By Mark Johnson
This huge yet little-known South American wilderness is under threat. But plans to turn it into a sustainable tourism hub will help protect its people and wildlife.
In the far north of Argentina lies a vast and extremely hot lowland known as the Gran Chaco. Were you to find yourself in it, as I did, you might kayak across a lily-filled lagoon and stumble into a solitary mansion peeking out above an endless sea of green.
It was here, at Estancia La Fidelidad, that eccentric rancher Manuel Roseo lived until 2011, when he was brutally murdered by criminals hoping to take his large (and little-touched) property. Thanks to the quick actions of Argentinian conservationists, provincial officials and the federal government, that tragedy had a silver lining with the birth of a new national park that could just shine a light on a forgotten South American wilderness.
El Impenetrable national park opened to the public in August 2017, following a telenovela’s worth of drama that included not only Roseo’s murder but the hunt for his missing heirs and a long legal battle to expropriate his land. At 128,000 hectares, it’s now the largest national park in northern Argentina and a beacon of hope for the entire Gran Chaco, which fans out into Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil (where it is connected to the Pantanal region) and is South America’s second-largest forest ecosystem after the Amazon.
While the Amazon has become a rallying cry for environmentalists, the bulbous silk floss trees, towering cacti and bushy bramble of the Chaco are disappearing in relative silence. Never as well-known – or as protected – as the Amazon, the Chaco is fast becoming the domain of cattle ranches and soya farms.
By Dr. Ranil Senanayake
What is known by science reveals the forest as an ecosystem of tremendous complexity. The trees, while providing the essential framework of a forest constitutes only a fraction of the total biodiversity. It contains a huge array of organisms, that continually change in form and function. Thus biodiversity is what gives a forest its identity. It should also be borne in mind that, from the small bushes of an area after a fire to the tall growth fifty years later, the species and architecture goes through many changes, and all these ecosystems are expressions of the growing, maturing forest.
The international response to the loss of natural forest ecosystems can be seen in the massive global investment in forestry. However, a great majority of these revegetation programs around the world do not seem to provide an environment that is hospitable for sustaining local forest biodiversity. A situation brought about by neglect of the ecological and biodiverse reality of a forest in project planning. There is no excuse to be found in the argument that there was no information. Forest Ecology has a long and distinguished history in the scientific literature. The result of this neglect was that institutional forestry activity was centered around the growing of even aged monocultures of fast growing trees with no requirement to attend to the rehabilitation of forests.
The discussions on the sustainable management of forests still lack clear definitions creating a sense of confusion in the identification of goals. For instance, the inability to distinguish between plantations and forests have allowed processes that have led to a massive reduction of forest biodiversity. A clear definition of ‘a Forest’ needs to be clarified and harmonized in statements transmitted from the CBD to the IPF or the CSD. As forests are biological entities, any criteria or indicator chosen to represent biodiversity status must be rooted in biological variables. The current practices of assessing physical cover alone will not adequately indicate forest quality and trends. In this context, socio-cultural values should also be incorporated into the setting of criteria and indicators. Further, for every acre of forest that stands today, hundreds of acres of forest have been lost in the surrounding countryside. Yet there has been no mention of the need for rehabilitation and recovery of the biodiversity status of such degraded lands. If these fundamental issues are not addressed, the loss of forests and biodiversity in these critical ecosystems cannot be contained.
By John Pint
In a hidden-away arroyo in Jalisco, botanists were amazed to see not just one maple tree but a whole woods full of them, an ancient fir-maple-conifer cloud forest.
In the late 1990s, Fernando Aragón Cruz, acting as a guide for bird researchers from the University of Albuquerque, collected a sample of a kind of sugar maple from a remote spot 50 kilometers southeast of Puerto Vallarta.
As few native maples had ever been found in western Mexico, local botanists were surprised. They were even more surprised when they went out to look at the site. In a hidden-away arroyo called El Refugio, at 1,764 meters altitude, they were amazed to see not just one maple tree but a whole woods full of them, incorporated into an ancient fir-maple-conifer cloud forest, incomparably rich in diverse species of trees and plants.
By Sandra E. Garcia
They hope to fight the thriving black markets for illegally logged timber.
Forests are disappearing. Maps show shrinking woodlands all over the world. Even trees coveted for their wood that are protected from logging are chopped down.
Worried about such deforestation, environmental advocates are driving a project to create a DNA database of populations of the bigleaf maple tree on the West Coast. The eventual goal is to use DNA mapping to combat the thriving black markets for timber in tropical countries that are plagued by illegal logging.
“We are taking leaf tissue from the maple trees and taking samples along the entire length of the species range from Southern California to British Columbia,” said Meaghan Parker-Forney, a science officer with the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes environmental sustainability and is working on the monthslong initiative.
The DNA database is an experimental project for the Norwegian government, which is jointly funding the effort with the United States Forest Service’s international program. Norway hopes to see whether such a database is feasible in places like Indonesia and Peru, where illegal logging is rampant.
By Damian Carrington, Niko Kommenda, Pablo Gutiérrez and Cath Levett
Global deforestation is on an upward trend, jeopardising efforts to tackle climate change and the massive decline in wildlife.
Global tree cover losses have doubled since 2003, while deforestation in crucial tropical rainforest has doubled since 2008. A falling trend in Brazil has been reversed amid political instability and forest destruction has soared in Colombia.
In other key nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast forests suffered record losses. However, in Indonesia, deforestation dropped 60% in 2017, helped by fewer forest fires and government action.
Forest losses are a huge contributor to the carbon emissions driving global warming, about the same as total emissions from the US, which is the world’s second biggest polluter. Deforestation destroys wildlife habitat and is a key reason for populations of wildlife having plunged by half in the last 40 years, starting a sixth mass extinction.
Healthy forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages and types. In many parts of the United States, forests are becoming largely homogeneous, and in places like the Appalachian Mountains, young forest and mature, old growth forests are in short supply.
A lack of diverse forests has negative impacts on wildlife and the economy, as different age classes support higher biodiversity and provide a more sustainable source of income for forest landowners. Through the use of sustainable forestry practices, forest landowners are able to compensate for lack of natural disturbance.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommends a number of sustainable forestry practices to forest landowners. These practices provide landowners with a number of choices, depending on the land and a landowner’s goals.
By Kathleen Masterson
A new University of Vermont study finds that harvesting trees in a way that mimics old growth forests not only restores critical habitat for animals and plants, but also stores a surprising amount of carbon…
The “old growth” engineering technique succeeded in creating diverse habitats. But the kicker, Keeton says, is that it has also allowed the forest to store a significant amount of carbon, much more than several other conventional tree selection harvesting techniques. That’s key to fighting climate change.
Now, forests that are left alone — with no trees harvested — store the most carbon. But Keeton’s study is finding that it is possible to manage the forest to maximize carbon capture, and still keep it a working forest.
“This greater amount of carbon storage as compared to the conventional treatments was actually a combination of having left more trees behind in the first place, and growth rates that were actually 10 percent higher in this treatment as compared to the conventional harvest,” Keeton says. “And that was really surprising.”
Keeton says after 10 years, the old growth forest management plot stored nearly as much carbon as the unlogged control forest. It came within 16 percent of carbon storage in the unharvested plots.