild-caught timber elephants in Myanmar die earlier than captive-born ones by [08/20/2018]

– Myanmar’s wild-caught timber elephants have higher rates of mortality and shorter life spans compared to those born in captivity, a new study has found.
– Among wild-caught individuals, elephants that were captured at older ages were worse off than those caught at younger ages, the researchers found.
– Wild-caught elephants also suffered the highest mortality rates during the first year after capture, which decreased slowly over subsequent years.
– The high number of deaths in the year following capture is likely related to capture-related injuries and trauma, followed by harsh taming, the authors say.

Laos dam collapse highlights global hydropower amnesia (commentary) by Gus Greenstein [08/20/2018]

– The Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam collapse should not be considered an accident. Rather, it resulted from global ignorance of the many downsides of large dams and of well-documented lessons learned over and over again.
– Across the developing world, dams continue to forcibly displace and thereby impoverish millions of people, drain national budgets, emit greenhouse gases, and destroy the ecological balance of entire river basins — balances on which millions of people intimately depend.
– Backed by recent research, here are five key things that governments, development financiers, and other proponents of development-by-dams seem to consistently forget.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘Empty pocket season’: Dayak women farmers grapple with the impacts of oil palm plantations by Tessa Toumbourou [08/20/2018]

– The village of Long Bentuk in Indonesian Borneo is almost completely surrounded by oil palm estates run by large companies.
– While the impacts of being enclaved by oil palm has affected all people in the community, the effect on women has been particularly adverse.
– A recent commitment by Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister may see a greater role for women in land-use decisions across the country.

Fake logging permits undermine Amazonian conservation, say experts by Genevieve Belmaker [08/17/2018]

– System in Brazil for issuing permits found to intentionally overestimate high-value timber species.
– The system for issuing these fraudulent permits has created a fake “surplus” of licensed timber.
– Experts now say that the falsified numbers are contributing to the widespread forest degradation that comes with illegal logging and the overexploitation of Amazonian timber species.

Latam Eco Review: Hunger for wildlife, mercury rising, and a black jaguar sighting by [08/17/2018]

The most popular stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, in the last week investigated how human hunger is driving hunting in Venezuela (and danger for zoo animals, pictured above), how gold miners are contaminating Bolivia’s rivers with mercury, and news of Ecuador’s first wildlife corridor. Economic crisis in Venezuela: Hungry citizens hunt wildlife and zoo […]

Gold mining suspected as cause of Cambodian mass poisonings by Rod Harbinson [08/17/2018]

– In early May, a mass poisoning event in Chetr Borei district in the Cambodian province of Kratie killed at least 13 people and caused acute levels of sickness for up to 300 more.
– An investigation led by Cambodia’s Minister of Industry and Handicraft Cham Prasidh revealed high levels of cyanide in a nearby river, which is the source of drinking water for communities in the region that were affected by poisoning. However, Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed the claim, saying the poisoning was caused by rice wine and agricultural chemicals.
– The Chetr Borei incident was reportedly followed by another mass poisoning of 80 Phnorng indigenous peoples in neighboring Mondulkiri. A resident interviewed for the report claimed that mining operations drilling upstream near the area’s water source was to blame.
– In July, another poisoning incident was reported in which three people died and sixty others were hospitalized in Snuol, Kratie Province. Rice wine was again officially blamed as the cause.

The appeal acquittal of Feisal Mohamed Ali: A victory for rule of law, a process corrupted, or both? (commentary) by Chris Morris [08/17/2018]

– With Kenya still stinging from the humiliation and embarrassment over the translocation-related deaths of 11 rhinos, a Kenyan court declared on August 3 that convicted ivory trafficker Feisal Mohamed Ali was to be set free.
– Lady Justice Dora Chepkwony ruled that he should be acquitted for a number of reasons, ranging from constitutional concerns to original trial irregularities.
– Following Feisal’s conviction, Feisal’s counsel said that the “trial court erred in law and fact [and] that it convicted [Feisal] on the basis of mere suspicion.” The counsel also stated that Feisal had been made a “sacrificial lamb so as to appease the public.” Considering the substantial national and international media attention that this trial had received as well as the political climate at the time, this possibility cannot be ignored.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Researchers weed out a way to identify plants using environmental DNA by Sue Palminteri [08/17/2018]

– Scientists have developed genetic markers to help identify plant species using environmental DNA (eDNA), the traces of biological material (pollen, spores, skin, scales, etc.) that contains an organism’s unique genetic material. Unlike animal DNA, no universal plant DNA markers exist that can be applied across many plant species and still effectively identify specimens to the species level.
– Researchers focused on one diverse aquatic plant group, pondweeds, which function as effective indicators of water conditions and quality, to make their markers as effective as possible in identifying species from water samples.
– The team detected five of the pondweed species in samples from a research reserve in Ontario, three of which were new to the reserve, demonstrating that eDNA analysis can detect plant species in water samples, including those not known from earlier studies to be present.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 17, 2018 by [08/17/2018]

– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.

The Japan pig is a tiny colorful pygmy seahorse smaller than a fingernail by [08/17/2018]

– Scientists have described a new species of pygmy seahorse that’s colorful and smaller than the average fingernail.
– The researchers have officially named the tiny seahorse Japan pig, or Hippocampus japapigu, because local people believe the animal resembles a “tiny baby pig.”
– Unlike other pygmy seahorses, the newly described species has an elevated ridge on its upper back made of triangular bones, the purpose of which is still unclear.
– The Japan pig is now the fifth pygmy seahorse species to be recorded in Japan.

Protected landscape across India-Bhutan border a refuge for wildlife during armed conflict by Sahana Ghosh [08/17/2018]

– From the late 1980s until 2003, ethno-political violence rocked Manas National Park (MNP), home to Bengal tigers and Indian rhinos, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam.
– But a shared border between the park and Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) helped the wildlife find refuge from the human presence. Since the end of the unrest, MNP has managed to preserve its overall animal diversity, according to a new study.
– Extensive camera-trapping exercise across the three ranges of the park have confirmed the presence of 25 mammalian species, including threatened species such as clouded leopards, Asian elephants, Indian hog deer, and swamp deer.

Record-high supply and demand on voluntary carbon markets in 2017: report by [08/16/2018]

– According to a new report released by Ecosystem Marketplace, an initiative of the NGO Forest Trends, the supply of carbon credits on voluntary markets hit an all-time-high in 2017 of 62.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), while 42.8-MtCO2e-worth of offsets were purchased and retired — also a record.
– The number of offsets that have been generated is generally considered to be the best way to estimate the environmental impact of voluntary carbon markets. According to the report: “Since 2005, projects have helped to reduce, sequester, or avoid over 437.1 MtCO2e. That is more than all of Australia’s energy-related emissions in 2016.”
– But Kelley Hamrick, lead author of the report, warns that much of the future growth of the world’s voluntary carbon markets depends on the degree to which compliance markets recognize offsets generated under voluntary systems.

New Caledonia votes to protect coral reefs by [08/16/2018]

– The government of New Caledonia voted on Tuesday to establish marine protected areas across 28,000 square kilometers of waters around the French overseas territory.
– The move safeguards coral reefs, marine habitats, and critical bird nesting areas.
– New Caledonia is known for its rich marine life, including nesting grounds for turtles, humpback whales, and sea birds.


Earth has more trees now than 35 years ago by [08/15/2018]

South American soy fed to EU livestock drives Gran Chaco deforestation by Jenny Gonzales [08/15/2018]

Brazil austerity policies devastating to rural communities: analysis by Anna Sophie Gross [08/14/2018] tracks commodities, links supply chains to deforestation risk by Claire Asher [08/13/2018]