Newsletter 2019-01-03


As a pandemic looms, researchers rush to test salamander vulnerability by Morgan Erickson-Davis [12/31/2018]

– Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), the “salamander-eating” fungus, was first described in 2013 after it had almost entirely killed off populations of fire salamanders in Europe. Researchers believe it spread there from Asia via the pet trade.
– Researchers have yet to detect it in North America, but are very worried about its impacts if it arrives. The U.S. is home to more salamander species than any other country, many of which belong to families that are known to be particularly susceptible to the disease.
– Biologists are racing to figure out how different species react to Bsal in an effort to know how it may spread and where best to target conservation efforts.
– So far, most salamander species they’ve tested have been susceptible to Bsal infection. They also found that several frog species can become infected and act as carriers, potentially spreading the pathogen to new areas and ecosystems.

Top 10 happy environmental stories of 2018 by Basten Gokkon [12/31/2018]

– Throughout 2018, efforts to protect habitats and conserve threatened species were driven by governments, scientists, NGOs and indigenous communities.
– The world pledged more conservation funding to protect the oceans, while protections for coastal ecosystems were also boosted.
– Conservation initiatives steered by indigenous communities continue to garner attention and praise, not least because they tend to be more sustainable and effective than top-down programs.
– These were among the upbeat, happy environmental and conservation stories we reported on in 2018.

The biggest rainforest news stories in 2018 by Rhett A. Butler [12/30/2018]

– This is our annual rainforests year in review post.
– Overall, 2018 was not a good year for the planet’s tropical rainforests.
– Rainforest conservation suffered many setbacks, especially in Brazil, the Congo Basin, and Madagascar.
– Colombia was one of the few bright spots for rainforests in 2018.

Cocaine blamed for rising deforestation in Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Park by Vanessa Romo [12/30/2018]

– The cultivation of coca is a burgeoning business in southern Peru, where even forests in protected area are being cleared to make room for coca fields.
– Coca is the plant from which cocaine is produced and is a more lucrative and dependable crop than coffee, which has been a staple crop in the region for years.
– Satellite data and a survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) show increased clearing in and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park due primarily to coca farming.

Devastating Laos dam collapse leads to deforestation of protected forests by Chris Humphrey [12/28/2018]

– The collapse of a dam in southern Laos released five billion cubic meters of water, killing dozens, devastating communities, and forcing thousands to flee.
– The collapse also flooded areas of protected forest. In early September, the Global Land Analysis and Discovery Lab at the University of Maryland began detecting tree cover loss along a 22-mile length of the river. By December 7, more than 7,500 deforestation alerts had been recorded.
– An investigation by Mongabay revealed collateral damage is also taking place as residents harvest wood from both downed trees and living forests in an effort to make ends meet.
– One of the companies involved with the dam reportedly blamed heavy rain and flooding for the collapse, but many have questioned their liability and believe the companies should be providing compensation.

‘Conservation never ends’: 40 years in the kingdom of gorillas by Giannella M. Garrett [12/28/2018]

– While studying Rwanda’s critically endangered mountain gorillas in the 1970s, newlywed graduate students Amy Vedder and Bill Weber learned that the government was considering converting gorilla habitat into a cattle ranch.
– At the time, conventional wisdom held that the mountain gorillas would inevitably go extinct. But Vedder and Weber believed the species could be saved, and proposed a then-revolutionary ecotourism scheme to the Rwandan government.
– Forty years later, that scheme has proved its worth. Mountain gorilla populations have rebounded, and tourism generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Vedder and Weber now work to inspire the next generation of conservationists both in Rwanda and abroad.
– In a series of interviews with Mongabay, Vedder and Weber reflect on a life in conservation.

Brazil: Bolsonaro supporter works to imprison Dorothy Stang’s successor by Daniel Camargos [12/28/2018]

– Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is reportedly considering logger and politician Silvério Fernandes to head the Xingu, Pará, branch of the Brazilian Institute for Settlement and Land Reform (INCRA). Fernandes and other ruralists have accused Father José Amaro Lopes de Souza of serious land reform-related crimes.
– Father Amaro is the successor of U.S. missionary Dorothy Stang, murdered in 2005. Amaro says he committed no crime, though admits to supporting landless worker settlements in Anapu, Pará state. Father Amaro was charged and imprisoned earlier this year and held in proximity to the man convicted of organizing Stang’s murder.
– Land conflicts in Anapu began in the 1970s when Brazil’s military government invited outsiders to occupy land there, with the provision that they could keep it when they produced crops or livestock. Few succeeded, and the land reverted to the state. Later, agrarian reform communities were established which Stang supported.
– She was killed in 2005. Land conflicts simmered after that, with violence erupting after 2015 when the nearby Belo Monte dam was finished and unemployed workers, allegedly prompted by loggers, poured into Anapu to claim land. If Fernandes gets the INCRA title, he’ll hold sway over workers’ settlement policy in the Xingu region.

Disappearing salamanders: New research aims to solve a decades-old mystery by Morgan Erickson-Davis [12/27/2018]

– Southern dusky salamanders used to be abundant in Georgia, Florida and parts of Alabama. But that all changed in the 1970s when researchers started noticing sudden declines throughout their distribution.
– Today, southern duskies are found in less than 1 percent of their former range.
– Researchers are conducting the first range-wide study of the species to try to figure out why exactly so many have vanished and what their disappearance has meant to the surrounding environment.
– The researchers say they hope their results can be used to prevent the southern dusky from becoming extinct, as well as help save other declining salamander species.

With no oil cleanup in sight, Amazon tribes harvest rain for clean water by Dan Collyns [12/27/2018]

– The Siona, Secoya and Kofan indigenous peoples have been living with the consequences of oil drilling in Ecuador’s northeastern Sucumbíos province for several generations.
– Many communities say the oil industry has polluted their sources of water for drinking, cooking and bathing, with grave consequences for their health.
– With the communities, the Ecuadoran government and the U.S. oil company Chevron locked in legal battle over who will pay for a cleanup, and oil still being pumped from beneath the rainforest, the communities are now forging a path around their pollution problems.
– Indigenous communities, with help from a U.S. NGO, have installed more than 1,100 rainwater collection and filtration systems in 70-plus villages to supply clean water. They’ve also set up dozens of solar panels to ensure ample electricity that does not rely on the fossil fuel industry they say has irreparably harmed their home and way of life.


COP24: Green groups warn of pitfalls in ‘forests for climate’ deal by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/03/2019]
– A declaration to protect and use forests as a tool to combat climate change has been lambasted by environmentalists.
– The declaration, initiated by the Polish government during the COP24 climate summit, could promote the burning of wood pellets for bioenergy, the environmentalists warn.
– Wood-based biomass is a controversial and hotly debated topic in climate discussions, with scientists finding it emits up to 50 percent more CO2 than coal. But its proponents, including the U.S. EPA, champion it as a “carbon neutral” source of energy.

Agroforestry helps Tajikistan farmers overcome resource pressures by Daniyar Serikov [01/02/2019]
– Tajikistan is a dry and mountainous country where agroforestry is helping to stabilize soils degraded by decades of monoculture farming during the Soviet era, while growing food and providing cover for wildlife.
– “Alley cropping” is an agroforestry technique being increasingly used in the Fergana Valley, in which vegetable crops or grains are grown between rows of fruit or nut trees that shield the tender annuals from incessant wind and sun.
– Farm sizes are generally small and the population is increasing, but farmers visited by Mongabay report multiple harvests annually with alley cropping and other environmentally friendly techniques.
– Agroforestry also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere in the woody trunks and limbs of trees and vines: it’s estimated that there are currently 45 gigatons of carbon sequestered by these agricultural systems worldwide.

Research links specific 2017 extreme weather events to climate change by [01/02/2019]
– According to the seventh annual special report by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) probing the causal links between rising global temperatures and extreme weather events, issued last month, climate change made the Northern Great Plains drought of 2017 some 1.5 times more likely and greatly enhanced its intensity by driving long-term reductions in soil moisture.
– For the second year in a row, scientists were able to identify specific extreme weather events that cannot be explained without factoring in Earth’s warming global climate.
– A team of 120 scientists from 10 different countries used historical observations and model simulations to produce the 17 peer-reviewed analyses collected in the BAMS special report examining extraordinary weather events from around the globe that were made more likely or exacerbated by anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.

Bolsonaro hands over indigenous land demarcation to agriculture ministry by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [01/02/2019]
– The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has issued an administrative decree shifting the responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from FUNAI, the government’s indigenous affairs office, to the ministry of agriculture.
– Also as part of the decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over the regularization of quilombola territory (land belonging to runaway slave descendants), from the government’s agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the ministry of agriculture.
– Critics responded with alarm, seeing the move as a direct conflict of interest. But the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress has long demanded this government reorganization, which analysts say will give agribusiness the political levers needed to invade and transform indigenous territories and treat forests as an industrial resource.
– Brazil’s indigenous communities are known to be the best stewards of the Amazon. But Bolsonaro’s moves could signal the weakening, or even the dismantling, of the indigenous reserve system. The potentially resulting wholesale deforestation could be a disaster to indigenous peoples, biodiversity, and even the regional and global climate.

Rainforests: storylines to watch in 2019 by Rhett A. Butler [01/02/2019]
– 2018 wasn’t a great year for tropical rainforests, with major conservation setbacks in Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and the United States coming on top of back-to-back years of high forest cover loss.
– Here are ten storylines we’re watching in the world of rainforests as we begin 2019.
– Brazil’s Bolsanaro, Democratic Republic of Congo election outcome, global economic health, Indonesia’s election, biofuel mandates, California forest carbon decision, forest monitoring technology, U.S. politics, and political momentum for biodiversity.

Vietnam’s illegal ivory market continues to thrive, report finds by [01/02/2019]
– Over two surveys conducted between November 2016 and June 2017, TRAFFIC’s researchers found more than 10,000 ivory items being offered on sale across 852 physical outlets and 17 online platforms, suggesting an ivory market that has continued to thrive over the past few decades.
– Physical retail stores in Ho Chi Minh City and Buon Ma Thuot had the highest number of ivory items for sale, the surveys found, but two villages, Ban Don and Lak, had a disproportionately high number of items on sale compared to the number of stores. Among the online platforms, social media sites had the highest number of posts offering ivory for sale.
– The ivory markets in Vietnam are, however, changing constantly. TRAFFIC’s researchers not only found ivory for sale in places where previous studies had found none, they also observed shifts in markets within their two surveys, over just an eight-month period.
– The surveyors also found that the sellers were aware that selling ivory was illegal, but “it does not deter them from offering it openly for sale in Vietnam,” they said.

Once bitten, Indonesia’s indigenous alliance won’t endorse 2019 candidates by Basten Gokkon [01/02/2019]
– In 2014, Indonesia’s main indigenous alliance, AMAN, broke with precedent by endorsing Joko Widodo, then the governor of Jakarta, in the presidential election.
– Widodo won the election campaigning on a platform that made strong overtures to recognition and protection of indigenous communities and their rights and territories.
– But AMAN has refused to endorse Widodo again as he seeks re-election this April, saying the president has fallen far short of the pledges he made to indigenous groups. The alliance is also not endorsing the challenger, Prabowo Subianto.
– AMAN says the president has failed to, among other things, pass a long-awaited indigenous rights bill; establish an independent task force to help protect indigenous rights; resolve conflicts over indigenous lands; and tackle the persecution of indigenous activists across the country.

Top camera trapping stories of 2018 by Sue Palminteri [12/31/2018]
– Camera traps, remotely installed cameras triggered by motion or heat of a passing person or animal, have helped research projects document the occurrence of species, photograph cryptic and nocturnal animals, or describe a vertebrate community in a given area.
– Camera trapping studies are addressing new research and management questions, including document rare events, assess population dynamics, detect poachers, and involve rural landowners in monitoring.
– And with projects generating ever-larger image data sets, they are using volunteers and, more recently, artificial intelligence to analyse the information.

China seizes totoaba swim bladders worth $26 million, arrests 16 by [12/29/2018]
– Chinese customs officials have confiscated 444 kilograms (980 pounds) of totoaba swim bladders, estimated to be worth about $26 million.
– The ongoing Chinese investigation also led to the arrest of 16 people known to be part of a major totoaba trafficking syndicate.
– The illegal totoaba fishery has spelled doom not just for the totoabas themselves, but also for the vaquita, the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, also found only in the Gulf of California.

10 ways conservation tech shifted into auto in 2018 by Sue Palminteri [12/28/2018]
– Conservation scientists are increasingly automating their research and monitoring work, to make their analyses faster and more consistent; moreover, machine learning algorithms and neural networks constantly improve as they process additional information.
– Pattern recognition detects species by their appearance or calls; quantifies changes in vegetation from satellite images; tracks movements by fishing ships on the high seas.
– Automating even part of the analysis process, such as eliminating images with no animals, substantially reduces processing time and cost.
– Automated recognition of target objects requires a reference database: the species and objects used to create the algorithm determine the universe of species and objects the system will then be able to identify.

An expanding frontier: Top 10 global palm oil stories of 2018 by Morgan Erickson-Davis [12/28/2018]
– The world’s palm oil supply used to come almost entirely from just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. But over the past couple decades, interest in the popular commodity crop has increased in other tropical countries around the world.
– Expansion in these new frontiers has had a variety of impacts, from habitat loss and degradation to alleged violation of the land rights of local communities.
– Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite Mongabay stories about palm oil expansion around the world and the issues that affect it.
– A separate post will look at palm oil stories within Indonesia and Malaysia.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, December 28, 2018 by [12/28/2018]
– 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.
– Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.

Deadly tsunami leaves Javan rhinos untouched, but peril persists by Asti Dian [12/28/2018]
– A tsunami that killed more than 400 people in Indonesia has left the last remaining population of Javan rhinos unscathed.
– The species’ last habitat, Ujung Kulon National Park, was hit by the Dec. 22 tsunami caused by an eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano, but the rhinos were not in harm’s way, officials have confirmed.
– The disaster has once again highlighted the constant peril that the species lives under, and strengthened calls to establish a new habitat elsewhere to ensure the survival of the rhino.

Drone 3D models help assess risk of turtle nesting beaches to sea level rise by David Klinges [12/27/2018]
– In a recent study, researchers took drone-based images to map the structure of sea turtle nesting beaches in northern Cyprus to determine their susceptibility to flooding from sea level rise.
– Automated drone flights with on-board cameras can record sequences of photos of the surface below, which can be merged in a process called photogrammetry to construct three-dimensional models of the survey area.
– The fast pace of innovation and versatility of drones can improve sea turtle conservation efforts through cheaper, more efficient monitoring.

New roads for PNG: Path to progress or to environmental devastation? by Camilo Mejia Giraldo [12/27/2018]
– The Papua New Guinea government plans to build more than 3,000 kilometers in new roads in the next five years, with a focus on connecting remote rural areas.
– New roads can help improve services in rural areas and enable farmers bring their crops to market. But some critics say the government’s road-building plans are more focused on allowing extractive industries into remote areas.
– Illegal logging is already a serious problem in PNG, and experts fear that poorly planned roads could increase deforestation in ecologically significant tracts of rainforest.
– China’s growing role in financing infrastructure projects in PNG has also raised concerns.


New roads for PNG: Path to progress or to environmental devastation? by Camilo Mejia Giraldo [12/27/2018]
In India, indigenous youths are filming their own forests and communities by Shreya Dasgupta [12/27/2018]
Māori community reconnects youth with their ancestral forests by Monica Evans [12/26/2018]
Is captive breeding the answer to Indonesia’s songbird crisis? by Nadine Freischlad [12/25/2018]
Copper mine destroying forests in Panama’s Mesoamerican Biological Corridor by José Arcia [12/24/2018]
Critically endangered Philippine eagle hangs on despite horde of threats by Brad Miller [12/24/2018]
Two Indian tribes help reconstruct a forest’s history, in war and in peace by Shreya Dasgupta [12/24/2018]
Investigation reveals illegal cattle ranching in Paraguay’s vanishing Chaco by Aldo Benítez [12/22/2018]
‘Snot otters’ threatened by disease and stress by Liz Kimbrough [12/21/2018]
What makes a forest healthy? Māori knowledge has some answers. by Monica Evans [12/21/2018]
Ten years on, Amazon Fund receives applause, criticism, faces new tests by Fabíola Ortiz [12/21/2018]
Amazon soy boom poses urgent existential threat to landless movement by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [12/20/2018]