Indonesia plans to destroy another 14 million hectares of forest

How big is 14 million hectares of forest?  Imagine an area five times the size of Belgium.  Or imagine 28 million football fields.

Expect lots more forest devastation in Indonesia (photo by William Laurance)

Expect lots more forest devastation in Indonesia (photo by William Laurance)

That's how much native forest Indonesia plans to fell by 2020, mostly for industrial pulpwood and oil palm plantations -- and mostly on the mega-diversity islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where vast expanses of forest have already been lost in recent years.

Indonesia has become the world's biggest forest-destroying nation, overtaking Brazil for that dubious honor.  Annual rates of forest loss in Indonesia accelerated markedly from 2000 to 2012.

The plan to clear another 14 million hectares of native forest was confirmed last week by Hadi Daryanto, secretary-general of Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry. 

Much of the forest to be converted has been selectively logged, but recent studies have shown that such logged forests still sustain very substantial biodiversity and carbon storage, and still perform most of the important hydrological functions of old-growth forests.

In recent years Indonesia has accepted up to $1 billion in funding from Norway to help slow rates of forest loss and to improve forest management, in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. 

This latest announcement has many shaking their heads and wondering just what Norway's generous funding has actually achieved

 

Last chance to save the world's primary forests

ALERT member James Watson tells us about important new research on the world's last surviving primary forests.

The Congo’s primary forests as seen from Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda (Photo © Liana Joseph)

The Congo’s primary forests as seen from Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda (Photo © Liana Joseph)

Primary forests -- those largely free from industrial-scale land uses, and where natural processes still dominate -- provide maximum ecosystem benefits to humans and nature. 

Primary forests are essential for biodiversity conservation, and in the face of a rapidly changing climate they will provide critical refugia for many vulnerable species and sustain the maximum natural adaptive capacity.

However, new research by my colleagues and I -- which you can download free here -- has shown how threatened the world's primary forests are.  Just one-quarter of all primary forests still survive on Earth, with a mere 5 percent of these found in protected areas.

Despite increasing global awareness, annual rates of primary-forest loss remain as high as 2 percent in some countries.

Importantly, our study found that half of the world's primary forests occur in five developed nations -- the USA, Canada, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand -- and the time is ripe for these nations to show leadership and promote the conservation of remaining primary forests as an urgent matter of global concern.

This is critically important in international negotiations -- such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- as all fail to distinguish primary forests from industrial production forests, degraded forests, or even plantations.

Now is the time to underscore the vital importance of vanishing primary forests and their crucial benefits for nature and human welfare.

 

Where on Earth should roads go and not go?

"The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads."

Road to ruin? (photo by Rhett Butler)

Road to ruin? (photo by Rhett Butler)

Those might sound like the words of an eco-terrorist, but it's actually a direct quote from Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of Brazil's most eminent scientists.

Salati was saying it straight: far too often, roads open up a Pandora's Box of environmental problems -- allowing illegal loggers, miners, hunters, or land speculators to invade forests and other native ecosystems.  The results are often disastrous for nature.

But societies need roads -- for economic growth, to access land and natural resources, and for scores of other reasons.  Where on Earth should roads go and not go?

Today, in the leading journal Nature, ALERT director Bill Laurance and a team of co-authors from Harvard, Cambridge, Melbourne, James Cook and other universities present a global strategy for road building. 

Their paper advances a strategy for zoning and optimizing road locations, by assessing the relative environmental costs and economic benefits of road construction for every square kilometer of land on Earth.

You can download the paper for free here

And here is an insightful News & Views piece that Nature published about the article. 

And here is a popular, easy-to-read article that hits all the key points.

This paper has striking implications.  It shows the most critical areas to keep road-free, the areas where roads can have the greatest benefits for improving human welfare and food production, and the places where environmental conflicts are most likely to arise in the future.

By 2050, it's expected that there will be 25 million kilometers of new roads -- enough to circle the Earth more than 600 times. 

Nine-tenths of these new roads will be built in developing nations that sustain the biologically richest and most environmentally important ecosystems on the planet.

Deciding where this avalanche of new roads will go -- and not go -- is among the most critical environmental challenges we have ever faced. 

Conservation priorities for Malaysia--a megadiversity nation in peril

A critical time for Malaysian nature...

A critical time for Malaysian nature...

It was a great conference -- with representatives from 45 nations and lots of outstanding research being reported (ALERT director Bill Laurance gave a keynote talk, and ALERT members Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, James Watson, and Pierre-Michel Forget also spoke).

SCB-Asia has released an important Resolution about priorities for conservation in Malaysia, which you can download here.  Following are a few of the key messages:

- It's urgent for Malaysia to take immediate actions to strengthen biodiversity conservation at both federal and state levels -- especially as the nation had the world's highest rate of deforestation between 2000 and 2012

- Safeguarding the nation's natural capital will be vital for Malaysia to meet its development goals while honoring its commitment to retain 50% of its land under natural forest cover

- It's crucial to support the Central Forest Spine master plan, which is a core strategy for conserving Peninsular Malaysia's remarkably biodiverse forests and maintaining connectivity among shrinking forest blocks

- Malaysia and its states need to strongly support the country's Multilateral Environment Agreements, such as the vital Heart of Borneo initiative

- It's essential to curb illegal encroachment in Malaysia's protected areas, including poaching and illegal logging and land clearing

Our congratulations to SCB-Asia for a terrific conference and for taking a leading role in promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development in Asia.

 

ALERT launches campaign to save imperiled Thai forest

ALERT is helping to spearhead an international campaign to oppose the Thailand government’s plan to dramatically enlarge a roadway through one of its most important natural areas. 

Big roads mean big impacts on wildlife (photo © WWF-Malaysia/Lau Ching Fong)

Big roads mean big impacts on wildlife (photo © WWF-Malaysia/Lau Ching Fong)

A press release from ALERT is being distributed today to over 800 media outlets worldwide.

A two-lane road, called Highway 304, cuts through the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai (DPKY) Forest Complex, a World Heritage Site in central Thailand renowned for its outstanding biodiversity.  Now the Thai government wants to enlarge it into a much larger, four-lane highway.

From an environmental perspective, this project is truly dangerous.

The DPKY area is a hotspot for nature — the largest tract of surviving forest in central Thailand and a globally famous tourist destination.  It sustains a wealth of wildlife including Asian elephants, Gaur, Dhole, Leopards, several species of hornbills and gibbons, and over 2,500 plant species.

ALERT scientists fear that a greatly enlarged highway will fragment the park’s wildlife populations, increase road kill of animals from fast-moving vehicles, and make it easier for illegal loggers and poachers to invade the park.

Unfortunately, plans to enlarge the highway were fast-tracked by the current Thai government, and there was minimal opportunity for expert opinion or public comment

Opposition to the road project has been led by a Thai environmental group known as the Stop Global Warming Association -- but that group and Thai conservationists direly need international publicity and support.

The United Nations could declare the area a World Heritage Site in Danger if the government doesn’t show a stronger commitment to protecting this globally unique ecosystem.

Many believe the plan to expand Highway 304 should never have been proposed in the first place.  Enlarging the highway could irreparably damage one of Thailand’s most vital ecosystems — and that would be a global tragedy.

In smoke-choked Asia, fires beget more fires

Southeast Asia is accustomed to intense smoke and haze from forest burning, but in June 2013 air pollution reached the highest level ever recorded -- hitting life-threatening levels in Singapore, for instance.  This alone was scary enough, but there is an even more frightening side to the story.

Scary new fire dynamic... (photo by William Laurance)

Unlike virtually all previous mega-fire events in the region, the June 2013 fires didn't occur during a drought.  That is unprecedented

Even in a year with normal rains, fires -- especially in central Sumatra, where forests are being devastated for oil palm, pulpwood plantations, and slash-and-burn farming -- raged out of control.

New research by David Gaveau and colleagues -- which you can download free here -- has uncovered an alarming explanation for this new fire dynamic. 

Previous degradation and burning of forests is making them hyper-vulnerable to new fires, even during relatively wet conditions.

Gaveau surveyed the aftermath of the Sumatra burning and found that much of it was caused by slash-and-burn farmers.  And most of the burned land was degraded forest or peat-swamp that had already been burned once before. 

The previous burning left behind dead and dying trees, stumps, and slash that became highly flammable with just a few days of dry weather -- unlike an intact rainforest, which only becomes flammable after a prolonged and intense drought.

Gaveau calls these degraded areas "forest cemeteries" -- places where damaged, regenerating forests become prone to a final, fiery death -- and spewing out massive quantities of greenhouse gases in the process.

Central Sumatra has become a poster-child for forest devastation, and now this new research shows that its damaged forests are far more prone to killer fires -- fires that can also have a lethal impact on human populations living in the region.

 

China's massive role in illegal logging

China produces more wood and paper products than any nation on Earth.  Sadly, much of it comes from illegal timber.

Bound for China...

Bound for China...

China's timber is mostly imported from developing nations -- especially from the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America -- as well as Siberia. 

And much of that timber is illegal -- effectively stolen, because no royalties or taxes are paid.  Or the timber is acquired by bribery.  Or it results from logging in places that shouldn't be logged -- such as national parks and protected areas.

Illegal logging takes a terrible toll on native forests and is a massive driver of deforestation and resulting greenhouse gas emissions.  It also robs developing nations of tens of billions of dollars yearly in direly needed revenues -- funds that could be used for schools and hospitals, for instance.

China has been criticized for its role in illegal logging for many years -- and for good reasons.  ALERT director Bill Laurance has frequently voiced his concerns -- for instance, see here, here, here, and here.

And now a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) suggests that China's belated efforts to limit illegal logging are far too limited. 

New logging guidelines issued by China -- which are entirely voluntary -- do not regulate importers of illegally-logged timber into China, said the EIA. 

Instead of voluntary standards, the Chinese government should establish binding and enforceable laws for its timber importers, just as the E.U., USA, and Australia have done.

“As the world’s biggest importer of illegal wood, and in light of extensive irrefutable evidence that Chinese companies are complicit in driving destructive illegal logging and timber smuggling, China needs to move beyond unenforceable voluntary guidelines and take unequivocal actions to prohibit illegal timber”, said the EIA.

Remnants of an Indonesian rainforest...

Remnants of an Indonesian rainforest...

China is playing with fire here.  As it fails to clean up its act, its wood-product-exporting corporations become increasingly vulnerable to boycotts and other consumer actions.  Such actions can have a big impact on a corporation's market share.

Of course, China is not alone.  For instance, South Korea, India, and Thailand are also major importers of illegal timber.

But when it comes to illegal timber imports, China is the biggest, hungriest bear in the room.  And so far this bear has done far too little to limit its burgeoning appetite for illegal timber.


Habitat fragmentation disrupts forest carbon cycles

We all know that fragmenting forests is bad for biodiversity.  But it's also bad for the planet -- because it screws up carbon cycles, makes forests more likely to burn, and promotes global warming. 

Fires... not natural in rainforests (photo by Mark Cochrane)

Fires... not natural in rainforests (photo by Mark Cochrane)

Prior studies, including those led by ALERT director Bill Laurance and ALERT member Tom Lovejoy, have shown that fragmented forests in the Amazon lose a lot of their carbon.  This is evidently because the hot, dry conditions near forest edges kill many trees.  Additional trees are snapped or toppled by wind gusts near edges.

This is bad news because the carbon stored in the trees eventually decomposes and ends up as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. 

Laurance and colleagues estimated that the fragmentation of tropical forests creates up to 150 million tons of atmospheric carbon emissions per year -- equivalent to the entire annual emissions of Great Britain.  And this 'fragmentation effect' is on top of the massive carbon emissions that result from forest destruction.

And now a new study shows that habitat fragmentation also slows down the rate of organic decomposition.  This occurs because the warm, dry conditions near forest edges inhibit wood-eating fungi, which are important decomposers.  In the new study, the rate of decomposition near forest edges was about half that in forest interiors.

This means that dead trees, limbs, leaves, and other woody material will accumulate near edges.  Why is this important?  What happens if you take a lot of fine woody material and dry it out? 

It becomes very, very easy to burn.

In the Amazon, fragmented forests are hugely vulnerable to fires.  Not only does forest fragmentation create a lot of dry, flammable material near forest edges, but cattle ranchers like to burn the pastures surrounding the fragments -- to control weeds and produce a flush of new grass for their cattle.  Many of these fires burn the forests as well.

The results can be devastating.  Satellite images show that fragmented forests in drier parts of the Amazon virtually 'implode' in the first few years after fragmentation -- the result of a withering recurrence of destructive, edge-related fires. 

The bottom line: One of the best things we can do for forests is not to fragment them. 

This isn't just about conserving a few pretty birds or butterflies.  By reducing forest fires and rampant carbon emissions, it's about keeping our planet more livable for all of us.

 

Cute, funny eco-videos to light up your day

Caring about the environment doesn't have to be all doom and gloom.  It can also be entertaining, informative -- and even funny. 

There's nothing to fear...

There's nothing to fear...

Here are three videos, sent to us by ALERT followers, that each teach us something different about the environment.  All are very short.  Be sure to watch all three.

1) Ratel's night out.  An amateur production from India that quickly tells us about efforts to study a rare and elusive animal, the ratel or honey badger (with thanks to Annapoorna Daithota).

2) Invasion of the yellow crazy ants!  A clever video that shows how invading species can disrupt nature, and what we can do about it (with thanks to Alice Crabtree).

3) Stop the environment -- before it stops us.  An irreverent look at environmentalism (with thanks to Thiago da Silva).

In an era in which technology is making it ever easier to produce and disseminate such videos, we shouldn't underestimate their capacity for reaching -- and hopefully influencing -- a diverse global audience. 

 

'Blood gold': Illegal miners devastating rainforests

How bad a threat is illegal gold mining to the world's rainforests? 

Mining moonscape in Sumatra, Indonesia (photo by William Laurance)

Mining moonscape in Sumatra, Indonesia (photo by William Laurance)

Have a look at these four short videos of illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon, Peru, Ghana, and Indonesia.  They clearly show the devastation wrought by illegal miners.

Alarming videos like these raise several issues:

- Widespread invasions of the world's shrinking wildernesses illustrate how rapid population growth and poverty conspire to imperil natural environments and indigenous peoples

- A key impetus for rampant illegal (and legal) mining is the rising price of gold

- Illegal mining is often an organized criminal activity that has much wider corrupting influences on societies

- Increased enforcement is direly needed to protect parks, wilderness areas, and indigenous lands from illegal mining 

- Government officials can be pressured to focus effort on enforcement if the public knows about -- and decries -- the illegal mining crisis

In recent years we've heard often about the severe social and environmental costs of 'blood diamonds' and 'blood ivory'.  Clearly, it's time we started talking about 'blood gold' as well.

 

Junk Food, Junk Earth

ALERT member Jean-Philippe Puyravaud has had a gustatory revelation and lost nearly 10 pounds (4 kilograms) in the process.  He tells us how our own health and that of the Earth are inextricably linked:

I recently bumped into the book The New Evolution Diet by Art de Vany, an economist.  I was immediately convinced by his arguments.

Time to eat like a caveman...

Time to eat like a caveman...

For most of human history our ancestors ate meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits.  Our body is not well adapted to handle sugars or the toxicity of grains and milk.  We should strive to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer forebears.

Our ancestors also faced an uncertain world and their 'exercise' consisted mostly of long walks interspersed by occasional sudden efforts, like running from a hungry lion.

So, the natural complement to a natural diet is fun exercises involving bursts of intense exercise, such as sprints.  Eat as much as you want so long as you follow the natural diet, and exercise when you feel like it, for fun. 

Do this, de Vany argues, and you'll look like a tribal man or woman: lean, light, muscular.

What would happen if everybody adopted this 'evolutionary diet'?

Obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some arthritis would virtually vanish.  We would need more gardens, we'd replace cereals with tree orchards (which is good for the soil), and we'd rewild the Earth so we could have lean bush meat.

In addition, we should ensure that our rivers and oceans provide fresh fish and are not the waste dumps they are now becoming

Surprise!  Our ecological scenario might actually be far better than it is at present.

Those who create mathematical models have a saying: “garbage in, garbage out”.  This means that, independently of the quality of their models, if the data are bad, their conclusions are bad.

The situation with our food is analogous: “garbage in, garbage outside”.  If you eat the wrong food, you get the wrong Earth.

Logging sharply increases fire risk for endangered forests

The Mountain Ash forests of southeastern Australia are renowned for supporting the world's tallest flowering plants.  Sadly, clear-cut logging and fierce fires have devastated these once-magnificent forests, with just a tiny fraction of the original old-growth forest remaining.  Now a new study shows that logged forests are far more likely to burn than those that have never been logged.

Razed forests...

Razed forests...

The study, led by Chris Taylor and renowned forest-expert David Lindenmayer, was based on careful statistical analysis of past fire and logging histories.  It found that younger forests -- those logged 7-36 years previously -- were far more likely to suffer intense fires during dry conditions.

Logged forests, they found, had an altered structure and flammable slash in the understory, which made the forests much more vulnerable to intense fires.

The intense fires have a huge impact on native wildlife, particularly the endangered Leadbeater's Possum, which requires mature forest for survival.  Such mega-fires have also killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of homes and private properties in southeastern Australia. 

The authors argue that current logging is creating a long-term legacy, making the small patches of surviving old-growth forest much more vulnerable to devastating fires in the future. 

Halting industrial logging, they argue, is the only solution for the endangered Mountain Ash forests.

Explosion of illegal roads in the Amazon

The Amazon is the world's greatest rainforest.  Will it survive in perpetuity?  Those who study Amazon conservation fear one thing most of all: roads.

In wildernesses such as the Amazon, roads often open a Pandora's Box of environmental problems, such as illegal logging, colonization, hunting, and mining.  A new study shows a great deal of illegal road building in the Amazon, with loggers and ranchers likely being key culprits. 

Road to ruin... (photo by Rhett Butler)

Road to ruin... (photo by Rhett Butler)

A key finding of the study: For every kilometer of legal road in the Amazon, there are nearly three kilometers of illegal roads.

The study (which you can download for free here) was led by Chris Barber of South Dakota State University, a remote sensing expert, and included ALERT director Bill Laurance, who has long studied Amazon roads and their environmental impacts.

The study also found that 95% of all deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon occurs within 5.5 kilometers of roads

This startling figure shows that, of all human activities, it is roads that most directly determine just where natural environments are likely to be destroyed and degraded.

Ecologists who study roads can be a little messianic at times, arguing that new roads in wilderness areas are an overriding proximate cause of environmental devastation.  Studies like that by Chris Barber and his colleagues show just why they fret so much. 

 

Big risks for the world's biggest coal mine

Nandini Velho, an outstanding young Indian researcher who is currently studying for her doctorate in Australia, is worried that Australians might be making a big mistake by launching what could eventually become the world's biggest coal mine.  Here's her take on things:

Anything for coal...

Anything for coal...

In 2012, the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, visited Mundra, a port and special economic zone located in the state of Gujarat in western India.  His trip to India promised “huge benefits.”

But here in India, Mundra usually reminds us of the poor track-record of the Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate that focuses on big energy and agribusiness projects. 

That's a serious worry because the Australian government has now given clearances for a truly massive coal mine in Queensland, known as the Carmichael Coal Mine -- to none other than Adani.

The projected carbon emissions from this mine -- most of its coal would likely be burned in China and India -- would exceed that of 52 different nations.  For instance, its resulting emissions would be four times that produced each year by the entire nation of New Zealand.

The poor track record of Adani is facilitated by well-oiled crony alliances with the Gujarat state government.  This is where Narendra Modi, India’s newly elected and scandal-tainted prime minister, formerly governed.

Political scandals in Gujarat state have become legend in India.  India’s Comptroller and Auditor General recently revealed the state exchequer (finance minister) has lost more than $20 million in just the first phase of the Adani-owned Mundra port.

In addition to such financial scandals, the Mundra port project has had serious environmental costs -- including large-scale destruction of mangroves, degradation of creeks, saltwater incursions, and encroachment of pastoral lands.  

In its pro-development zeal, the Queensland government evidently learned little about environmental risks, corruption, and predatory alliances during its visit to India.  And Australia's staunchly pro-development federal government seems just as oblivious.

Both might be in for some hard lessons if they choose to deal with Adani.


Company to spend $12 million felling Papua's rainforests

How much rainforest can you destroy with $12 million?  Quite a lot, actually...

Make way for oil palm... (photo by William Laurance)

Make way for oil palm... (photo by William Laurance)

According to a recent report by the Indonesian policy group Greenomics, an Indonesian oil palm company plans to spend $12 million over the next three years to clear over 38,000 hectares of intact rainforest in Papua

That's an area roughly the size of 75,000 football fields.

The Indonesian province of Papua encompasses the western half of the island of New Guinea.  Its ancient rainforests are among the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth.

Notably, the oil palm company planning to fell the forests, known as PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk -- or ANJT for short -- has been a key supplier of the mega-corporation Wilmar, the world's biggest palm oil producer. 

Earlier this year Wilmar issued a "no-deforestation pledge", promising not to clear any more forests for palm oil production.

Clearly, Wilmar's pledge will be laughable if it promises it won't clear forests, and then simply buys palm oil from ANJT -- which is busily bulldozing some of the world's most biologically diverse and carbon-rich rainforests.

So, let's all keep a sharp eye on Wilmar -- while urging it to steer clear of forest-killing companies like ANJT.

 

Will India slash environmental protections?

ALERT member Jean-Philippe Puyravaud tells us about worrying developments in his Indian homeland:

A recent news article in Nature reports that Indian ecologists are alarmed about the newly elected government approving big development projects without adequate environmental impact assessments (EIAs). 

They have good reasons to be afraid. 

At least the developers are happy...

At least the developers are happy...

The government is fast-tracking a wide range of approvals for major road, dam, mine, and infrastructure projects. 

In India and many other democracies today, environmental laws are considered by politicians to be a hurdle to development

Environmental laws are labeled red-tape, EIAs are deemed arbitrary, and environmentalists are slagged off as biased activists who act against the greater interest of the nation.

But is this really the case? 

In a corrupt society like India's, red-tape is really a euphemism for 'bargain'.  Favors are purchased from the government -- which then turns a blind eye to a project's real environmental impacts.

Are EIAs 'arbitrary'?  Most are not.  They are merely not up to an acceptable standard -- and the legal framework in any case is largely inadequate.

Environmentalists are delaying the nation's development?  Hardly. 

In reality, many problems are delaying national progress by reducing India's GDP, such as the inordinate number of traffic deaths on Indian roads, pollution, life-style-related epidemics, and widespread nepotism

In short, protecting biodiversity never sank a nation.

Can the newly elected government of India reduce red tape and economic hurdles while safeguarding its unique biological heritage? 

The signs are not promising.  With an avalanche of new development projects likely to be approved very quickly, the challenges for Indian biodiversity are likely to come hard and fast.   

 

Megadiversity in peril?

ALERT member Gopalasamy Reuben Clements is one of Malaysia's most active scientists.  Here he tells us about his mission to save an imperied megadiversity hotspot:

A tsunami of forest clearing for oil palm

A tsunami of forest clearing for oil palm

Malaysia is one of Earth’s 17 megadiverse countries.  It straddles Peninsular Malaysia and a chunk of Borneo.

With over 220 species of mammals, 620 birds, 250 reptiles and 150 frogs, few countries on Earth boast similar biodiversity to Malaysia.

It is also home to bizarre species found nowhere else on earth, often in unique ecosystems such as peat swamps and limestone karsts.  For instance, an you guess what this animal is?

Bizarre land snail ( image (c) Reuben Clements)

Bizarre land snail ( image (c) Reuben Clements)

It’s actually a land snail.  In 2008, I discovered that this creature, Opisthostoma vermiculum, is the only one in the world with four axes of coiling.  It's known only from a single limestone karst in Peninsular Malaysia.

Unfortunately, Malaysia is fast losing its natural forests to oil palm and rubber plantations and infrastructure development, with wildlife hunting an additional peril.

A recent study showed that Malaysia had the highest rate of deforestation in the world between 2010 and 2012.  As a result, even a network of key wildlife corridors identified by the government may end up being paper corridors.

Many endemic plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.  Even Malaysia’s trio of large charismatic mammal species, the Malayan tiger, the Asian elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros, now face a very uncertain future.

To advocate for endangered wildlife, my wife Sheema Abdul Aziz and I co-founded a non-profit research group known as Rimba, which means ‘jungle’ in Malay.

Since 2010, Rimba’s biologists have been conducting research on threatened species and ecosystems in Peninsular Malaysia.

Our team of young scientists has managed to secure a state-wide ban on hunting flying foxes facing local extirpation, as well as briefly halting development in a crucial wildlife corridor.

Saving flying foxes in Malaysia

Saving flying foxes in Malaysia

Rimba hopes its research can help decision-makers in Malaysia to reduce growing threats to imperiled ecosystems and species.  Here's our tagline: "we all NEED a jungle out there!"

Scientists slam Australia for being, well, stupid

Our apologies to the many millions of Australians who did not vote for the Tony Abbott government.  For those that did, one of the world's top scientific organizations has a nuanced message for you:

You are idiots.

Don't blame me -- I didn't vote for him!

Don't blame me -- I didn't vote for him!

Mind you, the organization -- the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, which is meeting in Cairns, Queensland this week -- did not actually say that. 

What they said was that they had a great number of issues and concerns with the Abbott government's approach to climate change, national parks, World Heritage sites, illegal-logging legislation, endangered species, and renewable-energy initiatives

But what they really meant was this: If you voted for the Tony Abbott government and care a whit for the environment, you need to have your head examined.

The ATBC is the world's largest scientific organization devoted to the study and conservation of tropical ecosystems and biodiversity.  Several ALERT members, including Priya Davidar, Pierre-Michel Forget, Tom Lovejoy, and Bill Laurance, are former presidents of the Association.

The Cairns conference has delegates from 55 nations, many from developing countries.  Most of those delegates found it incredible that a relatively wealthy nation like Australia could justify so many anti-environmental actions by blaming its economy -- which in fact is quite robust.

Yesterday Senator Christine Milne, the leader of the Australian Green Party, gave a keynote talk at the conference.  She castigated the Abbott government's environmental stance -- and received a standing ovation.

Virtually everyone agrees: The Tony Abbott government is sending an appalling message to the world, especially to developing nations that are often making far bigger commitments to nature conservation with far less national wealth.

The hottest of the biodiversity hotspots?

Where's the planet's most biologically endangered real estate?  The answer might surprise you.

Can you guess what kind of cat this is?

Can you guess what kind of cat this is?

According to ALERT member Çağan Şekercioğlu, the answer is Turkey.  Çağan is an outstanding researcher and also directs the Turkish environmental organization KuzeyDoğa.  He shares his experience with us:

Turkey is the only country covered almost entirely by three of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots: the Caucasus, Irano-Anatolian, and the Mediterranean

At the nexus of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, Turkey’s location, mountains, and encirclement by three seas have resulted in spectacular biodiversity, making it ‘the biodiversity superpower of Europe’.

Of nearly 10,000 native vascular plant species, a third are endemic.  Large carnivores such as brown bear, wolf, Caucasian lynx, caracal -- pictured above -- striped hyena, and possibly even leopard, still roam the wild corners of this diverse country -- along with 78 million people.

Two papers I published in 2011 highlight Turkey’s growing conservation crisis, the worst in the country’s long and fascinating history.

Turkey’s globally important biodiversity in crisis” is a comprehensive overview of Turkey’s natural wealth and environmental problems.

Turkey’s rich natural heritage under assault”, published in Science, highlights the scale and extent of these threats -- in particular all the environmental laws that were weakened the past two years to make it easier to replace Turkey’s crucial habitats and protected areas with mines, dams, tourist resorts, and other types of “development”.

Not many places left for nature...

Not many places left for nature...

Turkey’s astonishingly rich biodiversity, especially for a temperate country of its size, is being destroyed rapidly.  

Unfortunately, Turkey lacks the biological ‘‘charisma’’ of many tropical countries and suffers from the international misconception that, as a nation that wants to enter the European Union, it must have adequate funds and priorities to support conservation.

These factors, combined with the Turkish public’s general disinterest in conservation and the government’s unrelenting pro-development obsession, have created a conservation crisis.

With Turkey’s biodiversity facing severe and growing threats, the country is now entirely covered by crisis ecoregions, most of them critically endangered.

 

Eco-crisis: The devastation of Borneo's forests

Warning: Do not look at this map if you don't want to feel depressed. 

The image shows how much of Borneo's biodiversity-rich forests have been destroyed or degraded in the last four decades -- and it's enough to ruin anybody's breakfast.

Trouble for orangutans and lots of other species (from Mongabay)

Trouble for orangutans and lots of other species (from Mongabay)

From 1973 to 2010, the tropical rainforests of Borneo have been razed twice as fast as those elsewhere on the planet, according to a freely available study that just appeared in PLoS One.

In the paper, David Gaveau, Sean Sloan, and colleagues analyzed Landsat imagery to see how much of Borneo's mega-diversity forests have been cleared, burned, or degraded by industrial logging. 

It's not a pretty picture -- as also detailed here in the leading environmental website Mongabay.

In 1973, more than three-quarters of Borneo was blanketed by native forest, much of which was undisturbed or little disturbed, according to the study.

By 2010 nearly 17 million hectares of the forest -- an area larger than England, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined -- had vanished.

Echoing an earlier study that spanned all of Indonesia, industrial logging, oil palm, and wood-pulp plantations were apparently the biggest culprits, along with slash-and-burn farming.

Increasingly, large expanses of Borneo are dominated by selectively logged native forests.  As highlighted previously here at ALERT, these forests still retain considerable biodiversity and carbon, but are intensely vulnerable to being cleared or burned.

The challenge at hand for Borneo is clear, the study concludes.

It's vital to slow forest destruction, by safeguarding existing protected areas and especially by defending the selectively logged forests that now increasingly dominate the island.