Forests, Deforestation & Climate Change

Trees cleared in the western Amazon region of Brazil in September 2017. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

If you have been following the news recently, you may have noticed a report that indicates the urgency from climate change is greater than scientists previously thought. Everyone who cares has been digesting the science and we appreciate every effort to clarify what the science is saying. Fred Pearce, writing for Yale e360, has this:

Conflicting Data: How Fast Is the World Losing its Forests?

GP0STRVIX_PressMedia_web.jpg

Forest cut to make way for an oil palm plantation in Papua, Indonesia in April 2018. ULET IFANSASTI / GREENPEACE

The latest UN report on climate says reducing deforestation is crucial to slowing global warming. But researchers must first reconcile two contradictory sets of statistics on tree loss in order to determine whether promises made by nations to protect and restore forests are on target.

The world is losing trees faster than ever. An area the size of Italy disappeared last year. Or did it? New research suggests three-quarters of those lost forests may already be regrowing. That hardly means we are out of the woods. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity still needs a global campaign to reforest the planet. But it does suggest that, given the chance, nature will do much of the work. Continue reading

Roots Of Biodiversity

052918_antonelli_0090.jpg

Alexandre Antonelli references the International Plant Names Index to identify specimens.
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Our practice was born in Costa Rica, so we sometimes may appear partisan when it comes to celebrating the sciences related to biodiversity. Costa Rica has impressive credentials in that realm, especially relative to its size as a country. But we are very clear on the fact that it would take dozens of Costa Rica-sized biodiversity hotspots to match the scale of the Amazon region, and it is no surprise that studies like those of these scholars are carried out with Amazonian data:

The Amazon as engine of diverse life

052918_antonelli_0233.jpg

“Most evolutionary research focuses on how new species form. But we want to understand how whole ecosystems evolve,” said Alexandre Antonelli.
 Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

A recent study says that many of the plants and animals that call Latin America home may have had their roots in the Amazon region.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Visiting Scholar Alexandre Antonelli and an international team of researchers, says that a dynamic process of colonization and speciation led to the formation of the American tropics, which is the most species-rich region on the planet. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were astonished to detect so much movement across such different environments and over such large distances,” said Antonelli, the study’s lead author. “Up until now, these natural dispersal events were assumed to be quite rare. Our results show how crucial these events have been in the formation of tropical America’s unique and outstandingly rich biodiversity.” Continue reading

Local Knowledge Aids Scientific Understanding

Brazilian_amazon_rainforest_web

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In a perfect dovetail with yesterday’s nod to one science writer, today we nod to the contributions of ancestral ways in helping scientists better understand the life cycles of forests. Thanks to Richard Schiffman for this interview:

Lessons Learned from Centuries of Indigenous Forest Management

CMPeters_web.jpgIn an interview with Yale Environment 360, botanist Charles M. Peters discusses how, in an era of runaway destruction of tropical forests, the centuries-old ecological understanding of indigenous woodland residents can help point the way to the restoration of damaged rainforests.

Over centuries, even millennia, indigenous communities have developed interdependent systems of agriculture and forestry that are uniquely suited to the ecological requirements of the land they inhabit. Yet even today, says Charles M. Peters, the Curator of Botany at the New York Botanical Gardens, that skill and knowledge often remain unacknowledged, with some government officials and conservationists arguing that indigenous communities should sometimes be excluded from protected lands that are part of their historical territory.

Field-crews.002_web

Members of the Kenyah Dayak indigenous group conducting forest surveys in Western Borneo in the early 1990s. CHARLES PETERS

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Peters — author of the recently published bookManaging the Wild: Stories of People and Plants and Tropical Forests — discusses what he has learned from 35 years of working with indigenous forest communities; explains how indigenous farming, even slash-and-burn agriculture, can actually improve forest health; and reflects on the need to enlist indigenous groups as allies in the struggle to preserve and restore tropical forests. Continue reading

Rewilding Croatia’s Velebit Mountains

0A2A4816-1.jpg

Davor Krmpotić
Team leader of Velebit Mountains

VelebitMap.jpgCroatia, playing in its first World Cup final today, makes this rewilding story from the Velebit Mountains, and interview with its team leader, timely:

This dramatic mountain chain, right on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, is one of the wildest areas of the whole Mediterranean. A region where wild nature is really coming back.

Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It hosts two national parks, a biosphere reserve and several wonderful old-growth forests, deep canyons, ancient open lands and exciting wildlife like Balkan chamois, red deer, brown bear, wolf and lynx…

Velebit hosts a diversity of habitats

Velebit.jpgHow would you characterise your rewilding area?
Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, via vast beech forest of central European type, to almost boreal systems and alpine grasslands at higher altitudes. Outside protected areas in the south and east there are several other very interesting areas also with great rewilding potential, mainly consisting of abandoned farm and grazing lands. Apart from its fantastic wildlife, Velebit is also a climber’s paradise, home to spectacular caves and breathtaking sceneries. Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

Poster_battle

Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Moving Slowly & Avoiding Breakage

Preston-Ecological-expedition-Honduras-8

Panthera onca. The jaguar is the king of neotropical forests, where it is the largest of the cats. Its presence at the White City indicates an extensive, thriving ecosystem. © Washington State University, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zamorano University, Honduran Forest Conservation Institute, Travis King, John Polisar, Manfredo Turcios

When the journalist Douglas Preston shared this story, I was in the process of closing up shop in India, where we had been in residence since 2010. Kipling-induced daydreaming notwithstanding, Amie and Milo (whose photos may be the most tangible representations of the dreaminess of those years) and I never had the illusion that there were lost civilizations or any such thing in India.

movefast (1)We did have the nonstop motivation of feline-fueled conservation initiatives, and some close encounters. Those provided us a perfect counterpoint to the seemingly irresistible catchphrase that described progress in the form of disruptive technology. Haste really does make waste when it comes to ecology, anthropology, and realms of life other than economic forward-marching.

When I read Mr. Preston’s story on the first day of last year I realized that our relocation to Central America, oddly enough since it is in the hemisphere called the New World, was full of potential for all kinds of discovery of “lost” things. And my own discoveries further sensitized me to the importance of moving slowly and avoiding breakage. My posts on this platform from February through July, 2017 are evidence of the richest ecological and anthropological observations of my lifetime (so far), and that makes Mr. Preston’s update post yesterday all the more wonderful to read:

Deep in the Honduran Rain Forest, an Ecological SWAT Team Explores a Lost World

Preston-Ecological-expedition-Honduras-1

Sachatamia albomaculata. The inner organs of glass frogs are visible through their translucent bodies. Photograph by Trond Larsen / Conservation International

A little more than three years ago, I joined a team of archeologists on an expedition to La Mosquitia, a remote mountain wilderness in eastern Honduras. For centuries, the region had been rumored to contain a lost city, known as the City of the Monkey God or the White City, and now, thanks to a combination of luck and modern technology, an ancient settlement had been found. Although it was probably not the lost city of legend, it was a very real place, built by a mysterious civilization that flourished long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Hidden in a densely forested valley, it had never been explored. Continue reading

Global Problems, Forests & Solutions

19lovejoy-reid-jumbo.jpg

Thomas E. Lovejoy a pioneer in the use of economics to conserve forests and other ecosystems globally is joined by John Reid, who has worked in the Amazon since 1965, in presenting a case for:

How Big Forests Solve Global Problems

Sit on a log by the Madidi River in Bolivia at dusk and you can hear what an Amazon forest should sound like. The music includes red howler monkeys, breathy thumps from the mutum jungle fowl, droning cicadas, eerie calls locals attribute to deadly bushmaster vipers and the unhinged excitement of elusive titi monkeys. Around your feet, the beach is crisscrossed by jaguar tracks and those of the pony-size tapir, a shy beast that, if you keep quiet, will saunter out of the forest and swim across the river.

This is what scientists call an “intact forest landscape.” It’s a swath of at least 500 square kilometers (about 193 square miles, equal to 70,000 soccer fields) of unbroken forest. Because of their size, these areas have maintained all their native plant and animal life and biophysical processes. These forests still adorn parts of our planet’s tropical midsection, notably the Amazon, Congo Basin and the island of New Guinea. And they form a northern belt, the boreal forests of Canada, Russia, Alaska and Scandinavia. Continue reading

Trees For Life In Scotland

4000m.jpg

Trees for Life have planted 1.5m native trees in Glenmoriston and nearby Glen Affric since being founded 30 years ago. Photograph: Desmond Dugan/RSPB/PA

Thanks to Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, for this:

‘Magical’ mushroom mix to boost regrowth of lost Scottish forests

Return of Great Caledonian forest speeded up with fungi spores to help saplings flourish

The return of the Great Caledonian forest that once covered much of Scotland’s highlands is being boosted with a special mix of mushroom spores that should help saplings survive better on the hills.

Fungi living on the roots of trees play a vital role in the ecology, helping to break down nutrients in the soil. But trees were lost in much of the Highlands many years ago so the fungi vanished too.

The new project, run by Trees for Life, is adding the spores when young trees are planted. Continue reading

Undoing Dams, Animals Pitch In

ap_498416275898

Since 2014, Washington’s Elwha River has flowed freely through what once was Lake Mills and the Glines Canyon Dam. But the site still leaves a barren scar in Olympic National Park. Now, a human- and bird-led effort is turning it green again. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

Conservation is sometimes in the hands of animals, as this story in the current Audubon magazine illustrates:

Birds Are Helping to Plant an Entire Lost Landscape in Olympic National Park

After the largest dam removal in U.S. history, scientists, Native Americans, and wild animals are working together to restore the heart of the Elwha.

ap_081210040812

The Elwha Valley and Glines Canyon Dam prior to demolition. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

It’s a scorching August day in the Elwha Valley, and it only feels bleaker as we peer into the 200-foot void of Glines Canyon Dam. A sputtering trail of water marks the concrete lip where, for nearly a century, two hulking braces trapped logs, rocks, and sediments as they washed down from the mountains of northern Washington, forming a reservoir that was six times deeper than a competition-diving pool. At its height, the dam churned out 13.3 megawatts of hydroelectricity, enough to power 14,000 homes and a local paper mill. But it also seriously altered the Elwha River’s ecology, along with that of surrounding Olympic National Park. Endangered chinook salmon were cut off from their spawning sites; fish-eating birds and otters suffered; and estuaries became more brackish and shallow. Finally, in 1992, the U.S. government issued the order to destroy Glines Canyon Dam and the nearby Elwha Dam. Yet it wasn’t until two decades later when the water was completely freed. Continue reading

Rewilding Minelands

Flatwoods_WFA_2.10.17-26_web

A contractor for Green Forests Work plants native hardwood and evergreen seedlings on a reclaimed mine site in Dorton, Kentucky. GREEN FORESTS WORK

Thanks to Yale 360 for this story about Green Forests Work, in a part of North America that is often considered lost, from an ecological perspective:

Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country

Previous efforts to restore former coal mine sites in Appalachia have left behind vast swaths of unproductive land. Now, a group of nonprofits and scientists are working to restore native trees to the region — even if it means starting the reclamation process from scratch.

5.5.17_Monongahela-36_web

Volunteers fan out over a recently bulldozed plot on Cheat Mountain to plant red spruce and other native seedlings. GREEN FORESTS WORK

Near the top of Cheat Mountain in West Virginia, bulldozer operator Bill Moore gazes down a steep slope littered with toppled conifers. Tangled roots and angled boulders protrude from the slate-colored soil, and the earth is crisscrossed with deep gouges.

“Anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” Moore says, “if I did what I did here, I’d be fired.” Continue reading

Nature’s Silence Is Golden

rainforest-slide-S9Y8-jumbo

Yesterday’s post, linking to an article from the same source, combines with this one to confirm that some venerable members of the “mainstream media” see an audience (us, for example) for green-leaning reporting. Then we found this, about a remarkable Norwegian silence-hunter who has gone to the ends of the earth; and now finds himself in the East Village of New York City. Instead of featuring that story, this one below is must-read on the topic of quietude:

Lessons in Stillness From One of the Quietest Places on Earth

In the wilderness of Washington State’s Hoh Rain Forest, a poet searches for the rare peace that true silence can offer.

THE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK stretches down coastal Washington and east toward Seattle on a thumb of land known as the Olympic Peninsula, some 60 miles long by 90 miles wide. Around a three-hour ride by car from Seattle, it feels much farther, as if you have passed into an otherworldly realm. Within it are volcanic beaches scattered with the remains of massive Sitka spruces, evergreen-crowded mountains, broad, flat valleys and the Hoh Rain Forest, through which 12 miles of hiking trails and the glacier-formed Hoh River run. The Park, in total nearly a million acres, is home to what may be the most complex ecosystem in the United States, teeming with big-leaf maples, lichens, alders, liverworts, Monkey flowers, licorice ferns, club mosses, herbs, grasses and shrubs of remarkable abundance. Today, thanks to federal protections, it is home to some of the largest remaining stands of old-growth forest in the continental U.S. Continue reading

Oregon’s Underground Economy

04TB-FUNGUS-jumbo.jpg

A forest floor dark honey fungus, or Armillaria ostoyae. The “Humongous Fungus,” living beneath the soil in Oregon sends these fruiting bodies, or mushrooms, above ground to disperse spores. Credit Arterra/UIG, via Getty Images

The Science section of the New York Times is a dependable source of occasionally brilliant ecological findings (amidst the more common overdoses of dark and dreary news) and this one helps start a new week on solid ground:

The Humongous Fungus and the Genes That Made It That Way

A new genetic analysis reveals the tactics that helped fungi in the Armillaria genus get so good at expanding and killing host plants.

Thousands of years ago, two microscopic spores spawned and created a monster. It grew — up to three feet a year — sending out dark, gnarly, threadlike organs called rhizomorphs that explored the subterranean darkness, foraging for food. Now it’s a nebulous body, a tangled mat beneath the Oregon soil that occupies an area the size of three Central Parks and may weigh as much as 5,000 African elephants.

Its scientific name is Armillaria ostoyae, but you can call it The Humongous Fungus. It’s the largest known terrestrial organism on the planet, according to the United States Forest Service.

Continue reading

Hooved Fire Prevention

Image: Renee Lewis

Goats have appeared on these pages in various guises, including being part of urban park maintenance. Thanks to environmental reporter Renee Lewis and the Earther.com for sharing this good news fire prevention story.

Firefighting Goats Devour Fuel Across the West Before it can Burn

Roslyn, WA—After one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory in the Pacific Northwest this summer—with the unforgettable smoke-pocalypse that socked in the region with thick smoke for weeks—a new tool is being added fight against wildfires: goats.

“More and more, people are looking at goats as a tool for fire suppression,” said Craig Madsen of Healing Hooves, a company based in Edwall, Washington, that maintains a herd of about 250 goats that are used for natural vegetation management.

The goats bleated loudly and walked towards Madsen as we approached the plot of land where the herd was busy grazing.

“The goats are complaining because of the rain,” Madsen said, as a cool, fall shower began.

Madsen stood under the overhang of the trailer he uses to to transport the herd, across the road from the land where the goats were grazing. The guard dog, Gigi, sat under a tree keeping watch as the goats—bucks, does, and kids—worked together to devour everything within reach.

Every car that drove by stopped to look at the unusual sight, and many asked Madsen about what he was doing out there with all those goats.

Continue reading

Regenerating Biodiversity Is Hard Work In The Best Of Circumstances

merlin-to-scoop-126602513-337561-jumbo

Jon Asgeir Jonsson, who works for a private forestry association, with larch saplings in western Iceland.

It’s never easy being green, but especially millennia after deforestation. Thanks to Henry Fountain and the New York Times:

Vikings Razed the Forests. Can Iceland Regrow Them?

GUNNARSHOLT, Iceland — With his flats of saplings and a red planting tool, Jon Asgeir Jonsson is a foot soldier in the fight to reforest Iceland, working to bring new life to largely barren landscapes.

The country lost most of its trees more than a thousand years ago, when Viking settlers took their axes to the forests that covered one-quarter of the countryside. Now Icelanders would like to get some of those forests back, to improve and stabilize the country’s harsh soils, help agriculture and fight climate change. Continue reading

Keep National Parks Safe, Know Your Chocolate

Choc.jpgThe rise in artisanal cacao farming, as we have noted on occasion, can have important implications for conservation. Whether you are a chocoholic or just a casual dabbler in the sweet bi-product of cacao, this report deserves your attention (click on the image to go to the source):

Chocolate is everywhere. It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction. Lovers gift truffles, skiers sip on rich hot chocolate, and connoisseurs savor the tiniest, richest bite of single origin dark chocolate. The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and the emperor Montezuma was reported to gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts. Continue reading

Elephants, Orangutans, Rhinos & Tigers–What Are They Worth To Us?

4256n.jpg

Deforestation in the Leuser ecosystem, one of the last homes to Sumatran elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers. Photograph: Sutanta Aditya/Barcroft Images

Thanks to the Guardian:

Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé accused of complicity in illegal rainforest destruction

Palm oil plantations on illegally deforested land in Sumatra – home to elephants, orangutans and tigers – have allegedly been used to supply scores of household brands, says new report Continue reading

Adapting to Change

The jungle is constantly changing. Large mammals break through low growing plants, fungi break down fallen material, and birds, insects, and monkeys are constantly roaming about the canopy.

The most recent edition of the Chan Chich trail map was produced in 2006. However, since then, the wildlife has continued to go about its business making small modifications to the landscape over the past eleven years. Not to mention, the occasional tree fall from storm interrupting the balance. As a result, because of the organic, unpredictable movement of nature, this map isn’t as accurate as it was a decade ago. Now, Alana and I undertaking the task of updating the maps to reflect how the trails look now.

Continue reading

Farmers, Loggers & Biodiversity

5184 (1)

Serro Ricardo Franco is in one of the world’s biggest and most diverse ecological reserves. But reality on the ground is different, putting many animals at risk, such as Yacare caiman and giant river otters. Photograph: Angelo Gandolfi/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

Sometimes, sitting in a glass house, reading the news makes me want to throw a stone. The glass house where I live includes a farm in an extremely biodiverse area. It is surrounded by nearly half a million acres where logging happens. But there is farming, as you can read about in the news below, and there are plenty of better ways of farming; there are loggers like those in the news below, and there are forests where extraction happens according to standards such as those set and enforced by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Instead of throwing a stone, I get up every day and make sure the glass around here is as transparent as possible, because we can demonstrate a better way of supplying food, of harvesting wood, and doing so with the protection of wildlife in constant view. Meanwhile, I do read the news from elsewhere and continue to share it here (thanks to the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts in Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade for this one):

Wild Amazon faces destruction as Brazil’s farmers and loggers target national park

The Sierra Ricardo Franco park was meant to be a conservation area protecting rare wildlife

To understand why the Brazilian government is deliberately losing the battle against deforestation, you need only retrace the bootmarks of the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett along the Amazonian border with Bolivia.

During a failed attempt to cross a spectacular tabletop plateau here in 1906, the adventurer nearly died on the first of his many trips to South America. Back then, the area was so far from human habitation, the foliage so dense and the terrain so steep that Fawcett and his party came close to starvation.

He returned home with tales of a towering, inaccessible mesa teeming with wildlife and irrigated by secret waterfalls and crystalline rivers. By some accounts, this was one of the stories that inspired his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World about a fictional plateau jutting high above the jungle that served as a sanctuary for species long since extinct elsewhere. Continue reading

Leading Legumes To A Better Place

 

Anthropocene’s Emma Bryce has summarized the science of Building a better soybean:

What will it take to build crops that can withstand future climate changes? A group of plant biologists think they might be on to a solution for soybeans. Using genetic engineering, they’ve created a plant whose yields remain unaffected by high-stress conditions. The key lies in a genetic tweak that makes the plant overexpress a particular enzyme, which is thought to boost the efficiency of their photosynthesis cycle and enhance seed production. Continue reading