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.


Imperiled parks -- the 'new normal'?

Protected areas are our single best hope for conserving nature.  But as the human populace expands, more and more parks are facing a growing array of threats.  Are imperiled parks becoming the 'new normal'?

Too many pressures on parks... (photo by William Laurance)

Too many pressures on parks... (photo by William Laurance)

As examples, here's a smattering of recent news about imperiled parks:

- A British petroleum corporation will soon begin seismic testing inside Virunga National Park, a famed World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Just last week, Virunga's Chief Warden was gravely wounded by unknown gunmen, and in the last decade more than 140 park rangers have been murdered there. 

- In Thailand, illegal logging is so plaguing another World Heritage site, the Dong Phayayen - Khao Yai Forest Complex, that the IUCN has recommended it be classified as a "World Heritage Site in Danger".  The Thai government is now making a belated attempt to combat illegal logging in the park.

- A recent study by E. Bernard and colleagues has documented 93 instances in which national parks in Brazil have been downsized or de-gazetted since 1981.  Such actions have increased markedly in frequency since 2008, the authors say.

- As highlighted in recent ALERT blogs and press releases, national parks in Ecuador, New Zealand, and Australia are also facing an array of new challenges.

An apt analogy is the little Dutch boy, desperately sticking his fingers into a dyke that is springing ever more leaks. 

But what choice do we have?  Even a struggling park is far better than no park at all. 


New Zealand opens up park for oil and gas exploration

it's not just Ecuador that is gambling with the future of its parks for oil.  As ALERT member Craig Morley reports, New Zealand is getting in on the act too:

Not happy in New Zealand...

Not happy in New Zealand...

The New Zealand Government is opening up over 4,600 square kilometers of conservation land for petroleum exploration.  This land is on the West Coast region of the South Island and includes almost all of Victoria Forest Park, the largest forest park of its type in the country.  

Victoria Forest Park is not a National Park per se, but rather a 'Schedule 4 Forest Park'.  However, the New Zealand Department of Conservation describes it as having untouched pristine landscapes with rivers, lakes, and mountain scenery, as well as pristine beech forest.  Great spotted kiwi, an iconic species unique to New Zealand, can also be heard at night.

Pristine forest... home to Kiwis and lots more

Pristine forest... home to Kiwis and lots more

The Green Party says the Energy Minister should be embarrassed for failing to realize he's offered up conservation land for petroleum exploration.  When interviewed, the Energy Minister, Simon Bridges, didn’t even know where the Victoria Forest Park was located. 

Big areas being opened up for potential petroleum development...

Big areas being opened up for potential petroleum development...

The last few years have seen major protests against mining-exploration activity on land administered by the Department of Conservation.  The key question is: will this trend of exploring Forest Parks for fossil fuels continue, and will our hunger for energy “accidentally expand” into our treasured National Parks as well?