Newsletter 2020-12-17



France’s tropical forest conservation efforts: an interview with AFD’s Gilles Kleitz by Rhett A. Butler [12/16/2020]

– Since hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015 which resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement, France has become a leading proponent for tropical forest conservation. This effort has included establishing a National Strategy to Combat Imported Deforestation (SNDI) to effectively apply a zero deforestation policy to commodities produced at the expense of forests in the tropics.
– One of the key institutions charged with implementing the SNDI abroad is the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), France’s overseas development agency. AFD programs in tropical forests have not always been without controversy—NGOs have alleged that AFD has supported companies which contribute to deforestation—but AFD says it has incorporated this criticism as well as findings from research institutions into safeguards it now applies to the projects it finances.
– Accordingly, AFD’s emphasis around tropical forests in recent years has shifted toward conservation and “sustainable forest management”, which includes establishing forest management plans to reduce the impact of logging operations in places like the Congo Basin.
– To provide some context on AFD’s current approaches and priorities, Mongabay spoke with Gilles Kleitz, head of Agriculture, Water and Biodiversity at the French Development Agency.

Belo Monte dam’s water demands imperil Amazon communities, environment by Tiffany Higgins [12/16/2020]

– Norte Energia, the builder and operator of the controversial Belo Monte mega-dam is pushing for implementation of a much disputed “consensus hydrogram” — a plan to annually manipulate water releases into the Xingu River’s Volta Grande (Big Bend), with estimated peak April releases ranging from a mere 4,000 – 8,000 m3/s.
– Noting that April average historical river flows in the Volta Grande before the dam was built were 19,985 m3/s, analysts say this dearth of water flow will prevent and imperil annual fish reproduction. One Volta Grande expert estimates that, using the so-called consensus hydrogram plan, at least 80% of Volta Grande fish will die.
– Documents from IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, which first came to light publicly on December 3, acknowledge “grave and irreparable impacts” from the Belo Monte dam, and signal an urgent need to revise Norte Energia’s planned consensus hydrogram.
– Two recent studies say fish are decreasing dramatically in diets within Belo Monte’s influence area, causing food insecurity. Norte Energia claims fish quantities sold locally remain the same, but their data may mask significantly increased fishing effort, and the need to fish more widely, beyond previous fishing areas.

Fishing fail: WTO negotiators flunk deadline to end harmful fisheries subsidies by 2020 by Elizabeth Fitt [12/15/2020]

– World Trade Organization member states missed a deadline to agree to curb harmful fisheries subsidies, part of the U.N.’s sustainable development goals.
– Exemptions for developing and least-developed countries, and rules concerning disputed waters are two major sticking points, among dozens that remain to be resolved.
– The missed deadline, on one of the first major sustainable development targets, may set a precedent for reaching future targets and raises questions about the WTO’s ability to facilitate the U.N. goals.
– Harmful subsidies fund otherwise economically impossible overfishing and incentivize illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) practices, contributing to the perilous state of global fish stocks.

Restaura Cerrado: Saving Brazil’s savanna by reseeding and restoring it by Sarah Sax [12/14/2020]

– The Cerrado is Brazil’s second largest biome, and the most biodiverse tropical savanna in the world. It is of vital importance for Brazil’s watersheds, for global biodiversity, and is an important but undervalued carbon stock.
– But in recent decades, half of the Cerrado’s native vegetation has been destroyed to make way for cattle, soy, and other agricultural commodities. In the southern Cerrado, scientists are now shifting their focus to restoring the native vegetation.
– However, scientific knowledge on savanna restoration is scarce. So one collaborative network, Restaura Cerrado, is bringing together scientists, seed collectors, and the public to advance practical knowledge about restoration. The group’s goal is to achieve the means for ongoing effective Cerrado restoration.
– Restaura Cerrado is a collaboration between ICMBio, the University of Brasília, the Cerrado Seeds Network, and Embrapa (the Brazilian Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Research Enterprise); together they hope to use restoration to bring sustainable development to the savanna region.

‘She goes and helps’: Noemí Gualinga, Ecuador’s mother of the jungle by Mayuri Castro [12/13/2020]

– Her sister, Patricia, and daughters, Nina and Helena, are much more recognizable as defenders of the rights of the Indigenous Kichwa people of Sarayaku, in the Ecuadoran Amazon.
– But within her community, there’s almost universal recognition that Noemí Gualinga is the one person everyone can turn to for help.
– Known as the “mother of the jungle,” she’s been particularly busy this year, helping her community deal with the double blow of the COVID-19 pandemic and a major flood.

Brazilians impacted by mining assert: ‘Genocide legalized by the state’ by Thais Borges and Sue Branfordo [12/10/2020]

– Residents of traditional communities in the Brazilian Amazon municipality of Barcarena, near the mouth of the Amazon River, say that their subsistence and commercial livelihoods, and their health, have been destroyed by an invasion of mining companies which began in the mid-1980’s.
– Among the gigantic companies moving into the region were Brazil’s Vale, Norwegian-Japanese Albrás, Norway’s Norsk Hydro, and France’s Imerys Rio Capim Caulim. Community complaints say that the firms allegedly stole community land and polluted land, water and air.
– Meanwhile, according to residents, the government rewarded the companies with subsidies, looked the other way when community lands were appropriated and pollution occurred, and paid for mining firm infrastructure, including the Tucurui mega-dam; port of Vila do Conde, and a network of new roads.
– Also, a string of mining disasters punctuated the years, with the worst by Norsk Hydro in 2018 at the Hydro Alunorte facility. Though local waters, blood and hair have proven to be contaminated with mining-related toxins, the companies defend themselves by saying no particular firm can be pinpointed with the harm.



As minister and activists trade barbs, Madagascar’s forests burn by Malavika Vyawahare [17 Dec 2020]
– Forest fires are blazing across Madagascar, including in its protected areas, home to some of the world’s rarest species, from critically endangered lemurs to hundreds of endemic snails.
– In Manombo Special Reserve, known for sheltering more than 50 species of snails found nowhere else on Earth, woodland the size of 800 Olympic swimming pools went up in smoke last month.
– In nearby Befotaka-Midongy National Park, one of the largest stretches of evergreen forest in Madagascar, more than 1,000 fires were reported this year.
– A heated debate has erupted online about the fires, with some activists criticizing the environment ministry, while the ministry says the blame is shared by NGOs that manage most of the country’s protected areas.

Indonesia allows use of destructive seine and trawl nets in its waters again by Basten Gokkon [17 Dec 2020]
– The Indonesian government has lifted a ban on the use of seine and trawl nets, which marine conservationists and scientists have blamed for overfishing and damage to coastal reef ecosystems.
– The policy was signed by the fisheries minister, Edhy Prabowo, on Nov. 18, a month before he was arrested for corruption in a separate case.
– Marine observers have lambasted the new policy, saying it will only benefit large-scale fishers and put additional pressure on already overexploited fishing grounds.
– Indonesia’s waters support some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world, and the fisheries industry employs about 12 million Indonesians, making it the second-largest fish producer in the world.

Report finds litany of labor abuses on RSPO-certified oil palm plantations by Hans Nicholas Jong [17 Dec 2020]
– Widespread labor abuses have been documented in five oil palm plantations in Indonesia, ranging from exposure to hazardous chemicals, a reliance on temporary workers, below minimum-wage payments, to the suppression of independent unions.
– These plantations are in theory supposed to be role models for the industry, with RSPO sustainability certification and buyers that include the likes of food giant Nestlé.
– Labor rights activists say these companies and their agribusiness parent groups and buyers must follow up on the findings and take meaningful action to clean up the industry.

Podcast: Tiger on the highway by [16 Dec 2020]
– The wildlife rich island of Sumatra is experiencing a road building boom, causing some of its iconic creatures to be seen by construction workers: a photo of a Sumatran tiger crossing a highway work-site went viral this summer, for example.
– Less than 400 of these critically endangered animals exist, and they need space despite their diminutive stature: up to 250 square kilometers for each one’s territory.
– To discuss the conservation impact of – and alternatives to – such infrastructure projects, Mongabay’s podcast interviewed Hariyo “Beebach” Wibisono, a research fellow at the San Diego Zoo Global & director of SINTAS Indonesia, plus Bill Laurance, a distinguished professor at James Cook University.
– This podcast is the latest in the Mongabay Explores series, taking a deep dive into the fascinating wildlife and complicated conservation issues of this giant Indonesian island.

On plantations and in ‘protected’ areas, Sumatran elephants keep turning up dead by Mongabay Indonesia and Tempo [16 Dec 2020]
– In Sumatra’s Riau province, 93% of known elephant habitat is in forests where commercial and industrial activity is permitted.
– In the past five years, at least seven elephants have been found dead in pulp and paper concessions controlled by affiliates of industry giants Asia Pulp & Paper and the APRIL group.
– Many of these elephants are believed to have been killed by poachers, who activists say can easily enter and leave concession sites. Activists call on concession holders to do more to protect the animals who range on land under company management.
– Please note: this article contains graphic descriptions and images that could be upsetting to some readers.

In the Colombian Amazon, a leader trains her people to save the forest by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [16 Dec 2020]
– María Clemencia Herrera Nemerayema is the founder of the School of Political Education in the Colombian Amazon, which trains Indigenous people to protect their territory; her dream is to establish an intercultural university in the heart of the jungle.
– This year, the Indigenous leader won the Bartolomé de las Casas Prize from the Spanish Foreign Ministry for her work in defending Indigenous territories, based on restoring local cultures and sustainably using Amazonian resources.
– She has been working for more than 30 years to empower Amazonian women through education.
– One of the organizations she founded is Mujer, Tejer y Saberes (Women, Weaving and Knowledge), in which displaced Indigenous women based in Bogotá put their knowledge into practice to generate an income.

Lasers reveal steep decline in ecosystem function of degraded Amazon forests by Tess Joosse [16 Dec 2020]
– Large portions of the Amazon rainforest are degraded by human activities, such as patchy smallholder farming, timber extraction, and burning.
– Airborne laser scans paired with an ecological model show that these areas store less carbon, carry less water, and are much more fire-prone.
– During periods of extreme drought, intact forests also run out of water and become as hot as degraded forests, stressing the entire ecosystem

No endangered listing for monarch butterflies as western count hits alarming low by Liz Kimbrough [16 Dec 2020]
– The iconic monarch butterfly meets the criteria to be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act but will not be listed just yet because priority will be given to other species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced.
– This leaves the monarch as “a candidate species” for possible listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the future, meaning its status will be reviewed each year until it is either listed or the populations recover.
– Both eastern and western monarch populations are declining, with this year’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count deemed “alarming” and expected to yield a final figure of fewer than 10,000 individuals wintering in California — the smallest overwintering population on record.
– Under current conditions, the eastern monarch populations have about a 50-70% chance of reaching a point at which extinction is inevitable within 60 years. For western monarchs, the chances are higher, 60-68% within 10 years and 99% within 60 years.

Tropical forests can take the heat, study finds. Dryness? Not so much by Jennifer Ann Thomas [16 Dec 2020]
– Researchers simulated extreme global warming conditions for tropical forests in the Biosphere 2 dome in the Arizona desert, cranking up the temperature to 40°C (104°F).
– To gauge the trees’ resilience, they looked at how well they continued to photosynthesize, and found that they could do so up to 38°C (100°F), which is 10°C (18°F) warmer than the average temperature in tropical forests today.
– However, the enclosed dome helped maintain humidity levels, whereas real-world warming would lead to drier air, and therefore greater loss of water from plants through transpiration.
– The researchers say the study nevertheless provides relevant information on the main threats to these ecosystems: the combination of a warmer world and a drier climate.

An oil palm front advances on an Indigenous community in Peru by Francesca García Delgado [16 Dec 2020]
– Indigenous Shipibo leaders in Peru’s Ucayali region say they live under the threat of attacks from suspected land traffickers who continue to invade their territory.
– The Indigenous community of Santa Clara de Uchunya says these invasions have been exacerbated by the advancement of oil palm plantations in the Amazonian district of Nueva Requena.
– In August 2020, an outside group was caught cutting down trees that belong to the community.

‘We are part of the solution and the problem’: Q&A with author Torkjell Leira by Débora Pinto [15 Dec 2020]
– In his new book, A Luta pela Floresta (The Fight for the Forest), social geographer Torkjell Leira takes stock of Norway’s 40 years of relationship with the Brazilian Amazon.
– It’s a paradoxical relationship, he says, one that has seen the Nordic country invest nearly a billion dollars in environmental conservation in the South American country — and about five times that much in environmentally destructive businesses.
– Leira also rebuffs the accusation that criticism of the Bolsonaro government’s environmental policies is driven by neocolonialism, saying this accusation only seems to be leveled at foreign environmental groups and not foreign investors in destructive industries.

Brazil scientists map forest regrowth keeping Amazon from collapse: Study by Shanna Hanbury [15 Dec 2020]
– Scientists have mapped Brazil’s secondary forests and are now able to pinpoint the extent, age and location of regrowing vegetation anywhere in the country, opening up opportunities for incentive programs, monitoring and forest fire prevention.
– According to their findings, 12% of total carbon emissions from Amazon deforestation have been offset by Brazil’s secondary forests, making natural regrowth an underestimated tool for mitigating global carbon emissions and regional ecosystem collapse.
– About a third of Brazil’s lost forests have recovered naturally, but without halting deforestation of primary forest, regrowth efforts will be redundant in offsetting emissions, the study authors say.
– Brazil’s secondary forest map can be used as proof that areas are being protected, making it easier to monitor and create incentives for farmers and landowners with secondary forests on their land.

A forest in Sumatra disappears for farms and roads. So do its elephants by Mongabay Indonesia and Tempo [14 Dec 2020]
– The 15,300-hectare (37,900-acre) Balai Raja Wildlife Reserve in Sumatra’s Riau province was established in 1986 and designated an elephant reserve in 1992.
– By 2010, less than 200 hectares of intact forest remained in the reserve. The elephant herd, which as of 2014 numbered 25, had no more than seven survivors as of late 2019.
– Much of the forest was lost to oil palm plantations and smallholder agriculture, but official government buildings have also been built within the reserve.
– Now, the remaining elephant habitat is threatened by a road construction project that is also mired in corruption.

[Photos] Tiny frog, venomous viper among 20 new species described in Bolivia by Liz Kimbrough [14 Dec 2020]
– An expedition into the cloud forests of the Bolivian Andes has uncovered 20 species new to science including a frog smaller than a coin, a new venomous pit viper, four butterflies, and four orchid species.
– Along with the newly described species, the research team also “rediscovered” four species believed to be extinct, including the devil-eyed frog not seen for 20 years.
– Overall, the expedition in the Zongo Valley near La Paz, Bolivia, uncovered rich diversity and endemism and recorded more than 1,200 plants, 247 insects, 10 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 161 birds, nine small terrestrial mammals, nine large mammals, and 12 species of bats.
– The Zongo Valley contributes drinking water and hydroelectric energy for the cities of La Paz and El Alto and is known to provide important ecosystem services. The report calls for urgent measures for formal conservation of this largely intact ecosystem.

European money funds an Amazon dam, but affected residents haven’t seen much of it by Luna Gámez [14 Dec 2020]
– The Sinop hydroelectric plant on the Teles Pires River in the Brazilian Amazon has been operating for more than a year, but residents affected by the project are still holding out for fair compensation for the environmental and social impacts.
– Independent appraisals indicate that operator Companhia Energética Sinop (CES) paid residents a sixth of the fair value of their land, with no room for negotiation.
– Low water levels in the river have resulted in mass fish die-offs and the flourishing of disease-bearing mosquitoes, posing health risks to the community.
– CES, majority-owned by French utility EDF, is being held up as an example of the type of overseas investment that should be monitored more closely by European regulators.

Whale of a find: Scientists spot beaked whale believed to be a new species by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [11 Dec 2020]
– Scientists on board a Sea Shepherd vessel say they found a new species of beaked whale near the San Benito Islands off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
– The species differs visually and acoustically from other beaked whales species, according to the researchers.
– The team took photographs, video recordings and acoustical recordings of the species, and also performed environmental genetic sampling to help confirm the existence of a new species.
– However, other experts say that detailed descriptions of the animals’ physical features and skeletal structure are needed before a new species can be accurately identified.

Brazil beef giants linked to illegal Amazon deforestation by [11 Dec 2020]
– Brazil’s biggest beef companies have been directly linked to more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of illegal deforestation in the Amazon state of Pará.
– According to an investigation by Global Witness, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva bought cattle from a combined total of 379 ranches between 2017 and 2019 where illegal deforestation had taken place.
– The firms also failed to monitor 4,000 ranches in their supply chains that were connected to large areas of deforestation in the state, investigators found.
– Brazil has the second-largest cattle herd in the world, which is the leading driver of deforestation emissions in Latin America.

It’s time to redefine business to save the planet (commentary) by Clare Dubois [11 Dec 2020]
– Humanity must make an evolutionary leap from a consumer species to a restorer species, and business can lead it. How? Start by embedding trees into every financial transaction.
– With current statistics showing the loss of nature at 68% globally since 1970, it’s clear that we’re not trying hard enough, not all of us. We’re waiting for someone else to solve this, abdicating responsibility en masse.
– “If ever there was a moment to discover what we’re actually capable of it’s now, because this is not what humanity evolved for. Our ancestors didn’t fight to live just for us to shop ourselves into extinction.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Sri Lanka activists decry downgrade of non-protected ‘other’ forests by government by Malaka Rodrigo [11 Dec 2020]
– The Sri Lankan government earlier this year transferred the administration of non-protected forests, known as “other state forests” (OSF), to regional authorities, with a view to releasing them for agriculture and development.
– The move is part of government efforts to boost domestic food production, but has been blasted by environmental activists who say many of these forests are rich in biodiversity and serve important ecosystem functions.
– Many of the highland OSF serve as the watershed for rivers, while lowland OSF harbor newly described species found nowhere else on Earth.
– Seventy percent of Sri Lanka’s elephants live outside protected areas, which means that allowing OSF to be cleared for agriculture would exacerbate what’s already one of the world’s worst problems of human-elephant conflict.

Brazil’s blue macaws, golden lion tamarins back in traffickers’ sights by Dimas Marques/Fauna News [11 Dec 2020]
– Conservationists working with the hyacinth macaw and the golden lion tamarin say there’s been a worrying increase in trafficking of these two species that are emblematic of Brazil’s biodiversity.
– Trafficking nearly wiped out these species in the 1980s, but intensive conservation programs by the Instituto Arara Azul and the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado have managed to claw back the populations of the hyacinth macaw and golden lion tamarin respectively.
– Macaw researcher Neiva Guedes says trafficking cases have increased since the species was taken off the national red list of threatened species in 2014, with investigators identifying a smuggling route to China via Paraguay.
– It’s not clear what’s driving the uptick in trafficking of the golden lion tamarin, but experts point to a confluence of economic crisis, weakened environmental agencies, and poor monitoring.

Papua sawmill loses legal timber stamp over allegations of permit forgery by Hans Nicholas Jong [11 Dec 2020]
– A sawmill built to process logs from an area of tropical rainforest twice the size of New York City has had its legality certification revoked by the licensing authority in Indonesia.
– Operator PT Tulen Jayamas Timber Industries (TJTI) is only one of several companies involved in the Tanah Merah mega plantation project in Indonesia’s Papua region alleged to have obtained their permits through forgery or other illegal means.
– Spurred by a joint Mongabay-The Gecko Project investigation, the nonprofit Earthsight found that TJTI’s sawmill had obtained a timber legality certificated on the basis of the fake permits.
– An audit by the third-party assessor led to the permit being suspended, and eventually permanently revoked after TJTI failed to disprove the allegations; this prohibits it from exporting any timber or wood products, although it may still sell domestically.



Hope and peace: Bison return to the Rosebud reservation by John C. Cannon [12/10/2020]
Is Brazil’s biodiverse savanna getting the attention it deserves, finally? by Mike Gaworecki [12/09/2020]
Colombian environmental official assassinated in southern Meta department by Antonio Jose Paz Cardona [12/07/2020]
Planned road to bisect pristine, biodiverse Brazilian Amazon national park by Ana Ionova [12/03/2020]