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.
A study carried out by the IIRS has predicted a depletion of 9,007.14 square km (2.94 per cent) of forests in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by 2028.
A report published in the The Telegraph stated that the study – ‘Forest Cover Monitoring and Prediction in a Lesser Himalayan Elephant Landscape’ – published in the current issue of Current Science, says deforestation and loss of wildlife habitat in Upper Assam is likely to influence not only adjoining Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh but Lower Assam as well. The IIRS is under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The report further stated that scientists involved in the study said they monitored the depletion of forest cover in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh over 42,375 square km in an elephant landscape falling in the Lesser Himalaya in the North East. The study, which covered a vast elephant landscape spread across West Bengal-Assam, Assam-Bhutan and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh borders in the lesser Himalayas, found a loss of about 7,590 square km (17.92 per cent) of forest cover from 1924 to 2009.
This was also found by US Army topographic maps (1924) and multi-date satellite images. The forest cover of 2028 was predicted using the 2000-2009 depletion of forests study and Cellular Automata Markov Model (CAMM). As elephants are long-ranging animals and are distributed across the landscape, it is important to carry out studies covering large areas to address the habitat status over time, which can be used for effective habitat conservation.
By Neil Shaw
JOHANNESBURG — One of the world’s largest urban forests is under threat from a tiny beetle.
The polyphagous shot hole borer is thought to have made its way to Johannesburg from Southeast Asia on packing crates or through the trade in plant materials.
Trudy Paap, a forest pathologist at the University of Pretoria, discovered the beetle in the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens last year. She published her discovery in the journal Australasian Plant Pathology, calling it part of “the surge in the global spread of invasive forest pests” because of globalization.
The beetle has since moved to Johannesburg, 200 miles away, and spread across its urban forest, which according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology initiative Treepedia has the world’s sixth-largest green canopy cover.
Today, many of Johannesburg’s estimated 6 to 10 million trees are dying, a crisis obscured only by the current winter season. Some of the infected trees have the telltale holes the 2-millimeter-long beetle makes in their bark.
“This beetle doesn’t actually eat the trees,” Paap said. Instead it carries a fungus that blocks the vessels that transport water and nutrients, “which ultimately leads to die-back and death of the tree.”
Though scientists don’t know just how many trees have died from the beetles’ invasion, the outlook for Johannesburg is grim: “The city is going to lose a lot of trees.”
The trees do not have an evolved resistance to the polyphagous shothole borer, unlike in Asia where the beetles naturally occur.
It is the older, more established trees that are at risk, said arborist Neil Hill. “So that’s going to leave a gap in the landscape. And if we don’t start to plant straight way with new trees that gap is going to become more and more of a concern as far as urban blight, pollution, aesthetic beauty.”
Things are looking up in a swath of forest in southern Germany, thanks to innovative funding from the European Union for a project that aims to help policymakers better understand how the forest’s ecosystems work.
The ECOPOTENTIAL project uses satellite images for ecosystem modelling in 25 Protected Areas in Europe (as well as Kenya, the Caribbean and Israel) to address climate change and other threats to ecosystems. In the Bavarian forest, the images and mathematical models of ecosystems, or “Earth Observation tools”, are helping to assess the impact of climate change and pollution, and shape national protection policies.
UN Environment is one of many partners supporting the 2015-2019 ECOPOTENTIAL project, funded by the European Union to the tune of 16 million euros.
Within the ECOPOTENTIAL project, Earth Observation tools and “remote sensing”, including by aircraft and drones, are being used to better understand how vegetation is evolving across the park and over time.
Satellite and drone pictures are detecting patterns of dominant plant species, linking habitat characteristics with terrain, and tracking animal movements. The park administration is also carrying out intensive research on tree regeneration, the role of dead wood, and the impact of global warming and extreme climatic events on the future development of these ecosystems.
By John Sullivan, Office of Engineering Communications
Researchers using satellite imaging have found much greater than expected deforestation since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia, a critically important world ecosystem.
Zhenzhong Zeng, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and the lead author of a July 2 article describing the findings in Nature Geoscience, said the researchers used a combination of satellite data and computational algorithms to reach their conclusions. The report shows a loss of 29.3 million hectares of forest (roughly 113,000 square miles or about twice the size of New York state) between 2000 and 2014. Zeng said that represents 57 percent more loss than current estimations of deforestation made by the International Panel on Climate Change. He said most of the forest has been cleared for crops.
Because forests absorb atmospheric carbon, and burning forests contribute carbon to the atmosphere, loss of forests could be devastating. An accurate estimation of forest cover also is critical for assessments of climate change. Zeng also said transformation of mountainous regions from old forest to cropland can have widespread environmental impacts from soil retention to water quality in the region.
UPM and the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) announce a global strategic partnership to develop solutions for advancing the uptake of FSC in the market. UPM and FSC signed the partnership agreement on the 16th of May 2017 during the FSC international members meeting in Karkkila, Finland. The partnership aims at delivering benefits to forest owners through FSC certification and to increase the FSC-certified wood supply.
UPM has actively cooperated with FSC both on international and national level for several years. The company has been involved in developing the FSC certification in order to enhance its applicability to the fragmented private forest ownership in Finland. This work will be strengthened through the newly agreed partnership.
By Lauren Anderson
The fifth Mediterranean Forest Week and the 19th Commonwealth Forestry Conference (CFC) brought together countries and other stakeholders to share experiences, promote sustainable forest management and encourage action in support of forest-related development goals and priorities.
The fifth Mediterranean Forest Week, held from 20-24 March 2017, in Agadir, Morocco, coincided with the International Day of Forests, held annually on 21 March. The Week focused on the restoration of Mediterranean forests and landscapes, and resulted in nine countries affirming their support to forest and landscape restoration (FLR), land degradation neutrality (LDN) and biodiversity conservation efforts in the Mediterranean region. Algeria, France, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey committed to a “new regional dynamic.” The dynamic is meant to boost achievement of the Bonn Challenge (to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030) and the targets laid out in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 (life on land), as well as the UN Forum for Forests (UNFF) Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030. It will also seek to catalyze regional forest and landscape restoration goals linked to the broader sustainable development agenda.
The 19th CFC convened at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun, India, from 3-7 April 2017, under the theme ‘Forests for Prosperity and Posterity.’ The Conference served as a platform for CFC participants to share experiences, strengthen forest research, identify critical issues and support the collaborative management of forests as they relate to water, food and energy security with an overarching goal of contributing to SDG implementation.
By Tim Portz
The combined export value of wood pellets, ethanol and biodiesel for U.S. producers has flirted with $3 billion since 2012, and depending upon how the final numbers shake out for last year, 2016 may very well be the year this milestone is surpassed. For both wood pellets and fuel ethanol, export numbers have never been higher than they are right now, and all three sectors are eyeing foreign markets as a means to significantly grow their businesses.
An analysis of the same data reveals key and informative differences. While foreign markets are an important part of the overall market picture for fuel ethanol and biodiesel producers, exports account for less than 10 percent of annual production while, from a volumetric perspective, wood pellet production in the U.S. is heavily reliant on foreign markets.
Now, the looming question is, what impact will a Trump administration, which campaigned on a promise to revisit the nation’s trade agreements, have on the export opportunities for each of these industries?
Global Market Leaders
In both the fuel ethanol and wood pellet categories, the U.S. can boast the largest production capacity and the largest share of the global export market. In both cases, U.S. exports outstrip the closest competitor by a wide margin. Wood pellet export volumes for U.S. producers were well over 4 million tons, while Canada has yet to surpass 2 million tons of exports. Brazil is the world’s second leading producer of fuel ethanol, and while production and export volumes there vary from year to year, in 2015, its export volumes were about half of what U.S. producers achieved. Additionally, Brazil is a prominent market for U.S. ethanol producers taking over 100 million gallons in 2015.
By Jennifer Mcnulty
Tropical reforestation is an important part of the global effort to mitigate climate change, but ecologist Karen Holl says current international goals may be overly ambitious.
“The science and practice of restoration are often quite separate, says Holl, an expert in tropical forest restoration. “Scientific research takes place at a small scale, and we’ve rarely tried to integrate results on the broad scale people are talking about. There’s a mismatch between these really big goals and what’s being done on the ground.”
For decades, tropical forests around the world have been cleared to make way for agricultural and wood products, leaving a wake of environmental devastation behind. Tropical deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change, generating 12-15 percent of global carbon emissions.
To turn that around, the international environmental community has embraced ambitious forest restoration goals: Thirty countries have signed on to restore areas equivalent to the size of Venezuela by 2020; participants at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit set a global target of nearly four times that by 2030.
Given the current scale of scientific research, those goals may be unattainable, warns Holl, who advises nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and policy makers around the world and recently authored a “Perspectives” column in Science magazine on this topic.
Most scientific studies are done on relatively small plots—typically a few acres—and results are literally rooted in local conditions, making them difficult to scale up to anywhere near the scope of international agreements.
Restoring vast amounts of forest will require major shifts in planning and science, says Holl.