The Trailside Nature Museum at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, New York, is being closed in January by Westchester County budget cuts. This is really sad. Kids need to learn about natural history and to become literate in the flora and fauna they live amid, to have their natural biophilia, their love of living things, nurtured and thousands of kids had their first experience of the wonders of nature– for some life-transforming ones– at this cozy, magical facility where my older brother Nick was the curator in the seventies and eighties. There’s a petition to sign to urge the county bureaucrats in White Plains to get their priorities straight : http://www.thepetitionsite.
The sage grouse is on the brink of extinction in Canada due to oil and gas companies ravaging their grassland habitat. Here’s a petition urging the minister of the environment in Ottawa to protect the ones that are still here : http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/520/021/207/?z00m=20129018
Here’s an op ed piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail by Robert Redford lamenting the devastating that the mining of Alberta’s tar sands is causing :
Today, together, we need to stand up once more, because the lands we treasure and love are imperilled by a threat we must meet as one.
In Alberta’s great boreal forest, one of the last truly wild places on Earth, tar-sands producers have turned an area the size of Chicago into an industrial wasteland and international disgrace.
Where spruce and fir and birch trees once rose and waters ran fresh and clean, tar-sands production has left a lifeless scar visible from outer space, a vast repository of enduring pollution that threatens fish, birds, animals, public health and an entire way of life for native people.
And for every single barrel of oil produced, at least two tons of tar sands are excavated and tapped, a processing nightmare that generates three times more carbon pollution than is released to produce conventional North American domestic crude.
Not only is tar-sands production laying waste to Canada’s forests, polluting waterways, air and land, but the resulting carbon emissions are threatening Canada’s long-time commitment to reducing the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet and threatening us all.
This is unsustainable. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s another shameful example, frankly, of the oil industry doing whatever it takes to make a profit and leaving it for the rest of us to bear the costs and put up with the mess.
I want to be very clear that I’m not pointing a finger at the people of Canada; neither is any American I know. We’re all in this together, and that’s the only way we’ll turn it around. We need to stand up, Canadians and Americans as one, to draw the line at tar sands.
The United States is the largest consumer of oil in the world. Americans are a big part of what’s driving this scourge. That means we need to do more to reduce our demand.
Our oil consumption is down about 9 per cent since 2005. That’s a good start, but we need to do more. We’re pushing for cars that get better gas mileage, more efficient workplaces and homes. We’re investing in wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. And we’re developing communities that give us more choice in how we live, shop and go to work.
Big Oil is fighting us every step of the way. In Washington alone, the oil and gas industry has spent more than $400-million over just the past three years lobbying our elected officials.
They’ve put enormous pressure on President Barack Obama to support tar-sands production by approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar-sands crude from Alberta to refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead of caving in to the lobbyists, Mr. Obama stood up and put on the brakes. He wants to make sure his administration takes the time for a thorough review. Those of us who care about our future are using that time to let him know this is a bad idea that needs to be stopped.
The same is true, by the way, of the Northern Gateway pipeline being proposed to move Alberta tar sands crude to Canada’s west coast for export by tanker. Crossing the territories of more than 50 first nations groups, slicing through rivers and streams that form one of the most important salmon habitats in the world and putting at risk the coastal ecosystem of British Columbia? Americans don’t want to see that happen any more than Canadians do, and we’ll stand by you to fight it.
“O Canada, our home and native land,” Canadians sing in the national anthem. “The True North strong and free!” Like so many other Americans, I’ve looked northward much of my life and found inspiration here.
We’ve found it in the wealth of creativity and talent showcased each year at the Toronto International Film Festival, the steadfast commitment of a devoted ally and the political conscience of a people determined above all else to honour and defend perhaps the richest storehouse of natural resources of any country in the world.
Now we’re looking to Canada once again, and searching for True North.
We need Canadians everywhere to join us in this fight. We need to call on the history and values we share and stand up, Canadians and Americans as one. We need to draw the line at tar sands. We need to reject the Keystone XL.
During four decades of environmental advocacy, actor and filmmaker Robert Redford has received numerous honours, including the United Nations Global 500 award.
And here’s a piece on the future of the tar sands now that the Keystone pipeline has hit a snag. There are five options : http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Sustainable+oilsands+only+pipe+dream/5747249/story.html
More than 77 elephants in Hwange National Park have died in a three-month heat wave because there is no water in the pants or artificial water holes because the diesel-driven pumps that fill them are broken down due to lack of maintenance by the park authorties. http://www.swradioafrica.com/2011/11/21/hwange-elephant-deaths-linked-to-poor-park-maintenance/
Here’s a first-hand report of the horrible scene at one of the pans :
Zimbabwe: Hwange’s Jumbos Under Threat
Isdore Guvamombe, The Herald
25 November 2011
THE first shafts of daybreak sun colour the fluffy grass heads, rippling across the plain in a russet hue, juxtaposing itself with stunted mopane bush shrubbery, whose graze line resembles a schoolboy’s fresh hair cut.
Day after day of cloudless skies, the fierce sun has sucked the moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty grey and the withered grass a brittle as straw.
As I take off from the Main Camp at Hwange National Park for Nyamandhlovu water hole, one of the prime artificial drinking places for wildlife, fresh dug gives the best clue and I notice a spectacle.
Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched kilometres to Nyamandhlovu watering hole knowing that here, there is water always but the water point has shrivelled to a mud wallow.
It is choked with thirsty wildlife, each one driven by the same ancient rhythm to quench thirst and fulfil its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life.
Elephants, a few representatives of Hwange’s 40 000 jumbos the biggest concentration in any national park in the world – dwarf the drinking hole, each seeking its daily share averaging 225 litres. Yes, 225 litres per jumbo!
Within the vicinity, vultures congregate around a carcass but unlike the pitched territorial conquest of the past, for them this is time of plenty, for, there are too many elephant carcasses dotted around.
Near the waterhole alone, four calves elephants lie dead, while scores of other elephants continue with their struggle to drink, each concentrating on his or her own survival.
At the centre of the mud wallow, another calf carcass lies swelling to bursting point, after getting stuck in the mud wallow and dying there. It must have been a painful death, at least in the view of the human being.
Close to the drinking hole, a mother elephant battles to resuscitate its dying calf. It uses its foreleg to try and make the baby stand on its feet again but the baby collapses to the ground, headlong.
Desperate, the mother turns around and uses its hind leg to push the calf up, to no avail. Still desperate and still hoping for luck, she uses the trunk to caress the calf but the calf no longer has energy to stand on its jelly feet.
The calf breathes the last and hey, the dejected mother touches the calf with the trunk for the last time before moving away slowly and tentatively towards the bush. Another calf is lost!
For a human being it is an emotional moment, because death robs but for the jungle, nature has taken its course. The life cycle goes on.
Vultures momentarily ignore the fleshy meal while seemingly cognisant of the falling of another manna from heaven in such times of plenty.
Three or four hippos, the permanent residents of the pool, lie motionless. Their muddy backs looking like cracked grey rock.
Their future is not certain too and you only notice that they are alive when one of them snorts after being annoyed by a wandering elephant. One gets the impression that their days are numbered too.
Impala, waterbuck and other antelopes risk their lives for a sip of the life sustaining water, having been devastated by the ravaging drought.
The risk is considerable, not only from the crocodiles but from the prides of lions that lord over the savanna, the cheetahs that stalk open grassland and the leopards that lurk in the thicket.
The spotted hyena as well as several conspicuous packs of the highly endangered painted dog boost the impressive array of large predators.
A giraffe, all legs and head awkwardly looks for space to drink, its elegance taken off its emaciated body by the drought. It is wary of the predators too.
Either way, survival must be defined by one animal’s ability to outmanoeuvre the predators and the drought.
This is the untold story of life in the 14 600 square kilometre jungle called Hwange National Park where the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest is the order of the day.
But Hwange is famed for its teeming elephant herd.
The number of deaths might be insignificant compared to the 40 000 elephant herd and, of course, the law of natural selection works.
While many people, tourists included, feel emotional about the death of elephants in Hwange, the truth is that there too many elephant than the park can handle.
Natural selection might be taking its course.
It is, however, essential know the elephant, its way of life and how expensive it is to keep such a herd.
Elephants are the largest and heaviest living land animals. Their noses, gestation period, front teeth – and maybe even their memory – are the longest in the animal kingdom.
They and their extinct relatives have lived everywhere except Australia and Antarctica, from sea level to heights of more than 12 000 feet, in habitats ranging from deserts to rainforests to glaciers.
In fact, if it were not for humans, elephants would probably rate among the most successful species on earth.
In elephant society an old grandmother, the matriarch, leads a family herd. She is the dominant female, and the herd she is in charge of will probably consist of her sisters, daughters, female cousins and their young offspring.
A typical herd consists of 20 to 40 females (cows) of all ages. Only nursing and immature males remain with the herd.
Because elephants live to such a great age – possibly as long as 70 years – their social ties last for decades. A large herd can be divided up into a subgroup of three to six elephants.
These are basic units of elephant society, usually made up of a mother and her calves, perhaps staying close to her sister and her sister’s offspring.
Adult bulls usually live alone or in small groups of up to seven members. Male elephants leave the herd by their mid-teens, where they begin the long, slow climb up the male ladder of success, with the biggest, strongest bulls in the area at the top.
Males show little interest in their offspring; instead, they stay out of the family herd and concentrate on keeping their status among the males in their population.
Elephants are active during the day and at night, normally resting in the hottest part of the day. Towards sundown, the herd moves towards water to drink and bathe. Elephants normally drink at least once a day. After drinking, they may stay in or near the water for some time.
Not only do they drink and bathe, they trunk-spray their own and each other’s bodies, they splash and churn up the mud, and they roll over and squirm, giving every indication of having a good time.
Thick, sticky mud is highly favoured, and after a roll, calves emerge looking like chocolate-encrusted elephants.
Elephants are generally peaceful and easygoing, and they show great affection for one another.
They even communicate with each other in many ways and with all their senses. They rely less on their eyes than humans do, but visual signals are important – the position of their ears and trunk shows what mood an elephant is in. Their sense of smell can tell them something about another elephant’s health. Touch can also be used to convey some information. But the main way an elephant communicates deliberately is, as with humans, by sound.
Elephant vocalisations range from high-pitched squeaks to deep rumbles. These deep rumbles, as much as two-thirds of what an elephant is saying, are too low for the human ear to detect.
The saying “an elephant never forgets” is close to the truth. Elephants do have a remarkable memory. In the wild, elephants appear to remember for years their relationships with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other elephants, some of whom they may only see occasionally. The advantages of a good memory may explain why they have evolved such a large brain.
Elephants play such an important role in their ecosystem that the loss of elephants from an area would cause the existing ecosystem to collapse.
And if elephants are to survive, we must make sure that two things happen: first, enough elephant habitat must be left in its natural state, and secondly, the elephants must be protected as a manageable herd size.
The Wildlife Conservation Society opened a European Policy Office in Brussels yesterday with a kick-off event about conservation in conflict zones.
In conflict and post-conflict areas, conservation can play a key role in creating economic opportunities and increasing stability. In Afghanistan, the Wildlife Conservation Society provides assistance to the government on a number of conservation initiatives, including the establishment of Band-e-Amir National Park—the country’s first protected area and now a tourist destination—in 2009. Photo credit: WCS Afghanistan Program.
Working with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), WCS researchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo often conduct field surveys in areas plagued with insecurity and warfare. WCS researcher Deo Kujirakwinja trains park rangers in DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park on how to collect data on gorilla nests (at the feet of the group in this image). Photo credit: A. Plumptre/Wildlife Conservation Society.
South Sudan boasts the world’s second largest terrestrial migration of large mammals, including the vast herds of white-eared kob. Photo credit: M. Fay & P. Elkan/Wildlife Conservation Society.
BRUSSELS (November 22, 2011) – In conflict and post-conflict areas, conservation can play a key role in diplomacy by increasing stability and providing economic opportunities, according to a team of conservationists hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who spoke at an event in European Parliament today.
Citing examples from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo, the conservationists said that biodiversity conservation, instead of being a luxury, can contribute to the mission of stabilization in war-torn areas. In fact, conservation projects in conflict zones are used to develop civil society and sustainable economic opportunities.
The speakers included John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs; Habiba Sarabi, Governor of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan; Peter Zahler of WCS’s Asia Program; Paul Elkan of WCS’s South Sudan Program; and Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS Albertine Rift Coordinator, Democratic Republic of Congo.
“At first it might seem preposterous to worry about wildlife when bullets are flying,” said John Calvelli. “The fact is that conservation of natural resources – including wildlife – is the foundation of stable societies. Protecting and conserving these natural resources is the key to any nation-building process.”
WCS is the only international conservation NGO in Afghanistan and has worked there since 2006. It helped create the nation’s first national park and list of protected species, draft eight different environmental laws and regulations, and trained thousands of Afghans – from high-level ministerial staff to local community members – in sustainable natural resource management practices. Recent WCS wildlife surveys have turned up populations of snow leopards, Asiatic black bears, Marco Polo sheep, and rare bird species. Governor Habiba Sarabi of Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province discussed developing tourism in the region, which includes the nation’s first national park – Band-e-Amir, created in 2009.
In South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, WCS surveys conducted in partnership with the government have found that mammal migrations rivaling those of the Serengeti survived decades of war, and vast tracts of savannas and wetlands remain largely intact. South Sudan boasts some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa and supports the world’s second-largest terrestrial wildlife migration of some 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang antelope, and Mongalla gazelle. As the only international conservation organization working in South Sudan, WCS has collaborated with its government and local stakeholders to establish a foundation for natural-resource management, land-use planning, and conservation to reduce conflict and stoke economic development.
Despite decades of unrest, WCS maintains a full-time presence in Democratic Republic of Congo and works in several important landscapes home to gorillas, elephants, okapi and other spectacular wildlife. As the region begins to recover from years of conflict, pressures to exploit the country’s rich natural resources are increasing. WCS works with a variety of in-country partners to safeguard the region’s vast wildlife and wild places from unsustainable development.
The Wildlife Conservation Society operates field conservation projects in 60 countries around the world and in all the world’s oceans. WCS today opened a policy office in Brussels to boost the organization’s policy impact in Europe, specifically among bodies such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, and within European bilateral aid and conservation agencies.
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit: www.wcs.org 
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Here’s an appeal to help save the redwoods in San Francisco and Humboldt County : http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Vicent Boi is author of the book “El parque de las hamacas,” which tells the story of the nasty chemical DBCP, made by Shell, Dow, and Occidental, which Dole Food has been spraying on its banana plantations in Nicaragua, causing some of the workers to become sterile. Vicent is involved in the David and Goliath struggle to get compensation for them. Vicent contacted me a few years back wanting to write a Dispatch about this issue. So now I’m delighted to see he has written a book about it. Here is an email with three of his articles in Spanish :
Estimado amigo le adjunto varios artículos por si son de su interés. Dos tienen que ver con el fenómeno del acaparamiento de tierras.
El primero se titula “Nuevo término para la enciclopedia de la indignación: acaparamiento de tierras”:
El segundo “El jefe de la mafia”:
Otro proporciona datos sobre el impacto ambiental en el mundo a través del indicador “huella ecológica”. Se denomina “¿Alguien sabe dónde encontrar otro planeta tierra?”:
here’s a press release about British risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft release of the Deforestation Index, which evaluates the significant threat deforestation poses to carbon sinks, habitats for biodiversity, water tables and indigenous peoples in 180 countries.
The highest rates of deforestation are happening in the key emerging economies of Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil, while paradoxically, the lowest rates are seen in China and USA, the world’s two worst polluters.
With COP17 in Durban approaching, the index is very timely in relation to the significant role deforestation plays in rising global temperatures.
The Deforestation Index states that economic growth, poverty, corruption and the rise of biofuels are among the major causes of deforestation in nine countries which have been classified as ‘extreme risk.’ These include the emerging economies of Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil, as well as Bolivia, Cambodia, DR Congo, Nicaragua, North Korea and Papua New Guinea.
Maplecroft’s research evaluates deforestation in 180 countries, which pose significant threats to carbon sinks, habitats for biodiversity, water tables and indigenous peoples. The index uses the latest available data to calculate changes in the extent of overall forest cover, and in primary and planted forests between 2005-2010.
Deforestation is a key factor in contributing to rising atmospheric CO2 levels and subsequent climate change. Deforestation and forest degradation are estimated to contribute up to 20% of global greenhouse gases (GHG) every year. According to the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this amounts to more than the entire global transportation sector and is second only to the energy sector.
Brazil, one of the world’s new economic powers, is ranked 8th and extreme risk in the index. The country is a global hotspot for biodiversity and deforestation and the focus of high profile campaigns to protect its unique rainforests. From the 1990s, the cattle sector has been the key driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, along with soy bean production and more recently, the rising importance of ethanol as a biofuel. Infrastructure projects, such as road building and hydroelectric dams, built to connect and ‘develop’ the country in its drive for economic growth, have also contributed heavily.
Deforestation has been decreasing in Brazil from an average of 2.9 million hectares (ha) per year in the 1990s to 2.2m ha annually in 2005–2010. However, according to figures from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, deforestation increased 500% in March/April 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, much of which happened in Mato Grosso state, the heart of Brazilian soya bean production. It has been reported that this rise was encouraged by changes to the Brazilian Forest Protection Law, passed in the House of Representatives and awaiting approval by the Senate. This bill would grant immunity from prosecution for illegal deforestation activities prior to 2008 and exempt small landowners from having to maintain 80% of forest on their lands.
One of the principle risks to the world’s forests is the production of palm oil, which is increasing at 9% annually throughout the tropical belt, due to expanding biofuel markets in the EU and global food demand. Indonesia, ranked 2nd in the index, is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. It is estimated that palm oil accounts for almost 16% of deforestation in the country. The Indonesian government has however imposed a two year ban on new forest concessions after a number of multinational corporations dissociated themselves from the largest palm oil producer in the country.
The Indonesian ban on deforestation is however, forcing palm oil producers to seek land elsewhere, notably in the West African countries of Liberia, Gabon and Ghana, which will likely increase their risk.
Nigeria, ranked 1st in the index, lost just over 2m hectares of forest between 2005/2010, a 4% reduction per year. This alarming rate of deforestation has forced the Nigerian government to take measures, including a submission to UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). REDD+ approved US$4 million in funding in October 2011, for the protection of forests in Cross River State, which is now home to 50% of Nigeria’s last remaining primary forest. This brings total funding from REDD+ for national programmes around the world to US$59 million.
“The drivers of deforestation in Nigeria are a complex mix of agricultural expansion, logging, infrastructure development and high levels of national and state level government corruption,” states Maplecroft Analyst Arianna Granziera. “Additionally, forest protection laws are often obsolete and weakly enforced, which is compounded by a lack of resources and training. Poverty is also an important factor, as trees cleared for firewood are the only source of fuel available to the poorest in society.”
Paradoxically, the world’s biggest polluters, China and USA are in the bottom five countries in the Deforestation Index, with China the outright best performer. China has heavily invested in a very ambitious reforestation programme in an attempt to control soil erosion, desertification and protect water resources. Forested areas in the country increased by 2 million hectares per year during the 1990s and 3 million per year since 2000.
The United States, 176th in the index, reported the largest net gain in primary forest, of more than 200,000 hectares per year. This is primarily the result of a very effective and long-established protected areas network, which has allowed ecological process to revert forests back to a primary state.
And here’s a study that says the greatest economic growth in coming decades is going to take place in the world’s 600 medium-sized cities, with populations from 150,000 to ten million, not in the megacities like Los Angeles and Tokyo. http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Rapid+growth+coming+city+near/5758692/story.html
So many problems everywhere, so many efforts to do something about them. I take my hat off to these noble activists.