Photo: the robes of monks

September 30th, 2010

Monk robes drying in the sun

Monk robes drying in the sun in Laos. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler, 2009. More photos of the people of Laos.

U.S. tax credits for rainforest conservation abroad? – conservation links for Sept 30, 2010

September 30th, 2010

Obama: We may need to solve climate change in ‘chunks’ Grist
One of the brightest possibilities is permanent tax credits for carbon sequestration through the protection and restoration of forests and wetlands and shifts to sustainable agriculture. These tax credits can pay enormous dividends at low cost: by helping reduce tropical deforestation, they’ll cut the source of 15 of global carbon pollution, more than all the cars, trucks, ships, and planes in the world combined. Restoring forests — the lungs of the Earth — can suck additional carbon pollution out of the air.

Native folk protest against Baram Dam in Borneo
Native folk in ulu Baram in northern Sarawak want the proposed Baram Dam to be scrapped as Sarawak was already acquiring the Bakun Dam.

Logging goes on unabated in Sierra Madre, says tribe chief Inquirer
A tribal leader in Sierra Madre in northern Quezon warned that more disasters were bound to happen if rampant illegal logging in the country’s last forest frontier was not stopped.

Trying to Lace Together a Consensus on Biodiversity Across a Global Landscape New York Times
Logging in Brazil’s rain forest in 2008. The earth’s biological diversity is steadily eroding as ecosystems suffer and species die out.

Photo: the red howler

September 29th, 2010

Red howler monkey howling

A red howler monkey howls in Amacayacu National Park in Colombia. More photos of red howler monkeys

Extinct species reappear – conservation links for Sept 29, 2010

September 29th, 2010

Deforestation Enriches a Few While Millions Pay the Price Jakarta Post
Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and the loss of government revenue associated with illegal deforestation has been estimated at $100 million in East Kalimantan alone.

Corruption and deforestation fuel horrific trade in African primates The Ecologist
In a remarkable and harrowing dispatch from Guinea-Bissau, Dawn Starin reveals how growing demand for bush-meat is emptying the country’s forests of some of its most enigmatic monkey species, and meets those profiting from the devastating trade. (subscription)

This seal was declared extinct in 1892. So what is it doing alive and well today? The Guardian
The Guadalupe fur seal was feared extinct, gone the way of the dodo after being slaughtered by Russian and American hunters for their skins. None could be found at breeding grounds and as sightings elsewhere tailed off the species was consigned to history. So why are there thousands of Guadalupe fur seals swimming off the coast of Mexico now?

Malaysia passes wildlife protection law United Press International
A Malaysian law intended to deal with animal traffickers and poachers may be too late to save some of the country’s endangered species, wildlife activists say.

Melting ice spawns walrus refugees – conservation links for Sept. 28, 2010

September 28th, 2010

Old Trees May Soon Meet Their Match New York Times

Flood-hit Pakistan seeks priority access to climate change aid AlertNet

Walruses Swarm Beaches as Ice Melts National Geographic

Revealed: the secret world of the panda Telegraph

Photo: Forest canopy near Mount Tamalpais, California

September 27th, 2010
Dispea Trail in Marin County, California

Forest along the Dispea Trail, between Stinson Beach and Mount Tamalpais, in Marin County, California. Photo taken September 27, 2010 by Rhett A. Butler.

Degradation is in the Eye of the Beholder

September 27th, 2010

In the discussion about where oil palm and other plantations should go we talk so easily about degraded lands. But the concept is not straightforward.

When the US and Europe cleared their forests a few centuries ago, they did so to “improve” the land. Forests were seen as a source of lumber, best to be cleared and replaced by annual crops with which a lot more money could be made.

We have learned since then, and now understand the value of forests for biodiversity, ecosystem goods and services, and also because they are beautiful to us. Many of us now see deforestation as a negative thing, and call what is left “degraded”.

Not everyone agrees though.What to us looks like hell, may to a Borneo-based farmer or plantation manager look like a good opportunity to earn some cash.

Cleared land looks ugly to us, but not everyone would agree

Of course we could think that we know better than them, but we often we don’t. Many local people in Borneo who I have spoken to support deforestation. They don’t like it if all the revenues end up in the pockets of big companies or their village leaders who are paid by those companies. But many do not necessarily disagree that deforestation is a bad thing.

We do need to keep that in mind. If we say that plantations should be developed on “degraded” lands it is important to realize that most of those lands will have been claimed by local farmers. These farmers gain some income from lands by burning them and planting crops or getting their cattle to feed on fresh regrowth.

Using those lands for plantations requires compensation for lost revenues to these farmers, and long negotiations with many stakeholders. This is one of the reasons why companies prefer to use forest rather than deforested lands.

Of course the easy way out is to say “no” to any further plantation development. But if that’s not a realistic option, then we should at least understand what it means if we direct plantations away from forests.

We might even need to rethink the psychology of conservation. If what we call degraded is by someone else perceived as improved, then it will be hard to get some common understanding. And common understanding is what we need to make conservation work.

The writer (tall giant in the middle) with Kenyah farmers on a recently cleared patch of land (photo credit, Mel White, on left of photo)

Photo: blue gecko!

September 27th, 2010

Tanzania blue gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi)
Tanzania blue gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi) (photo by Rhett A. Butler).

A spiny-tailed house gecko hangs out in Thailand
A spiny-tailed house gecko hangs out in Thailand (photo by Rhett A. Butler). To see more
photos of reptiles and amphibians in Thailand.

Mammoth ivory puts elephants at risk – conservation links for Sept. 27, 2010

September 27th, 2010

Ancient find poses threat to elephants The Sunday Times
Mammoth tusks being used to launder elephant ivory?

Sawawak to buy troubled Bakun dam The Borneo Post
Do Sarawak taxpayers want to pay for this white elephant?

Green SURF energy options consultant heads to World Bank Green SURF
Fate of controversial coal plan remains unknown

Photo: the World’s largest lily pad

September 26th, 2010

Amazon water lilies in Colombia

Amazon water lilies in Colombia. More photos of Queen Victoria water lilies in Colombia

The Queen Victoria water lily (Victoria amazonica), named in honor of Britain’s Queen Victoria, is native to the Amazon River basin. It is characterized by a large leaf that is up to 3 m (10 ft) in diameter, on a stalk 7–8 m (23-26 ft) in length.

The leaf of Queen Victoria water lily can support up to 70 pounds distributed across its surface, although the leaf itself is quite fragile and therefore easily torn by pointed objects.

The Amazon water lily has a remarkable pollination cycle. Giant white flowers, some the size of a plate, open at dusk with a speed readily seen. The flowers generate a strong butterscotch odor and trigger a stimulus that causes the temperature of the central blossom to rise 11¡ above that of the surroundings. The fragrance combined with the heat attracts scarab beetles, which gather at the flower’s center. As night falls the flowers close, trapping the beetles. By dawn the flowers have turned pink and the beetles are gorging themselves on the inner parts of the flower. By the late afternoon the flowers, which have turned a deep reddish purple, open and the beetles, coated in pollen, fly off to find another lily flower. In doing so, they carry the pollen of the first flower and fertilize the second.

For more about the water lily’s habitat, see Floating Meadows.