Newsletter 2019-10-03



Indonesian enforcement questioned as fires flare up on the same concessions by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/03/2019]

– Indonesia says it plans to impose stricter punishment for plantation companies with recurring instances of fire on their concessions, including permanently revoking their permits.
– Several of the companies whose concessions have been burning this year were also at the heart of the 2015 fires.
– Activists say the fact that the problem is recurring on the same concessions highlights the government’s failure to adequately punish the companies.
– A Greenpeace report has found no meaningful action taken against palm oil companies guilty of burning since 2015, and inconsistent enforcement against pulpwood companies during that same period.

A newborn dies amid Indonesia fire crisis, as parents fear for their kids’ health by Suryadi [09/27/2019]

– A newborn child in Indonesia’s Riau province has become one of the latest fatalities of the haze blanketing large swaths of the region as a result of fires burning through Sumatra’s forests.
– Nearly 30,000 people in Riau alone have suffered from acute respiratory infections during this year’s fires, and nearly 310,000 have been affected by eye and skin irritation, dizziness and vomiting.
– Among those reporting worrying symptoms are pregnant women, one of whom said she’d miscarried five years earlier during a similar haze crisis.
– The fires burn nearly every year, emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases that have helped keep Indonesia among the top carbon polluters worldwide and spreading haze as far as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.


Finally, Latin America is tackling wildlife trafficking (commentary) by Susan Lieberman [10/02/2019]
– On October 3-4, a High Level International Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Americas will take place in Lima, Peru. This is the first-ever such conference organized exclusively around wildlife trafficking in the Americas, with particular focus on South and Central America. Why has it taken so long, and why is it so important?
– Latin America is the single most biologically diverse region in the world, and trade in its wildlife, including illegal trade, is not a new issue. Latin America’s unique and precious wildlife has endured threats from illegal and unsustainable commercial trade, both domestic and international, for decades—and in some cases, even longer.
– There are still large intact forest and grassland habitats across the region, and populations of species that can either be maintained or restored, if strong action is taken today. Preventive measures can and must be taken now, to ensure that Latin America’s wildlife thrives, from Mexico to the tip of Patagonia.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Bid to breed Sumatran rhino is handicapped by bureaucratic ‘quibbling’ by Basten Gokkon [10/02/2019]
– A group of international scientists working in Malaysia have successfully extracted an egg cell from the country’s last Sumatran rhino and injected sperm into it, in a last-ditch attempt at breeding the world’s most threatened rhino species.
– However, the scientists say the prospects of a successful fertilization are “not bright,” given the poor quality of the genetic samples they had to work with.
– They blame a bureaucratic impasse between Malaysia and Indonesia for depriving them of high-quality sperm from rhinos held in captivity in Indonesia, which they say would have given a better chance of fertilization.
– An Indonesian official says no exchange of genetic material, including sperm and eggs, can proceed until the requisite paperwork is signed, but conservationists say this is “quibbling” at a time when the species faces extinction.

Report links major brands to illegal oil palm plantation in orangutan haven by Basten Gokkon [10/02/2019]
– Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Hershey are among several global brands sourcing some of their palm oil from an illegal plantation in an Indonesian forest that’s home to the highest density of orangutans anywhere on Earth, a report says.
– The findings are based on an investigation by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which found that palm fruit in Sumatra’s Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve was being processed at nearby mills and sold on to global traders who supply global major consumer companies.
– The companies and traders identified all subscribe to the practice of “No Deforestation, No Peatlands, No Exploitation” (NDPE); the companies have reportedly said they will verify the findings.
– In the past 10 years, more than 3,000 hectares of critical lowland forest habitat within Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve has been cleared, largely for new oil palm plantations.

Manila’s informal settlers face relocation in exchange for clean bay by Micah Castelo [10/02/2019]
– The Philippine government has begun the process of relocating more than 200,000 families living along waterways to restore Manila Bay, the main body of water in the capital.
– Some residents worry about their impending displacement, citing a lack of jobs in resettlement sites.
– Relocating informal settlers is part of a seven-year program to rehabilitate Manila Bay, one of the most polluted bodies of the water in Metro Manila.
– Increased rainfall due to extreme weather events poses threats to informal settlers in the area as it could cause landslides and flooding.

Audio: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway with Mongabay’s John Cannon by Mike Gaworecki [10/01/2019]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Mongabay staff writer John Cannon, who traveled the length of the Pan Borneo Highway in July and wrote a series of reports for Mongabay detailing what he discovered on the journey.
– The Pan Borneo Highway is expected to make commerce and travel easier in a region that is notoriously difficult to navigate, and also to encourage tourists to see the states’ cultural treasures and rich wildlife. But from the outset, scientists and conservationists have warned that the highway is likely to harm that very same wildlife by dividing populations and degrading habitat.
– Cannon undertook his 3-week reporting trip down the Pan Borneo Highway in an attempt to understand both the positive and negative effects the road could have on local communities, wildlife, and ecosystems, and he’s here to tell us what he found.

‘We have to be in it together’: Remembering indigenous rights heroine Den Upa Rombelayuk (commentary) by Masha Kardashevskaya [10/01/2019]
– This summer, Den Upa Rombelayuk, a Torajan woman who helped found AMAN, Indonesia’s main advocacy group for indigenous rights, passed away.
– To honor her legacy, I would like to share her thoughts from our conversation back in 2012.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazilian state complicit in violence against forest defenders, report says by Naira Hofmeister [10/01/2019]
– A report by Human Rights Watch details 28 murders and 44 murder attempts or death threats since 2015 in the Brazilian Amazon, in which the victims were targeted for reporting illegal loggers.
– Impunity is the norm: very few cases make it to court, reports of intimidation are ignored by the authorities, the police make serious omissions in investigations, and the federal protection program for defenders is ineffective. The HRW report’s author says criminals “are empowered: they believe that they can do whatever they want.”
– Indigenous initiatives to monitor and patrol their territories have compensated for cuts in funding and human resources for public environmental agencies, but have placed these communities at greater risk of retaliation.
– Violence against defenders of the forest has been a recurring problem for many years, but it has increased under the Bolsonaro administration, which has sabotaged efforts to combat it, withdrawing from Brazil’s commitments assumed in the Paris Agreement to eliminate illegal logging in the Amazon by 2030.

Fires still being set in blazing Bolivia (commentary) by Claire Wordley [10/01/2019]
– Firefighters in Bolivia are tackling conflagrations that have burned an area larger than Costa Rica. Several national parks and Indigenous territories have been affected.
– Many Indigenous and civil society groups are calling for an end to laws that allow burning.
– I spoke to ecologists and biologists about what is being lost, and what the chances of recovery are for affected areas. Some did not want to be named, as the political situation is tense right now in the run up to Bolivia’s October elections.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesia defers legislation seen as harming the environment — for now by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/01/2019]
– Indonesia’s outgoing parliament has decided to hold off passing a slate of new bills, including on mining and on land reforms, that have been criticized as being pro-business and anti-environment.
– The decision comes amid massive student-led protests across the country in response to the earlier passage of another contentious bill widely seen as weakening the national anti-corruption agency.
– The postponement means the incoming batch of legislators will decide on the bills, but activists point out that they won’t have to start their deliberations from scratch, thanks to a “carry-over” mechanism that will allow them to resume their predecessors’ work.
– The prospect of the bills being passed swiftly appears even likelier given that nearly 60 percent of the new batch of legislators are the outgoing legislators who have been re-elected.

Martial law in Mindanao takes deadly toll on land, environmental defenders by Bong S. Sarmiento [10/01/2019]
– The island of Mindanao has long been the deadliest place in the Philippines for individuals defending their land and environment from extractives and agribusiness interests.
– The threat to these defenders escalated with the imposition in 2017 of a state of martial law across Mindanao, meant to help the government root out terrorists who had seized the city of Marawi.
– Under the pretext of security operations, however, the military has ramped up its targeting of land and environmental defenders, according to the watchdog group Global Witness.
– Global Witness named the Philippines the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders in 2018, recording at least 30 killings that year.

The climate crisis and the pain of losing what we love (commentary) by Glenn Scherer [09/30/2019]
– World leaders came to the UN last week to decisively tackle climate change again. “This is not a negotiation summit because we don’t negotiate with nature. This is a Climate Action Summit!” declared the UN Secretary-General. But again, global leaders failed and committed to carbon cuts that fall far short of curbing catastrophe.
– In doing so, our leaders committed us to an escalating global environmental crisis that is already unleashing vast changes across Earth’s ecosystems — with many sweeping alterations charted by our scientists, but many other local shifts and absences only noted by those who observe and cherish wild things.
– The loss of familiar weather patterns, plants and animals (from monarchs to native bees) and an invasion of opportunistic living things (Japanese knotweed to Asian longhorned ticks) can foster feelings of vertigo — of being a stranger in a strange land — emotions, so personal and rubbing so raw, they can be hard to describe.
– So I’ve tried to express my own feelings for one place, Vermont, my home, that is today seeing rapid change. At the end of this piece, Mongabay invites you to tally your own natural losses. We’ll share your responses in a later story. This post is a commentary. Views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Cheetahs, CITES, and illegal trade: Are consumer countries doing enough? (commentary) by Sarah Durant [09/30/2019]
– The capacity of CITES to fairly balance the voices of countries that harbor source populations of endangered species subject to international trafficking with the voices of consumer countries is vital.
– Cheetahs are a case in point: Confined to less than 10 percent of their former distributional range with only 7,000 individuals left, the species is facing a significant threat from illegal trade in parts of its range. A demand for live animals as pets, primarily as cubs, is fueled by social media that glamorizes the keeping of these animals, with the Gulf States identified as a key market for this trade. All international trade in wild-caught cheetah cubs violates CITES and is illegal, and the trade in cubs is thought to be a key driver of decline in the cheetah population in the Horn of Africa.
– Yet at the recent CITES CoP, countries chose to ignore these threats and downgraded efforts to combat illegal trade in cheetahs despite concerns raised by many African range states and conservation organizations.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

New app tracks down forest fires in Bolivia by John C. Cannon [09/30/2019]
– A new app uses aerosol data and recent satellite images to find fires in the forests of Bolivia in real time.
– The application’s creators, from the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, say the novel use of the aerosol data, originally intended to monitor air quality, represents a significant advance over traditional, temperature-related alerts.
– According to the NGO Friends of Nature Foundation, more than 41,000 square kilometers (15,800 square miles) of Bolivia has burned in 2019.

Restoring Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, one small farm at a time by Junaidi Hanafiah [09/30/2019]
– An initiative in Indonesia’s Aceh province is engaging local farmers in restoring parts of the biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem by allowing them to farm and reforest tracts of land previously used for illegal oil palm plantations.
– The forest is the last place on Earth where critically endangered elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers all still exist in the wild, but is being lost to encroachment for illegal plantations.
– Under the initiative, farmers are trained to plant tropical hardwoods as well as fruit and vegetable crops from which they can make a sustainable living.
– Only long-degraded land from past encroachment qualifies, removing any incentive for someone to damage land then apply for a management license.

Climate justice advocates at UN: ‘Come with plans not speeches’ by Peter Deneen [09/27/2019]
– As the Peoples’ Summit on Climate, Rights and Human Survival convened in New York last weekend, leaders had a call to action for attendees: bring solutions.
– The climate justice movement meeting brought human rights and climate leaders together for one of the most prominent such gathering to date.
– The meetings came amid debates over aggressively gutted environmental safeguards by the US, including its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Nature-based climate action no longer ‘the forgotten solution’ by Mike Gaworecki [09/27/2019]
– At the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) held in San Francisco last year, nature-based solutions to the climate crisis — like keeping forests standing and restoring degraded ecosystems to enhance their carbon storage potential — were referred to as “the forgotten solution.”
– Though conservation of forests and other landscapes could be playing a crucial role in mitigating global climate change, renowned conservationist and UN messenger for peace Dr. Jane Goodall, in a speech delivered last September at the GCAS, said she had personally attended a number of conferences where forests went unmentioned. “Saving the forest is one third of the solution,” Goodall said. “We must not let it be the forgotten solution.”
– That message appears to have been heeded by a number of governments, companies, and civil society groups who committed to major nature-based climate initiatives at the UN Climate Summit held last Monday and the NYC Climate Week that concludes this weekend.

Gabon could earn up to $150 million for forest conservation by [09/27/2019]
– Home to 12 percent of the Congo Basin’s forests, the African nation has an established conservation and sustainable management practices track record.
– Since the early 2000s, Gabon has worked to create 13 national parks, while improving performance on timber resource management outside of the parks.
– Gabon’s rainforest has been largely preserved by these and other measures, a key reason why the Central African Rainforest Initiative is brokering a 10-year, $150 million agreement for results-based payments.

‘Vulture restaurants’ provide lifeline for critically endangered species by Abhaya Raj Joshi [09/27/2019]
– After a crash in vulture populations in South Asia in the 1990s, several species are rebounding in Nepal thanks to a ban on the drug diclofenac along with community efforts.
– “Vulture restaurants” have been opened to save the birds from extinction by providing them with safe food and building awareness of their imperiled status.
– Conservationists say broader efforts, such as regular monitoring of the remaining population and conservation of their habitat, are needed to save vultures.

Give it back to the gods: Reviving Māori tradition to protect marine life by Monica Evans [09/27/2019]
– Ra’ui is an ancient Polynesian form of resource management in which traditional leaders close designated areas to the harvest of key species.
– While the power of ra’ui remains strong in the outer Cook Islands, where local tradition often trumps national decree, the system fell into disuse on the largest and most populous island of Rarotonga half a century ago.
– There, traditional leaders briefly and successfully revived the ra’ui system two decades ago, only for it to falter again in recent years.
– Today, traditional leaders in the Cook Islands are cautiously optimistic that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire marine territory as a mixed-use protected area will help reinvigorate ra’ui across Rarotonga.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, September 27, 2019 by John C. Cannon [09/27/2019]
– 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.

Indonesia rushes to pass bill seen as pandering to mining companies by Hans Nicholas Jong [09/27/2019]
– Indonesia’s parliament is rushing to pass a controversial mining bill by Sept. 30, when the current legislators’ term ends.
– President Joko Widodo had previously asked for deliberations of this bill and other contentious pieces of legislation to be suspended, following massive student-led protests that have turned deadly.
– Watchdogs say the bill panders to the interests of mining companies, granting them bigger concessions, longer contracts, and fewer environmental obligations.
– The Widodo administration has also criticized parliament’s rush to pass the bill, but legislators say they are within their rights to do so.

Top Madagascar beer maker supports investigation into its corn supply chain by Malavika Vyawahare [09/27/2019]
– Madagascar brewer STAR, owned by the French Castel group, is under pressure for allegedly sourcing maize from a rapidly deforesting area in the country’s west.
– It has agreed to support an independent study led by Malagasy NGO Association Fanamby to investigate whether the maize in its supply chain is linked to deforestation in the Menabe Antimena protected area.
– The protected area hosts endangered and endemic species like the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae) and the Malagasy giant rat (Hypogeomys antimena).
– More than one-fifth of the dry deciduous forest in Menabe Antimena was lost between 2006 and 2016, and there are no signs of the deforestation abating.

Wildfires spread to planned site of new Indonesian capital by Yovanda [09/26/2019]
– Fires raging across Indonesia have flared up in an area of Borneo where the government recently announced would be the site of the nation’s new capital.
– The location had been chosen in part because it was believed to be at low risk from fires and other disasters.
– Haze from the fires has affected local communities as well as a nearby orangutan rescue and rehabilitation center.
– Authorities have arrested two farmers for setting fires on their land, but activists say they were doing so in a controlled manner and with the permission of local officials.


As the Amazon burns, Colombia’s forests decimated for cattle and coca by Antonio José Paz Cardona [09/26/2019]
Notes from the road: 5 revelations from traveling the Pan Borneo Highway by John C. Cannon [09/25/2019]
War on graft in mining, palm oil hit by new law weakening Indonesian enforcer by Hans Nicholas Jong, Lusia Arumingtyas [09/25/2019]
Oil palm, cattle and coca take a toll on Colombia’s indigenous Jiw by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [09/24/2019]
Prompted by Amazon fires, 230 investors warn firms linked to deforestation by Sue Branford [09/23/2019]
15 years after tsunami, Aceh reckons with an inconsistent fisheries recovery by Sonali Prasad [09/23/2019]