Newsletter 2019-03-21


In Ethiopia, women and faith drive effort to restore biodiversity by Christopher Lett [03/20/2019]

– In Addis Ababa, approximately 35 percent of the household fuelwood – mainly eucalyptus – is systematically gathered from the Entoto Mountains just outside the city.
– Ethiopia historically planted large areas with fast-growing eucalyptus, a non-native species, to meet the demand for fuelwood. But the trees’ water-hogging nature has had a destructive impact on the land.
– There are efforts to reforest areas with native species, supported by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has a tradition of maintaining tree gardens throughout the country.

Bid to protect Borneo’s wild cattle hinges on whether it’s a new species by Budi Baskoro [03/18/2019]

– Only 20 or 30 Bornean banteng are known to remain alive in the wild, all in a single group at the headwaters of the Belantikan River in central Borneo.
– The Bornean banteng is considered to be a subspecies of the banteng found on Java, but some scientists are arguing the animal should be recognized as its own species.
– Local indigenous communities are trying to protect the banteng, invoking customary law to fine their own members and outsiders who hunt it. Community planning has spaced rice fields farther apart so that the banteng have room to travel.

Super variable California salamander is ‘an evolutionist’s dream’ by Shreya Dasgupta [03/18/2019]

– The ensatina is a widespread salamander species that can be found in forests along the entire western coast of North America.
– It is one of only two species that broadly lives up to the “ring species” concept: the ensatina is considered to be a single species, but is characterized by a chain of interconnected populations around California’s Central Valley that can look strikingly different. While the intermediate populations can interbreed, the forms at the southern ends of the loop are so different that they can no longer mate successfully everywhere they meet.
– Ensatinas are among the key predators on the forest floors they occupy, and play a critical role in sequestering carbon.
– Researchers are now trying to figure out if ensatinas and other North American salamanders have any natural defenses against the deadly Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans fungus.

Invasive plants a fast-growing threat to India’s rhinos by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [03/18/2019]

– In 2018, biologists observed the invasive plant Parthenium, known locally as congress grass, establishing itself in grasslands of India’s Pobitora National Park.
– Invasive species threaten protected areas in Assam state, and herbivores like the greater one-horned rhinos that live within them, by crowding out the native plants animals rely on for food.
– Each of Assam state’s four rhino reserves currently faces threats from invasive plants including Parthenium, Mimosa, Mikania and water hyacinth.
– Experts are contemplating the use of several strategies to tackle invasive plants, including manual removal and the introduction of biological control agents such as the Mexican beetle that feeds on Parthenium.

‘It is open season right now’: Martial law intensifies in the Philippines by Brad Miller [03/14/2019]

– A state of martial law was imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017, ostensibly to “suppress lawless violence” on the island of Mindanao. A military representative says military presence in villages is a “Community Support Program Team Deployment,” which is implemented in “conflict-affected areas.”
– However, residents say it has only brought harassment, threats and danger to indigenous people and the organizations assisting them in their struggle for what they say is their ancestral land. They claim soldiers routinely come to their houses, sometimes in full battle gear and multiple times in a day, in order to profile them, conduct interrogations and coerce them to “surrender” as members of a communist insurgent group.
– Residents report being wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. Most recently, a regional human rights organization alleges one of its staff members, Gleceria Balangiao and her mother had been detained by the military and coerced into signing a statement saying they are members of the insurgent group. Balangiao alleges she was threatened that if she refused to sign, harm would come to her family.
– Local and regional organizations say military activity is centered in communities where residents say have been pressured to grow palm oil. An international investigation concluded that “the use of the Army troops and military deployment in communities with struggles for land and ancestral domain are clearly used to pursue the interests of corporate plantations.”


Hard news from the Soft Commodities Forum (commentary) by David Cleary [03/21/2019]
– Something very significant for conservation happened recently, but only a few media outlets picked up on it. You can kind of understand why: a commitment by a group of soy traders to “a common framework for reporting, monitoring and progress on transparent and traceable supply chains for soy in Brazil’s Cerrado region” doesn’t exactly set pulses racing.
– Somebody needs to have a word with the communications staff at the companies involved: they would have been better advised to frame it as “Major global soy traders go beyond deforestation commitments to cover all ecosystems for the first time, in a place that actually matters to their business.”
– The commitment in the Cerrado is a big deal, but there is still a lot to be done. Knowing how much a trader is sourcing from the Cerrado is only a first step. The next and more important step is knowing how much of that sourcing is conversion-free and driving that percentage up over time.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘Nothing was left’: Flash floods, landslides hit Indonesia’s Papua region by Asrida Elisabeth, Della Syahni, Lusia Arumingtyas [03/21/2019]
– Flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain hit Indonesia’s Cyclops Mountains in Papua province on March 17, killing nearly 90 people and displacing thousands.
– The country’s disaster mitigation agency has cited human-caused deforestation as contributing to the scale of the damage.
– Indonesia’s environment ministry has called for a review of zoning plans for the housing settlements around the Cyclops Mountains, but denies that massive logging has occurred in the area.

Forests scramble to absorb carbon as emissions continue to increase by Taran Volckhausen [03/21/2019]
– A recent study suggests global forests are absorbing more carbon dioxide as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations increase — but that they still can’t keep up with runaway CO2 emissions.
– The study finds that tropical forests, where growth is more robust, are more effective per given area at removing carbon from the atmosphere.
– Researchers say there’s still uncertainty about the ability of forests to increase their carbon-absorption capacity over the long term, especially if the climate heats up past a certain point.

Companies to miss 2020 zero-deforestation deadline, report says by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/21/2019]
– Major companies around the world with a self-imposed deadline of ending tropical deforestation in their supply chains by 2020 won’t meet the target, a report released for International Forest Day says.
– The “Forest 500” report is an annual assessment of the zero-deforestation commitments made by 350 companies involved in four commodities — cattle, palm oil, soy and timber — and the 150 financial institutions bankrolling them.
– Those commodities are responsible for the bulk of agricultural expansion in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Agricultural expansion, in turn, is responsible for most of the deforestation in these regions.
– The report calls on the companies it assesses to do more to ensure their actions match their rhetoric on ending deforestation, regardless of the unlikelihood of meeting the 2020 deadline.

Mongabay’s top 5 forests stories of 2019 (so far) for International Forests Day by [03/20/2019]
Forests have been at the core of Mongabay’s coverage since our founding 20 years ago. So for the International Day of Forests 2019, below are the top 5 most read stories about forests published so far this year at our site, in no particular order. You can also read all of our stories about forests […]

Tapirs could be key in helping degraded rainforests bounce back by [03/20/2019]
– A new study has found that lowland tapirs spend more time in degraded forests than in pristine Amazon rainforest.
– They also defecate and deposit three times more seeds in these degraded areas.
– The results indicate that tapirs may help human-affected forests recover and grow back.

‘The ultimate agricultural practice’: Q&A with organizers of World Agroforestry Congress 2019 by Erik Hoffner [03/20/2019]
– Agroforestry is an agricultural technique that combines growing trees alongside shrubs, crops and livestock in a system that produces food, supports biodiversity, builds soil horizons and water tables, and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. Mongabay has been publishing a special series on its implementation and impact worldwide.
– The 2019 World Agroforestry Congress in Montpellier, France, from May 20-22, aims to bridge the gap between agroforestry science and its practical implementation worldwide.
– Mongabay interviewed two of the key people involved, including congress organizer Emmanuel Torquebiau, who is also a senior scientist with the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).
– Keynote speaker Christian Dupraz is a senior scientist at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and also shared his thoughts about the goals and potential of the event.

Protecting small, old-growth forests fails to preserve bird diversity: Study by [03/20/2019]
– Recent research suggests that designating small fragments of old-growth temperate forests as protected areas is not sufficient to halt loss of bird diversity, and that better monitoring and management of forests is required to achieve conservation goals.
– A research team led by Jeffrey Brown, a doctoral student at Rutgers University in the U.S., used data spanning a 40-year time period to study bird populations in Mettler’s Woods, a 64-acre old-growth forest within the Rutgers-owned William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest in the state of New Jersey.
– Mettler’s Woods is one of the last uncut stands of oak-hickory forest to be found in the United States. It would, on its surface, appear to provide ideal habitat for many bird species. But nine birds known to historically inhabit the forest no longer nest there, and many other species have lower populations than expected.

Chilean law pits indigenous people against salmon industry by Michelle Carrere [03/20/2019]
– Last fall, Chile’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the indigenous community of Pu Wapi in its quest to manage 80 square kilometers (31 square miles) of marine habitat in southern Chile.
– The ruling means that local officials must reconsider the community’s application to designate a so-called Coastal Marine Space of Native Origin (ECMPO in its Spanish initials).
– The law enabling indigenous communities to establish ECMPOs has been questioned for prioritizing the demands of native peoples over those of other users in coastal areas, with the salmon fishing and aquaculture industry a particularly vocal opponent.

Bolsonaro on the move: International meetings push agribusiness agenda by Jenny Gonzales [03/20/2019]
– On his first trip outside Brazil to meet with a head of state, Jair Bolsonaro met with Donald Trump at the White House this week. Bolsonaro also visited the CIA and dined with Trump former strategist Steve Bannon, believed to have had a role in helping Bolsonaro get elected.
– Bolsonaro and Trump are known to have discussed trade, but their meeting was conducted in secret. Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” has long expressed his interest in stronger U.S. relations, though Brazil’s agriculture minister is also courting China (U.S./China trade relations remain frosty, and Brazil hopes to sell more of its soy to the Asian nation).
– In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bolsonaro stated that the Brazilian government wants more agreements with the United States in a number of areas, especially mining and agriculture. He added that there is much to be discovered in the Amazon, a likely reference to untapped resources and agribusiness possibilities there.
– During the visit, a letter of intent was signed between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) “to work toward the launch of the first-ever biodiversity-focused impact-investment fund for the Brazilian Amazon,” with the US$100 million fund to be financed largely by the private sector.

Sea otters leave behind unique archaeological traces, study finds by [03/20/2019]
– Sea otters are the only marine mammals known to use stone tools. Now, a new study has found that by striking shells on rocks, sea otters leave behind distinct archaeological signatures.
– These marks can be used to trace sea otters in locations where they are now extinct.
– The study also found clear damage patterns on mussel shells left around the stationary rocks. These shell break patterns provide a new way to distinguish the evidence of sea otter food consumption from that of humans, researchers say.

Indonesia wins $2.52 million settlement for coral damage by foreign ships by Basten Gokkon [03/19/2019]
– In 2017, two foreign-flagged ships struck coral reefs in the Bangka-Belitung archipelago off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, damaging more than 18,000 square meters (4.5 acres) of reefs.
– The Indonesian government announced this month that it had reached a settlement with the operators of both ships, who have agreed to pay a combined $2.52 million for the damage.
– The government says it will allocate a third of the money to direct restoration efforts for the damaged reefs, while the rest will be collected as state revenue.

Audio: What underwater sounds can tell us about Indian Ocean humpback dolphins by Mike Gaworecki [03/19/2019]
– On today’s episode, we speak with marine biologist Isha Bopardikar, an independent researcher who is using bioacoustics to study humpback dolphins off the west coast of India.
– Last month, Mongabay’s India bureau published an article with the headline “What underwater sounds tell us about marine life.” As Mongabay contributor Sejal Mehta notes in the piece, the world beneath the ocean’s surface is a noisy place, with animals sounding off for a number of purposes. Now, of course, humanity is interjecting more and more frequently, intruding on the underwater soundscape.
– As Isha Bopardikar tells Mehta in the Mongabay India piece, in order to understand how marine animals use the underwater space and how human activities affect their behavior, we need hard data. That’s where her current work off the west coast of India comes in. In this Fields Notes segment, Bopardikar plays for us some of her dolphin recordings and explains how they are informing her research.

Brazil’s key deforestation drivers: Pasture, cropland, land speculation by Alicia Prager [03/19/2019]
– New research shows that the expansion of cropland (row crops) in Brazil nearly doubled between 2000 and 2014, from 26 million hectares (100,387 square miles) to 46.5 million hectares (179,538 square miles).
– 80 percent of new cropland in Brazil came as a result of the conversion of pastures, while only 20 percent resulted from the direct conversion of native vegetation to croplands, especially soy.
– However, while pastureland “absorbs” cropland expansion, and displaces it away from forests, studies show Brazilian deforestation to be most highly driven by land speculation, whereby land speculators deforest an area, possibly selling off the timber, then converting the land to pasture, and then again quickly selling the land to a soy producer at a much increased price.
– Study data also confirmed a strong correlation between the implementation of the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium and declines in forest-to-soy direct conversion. However, Amazon conversion to pasturelands remains high. Meanwhile, the Cerrado savannah has seen rapid deforestation due to both pasturelands and soy plantations.

An island mapped for mines gets a reprieve after violent protests by Kamarudin [03/19/2019]
– Residents of Wawonii have staged huge protests demanding the cancellation of mining permits on the island, located in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province.
– Last week, the deputy governor of Southeast Sulawesi, Lukman Abunawas, said he and Governor Ali Mazi had decided to revoke the permits, promising to do so within 10 days.
– The announcement came after a video surfaced showing police officers beating a student taking part in the protests.

Tear down the dams: New coalition strives to enshrine rights of orcas by Gianluca Cerullo [03/19/2019]
– A new coalition of scientists, indigenous peoples, community groups and lawyers is pushing for legal recognition of the rights of an endangered orca population living in the Salish Sea.
– The population, known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales, numbers just 75 individuals, down from 98 in 1995.
– The orcas are imperiled by noise and chemical pollution, the impending construction of Canada’s Trans-Mountain pipeline, and, most of all, severe salmon shortages caused by the damming of the rivers that feed into the sea.

As Arctic neared 2019 winter max, Bering Sea was virtually ice-free by Gloria Dickie [03/18/2019]
– Though yet to be called officially by scientists, Arctic sea ice extent appeared to hit its annual maximum on March 13 when it covered 14.777 million square kilometers. The 2019 max stats are among the top ten lowest on record, and well below the 1981-2010 average maximum extent of 15.64 million square kilometers.
– One thing that stood out this winter was the extraordinarily low amounts of ice in the Bering Sea at the start of March, surpassing record lows seen in 2018 for the same dates. Seasonal ice in the Bering Sea is already known to be volatile, but it’s getting worse under climate change.
– A new study also found something remarkable on the opposite side of the Arctic: in recent years, according to the research, Greenland has been receiving more rain, including in winter.
– These rain events are triggering sudden, rapid ice melt and are responsible for a tremendous amount of annual runoff. Ultimately, these rains could prove catastrophic for the Greenland ice sheet, and for sea level rise.

Investors warn soy giants of backlash over deforestation in South America by James Fair [03/18/2019]
– Investors have called on the world’s biggest soy companies to make firm commitments to end deforestation in wildlife-rich areas of South America such as the Cerrado and Gran Chaco.
– Those that fail to do so risk being exposed by environmental activists to consumer boycotts, legal action and falling profits, experts warn.
– Investors are leading the way as companies fail to appreciate the scale of the crisis, campaigners say.

Possible vaquita death accompanies announcement that only 10 are left by [03/18/2019]
– The environmental organization Sea Shepherd said it found a dead vaquita in a gillnet on March 12.
– One day later, scientists from the group CIRVA announced that around 10 — as many as 22 or as few as six — vaquitas survive in the Gulf of California.
– Despite a ban on gillnets used catch totoaba, a fish prized for its swim bladders used in traditional Chinese medicine, vaquita numbers have continued to decline.

Latam Eco Review: Bolivia’s Batman and Peru’s birdy cave drawings by [03/16/2019]
A biologist known as Bolivia’s Batman, ground zero for Amazon deforestation in Peru, and camera traps showing the bird species from ancient cave drawings were among the top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Bolivia’s Batman: “There are many more bat species here” “Colombia gets the gold medal” for having the highest number of […]

Study identifies climate-resilient trees to help orangutan conservation by Taran Volckhausen [03/15/2019]
– Once written off as lost cause for conservation, Indonesia’s Kutai National Park supports one of the last intact forest canopies on Borneo’s eastern coast, a habitat for the critically endangered East Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus morio).
– An IUCN study funded through the Indianapolis Zoological Society has identified tree species native to Kutai National Park that are resilient to climate change and support orangutan populations.
– Climate change has become an emerging threat that is likely to intensify drought conditions and wildfires. Currently, land settlement and human-caused fires pose the greatest existential threat to the park’s ecosystem functions and biodiversity.
– The study authors recommended that the fire-resistant native trees they identified in the study be planted in buffer zones around fire-prone areas. They hope the study will help spur research to enable forest restoration in other parts of the world.

AI and drone-based imagery improve power to survey cryptic animals by Sue Palminteri [03/15/2019]
– Developing effective management strategies for threatened species like koalas requires knowing where and how many are in a target area, but surveying cryptic low-density animals can lead to variable estimates.
– A recent study has introduced a new automated method for wildlife detection using a pair of object detection machine learning algorithms to detect animals’ heat signatures in drone-derived thermal imaging.
– By understanding error rates of different survey methods and including appropriate technology, the researchers say, wildlife monitoring can become more efficient and effective.

Europe, in bid to phase out palm biofuel, leaves fans and foes dismayed by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/15/2019]
– Both palm oil producers and environmental activists alike have expressed dismay with a move by European officials to phase out palm-oil based biofuel by 2030.
– Officials in Indonesia and Malaysia, which together produce 85 percent of global supply of the commodity, say the move is discriminatory and have vowed a vigorous response, including lobbying EU member states to oppose it, bringing the matter before the WTO, and imposing retaliatory measures on goods from the EU.
– Environmental activists say the policy doesn’t go far enough, leaving loopholes that will allow palm oil produced under certain circumstances to continue being treated as a renewable fuel, thereby allowing for the expansion of palm estates into peat forests.
– They have also criticized the policy’s failure to label soybean oil as high risk, in light of growing evidence that deforestation linked to the cultivation of soy may be just as bad as or worse than that of palm oil.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, March 15, 2019 by [03/15/2019]
– 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.

Indigenous Waorani, protesting ‘rushed’ hearing, shut down court with song by Kimberley Brown [03/15/2019]
– The indigenous Waorani community filed a lawsuit against the Ecuadoran government in February for allegedly failing to properly consult with them before attempting to auction off Waorani land for oil drilling.
– At their first hearing, on March 13, Waorani women sang in the courtroom and refused to let the hearing go on, until finally the judge deferred it.
– The Waorani women were protesting what they felt was a rushed hearing held in the city of Puyo rather than in their territory in the Amazon, and the lack of a community-approved translator.

New maps show where humans are pushing species closer to extinction by John C. Cannon [03/15/2019]
– A new study maps out how disruptive human changes to the environment affect the individual ranges of more than 5,400 mammal, bird and amphibian species around the world.
– Almost a quarter of the species are threatened by human impacts in more than 90 percent of their range, and at least one human impact occurred in an average of 38 percent of the range of a given species.
– The study also identified “cool” spots, where concentrations of species aren’t negatively impacted by humans.
– The researchers say these “refugia” are good targets for conservation efforts.

Indonesia’s tuna fisheries seek out sustainability certification by Basten Gokkon [03/15/2019]
– One tuna fishing operation in Indonesia has been certified for its sustainable practices, and at least a dozen more are seeking similar certification to meet growing global demand for eco-labeled seafood.
– Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of tuna, but its fisheries have long been plagued by poaching and destructive fishing practices.
– NGOs working with local fishing communities have called on the government to do more to support the drive toward sustainable fishing certification, given the costs of undergoing the necessary assessment and implementing operational changes.

Sri Lanka’s new ‘green tax’ not a hit with drivers or environmentalists by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [03/14/2019]
– Sri Lanka has introduced a revised carbon tax through the government’s 2019 budget to generate about $14 million a year in revenue for its debt-strapped economy.
– Older and hybrid vehicles are to be heavily taxed, while electric cars are exempted.
– Critics say the way the tax is levied — not on a car’s emission levels, but rather on its model year — means it won’t be effective in sparking a change in consumer preference for fully electric vehicles.
– They also say the tax unfairly targets consumers, when it should instead target industry.


Brazil to build long-resisted Amazon transmission line on indigenous land by Jan Rocha [03/13/2019]