Anything But Sweet

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Trees felled for a cocoa plantation inside the Scio Forest Reserve in western Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

Fred Pearce provides puzzling yet somehow understandable examinations of environmental challenges, that make it impossible to look away with a clear conscience. Since reading this (note the photo above and in that story) I have been paying more attention to chocolate and its origins. I appreciate Mr. Pearce’s deep dive into the dark reality documented in this story:

The Real Price of a Chocolate Bar: West Africa’s Rainforests

Ivory Coast has lost more than 80 percent of its forests in the last 50 years, mainly to cocoa production. The government has a plan to turn over management of former forest to international chocolate manufacturers: Is it a conservation strategy or a land grab?

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Workers cut cocoa in the Ivory Coast village of Godilehiri. Most of the country’s cocoa is grown by small farmers, on plots of 7 to 10 acres. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

How can you save the last rainforests from rampant deforestation in one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries? A crackdown on those responsible — in this case, chocolate growers and traders? In the Ivory Coast, the government thinks differently. It is unveiling a plan instead to remove protection from most of its remaining forests and hand them over to the world’s chocolate traders. Is this madness, a brutal land grab, or the only way out?

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A park ranger stands over illegally harvested cocoa, found during a routine patrol of the Cavally Classified Forest in Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone, most following an illegal invasion by as many as a million landless people into national parks and other supposedly protected forests. The Marahoue National Park alone has 30,000 illegal inhabitants. The invaders are growing cocoa to supply the global chocolate business.

The Ivory Coast, a West African country the size of New Mexico, produces more than a third of the world’s cocoa. The crop contributes around a tenth of the nation’s GDP. But around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests, known as forêts classée, says Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth, a United States-based environmental group active in cataloging the footprint of key global commodities.

Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. Meeting the world’s insatiable demand for the beans that make chocolate has resulted in many protected areas being “completely converted to farms,” according to Eloi Anderson Bitty of the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Continue reading

My Thoughts Drift To Colombia

For reasons I will need to write more about another time, Colombia has been on my radar recently. When I first visited that country, the conflict was in full swing and my only task was to give a series of lectures related to the country’s potential for nature-based tourism. And I remember very clearly my sense of responsibility for not creating false expectations: as long as there was conflict, this potential would remain just that.

My most recent visit was as the conflict was nearing formal resolution. At that time I was engaged for some weeks of work to be very specific about the potential, location by location. And I was then able to say, based on my own direct observation, that this country would be a powerhouse in the birdwatching market. And I have to admit, I did not have then the knowledge I have now, thanks to the Lab of Ornithology, about the country’s species count and its ranking in the world. The information was there, but I did not have it. Now I do, and my sense of confidence in the country’s opportunity to leverage this abundance into sustainable development is strong. The film above came to my attention in the last 24 hours from several sources, all of whom I thank. But particularly I thank the sponsors of the film for their vision, and the director of the film for his visual acuity:

The Birders, a documentary film on Colombian bird diversity and birdwatching presented by ProColombia, with support of FONTUR and directed by Gregg Bleakney. The film highlights Colombian local birdwatching guide, Diego Calderon-Franco and National Geographic photographer / videographer Keith Ladzinski as they travel through one of the most diverse bird regions in the world to capture new and rare birds that have never been filmed before. The Birders, also takes people through the Colombian landscape, highlighting several of its’ top locations, culture, birds and music. Continue reading

Great Rivers Are Worthy Of Great Restoration Projects

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The Colorado River delta in Baja California is now a mosaic of largely dried-up river channels and tidal salt flats. TED WOOD

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Downstream from the Morelos Dam, the Colorado River delta now runs dry before reaching the Gulf of California. MAP BY DAVID LINDROTH

When the first couple of stories about the Colorado River ran in Yale e360, it was difficult to imagine how much more there might be to say about it. But now the last article in the series, Restoring the Colorado: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River, provides an example of saving the best for last:

The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.

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The Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, where the Colorado’s remaining water is diverted to cities and farms in Mexico. SUPPORT FOR AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS PROVIDED BY LIGHTHAWK

From the air, the last gasp of the Colorado River is sudden and dramatic. The pale green river flows smack into the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, and virtually all of it is immediately diverted into a large irrigation canal that waters a mosaic of hundreds of fields — alfalfa, asparagus, lettuce, and other vegetables, their vivid green color clashing against the sere desert. The slender thread of water that remains in the Colorado’s channel continues to flow south, but is soon swallowed up by a sea of sand, far short of its delta, which lies 100 miles farther on.

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A fisherman on the upper Colorado River in northern Colorado. Low water flows have endangered fish populations and led last year to the closing of parts of the river to fishing.

The Colorado River once surged through the delta during high flows, carrying so much water at times that shallow draft steamboats chugged hundreds of miles up the river into the U.S. with loads of freight. The water in the delta nourished a vast fertile landscape, a fitting end to a river known as the Nile of North America.

“The river was everywhere and nowhere,” the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote during a 1922 canoe trip to the delta, describing the waterway as it ebbed, flowed, braided, and stalled into pools, nourishing a rich and diverse ecosystem of “a hundred green lagoons,” a “milk and honey wilderness” with thick stands of cottonwoods and willows that provided habitat for hundreds of species of birds. The delta’s marshes, mudflats, and white sand beaches were home to clapper rails, bitterns, mallards, teal, and clouds of egrets.

Bobcats, puma, deer, and wild boar wandered the delta’s forests. Leopold was searching for the jaguar that roamed there, but didn’t see any. Continue reading

Seven Generations

A custodian in Death Valley National Park, which would gain 40,000 acres under the measure. Credit Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated Press

At a time when the current administration and it’s legislative supporters are busy dismantling the environmental protections that have been painstakingly developed for over half a century, this bipartisan achievement is surprising, and heartening news.

Senate Passes a Sweeping Land Conservation Bill

The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.

The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.

“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader.

Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support.

“This package gives our country a million acres of new wilderness, protects a million acres of public lands from future mining, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and balances conservation and recreation for the long term,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress.” Continue reading

Connecting the Dots Between Technology & Nature Conservation

REEF FISH, BAHAMAS Fish congregate near a shallow reef in Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. © Jeff Yonover

Those familiar with our work will recognize the word valorization, which is an essential element of what we write about and what we do. It’s increasingly important to note that Nature, made more fragile with each passing year by human impact climate change, requires human efforts to protect and hopefully, turn back the clock on damage already done; and it appears to be human nature that maintain a direct  correlation between how something is valued and the amount of attention it gets.

We’re particularly impressed by this example of tech collaboration. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for highlighting these stories…

The Caribbean Needs Tourism, and Tourism Needs Healthy Coral Reefs

AI and social media are helping quantify the economic value of coral reefs

The Caribbean region is more dependent on tourism than any other region in the world—the sector accounts for over 15 percent of GDP and 13 percent of jobs in the region. And almost all visitors to the Caribbean take part in some activity that relates to coral reefs—either directly, like snorkeling and scuba diving, or indirectly, like enjoying sandy beaches, eating fresh seafood and swimming in crystal waters. That means the health of the Caribbean’s tourism industry—and thus the whole regional economy—is dependent on the health of its coral reefs.

But just how much value do reefs produce? After all, “what gets measured gets managed and improved.” The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently released the results of a study that focused on reef-adjacent activities and the value they generate for the tourism industry, island governments and Caribbean communities. This study, which builds on an earlier body of globally focused research produced by TNC, found that reef-adjacent activities alone generate an estimated $5.7 billion per year in the Caribbean from roughly 7.4 million visitors. When combined with reef-dependent tourism activities, they generate $7.9 billion total from roughly 11 million visitors.

In other words, a major draw for people traveling to the Caribbean are activities related to coral reef ecosystems, and both the tourism industry and other aspects of the local economies depend on healthy coral reefs to keep this relationship afloat. This evidence offers a pivotal opportunity for advancing coral conservation initiatives not only in the Caribbean but around the world, as it can catalyze both the tourism industry and local governments and communities to invest in protecting and restoring coral reefs for the benefit of economies and incomes.

We now know that these natural wonders are responsible for generating billions of dollars, sustaining livelihoods and anchoring economies in the Caribbean as well as other tropical destinations across the globe. And that should translate into a major incentive to conserve them.   Continue reading

Tigers, Tales, Illumination

ImpossibleOwl.jpgBrian Phillips has not featured once in our pages until now, nor has The Ringer. If you read his essay below, featured also in the book to the right, the fit with our platform here is clear. Strange, though; I would not have expected to see it featured on a website that looks to be mostly focused on sports.

But it is a welcome surprise. It serves as another welcome reminder of some of the highlights of our years in India. And it provides a reason to track the author. The blurb the publisher chose to accompany the book (click the image to the right) is telling: “…Dogged, self-aware, and radiating a contagious enthusiasm for his subjects, Phillips is an exhilarating guide to the confusion and wonder of the world today. If John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead was the last great collection of New Journalism from the print era, Impossible Owls is the first of the digital age.”

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Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Man-eaters

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Of the twelve tigers I saw in India, one might have been a ghost; two were in water, eight were on land, and one was sleeping in a tree. One stepped out of high grass, crossed the road in front of me, and disappeared into grass on the other side. One walked along a low ridge on the edge of a different road, oblivious or indifferent to the tourists taking her photograph. One looked out from a cover of branches and red leaves, so perfectly concealed that from thirty feet away he kept stereoscoping in and out of sight. Three were cubs, just four or five months old. Three were juveniles, aged around one year. The rest were fully grown. All were tired, because the days were hot, and because the days were dry they moved and breathed and slept in a film of clay-colored dust. Continue reading

Taking Stock Of Animal Futures

 

Our cohabitation with animals on this planet is imperiled. There is no choice but to keep track of these things as best we can with art, with essays, with whatever it takes. Thanks to Rachel Riederer (again) for adding her words and links to images and videos on this topic:

The Not-So-Uplifting Year in the Animal Kingdom

During a year that saw the stripping away of environmental protections, the most resonant stories served as sombre warnings rather than warm-fuzzy generators.

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The skyscraper-climbing raccoon made it to the top of UBS tower in St Paul, Minnesota, where officials were waiting for it.

I can’t count the number of animal stories that appeared in my timelines this year with comments like, “Everything is garbage, so here’s this.” There was the cat who was reunited with her family after the Camp Fire, in California, and the parrot who was adopted after getting kicked out of an animal shelter for swearing too saltily. Among the bears preparing for hibernation at Katmai National Park, a female named Beadnose became famous for being the most gloriously round. There was the baby raccoon who scaled a skyscraper in St. Paul, “Mission Impossible” style, stopping occasionally for naps in window ledges along the way. (It was trapped, released, and promptly made the subject of a children’s book.) Stories from the animal world offer reliable moments of escapism—the ones we see in viral videos are usually cute, or tame, or strange and majestic, and glimpsed from a safe distance. But the animal stories that resonated most with me this year were the ones that hinted at a more ominous trend: that we humans are encroaching on nature in ways both glaring and subtle, putting the human and animal worlds into ever more intimate, and ever more fraught, contact.

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Katmai National Park’s bear 409 (aka “Beadnose”) won the 2018 competition for fattest bear. According to the park, when “she is not raising cubs, this bear is usually one of the fattest females.” NPS Photo/A. Ramos

The most influential animal of the year might be the unfortunate sea turtle who got a straw stuck—really, deeply, seriously stuck—up his nose. In an uncomfortable ten-minute video posted to YouTube, a marine biologist slowly extracts the straw, which is brown and crumpled and disgusting. The turtle’s nose bleeds, and throughout the ordeal, it opens its mouth as if to bite the biologist’s hand—or howl in pain. The video, filmed in 2015, in Costa Rica, became part of this year’s debate over plastic straws and was used by proponents of straw bans to show how such a small object, used and disposed of without a thought, can cause substantial suffering down the line.

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© Twitter Screengrab from the viral video

baby bear became an overnight Internet star when it was captured in a video that looked, at first, like a sweet inspirational tale. In aerial drone footage, the cub was shown repeatedly slipping down the side of a snowy ledge and trying mightily to make its way to the top, where its mother waited. Ultimately, the cub prevailed, and the video was embraced on social media as a tribute to the power of perseverance. But then drone operators and ecologists began weighing in: the drone that took the video had likely alarmed the bears; you can see the mother bear swatting the air as the drone flies closer. The machine’s operator, in chasing the bears for footage, had potentially driven them into a dangerous situation. Suddenly, the viral cub was transformed from a feel-good fable into a cautionary tale about how humans can imperil animals just by trying to get a good look at them. Continue reading

Naughty Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated

Thanks to the Guardian for the latest story in this series. We have avoided adding our voice to the many rightly concerned about the radically pro-extraction, carbon-freewheeling policies of the United States since early 2017. The concern is loud and widespread. We have listened. Today, reading this story, I pictured a naughty boy, a bully, getting away with bad behavior for an extended period. Any period of bad boy behavior is intolerable but it happens. Until it is no longer tolerated. Which eventually always happens. And that may be the best stand-in for optimism these days:

Lost lands? The American wilderness at risk in the Trump era

Exclusive: a new study reveals the vast extent of public lands being opened up to the energy industry. The Guardian heard from three communities on the frontlines

by Charlotte Simmonds, Gloria Dickie and Jen Byers

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Colter Hoyt, an outdoors guide and conservationist, at Grand Staircase-Escalante. Photograph: Charlotte Simmonds for the Guardian

In the great expanses of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, the silence hits you first. Minutes pass, smooth and unbroken as glass. The smallest sound – a breath of wind, a falling rock – can seem as loud as passing traffic.

Colter Hoyt knows this landscape well. As an outdoor guide, he walks the monument almost daily. Yet these days he is full of fear. This remote paradise of red rocks, slot canyons and towering plateaus faces an uncertain future, following a controversial presidential proclamation that removed 800,000 acres from the monument and opened land up for potential energy development.

When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of “American energy dominance”. This would only be possible by exploiting America’s 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country. Continue reading

Spare, Share, Protect

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A farmer walks through his coffee plantation, which is integrated into the forest, in Lampung province, Indonesia. ULET IFANSASTI/CIFOR

Our work has required occasional philosophical reflection to get our bearings on the choices we have made on how to approach conservation. Share approaches such as the duck farming mentioned here, or the coffee farming mentioned here are equally as common as the spare approaches in our practice. I had not encountered these two terms until now, so thanks to Fred Pearce for this expansion of my vocabulary:

Sparing vs Sharing: The Great Debate Over How to Protect Nature

What is the best way to save nature – to cordon off areas for parks and open space or to integrate conservation measures on working lands? Recent research makes a case for each of these approaches and has reignited a long-standing debate among scientists and conservationists.

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A farming village surrounded by undeveloped forests in the province of Quang Ninh, Vietnam. TERRY SUNDERLAND/CIFOR

It is one of the biggest questions in conservation: Should we be sharing our landscapes with nature by reviving small woodlands and adopting small-scale eco-friendly farming? Or should we instead be sparing large tracts of land for nature’s exclusive use – by creating more national parks and industrializing agriculture on existing farmland?

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More than 1.5 million wildebeest migrate annually across Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, which covers 5,700 square miles. DANIEL ROSENGREN / WIKIMEDIA

The argument between “sparing” and “sharing” as a conservation tool has been raging since researchers first coined the terms more than a decade ago. Arguably it began almost half a century before when Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution of high-yielding crop varieties, declared that “by producing more food per unit of cultivated area, more land would be available for other uses, including recreation and wildlife.”

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LUISA RIVERA FOR YALE E360

E.O. Wilson’s 2016 book Half-Earth upped the ante by calling for us to extend protected areas from the current 15 percent of the earth’s land surface to 50 percent. Research studies and critiques have flourished on both sides. Continue reading

When Alarmism Is Required

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An illegal logging in the Alto Turiacu indigenous territory in Brazil’s Maranhão State in 2015. FÁBIO NASCIMENTO / GREENPEACE

Trust, a kind of social glue, keeps us from having to think nonstop about worst case scenarios. We trust that those with authority, whether intellectual or political, will use it responsibly. Thinking about this recently, I have been adjusting where I have least and greatest trust that responsible environmental actions are taken. Today I have made an adjustment on the former. The USA’s political leadership has been at the forefront of my thought when it comes to least responsible, least trustworthy actions. Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Brazil, studies the consequences of deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest, so his word carries scientific weight for me. He has put in perspective why I should turn my attention to Brazil:

Why Brazil’s New President Poses an Unprecedented Threat to the Amazon

Newly elected Jair Bolsonaro, an authoritarian nationalist sometimes called the “tropical Trump,” has staked out an environmental agenda that would open the Amazon to widespread development, putting at risk a region that plays a vital role in stabilizing the global climate.

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An indigenous woman protests against then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to ban the creation of new protected areas or indigenous territories, in Sao Paulo in October. NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

For people concerned about the environment and climate change, U.S. President Donald Trump has proven to be as bad, or worse, than feared. He is in the process of pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement, continues to flatly dismiss the science of human-caused global warming, and has worked ceaselessly to undo environmental regulations and weaken environmental agencies.

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Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, has pledged to dismantle the country’s environmental regulations. MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Now, however, a new leader has emerged on the world stage who is poised to do even more global environmental damage than Trump. He is Jair Bolsonaro, the recently elected president of Brazil, and his extreme views on the environment, coupled with his control of nearly all the country’s levers of power, means that he is now in a position to do unprecedented harm to the Amazon and the international battle to slow climate change.

Not for nothing is Bolsonaro known as the “tropical Trump.” The parallels are many, including their embrace of the far right and their inflammatory rhetoric. And among their similarities is the way that a constant barrage of outrageous comments diverts discussion from the environmental damage that their policies portend. Continue reading

Mapping Earth’s Remaining Intact Ecosystems

A Xikrin woman walks back to her village from the Cateté River in Brazil. Photograph: Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

Thanks to Lisa Cox, the Guardian’s Australia correspondent for environment, for this:

Five countries hold 70% of world’s last wildernesses, map reveals

First map of Earth’s intact ecosystems shows just five nations are responsible for most of them – but it will require global action to protect them

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Map of the world’s remaining wilderness. Green represents land wilderness, while blue represents ocean wilderness. Photograph: Nature

Just five countries hold 70% of the world’s remaining untouched wilderness areas and urgent international action is needed to protect them, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have for the first time produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity.

It comes ahead of the conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November where signatory nations are working towards a plan for the protection of biodiversity beyond 2020.

Conservationists are calling for a mandated target for wilderness conservation that will preserve the planet’s vulnerable ecosystems. Continue reading

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?

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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

Carbon Insurance As Heritage Insurance

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A carbon-offset project, the first of its kind in the United States, has become the Yurok’s main source of discretionary income, helping the tribe buy back thousands of acres of land. Photograph by Joel Redman

Carbon trading has featured, or at least been mentioned, only rarely on this platform, now that I stop to check. That seems impossible. But the scheme with so much promise has simply not taken off. Indigenous heritage, on the other hand, has featured in dozens of stories here since we started in 2011. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for bringing this story to my attention, helped by two captivating photos and the fact that it highlights the approach of the Yurok Tribe (a community I had not heard of before):

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“I think we did a good thing by saving the trees, but I’m not happy with it,” Jene McCovey, a tribal elder, said. “It’s not viable. It allows polluters to pollute.” Photograph by Joel Redman

How Carbon Trading Became a Way of Life for California’s Yurok Tribe

When Marty Lamebear is not fighting fires, he is starting them. In the past few years, as a member of the Yurok Tribe Forestry Program’s fire department, he has been helping revive the controversial practice of prescribed burns to protect and restore the coastal redwood forests of northern California. Lamebear is also a hunter, fisherman, and dancer. In his free time, he makes tribal regalia for ceremonial dances from parts of elk, deer, minks, and porcupines, which he shoots or finds already dead, and from frozen eagles that he orders from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A prescribed burn, what Lamebear calls a culture burn, creates prairies within the forest, which attract those animals. “At first, we couldn’t really tell its effects,” he said. “But, after about six years now, we can honestly start seeing the landscape open up, animals come around.” They also serve another purpose, he said. “It’s insurance for our carbon.” Continue reading

A Visual Requiem, And A Call For Quiet Grace At The Grand Canyon

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In a merged image, the photographer Peter McBride captured a vision of the Grand Canyon choked by noise and exhaust. Photograph by Pete McBride

Noise pollution was the topic of several of the first posts on this platform when we started it in 2011, and has been a persistent theme ever since then. We especially appreciate those related to noise in wilderness areas, so thanks to Nick Paumgarten for this story:

The Grand Canyon Needs to Be Saved By Every Generation

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Hiking in the Grand Canyon can be a perilous pursuit. Photograph by Pete McBride

Three years ago, in the course of thirteen months, the photographer Peter McBride and the writer Kevin Fedarko hiked from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other. They did it in eight sections, mainly so that McBride could shoot in different seasons. In all, it took them seventy-one days to cover two hundred and seventy-seven river miles and some eight hundred shoe-leather miles, through some of the continent’s roughest hiking terrain—“a whole lot of scratching around the rock puzzles in that giant abyss,” as McBride put it recently.

Before they set off, the Grand Canyon had been hiked nose to tail only nine times in recorded history. There is also a handful of obsessives who have chipped away at it, piece by piece, in the course of decades. “Maybe some crazy ancestral Puebloan did the whole thing, but that wouldn’t make logical sense—they wouldn’t have had any reason to,” McBride said.

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 panoramic view of the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado. Photograph by Pete McBride

McBride, a native Coloradan who shoots for National Geographic, has been documenting the Colorado River for a decade, sometimes from a perch in an ultralight aircraft. Fedarko, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, has guided on the river and is the author of “The Emerald Mile,” an account (with many historical tributaries) of a harrowing speed run of the Grand in a dory during the biggest flood in generations. (As it happens, Kenton Grua, the boatman in the book, was also the first person to walk the canyon, in 1976.) McBride and Fedarko have both become persistent, ardent advocates for preserving the place, in all its spellbinding, inhospitable glory, in abidance with Teddy Roosevelt’s famous dictum, issued during his one visit, in 1903: “Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit.” Still, this was the first time, and surely the last, that either of them had tried to walk it. Continue reading

Science Writing, A Genre That Keeps Improving, Is The Best Way To Explain A Conservation Paradox

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Eric Nyquist

Two years of working in southern Chile taught me just enough about the complexity of this particular issue (among the many complex issues in our practice)to appreciate the article below by Emma Marris, who we already knew to be provocative, enough that she could challenge Bill McKibben two minutes into her TED talk, and does so convincingly. The primary reason I appreciate this article, is the same reason this platform has showcased the best of this genre of writers over the years. Scientists, translated into regular language we non-scientists can understand:

When Conservationists Kill Lots (and Lots) of Animals

Invasive species are sometimes trapped, poisoned, and shot in large numbers to save native species from extinction. Some scientists say the bloodshed isn’t worth it.

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Eric Nyquist

The desert of south-central Australia is crenellated with sandstone hills in shades of ivory, crimson, and apricot. The ground is littered with dead trees and tree limbs, big hunks of transparent mica, dried cow dung, and thousands of stone spearheads and blades made by the Aboriginal people who lived here for tens of thousands of years—and live here still. Around the few water holes are the doglike tracks of dingoes, wild canines that were brought to Australia thousands of years ago and are now the country’s top predators.

I have come to the Evelyn Downs ranch, on the famously remote highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, to meet Arian Wallach, a conservationist who thinks there is too much killing in conservation. Wallach has come to this massive 888-square-mile ranch because it is one of the few places in Australia where people aren’t actively killing wild animals. Tough, outback Herefords share the landscape with kangaroos, wild horses, wild donkeys, camels, emus, cats, foxes, native rodents, dingoes, and very large antediluvian-looking reptiles called perenties. Of the animals on this list, dingoes, cats, foxes, horses, camels, and donkeys are all killed in large numbers throughout Australia—but not here. Wallach has convinced the owners to experiment with a more hands-off approach. Continue reading

Saving Species With SavingSpecies

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GigaPan technology, developed for NASA’s Mars mission, combines dozens of digital images to create high resolution panoramas.Credit Image by Stuart Pimm

saving-species-logo-long-small-1.pngThanks to Kathryn McManus for bringing SavingSpecies to our attention through this excellent review of their work based on the experience that she and her daughter had with its founder, Dr. Pimm:

Saving Hummingbirds Is One Small Step in Saving the Planet

High in the Andes Mountains in Colombia, a reforestation project led by SavingSpecies works to protect one of the world’s most renowned bio hot spots.

merlin_143901342_d0359165-6129-404f-855b-d2d4fb6614dc-superJumboWESTERN ANDES CLOUD FOREST, Colombia — Just before sunrise on a crisp summer morning high in a rain forest in Colombia’s Western Andes, the renowned ecologist Stuart Pimm gathered his research team over breakfast and made final plans for that morning’s journey to install motion-sensor cameras to monitor hummingbirds.

24forests-inyt3-articleLarge.jpgIn just a few hours, the installations would be done by Andrea Kolarova, 20, who was here with other students from Duke University, where Dr. Pimm holds the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation. She was getting some advice from him and from Luis Mazariegos, founder of the Hummingbird Conservancy of Colombia.

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Andrea Kolarova, a student from Duke, sets up a camera with help from Alexandra McManus, 11. Michael LaPorte

My daughter, Alexandra, 11, a student at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan, Conn., had also been invited to participate in the Colombia project, which is how I found myself for two weeks this summer living in a cabin in this remote mountainous territory. Although not far from the town of Jardin, which is about two and a half hours from Medellin, it takes a slightly harrowing hourlong ride in an ATV along a dirt switchback road to get here.

Ms. Kolarova’s hummingbird research will be used by Dr. Pimm’s organization, SavingSpecies, which he founded in 2007 to combat global warming using money he was awarded as a recipient of the Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences a year earlier. SavingSpecies works with local organizations around the world to buy land with the goal of restoring forests that have been destroyed, often because of logging, agricultural expansion, mining and oil extraction, and protecting the species that are under threat as a result.

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The ecologist Stuart Pimm describes the dangers of deforestation as a warming climate drives species like hummingbirds to move to higher land.Credit Image by Duke University

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Protecting Nature & Defying The Odds

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On a game drive in Akagera. Shannon Sims

Thanks to Shannon Sims for this story of a refuge defying the odds:

A Rwandan Game Park Defying the Odds

Despite modest tourism numbers, Akagera National Park is a success story in the making, particularly considering that, like its host country, it survived catastrophe.

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A velvet monkey and her baby in Akagera National Park. The Rwandan park is a success story, despite modest tourism numbers. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press

The road through Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda was blocked. Two giraffes had positioned themselves smack in the middle of the dirt road and were rubbing their necks together. In the car, with a driver and a guide, my cell service was long gone; there was nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Right around this time of year, to the east of Rwanda’s borders, in Tanzania and Kenya, big packs of tourists are stumbling over each other to get the perfect photo of a scene like this. They’re driving through protected areas like Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in caravans of Land Rovers, each packed so tightly that peoples’ binocular straps get tangled up. It makes sense: the animal migrations that occur in this part of the world these months are rightly considered by many to be the greatest natural show on earth. Continue reading

Roots Of Biodiversity

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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

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“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

Waterways, Persons & Rights

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The free-flowing Baker River in Chile’s Patagonia region. Permits for a major hydroelectric project on the waterway were revoked in 2014 amid protests. LOUIS VEST/FLICKR

Dams in Patagonia are the gift that keep on giving, in terms of awakening activism and forcing raised awareness of the value of waterways. I first mentioned my experience in Chile here. I came back to the idea a few more times. Thanks to Jens Benohr and Patrick Lynch for this reminder, and for letting us all know where this seems headed from a legal point of view:

Should Rivers Have Rights? A Growing Movement Says It’s About Time

Inspired by indigenous views of nature, a movement to grant a form of legal “personhood” to rivers is gaining some ground — a key step, advocates say, in reversing centuries of damage inflicted upon the world’s waterways.

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A Chilean energy company is seeking permits to restart the building of an unfinished dam along the San Pedro River. CARLOS LASTRA

Chile is a land of rivers. Along its narrow 3,000-mile length, thousands of rivers and wetlands bring freshwater and nutrients down from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Together, these river systems drain 101 major watersheds that support both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, ranging from arid lands in the north to blue whale nurseries off of Patagonia in the south.

Chile’s second-longest river, the 240-mile Biobío, once tumbled fast and wild through deep gorges and spectacular scenery on its way from the Andes to the sea. The Biobío was one of the world’s great whitewater rafting venues — until the 1990s, when the first of three large hydroelectric dams was built across the river. Over the past two decades, the Biobío dams have flooded more than 13,000 acres, displaced hundreds of families of the indigenous Mapuche people, turned long stretches of this once-unruly river into placid reservoirs, and caused abrupt fluctuations in water levels that have wrecked nesting habitat for native birds and disrupted the river’s natural rhythms. Continue reading

World Elephant Day

23 July 2018. Elephant Relocation from Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (South Africa) to Zinave Reserve (Mozambique). Picture: JAMES OATWAY

Our fascination with elephants is evident throughout the history of this site, and are heartened by actions taken toward increased conservation of these magnificent animals. Relocating large African mammals to new protected areas due to either habitat loss or overpopulation has successfully been done before, but the challenges continue.

Giants on the Move

Written by Patricia Sims, Co-Founder, World Elephant Day

Each year for World Elephant Day we put a lot of our elephant conservation attention toward the ivory poaching crisis threatening African elephants, and the tourism and captivity issues that the endangered Asian elephants face. Yet the larger conservation challenge of habitat loss for both African and Asian elephants is looming. Our increasing encroachment on elephant habitat throughout Africa and Asia is putting elephants at greater risk, resulting in human-elephant conflict issues, and the demise of elephant populations and the ecosystems that they, as a keystone species, maintain.

So what are the solutions? Can moving elephants – from one location where there isn’t enough space for them – to another location where there aren’t enough elephants, help solve this issue? At the heart of this critical elephant conservation conundrum is a partnership between the De Beers Group – the world’s leading diamond company – and Peace Parks Foundation, a leading not-for-profit organization focused on the preservation of large cross-border ecosystems. They have just completed the first phase of the largest and longest translocation of elephants ever recorded in South Africa. This translocation project is called “Moving Giants.

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