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Asia’s Environmental ‘Eden’ in Crisis

14. Juni 2018 - 11:19

Bulldozers running amok in Eden?

That, essentially, is one of the key conclusions of a new landmark study of the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia — the last place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos still survive together.

The research, from an international team that includes several prominent ALERT scientists, raises just about every red flag imaginable.

The full study can be download here.  Among its key findings:

·      The Leuser Ecosystem, which spans 2.6 million hectares, is much more severely fragmented and vulnerable than previously understood. 

·      Road building is by far the biggest threat to Leuser — opening a Pandora’s Box of threats, including illegal deforestation, logging, palm oil plantations, wildlife poaching, and haze-creating fires.

·      Much road-building in the Leuser Ecosystem is ‘unofficial’ — a polite way of saying ‘illegal in most cases’.  Remarkably, there are twice as many illegal than legal roads, collectively totaling about 10,400 kilometers in length.

·      Although parts of the Leuser Ecosystem are still intact and undisturbed, these blocks of intact forest rely crucially on “forest links” — vulnerable areas that must be urgently protected to limit further forest fragmentation.

"Forest links" -- shown in red -- provide vital connections between major forest blocks of the Leuser Ecosystem.  Areas numbered 1-4 are hot-spots of destructive road building.

Political Battle

Officially, Indonesia’s federal government has designated the Leuser Ecosystem a “National Strategic Area” for environmental services.

But these protective efforts were actively undermined — especially by the former government of Aceh Province, which contains most of the Leuser Ecosystem.

The previous government in Aceh planned to crisscross the Leuser Ecosystem with major new highways and energy projects — schemes detailed in its notorious “Aceh Spatial Plan”.

One project — which ALERT has labeled the “Highway of Death” — would slice the Leuser Ecosystem completely in half.

The planned highway and energy schemes that would devastate the Leuser Ecosystem.

Equally alarming are a spate of new energy projects — mostly hydroelectric dams and geothermal projects — that would be located deep in the forest.

Besides flooding or destroying forests, these energy projects would require networks of new roads for construction and maintenance — roads that would cut into the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem, opening it up to a range of serious human pressures.

New Governor, New Hope

A bright new hope for the Leuser Ecosystem was the election last year of Irwandi Yusuf as Governor of Aceh Province.

Governor Irwandi has been far more sympathetic to the plight of Leuser Ecosystem than his predecessor.

Thanks to Governor Irwandi, most of the large highway and energy schemes ready to devastate the Leuser Ecosystem are on hold. 

But Irwandi needs our voices and support to keep these projects and their powerful foreign and domestic proponents at bay.

And government authorities and conservationists struggling alongside him to protect the Leuser Ecosystem are stretched desperately thin.  Illegal activities are rampant. 

Most of all, far too little attention is being paid to the devastating one-two punch of new roads and fragmentation.  Eden can’t survive if it is sliced and diced into small pieces.

The only way to save Leuser is to silence the roaring bulldozers.

Kategorien: english

Investors Beware: Infrastructure Projects Are Collapsing

3. Juni 2018 - 23:41

The astounding news that Malaysia has just canceled the massive high-speed railway from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore — one of the central elements in China’s Belt & Road Initiative — will send economic shock-waves around the globe.

It’s a giant blow to China.  And it will be a massive blow to the confidence of investors, many of which have been hoping to profit handsomely from the avalanche of infrastructure deals happening across the planet. 

BAD GAMBLES

The high-speed railway is far from an isolated example.  Giant infrastructure projects are collapsing all around the world.

In some instances, billions of dollars are being lost — both by investors and by the host nations.

In other cases, mega-projects that had formerly appeared to be a great idea have turned out to be economic, environmental, and social calamities.

NATURAL GAS NIGHTMARE

In the Pacific-island nation of Papua New Guinea, a $19 billion liquid-natural-gas project, known as PNG-LNG, was widely heralded as an economic savior for the nation.

But now it is regarded as an economic loser.

Two recent reports have branded PNG-LNG a “development failure” — for failing to deliver on promised jobs, household incomes, national economic growth, and government revenues.

Source: Jubilee Australia Research Centre (2018)

As summarized on the leading website Mongabay, aggressive tax avoidance by ExxonMobil and other foreign investors are effectively defrauding the government of Papua New Guinea of hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

And as frustrations rise, social conflict and violence are spiking in territories around the 700-kilometer-long PNG-LNG project.

The verdict: a sprawling, multi-billion-dollar mess for investors.

And a calamity for one of the world’s most environmentally and culturally diverse nations — a nation now teetering on the edge of economic chaos.

AMAZON DAM BUST

Earlier this year, investors were equally shocked when Brazil abruptly backed away from its decades-long policy of building giant hydro-power dams in the Amazon Basin.

Such dams can have fearful environmental and social costs — flooding forests, displacing local peoples, and requiring networks of new roads that spur dramatic increases in deforestation, illegal mining, and wildlife poaching

The government of Brazilian President Michel Temer had long favored Amazon mega-dams — but abruptly dropped them.

Why?  Determined resistance from environmental and indigenous groups didn’t help.  Neither did a stuttering Brazilian economy.

But the fatal blow was deep corruption, cost overruns, and illegal kickbacks that had riddled the dam projects.

The bribery was so bad that one official was sentenced to more than forty years in prison.

Shockingly, former Brazilian President Lula has been sentenced to prison too — for nine and a half years.

The story is dizzying.  Project investors had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

They are now taking a gigantic financial hit, damaging virtually every sector of the Brazilian economy.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

These are three examples.  One could list hundreds more.

For infrastructure financiers, the conclusion is inescapable.

Smart investors rely on accurately understanding the trade-offs between risks and rewards.

But the overwhelming majority of big infrastructure projects is happening in developing nations.

Sadly, these are often high-risk environments.  Corruption.  Poor transparency.  Hidden financial, social, and ecological perils.

Avoid reddish tones: Pervasive corruption in many developing nations (Alamgir et al. 2018. Current Biology).

And even in nations with far less corruption and strong public transparency, many infrastructure projects are struggling. 

For example, a Chinese billionaire who owns a 99-year lease on Australia’s strategic Darwin Harbor is struggling even to make interest payments on the huge debt he’s accrued. 

He’s now imploring China's Export-Import Bank — which is controlled by the cabinet of Chinese President Xi Jinping — to bail him out with a half-billion-dollar loan.

Investors shouldn’t be clamoring to spend their money on such projects.

They should be running away from them.

Kategorien: english

China's Belt & Road is "Environmentally Riskiest Venture Ever"

24. Mai 2018 - 4:43

Investors worldwide are in a feeding frenzy — revolving around China’s Belt & Road scheme to push massive infrastructure and extractive industries across 70 nations spanning half of the planet.

Not one person in a thousand understands what this gambit will involve. 

In an interview published yesterday, ALERT director Bill Laurance argues that this is the environmentally riskiest venture ever undertaken

The interview is here.  It takes 2 minutes to read. 

Laurance also did a brief podcast yesterday on the Belt & Road.  If it doesn't alarm you, then you don't have a pulse.

Spread the News

We need your help to spread the word globally.  These are the URLs.  Please send them to anyone who'd be interested.

Interview: https://nexusmedianews.com/chinas-global-infrastructure-initiative-could-be-an-environmental-catastrophe-25a40e2d1000

Podcast: http://thesustainabilityagenda.com/episode-45-shocking-detrimental-environmental-impact-chinas-belt-road-intiative-interview-professor-bill-laurancedistinguished-research-professor-james-cook-university/

We only have the briefest window of time to slow this charging behemoth.

Kategorien: english

The Global Battle to Protect Our Protected Areas

13. Mai 2018 - 14:33

Nearly everywhere one looks, protected areas are under assault.

There is, of course, plenty of illegal threats — such as land invasions, mining, logging, and poaching happening inside protected areas.

But just as scary are a wide range of legal or quasi-legal dangers.

In Brazil, for instance, conservative President Michel Temer has tried to use legal tactics to open up the vast RENCA Reserve Network in eastern Amazonia for industrial mining — a plan that was only halted at the very last moment by a judge’s decree

The Temer government also seems determined to shrink four other Amazonian parks and completely abolish a fifth reserve to open up new lands for miners.

Global Debate

Once considered almost inalienable, protected areas today are facing an array of legal threats collectively know as PADDD — “Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement.”

Downgrading occurs when a government weakens the legal status of a protected area, generally to allow activities such as mining, logging, or wildlife harvesting.

Downsizing involves carving away pieces of the protected area.  And degazettement means abolishing the protected area altogether. 

Lucrative mining interests are the biggest cause of PADDD.  But fossil fuels, logging, infrastructure projects, and even agricultural plantations are also driving PADDD events.

Such events are happening so often today that there’s a special website, known as PADDD Tracker, that tries to keep track of them all.

Previous, ongoing, and planned PADDD events in Africa (from PADD Tracker)

Global Problem

PADDD is becoming a global crisis.

Even World Heritage Sites — supposedly the pinnacle of Earth's protected areas — are feeling the bite.  For example, the famous Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, a famous World Heritage Area, was shrunk in 2012 to allow a massive uranium mine.

In 2011, Cambodia carved out a section of its largest national park — Virachey — to build a vast rubber plantation.  At the time, a government official defended the decision with an Orwellian statement: “It is not against the law when the government approves it.”

And it's not just developing nations that pushing PADDD.

In the U.S., the Trump Administration slashed 85 percent of Bears Ears Monument in Utah — an area of great cultural, geological, and environmental importance.

Trump has also cut the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half to allow oil and gas drilling — and wants to reduce three vital marine parks while opening them up to commercial fishing.

And last year, Australia’s federal government proposed what WWF called “the largest protected area downgrading in the world” when it announced that it wanted to allow commercial fishing in nearly half a million square kilometers of marine parks.

Beware of Conservative Governments

PADDD events can happen under any government, but appear more likely under conservative ones.

They also appear to be increasing.  In our age of ever-expanding human populations and the drive for resources, this is hardly surprising.  

But in the face of climate change, mass extinction, and habitat degradation, protected areas are more vital than at any time before.  They are one of our most essential tools to stop ecological meltdown.

The best way to fight PADDD is through public activism.  Protests, marches, and international criticism have saved protected areas ranging from New Zealand to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We all want to believe our protected areas are invulnerable.  But they are being attacked, dissected, and eroded away every day.

The lesson for us is simple: Conservation won’t succeed without protected areas, and protected areas won’t survive without our constant vigilance.

Jeremy Hance is a leading environmental journalist and frequent contributor to ALERT.

 

Kategorien: english

Will China Wipe Out the World’s Rarest Ape?

4. Mai 2018 - 22:14

Will a desperately imperiled ape become a tragic icon of China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure-expansion plans—hundreds of mega-projects that will stretch across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Pacific?

The ape, called the Tapanuli Orangutan, is one of the rarest animals on Earth.

Its great vulnerability isn’t stopping Chinese corporations and banks from building a US$1.6 billion hydropower project right in the heart of its tiny population. 

The forest destruction has already begun.

To learn more about this environmental calamity — and why it is only the beginning of an avalanche of environmental crises that will be provoked by China — read this brief article

Published today by ALERT director Bill Laurance, it’s a story of ecological Armageddon for one of our closest living relatives.

And it explains exactly why we can’t trust China when it claims its massive development plans will be ‘green’ and safe for nature.

Ape images (c) Maxime Aliaga; forest-clearing image: Sumatran Orangutan Society

Kategorien: english

WHAT A GIANT SNAKE CAN TEACH US ABOUT DESIGNING CITIES FOR THE FUTURE

21. April 2018 - 0:57

Last week, a jockey at Cannon Racetrack in Cairns, Australia mistook a 15-foot-long Amesthetine Python for a “giant crack” in the raceway.  

He was rounding a corner at full gallop when the snake suddenly appeared before him.

The presence in a dense urban area of such a big reptile—a species notoriously vulnerable to being killed by speeding vehicles—can teach us something about making our growing cities friendlier for wildlife.

Happily, such efforts make cities better for people too.  By 2100, there are projected to be around 11 billion people on Earth—of which an incredible 9 billion will be living in cities.

CITIES CAN SUSTAIN BIODIVERSITY

A surprising amount of biodiversity can persist among the skyscrapers, housing estates, shopping malls, parks, and greenbelts that constitute our modern cities.

Even some vanishingly rare species can use cities.  Imperiled plants have been discovered in weedy abandoned lots, endangered snails in irrigation pipes. 

In northern Queensland, Australia, critically endangered Cassowaries regularly enter homeowners' back yards looking for fruiting plants, so long as dogs are not present.

Of course, many vulnerable species avoid cities—such as forest-interior specialists and strictly arboreal species.  And we won’t want big predators such as Grizzly Bears in cities, no matter how cuddly they look.

But that still leaves a great deal of biodiversity that could potentially use cities if we can make them more wildlife-friendly.

PUSH CONNECTIVITY

First, wildlife benefits greatly from ‘connectivity’—the ability to move from one place to another. 

Whenever possible, that means retaining or creating greenbelts, continuous wildlife corridors, and strips of intact vegetation along rivers and streams. 

Crisscrossing cities with such linear features—the wider, the better—is a winning approach.

ZONE ROADS

Second, we must control our speeding vehicles. 

For endangered species such as Cassowaries and the Florida Panther, roadkill is their biggest threat. 

Many other species forage along roads, bask on warm roads at night, or ‘freeze’ in response to approaching vehicles—making them highly vulnerable.

So, creating road-free zones in urban areas—where foot-traffic and bikes might be allowed, but no roaring vehicles—is a great strategy for nature.

KILLER PETS

Third, as much as we love them, our domestic dogs and cats are dangerous.  They can create lethal ‘haloes’ for wildlife around human habitations.

They do this not only by killing or harassing wildlife, but simply via their odors and scent-marking—which many wild species avoid.

Ecologists talk about “landscapes of fear”—the fact that predators don't just reduce the numbers of their prey, but also greatly limit their habitat use and times of activity.

For urban and suburban areas, that means keeping pets completely out of wildlife-friendly areas—not merely on a leash.

LOW-DENSITY HOUSING

Fourth, we should avoid low-density housing sprawl into forests and other wildlife habitats.

Houses in such areas have great impacts on nature via the many roads they require, their dogs and cats, and their strong tendency to ‘internally fragment’ habitats.

URBAN ISLANDS

Finally, our cities will have a lot more wildlife if they don’t become urban ‘islands’. 

The goal is to maintain some wild or semi-wild habitat in the broader peri-urban areas surrounding cities—because such lands are a major source of wildlife.

Even isolated patches of habitat can be useful as ‘stepping stones’ for local wildlife—and resting and feeding areas for scores of migratory species, such as many songbirds.

For migratory species, the world is big, and we need to think big if we’re going to invite them into our cities.

HAVE CLEAR GOALS—AND PUSH THEM

These principles just scratch the surface.  The “Singapore Index” provides a broad-based way for cities to gauge and monitor their efforts to conserve biodiversity.

We know that having clear goals is important—but they’ll be useless unless they’re implemented.

Far too often, urban planners don’t understand how to make cities more wildlife-friendly, and the financial and political pressures from land developers are enormous. 

Corruption and back-room deals can play a big role too.

Clearly, decision-makers will only make wildlife-friendly cities a priority if their constituents demand it. 

That means doing things like forming urban-wildlife groups, attending city-council meetings, and lobbying politicians.

And demanding proactive land-use planning—which is far more cost-effective than trying to restore broken cities ecologically, or buying back hyper-expensive urban land for nature.  

HEALTHIER FOR PEOPLE

The great news is that wildlife-friendly cities greatly benefit people too

Trees and other vegetation are highly effective in reducing harmful air pollution, limiting flooding, improving water quality, storing carbon, and improving urban climates via shading and evaporative cooling.

And native wildlife can have many benefits, such as limiting pest outbreaks and major disease-vectors like mosquitoes and rats.

Beyond all this, we know that appreciating nature is something people have to learn.  Exposing children in cities to nature—not just animals on TV or video games—is one of the best strategies for educating them about the vital need to make our world more sustainable.

CITIES FOR THE FUTURE

The bottom line: We all have a big stake in making our burgeoning cities friendlier for nature.

Just ask that big python on Cannon Racetrack in Cairns, Australia—which the jockey and his galloping horse happily managed to miss. 

Though in the middle of a city, the racetrack is encircled by trees, and wallabies and other wildlife that the snake would feed on are protected and plentiful.

The snake was obviously happy on the racetrack—it sun-baked there for four hours.

Kategorien: english

NIGHTMARE IN NEW GUINEA

12. April 2018 - 2:32

The island of New Guinea — which sustains the third-largest tract of intact rainforest on the planet — is becoming the latest global deforestation nightmare.

Long-protected from exploitation by its remoteness, steep terrain, and fiercely independent native peoples, the island is now rapidly losing forest to logging projects and palm oil development.

In 2015, deforestation across the island leapt by 70 percent above the year before.

In 2015 and 2016, the island — governed by Indonesia in the west and the nation of Papua New Guinea in the east — lost 524,500 hectares of forest, an area the size of Delaware.

This is greatly alarming from a biodiversity perspective.  New Guinea is a biological wonderland, populated by Birds of Paradise, Tree Kangaroos, more than a thousand species of butterflies, and innumerable endemic plant species.

It is also among the most poorly explored regions of the planet, with many species remaining to be discovered — species that might vanish before ever being studied scientifically.

PALM OIL EXPLOSION

On the Indonesian side, the government is granting large blocks of forest to foreign corporations for oil-palm plantations.

One of the most controversial projects, in Merauke District, is the POSCO Daewoo plantation.  This South Korea-owned concession spans more than 34,000 hectares.

A campaign by Mighty Earth, an environmental group, has prompted more than 20 companies to drop POSCO Daewoo as an oil-palm supplier.

Under intense pressure, POSCO Daewoo says it is enacting a temporary moratorium on deforestation, but forests in most of its giant concession have already been felled.

Elsewhere in Merauke District, a massive 1.2 million hectares of forest has been handed out to developers in a program dubbed the Integrated Food and Energy Estate.  Some of this land will be converted to oil palm.

Development in the Merauke area is especially worrying because of its extensive acid-sulfate soils, which are notoriously difficult to farm.

Beyond major forest loss, large-scale runoff of sediments and fertilizers from expanding farms in Merauke could imperil some of the world’s most diverse coral reefs.

LOGGING AMOK IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA

On the other side of the island, industrial selective logging — much of it illegal — is taking a growing toll.

While Papua New Guinea has struggled to contain out-of-control logging for decades, the situation has worsened considerably in recent years.

Roads bulldozed into selectively logged forests promote deforestation – which rose almost 60 percent from 2014 to 2015.

At the beginning of the decade, Papua New Guinea handed out 11 percent of its land area under so-called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), mostly to foreign-owned corporations.

These 99-year leases were meant to jump-start agricultural development, but instead they opened large areas of forest that had long been owned by native communities.

Logging corporations used the SABLs to access old-growth tropical timber, often promising development projects that never occurred.  Many corporations have been accused of corruption and bribery in taking land from local communities.

The SABLs remain a social and environmental calamity in Papua New Guinea.  In 2013, a National Commission of Inquiry found that most SABLs were illegally obtained.  Soon afterward, the government said it would cancel all SABLs.

However, five years later, most SABLs remain in place and logging is proceeding apace.

CHINA SYNDROME

According to a report last year from Global Witness – a group that monitors international corruption and environmental crimes – most of this ill-gotten timber makes it way to China for manufacturing and then onto the U.S.

The U.S., however, has some of the world's strictest laws on importing illegal timber (under the Lacey Act), and the Global Witness report prompted several U.S. companies to drop the wood in question.

China, meanwhile, has no such laws barring illegal timber.  And it is overwhelmingly the biggest importer of timber worldwide.

NEW GUINEA’S FUTURE

Despite the growing array of threats, New Guinea still sustains one of the world’s largest forest tracts — with three-quarters of the island covered in native forest. 

But the next few years will be crucial.  Will Papua New Guinea and Indonesia promote sustainable development – or wholesale forest plunder, mimicking what has happened across much of Southeast Asia?

The large-scale destruction of New Guinea’s forests would not only imperil countless species and aggravate climate change, but would also rob many traditional communities of the diverse forests they have long relied on for their livelihoods.

Jeremy Hance, a leading environmental journalist, is a regular contributor to ALERT.

 

Kategorien: english

FATAL FENCES ARE DECIMATING NATURE

3. April 2018 - 10:50

Emus attempting to cross a rabbit-proof fence in Western Australia

Scientists have long known that isolation is a killer of nature

Organisms must be connected to others of their species – to maintain viable populations.

Such connectivity allows species to limit inbreeding, maintain genetic diversity, withstand random demographic fluctuations, and recolonize areas from which they have gone locally extinct. 

Many species also rely on annual migrations – for example, to move between distant wintering and breeding areas. 

Finally, for many millions of years, species have moved in response to climate change, such as the Ice Ages, shifting to higher or lower latitudes or elevations.  “Move or die” has seemingly been their motto (although a few species could adapt rapidly enough to survive changing climates).

But despite the undisputed importance of movement and population connectivity, habitat fragmentation is continuing apace throughout the world. 

And many of the world’s great animal migrations have collapsed or are rapidly declining.

FATAL FENCES

Among the usual suspects in fragmenting our planet – habitat destruction, roads, sprawling urban areas, to name a few – is an old nemesis that many had underestimated. 

Scientists are increasingly seeing fences as a big problem, especially for many large mammals, flightless birds, and low-flying species that fail to see fences in their path.

Researcher Penny van Oosterzee reported recently that Africa once supported 14 major large-mammal migrations, but five have failed completely and the remainder all are in trouble.

Fences are a big part of the problem.  For example, Botswana, a Spain-sized nation in southern Africa, today has over 5,000 kilometers of fences just for cattle ranching. 

Those fences don’t just stop cattle – they also halt big mammals such as Wildebeest, Hartebeest, and Zebras.

The fences become especially problematic, according to van Oosterzee, when droughts hit and the wildlife would normally migrate to wetter areas.  Following droughts, even quick surveys have revealed hundreds of thousands of dead animals along the fences.

As their prey have declined, predators such as Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, Hyenas, and African Wild Dogs have also suffered serious population losses.

And Africa is far from alone.  Elsewhere in the world – such as North America, Indochina, Borneo, Australia, and Central Asia – great wildlife migrations have collapsed or are dwindling dramatically.

HUMAN FOOTPRINT

Fences are just one part of a much broader ‘human footprint’, but their ecological impacts are almost certainly underestimated

We know that in areas with a heavy human footprint, movements of individual wildlife decline by half to two-thirds, on average. 

But how much of that choking effect on wildlife movements is being caused by rapidly expanding fences?  We can say ‘a lot’ – but not much beyond this.

The good news is that international bodies – such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – are increasingly emphasizing the critical importance of maintaining ecological connectivity in the real world. 

And with the global explosion of the human populace and our environmental footprint, such efforts are coming not a moment too soon.

As we focus more on connectivity, we can’t ignore the many millions of kilometers of fences on Earth – and their burgeoning impacts on larger animals, whose roles in ecosystems are often profound.

It’s time to take a hard look at fatal fences – and realize how often they are shattering and strangling nature.

Kategorien: english

CAN CONSERVATION CORRIDORS SAVE NATURE?

23. März 2018 - 11:10

Ecosystems are being rapidly fragmented as the human footprint spreads across the Earth.  ALERT’s Mason Campbell, from James Cook University in Australia, tells us about a key initiative that might help nature to survive the onslaught.

Humans are quickly chopping up the natural world, isolating wildlife populations and making them more prone to extinction. 

This is happening faster today than ever before.  Roads have already sliced the world’s natural habitats into more than 600,000 pieces.

Most worryingly, the world’s tropical forests — the biologically-richest ecosystems on Earth — are rapidly approaching a ‘fragmentation threshold’, according to new research in Nature, the world’s top-ranked scientific journal. 

If we don’t stop cutting down tropical forests, the research suggests, in a half-century we will have up to 33 times more forest fragments than we have today. 

Thus, fragmentation is becoming the ‘new normal’ — especially in the tropics.  What we can do to help nature survive?

CONSERVATION CORRIDORS

One popular idea is to create conservation corridors, to help wildlife traverse fragmented landscapes and thereby reduce the impacts on vulnerable species. 

But to date, most large-scale investments in wildlife crossings have taken place in North America, Europe, and Australia — not in the tropics.

A notable exception is the Highway 304 Wildlife Corridor currently under construction in Thailand.  Despite initial concerns, there are some reasons for optimism.

Upon completion, the corridor will link two major forest blocks that comprise an area of biological magnificence — the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a renowned World Heritage site. 

The two forest blocks have been isolated by a major highway and associated land development, illegal logging, and wildlife poaching.

Linking the two forest blocks could improve survival prospects for critically-endangered Indochinese Tigers – hopefully by allowing tigers from one forest block (Dong Phayayen) to repopulate the other block (Khao Yai), where they have been extinct since 2002. 

This would be a vital leap forward – as this is one of only two places on Earth where Indochinese Tigers are known to breed.

IMPRESSIVE BUT EXPENSIVE

As a feat of engineering, the corridor is impressive.  The most important segment includes 430 meters of vehicle tunnels, 570 meters of elevated roadway, and many mini-culverts below the road for small wildlife.

In addition, the Thailand Department of Highways is funding ranger stations at key points along the corridor, to help deter wildlife poachers and illegal loggers.

But a conservation corridor like this far from cheap.  So far, over US$41 million has been invested, and the project isn’t completed yet.

CREDIT TO THAILAND — BUT FEARS FOR THE WORLD

The Highway 34 Wildlife Corridor demonstrates that Thailand is willing to invest serious money to help sustain one of its most environmentally important areas. 

The Thai government deserves applause from the global conservation community for its efforts – and for what might eventually become an iconic effort to sustain nature in Asia.

But Thailand’s project also reveals just how expensive and challenging it can be to reduce the impacts of habitat fragmentation from road expansion.

That's scary given that paved roads in Asia’s developing nations will double in length in the next three years

Even more alarming, China’s trillion-dollar “One Belt One Road” initiative will create vast networks of new roads, railways, and extractive industries that will crisscross much of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

China is trying to convince the world not to worry – that its mega-initiative can be managed in a way that won’t have irreversible impacts on vulnerable ecosystems and species. 

But few experts are buying China’s arguments.  In fact, serious environmental, social, and financial risks are embedded throughout the venture. 

Indeed, the lessons from Thailand’s conservation corridor suggest it would be incredibly expensive – and potentially impossible – to contain environmental disruption from the One Belt One Road projects. 

Kategorien: english

AUSTRALIA TRIES TO SLOW 'DEFORESTATION CATASTROPHE'

12. März 2018 - 5:34

Martin Taylor, a leading authority on land-use change with WWF-Australia and the University of Queensland, tells us about efforts to staunch a deadly tide of deforestation in Australia.

Beginning in 2012, rapid forest loss in the vast state of Queensland pushed Australia back onto the global list of deforestation fronts -- placing Australia among the worst forest-destroying nations on Earth.

This occurred after a newly-elected conservative government in Queensland reduced controls over bulldozing of native forests and woodlands -- a move later followed by other Australian states.

Bulldozing of forests and woodlands, mostly for livestock pastures, quickly ballooned after the controls were weakened.  Scientists and conservationists, both in Australia and internationally, were appalled.

The results have been a catastrophe for Australian wildlife.  At least 45 million mammals, birds, and reptiles are estimated to die every year as a result of habitat bulldozing, including over 1,000 koalas.

But a more progressive government in Queensland has just proposed new legislation to protect mature vegetation and high-conservation-value regrowth. 

The new legislation is part of an election promise to drive down excessive land-clearing rates.

Big Loopholes

A new report by WWF identifies two major loopholes that account for most of the land clearing -- and that must be closed to meet the election promise.

First, landowners can clear forests under "self-assessment provisions" -- effectively allowing clearing without a permit.  This accounts for up to a quarter of all clearing.

The new legislation will crack down on the worst type of self-assessed clearing -- so-called "tree thinning" -- but it doesn't close the loophole entirely.

So-called “thinning” of mature ironbark forest -- which is legal under current Queensland legislation.  The top half shows intact forest, and the lower half “thinned” forest.

Second, vast land areas are mapped as "exempt", with no restrictions on clearing.  This accounts for nearly two-thirds of all clearing, according to the WWF report.

And while many exempt areas are shrubby regrowth, at least a quarter of these are advanced secondary forest that should not be exempt.

Unfortunately, landholders can 'lock-in' exemptions just by requesting a certified property map. 

The new legislation will remove exemptions from 1 million hectares of advanced regrowth, a major step forward, but still leaves large areas exempt.

Have Your Say to Parliament

In a state that has seen catastrophic land-clearing, the proposed legislative changes for Queensland are welcome.  But they still leave big gaps.

These gaps might might be partially filled by a promised “Land Restoration Fund,” which seems designed to buy back protection for existing exempt areas, on a voluntary basis.

But will the new legislation and fund be enough to drive down rapid clearing rates and slow the alarming loss of our biodiversity

You can have your say by making a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry before 22 March 2018. 

Tell them that Australia should not be one of the world's worst forest-destroying nations, and that it's essential that we dramatically curtail land clearing in Queensland. 

The world will be keenly watching Australia to see what happens.

Kategorien: english

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS = HUMAN HEALTH + WEALTH

3. März 2018 - 22:21

Want to live longer?  Have healthier children?  Save money?

Here we paraphrase experts who explain why intact, healthy ecosystems are crucial not just for the natural world — but for our own health and financial security.

To have healthier babies, shut down coal plants

(by Brian Bienkowski in Environmental Health News)

Babies born near an active coal plant in China had shorter telomeres — sections of DNA on the ends of chromosomes — than babies born after the plant shut down.

Shorter telomeres are linked with a host of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, brain decline, aging, and premature death.

In concert with other scientific studies, there is now an irrefutable body of evidence that closing down coal-burning plants gives babies that live nearby a greater chance at a healthy life.

In megacities, trees are giant money-savers

(from T. Endreny and colleagues in Ecological Modelling)

Earth today has 40 megacities (each with at least 10 million people) that sustain nearly a tenth of the world’s population.

The trees growing in each of those megacities are worth over $500 million per year, on average.

Most of their value arises because trees absorb dangerous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, and lung-damaging particulates.

Beyond their health benefits, trees in urban areas also reduce flooding, cool cities via shade and evaporation, and store carbon.

But there are too few trees in megacities — especially in the tropics and desert regions.  

Planting more trees could easily elevate their economic value and benefits for human health.

According to the United Nations Population Division, by 2100 there will be about 11 billion people on Earth, of which 9 billion will be living in cities. 

It's vital to make our cities more healthy and livable — and planting more trees would help a lot.

Even small amounts of air pollution can kill the elderly

(by Brian Bienkowski in Environmental Health News)

Elderly people have a higher risk of dying after even short-term exposure to particulate air pollution and ozone.

The levels of pollution linked to premature deaths were below current U.S. health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The risk was the same across the U.S.

"No matter where you live — in cities, in the suburbs, or in rural areas — as long as you breathe air pollution, you are at risk," said lead author Qian Di from Harvard University.

Environmental pollution kills more people than wars, disasters, and hunger

(by the Associated Press)

Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world.  More than smoking, hunger, or natural disasters.  More than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

One out of every six premature deaths in the world — about 9 million in 2015 — could be attributed to disease from toxic exposure.

The financial cost from pollution-related death, sickness, and welfare is equally massive — costing some $5.9 trillion in annual losses, or about 6.2 per cent of the global economy.

Forests give clean water, and clean water gives life

(by Mikaail Kananagh, The Star Newspaper, Malaysia)

Rainforests act like giant sponges that absorb rainfall.  Some of it supplies the forest with life-giving water, some is recycled into the atmosphere, and some is released into streams and rivers in a remarkably clean state — but also much slowly than would happen if it ran off barren land.

Thus, the forests clean our water and help us to manage it by reducing the need for storage and filtration, as well as mitigating flooding. 

Without forest cover on water catchments, more water would run off during rainy periods, carrying huge loads of sand and silt scraped off the unprotected land.  Then, without the “sponge” to hold any of it back, much less would be available to be released naturally during dry periods.

We would then need an overall greater capacity for water storage.  This would coincide with reservoirs filling up with sand and silt, giving rise to the need to clean them out or to build more reservoirs.  

At the same time, we would also need a lot more investment in filtration and other water-treatment systems.

In short, we would have to manage an unending challenge of floods, droughts, and sediment that would impact severely on lives and property.  Their overall costs would be huge.

Kategorien: english