Interview With Journalist Heriberto Araujo On His Book & Brazil’s Prospects For Change

A fire set to clear land for farming in Pará state in the Brazilian Amazon.

A fire set to clear land for farming in Pará state in the Brazilian Amazon. DANIEL BELTRÁ / GREENPEACE

We were very happy with the alternative resulting in a radical change of government in Brazil, but never expected an easy solution:

Amazon Under Fire: The Long Struggle Against Brazil’s Land Barons

Journalist Heriberto Araujo spent four years reporting on the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about his new book, which explores the complex web of issues underpinning the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest.

Heriberto Araujo.

Heriberto Araujo. HERIBERTO ARAUJO

Last October, when former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil’s national election, environmentalists around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Under Bolsonaro, who had weakened environmental protections and pushed to open Indigenous lands to commercial exploitation, deforestation in the Amazon had exploded. Lula has pledged to safeguard his country’s rainforests, but, as Spanish journalist Heriberto Araujo says in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the job won’t be easy.

Masters of the Lost LandFor his new book, Masters of the Lost Land, Araujo spent four years traveling from his home in Rio de Janeiro to Rondon do Pará, a town in the eastern Brazilian Amazon, to understand how, in less than 60 years, the largest rainforest on the planet has been transformed into an engine of economic growth. Tracing the story of land rights activist José Dutra da Costa, or “Dezinho,” who, before his assassination in 2000, led a revolution among landless peasants, Araujo comes to see how a handful of ranchers managed to grab huge swaths of pristine rainforest and why deforestation, violence, and lawlessness remain pervasive in the region. Continue reading

American Prairie & American Bison

Scott Heidebrink, the director of bison restoration for the American Prairie Reserve in northeast Montana, checks on a herd. “There are ways that bison were impacting the landscape that we haven’t even thought about,” he said.

Bison restoration has been on our radar, primarily stories from the western USA, but also from the European context, where there has been considerable progress in recent years. Here is a good look at a conservation organization focused on habitat restoration, and the multi-species benefits:

Where the Bison Could Roam

Bison once numbered in the tens of millions in the United States. Now, a nonprofit is working to restore the shortgrass prairie, where the American icons and their ecosystem can thrive again.

MALTA, Mont. — Around 200 chocolate-brown bison raise their heads, following the low growl of a pickup truck slowly motoring across the sagebrush-studded prairie. Continue reading

India’s Zero Sum Game

When Pradip Krishen began creating Jaipur’s Kishan Bagh Desert Park, it was a wasteland of dunes and bald hillocks, strewn with trash. Looking at the landscape, he said, “Now, this is something I’d love to work on. ”Photographs by Bharat Sikka for The New Yorker

If I had to bet, based on our period living in India from 2010 to 2017, I would bet on the prime minister winning. That implies the country making less progress on conservation, if any, and more on development. As Dorothy Wickenden‘s article implies, it may be a zero sum game:

The Promise and the Politics of Rewilding India

Ecologists are trying to undo environmental damage in rain forests, deserts, and cities. Can their efforts succeed even as Narendra Modi pushes for rapid development?

Krishen’s first major restoration job was reclaiming the landscape around Mehrangarh Fort, in the Thar Desert.

On May 12, 1459, the Rajput warrior ruler Rao Jodha laid the first foundation stone of an impregnable fort, atop a jagged cliff of volcanic rock in the Thar Desert of Marwar. He called the citadel Mehrangarh, or “fort of the sun”—and, legend has it, he insured a propitious future by ordering a man buried alive on its grounds. Over time, as the royal clan secured its power, the compound grew to colossal proportions, with soaring battlements, ornately furnished palaces, and grand courtyards enclosed by intricate sandstone latticework. Four hundred feet below, the capital city of Jodhpur became a flourishing trade center. Continue reading

Prairie Revival

Sunrise at the Hempstead Plains on Long Island, New York. STEVE PFOST / NEWSDAY RM VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Janet Martinelli:

Amid the Sprawl, a Long Island Prairie Makes a Quiet Comeback

Tucked into quintessential suburbia, the Hempstead Plains Preserve is a small sliver of the grassland that once covered a vast area of Long Island. New research shows that thoughtfully planted yards and gardens can bolster the biodiversity in such urban wildland fragments.

Volunteers remove invasive Chinese bushclover from the Hempstead Plains Preserve at Nassau Community College. FRIENDS OF HEMPSTEAD PLAINS

The Hempstead Plains Preserve is a place where you can imagine the presence of creatures past. Birdfoot violets, now gone, once colored the landscape with a wash of purple in spring. The heath hen, a large grouse that went extinct 90 years ago, performed its elaborate courtship dances on the Plains.

On a late afternoon in October, the slanting autumn sun lit up in a blaze of gold the grasses and wildflowers on this narrow, 19-acre sliver of land — almost all that is left of the tallgrass prairie that once covered more than 50 square miles at the heart of Long Island, New York, a fish-shaped island that stretches east into the Atlantic Ocean. Continue reading

Forest Health & The Ecosystem Services Provided By Mice

Dawn rises over a forest outside Orono, Me. Researchers want to understand what leads mice, voles and other small animals to bury seeds that become forests.

There really are coincidences that have nothing to do with the overreach of internet companies who see what you are reading in one place and put something in front of you instantly, and for a long time following, based on that first subject. In this case, I was reading about the endless quest for a better mousetrap, and then came upon this fascinating article about the ecosystem services that mice convey. This was as smile-inducing a juxtaposition as my reading has provided me lately. I hope I am correct that this pure chance and not some creepy algorithm, which would wilt my grin:

A deer mouse, temporarily captured for a behavioral test before being rereleased to the grounds of a study site at the University of Maine in late October.

Scientists are unearthing a quiet truth about the woods: Where trees grow, or don’t, depends in part on the quirky decisions of small mammals.

It’s easy to look at a forest and think it’s inevitable: that the trees came into being through a stately procession of seasons and seeds and soil, and will replenish themselves so long as environmental conditions allow.

Hidden from sight are the creatures whose labor makes the forest possible — the multitudes of microorganisms and invertebrates involved in maintaining that soil, and the animals responsible for delivering seeds too heavy to be wind-borne to the places where they will sprout. Continue reading

Wonders Of The Yucatán

In Calakmul and elsewhere, the fierce jaguar was worshiped as a deity. Ancient rulers and warriors adorned themselves with the animal’s skulls, skins, fangs and claws. Adrian Wilson for The New York Times

Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.

We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:

The number of jaguars is growing in Mexico, especially in areas of the Yucatán Peninsula. Patryk Kosmider/Getty Images

Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.

From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples. Continue reading

A Decade Of Reading Yale e360 & A Monday Perspective

The Philadelphia skyline and Benjamin Franklin Bridge reflected in the Delaware River. PAUL BRADY / ALAMY

Monday mornings often have had their own theme in these pages. Fresh perspective to start the new work week on a new track. So here is my Monday morning contribution. For a brief history to immerse you in the bleak dark, I could send you here; but not today.

Following is an article that does something different, and more difficult to find recently. A look at five decades’ accomplishment on one environmental issue in one country, and a takeaway worthy of the photo above: complex, but inspiring. Our thanks as always after a decade relying on Yale e360 for environmental stories, and advocacy; in this case also for introducing us to Andrew S. Lewis, who will now be on our radar:

The Clean Water Act at 50: Big Successes, More to Be Done

Sparked by the 1970s environmental movement, the Clean Water Act — which marks its 50th anniversary this month — transformed America’s polluted rivers. The Delaware, once an industrial cesspool, is one of the success stories, but its urban stretches remain a work in progress.

Steve Meserve (second from right) is a fourth-generation shad fisherman who operates the Lewis Fishery, the last commercial shad operation on the Delaware. ANDREW S. LEWIS

When Steve Meserve’s great-grandfather, Bill Lewis, started the Lewis Fishery in 1888, it was one of dozens of commercial outfits scattered up and down the Delaware River that seined for American shad during the spring spawn. At the time, the Delaware’s shad fishery hauled 3 to 4 million of the hard-fighting fish from the river and its tributaries every year. But, soon enough, Lewis discovered that he had gotten into the business just as the river — along with the species it supported — was entering a period of catastrophic decline. Continue reading

British Rainforest Revival

Human activity has impacted the amount of temperate rainforest in the UK but it still exists in a few places, such as the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Photograph: Henk Meijer/Alamy

We already knew that rainforests are not only tropical ecosystems. But when you live in the tropics, you can forget. Our thanks as always to Patrick Greenfield, and to the Guardian, for this reminder:

Exclusive: campaigners call for protection and careful tree-planting to help restore the temperate rainforests that once covered swathes of the country

Rainforest, which has been decimated over thousands of years, has the potential to be restored across a fifth of Great Britain, a new map reveals. Continue reading

Challenges In Getting To A Trillion Trees

More than 9,000 people in Leh, India planted more than 50,000 tree saplings in under an hour on October 10, 2010. DRUKPA PUBLICATIONS VIA WIKIPEDIA

Fred Pearce has helped us understand the complexity in the relationship between trees and climate change, and this new story takes it to a logical extreme:

Phantom Forests: Why Ambitious Tree Planting Projects Are Failing

High-profile initiatives to plant millions of trees are being touted by governments around the world as major contributions to fighting climate change. But scientists say many of these projects are ill-conceived and poorly managed and often fail to grow any forests at all.

It was perhaps the most spectacular failed tree planting project ever. Certainly the fastest. Continue reading

Oysters & Rescue Plans

Halle Parker/WWNO. Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe member Pete Lebeouf works with volunteers to load bags of oyster shells onto a boat on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

We have enjoyed every instance of oysters being treated with respect, beyond culinary. When indigenous knowhow is part of the story, even better. Our thanks to Halle Parker and WWNO (National Public Radio, USA) for this story:

Halle Parker/WWNO.  Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe citizens Patty Ferguson-Bohnee and Lori Stewart pass bags of oyster shell and pile it on a boat for transport during a volunteer event on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

A Louisiana tribe is losing cultural sites to coastal erosion. Oyster reefs could help.

For the past six years, the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe has battled to stop its historic earthen Indian mounds from slipping into the sea, looking to the power of oyster shells to protect them. Now, they’ve expanded that effort.

Halle Parker/WWNO. Volunteers boat down to Bernard’s Mound, one of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe’s historic mounds, to build a new oyster reef that will help slow erosion during an event on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

The tribe has lived in the area for centuries, forced south as Louisiana was colonized, and the mounds that past members built have a range of uses. Some might’ve held homes, others were used for ceremonies and some were burial sites, said Lori Stewart, a member of the tribe.

“The mounds are really significant because we do have some of our ancestors that are buried there, and so we don’t want to see that washed away,” she said. “That’s sacred to us.” Continue reading

Tree Core Samples & Age Estimations

Tree cores Harvard Forest

Core samples may hold clues to a forest’s response to climate change. Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Juan Siliezar, staff writer for the Harvard Gazette asks and answers a question that we never tire of:

Want to know how cold it was in 1490? Ask a tree

Harvard Forest Senior Ecologist Neil Pederso

“We use tree cores to extract what I’ve been leaning toward calling the memory of the tree,” said Neil Pederson in the lab alongside core samples.

Sometimes getting to where you want to go is a matter of finding the right guide.

Four teams of researchers, led by Harvard Forest ecologists, searched for a patch of ancient trees deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania this summer as part of a project to study how climate changes affected trees over the centuries. One of the scientists had come across them 40 years earlier, but they appeared to have vanished. Just as the group was about to give up and move on they came across someone who gave them a valuable clue. Continue reading

When Is Enough Enough In The Outer Banks?

North Carolina’s Outer Banks. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Gilbert M. Gaul, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the book The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas and the Cost of America’s Coastsoffers this assessment of coastal development that shows some folks do not seem to know when to stop:

Shifting Sands: Carolina’s Outer Banks Face a Precarious Future

Despite the risks of building on barrier islands, developers kept constructing homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Now, as sea level rises and storms become more frequent and powerful, the famed vacation spot is fighting an increasingly difficult battle to keep from washing away.

Rounding the corner near the village of Rodanthe, there is a stretch of highway known as the S-Curves because of its twisting loops and turns. It is, by almost any measure, one of the most vulnerable sections of roadway in North Carolina, if not the nation. Continue reading

Ominous Humongous Fungus

The mushrooms of Armillaria ostoyae (or Armillaria solidipes), the species of honey mushroom that makes up Humongous Fungus (Getty)

We have linked to one Katherine J. Wu article in the past, and that was to share good news; and we linked to stories about humongous fungus a couple of times–not so much news as fascinating; this time there is an ominous implication to the fungus:

The Bigger This Fungus Gets, the Worse We’re Doing

Human actions have turned a usually beneficial fungus into a bringer of death.

Deep in the loamy soil of forests around the world, there exists a fungus called the honey mushroom that makes its living on death. A parasite that preys on weak trees, it sucks its victims dry of nutrients, then feasts on their postmortem flesh. Continue reading

Wild Celery Grass & Cleaner Waterways

Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen hands a flat of wild celery to an EPA diver for transplant. KATHERINE RAPIN

Thanks to Katherine Rapin and Yale e360:

River Cleanups Move to the Next Level Using Grasses and Oysters

In the Delaware River and other waterways and estuaries across the United States, scientists and conservationists are restoring aquatic vegetation and beds of mussels and oysters to fight pollution and create a strong foundation for healthy ecosystems.

On a recent summer morning near Camden, New Jersey, two divers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hovered over a patch of sediment 10 feet below the surface of the Delaware River. Continue reading

Alerce, Fungi & Futures

Roots rise from shallow soil. Tomás Munita

The Valdivian Coastal Reserve was mentioned once in our pages, only in passing.

Tomás Munita

Strange, because if I was asked to name my favorite protected area on the planet it would be at or near the top of my list. The abundant but threatened alerce trees were part of the reason. A family story would explain more of why, and that is part of a larger work story that needs more attention another time.

A mushroom rises from the forest floor. Tomás Munita

The story below, featuring an adjacent protected area, stirs an intense place memory, and at the same time reveals much about a topic that was not on our radar at the time. And it says much about potential futures for that place. So, thanks to the New York Times climate correspondent Somini Sengupta (again and again) as well as photographer Tomás Munita:

Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus

Tomás Munita

In the fight against warming, a formidable ally hides just beneath our feet.

 — Toby Kiers took long strides across the spongy forest floor, felt the adrenaline rush in her veins and stopped at the spot she had traveled so far to reach. Into the ground went a hollow metal cylinder. Out came a scoop of soil.

Tomás Munita

Dr. Kiers stuck her nose into the dirt, inhaled its scent, imagined what secrets it contained to help us live on a hotter planet. “What’s under here?” she asked. “What mysteries are we going to unveil?”

The soil was deposited into a clear plastic bag, then labeled with the coordinates of this exact location on Earth. Continue reading

Us & Them, Then & Now

A cartoon from the mid-1800s, using apparently sophisticated insects to satirise French society (Credit: Getty Images)

Thomas Moynihan, a research fellow at Forethought Foundation and St Benet’s College, Oxford University offers this entertaining treatment of how Western culture has seen and thought about its insect co-habitants of the planet.

Lubbock’s wasp, described by one journalist as “a little gentleman in a brown overcoat, with black and yellow nether garments” (Credit: Alamy)

How insect ‘civilisations’ recast our place in the Universe

When looking to other creatures for signs of intelligence, insects are rarely the most obvious candidates, but as the historian Thomas Moynihan writes, it wasn’t always so. What can the early-20th Century fascination with bug societies tell us about our own?

It is 1919, and a young astronomer turns a street corner in Pasadena, California. Something seemingly humdrum on the ground distracts him. It’s an ant heap. Dropping to his knees, peering closer, he has an epiphany – about deep time, our place within it, and humanity’s uncertain fate. Continue reading

New World Rewilding

Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico over the last two decades. JIM CLARK / U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

We have been posting about rewilding for nearly a decade, and it sees fair to say that the idea has developed traction worldwide:

T0GFFN Bison or Bufalo within prairie and pasture in protected natural area. Rancho el Uno, a space dedicated to the conservation of this species in Janos, Chihuahua. This fishery was reintroduced by the organization The Nature Conservancy, TNC. Janos Biosphere Reserve
  (© Photo: LuisGutierrez / NortePhoto.com

Bringing Back the Beasts: Global Rewilding Plans Take Shape

With a growing number of studies demonstrating the importance of large mammals to healthy ecosystems, scientists are proposing concrete plans to reintroduce these animals to the wild. The return of just 20 species to native habitats, they say, could be a boon to biodiversity.

A jaguar guards its prey, a white-lipped peccary, in Goiás, Brazil. OCTAVIO CAMPOS SALLES / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

For thousands of years, bison herds thundered freely throughout the Chihuahuan Desert on both sides of what is now the U.S.-Mexico border. In November 2009, after three frantic months of chasing down the required permits, Rurik List and Nélida Barajas watched as 23 bison from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota arrived by tractor-trailer at the Santa Teresa international cattle crossing in southeastern New Mexico.

The animals, 20 females and three males, galloped through the dusty stockyards, across the border, and into the state of Chihuahua. Continue reading

Wetland Treasury

The U.S. once held a wealth of wetness, but the country’s treasury has shrivelled. Illustration by Carson Ellis

The word swamp does not have a pleasant ring to it. The thing itself, though, is something much more than pleasant. Essential to our future, Annie Proulx clarifies in a lovely manner, swamps should be treated with greater care:

Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change,

If We Only Let Them
Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we’ve drained much of this land. Can we learn to love our swamps?

It can be hell finding one’s way across an extensive boggy moor—the partially dry, rough ground and the absence of any landmarks let the eye rove helplessly into the monotype distance. Continue reading

Southern Cone Rewilding

A horse and rider pull a tourist boat through the Iberá marshes

When we have linked to stories about conservation and efforts to rewild in the Southern Cone, it has been a mix of big cats and the efforts of Doug and Kris Tompkins. Our thanks to Patrick Greenfield and the Guardian for taking these themes long form:

El Impenetrable national park, home to thousands of charismatic plants, flowers and animals, including jaguars.

How to rewild a country: the story of Argentina

It began with a philanthropic couple buying a swamp but has become one of the world’s boldest experiments in restoring degraded habitats, bringing wildlife and landscapes back from the brink

Chapter one

The return of the jaguar

It took about three seconds for piranhas to devour part of her left foot, biologist Deborah Abregü recalls, as we sit waiting for pizzas to cook on an open fire in Argentina’s El Impenetrable national park. Continue reading

Good Journalism, Excellent Environmental Coverage

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. A white ibis flies over the Everglades, where many bird species nest each year. Restoration efforts in Florida’s “river of grass” have begun to show signs of progress.

The CS Monitor was the newspaper delivered to our home when I was growing up. Lucky me. These days it still offers good journalism, but is no longer a paper. They made the switch to digital-only in 2008. In earlier years of my monitoring dozens of news sources for this platform it was the source of numerous stories of environmental interest in our pages. But in the last few years, for no particular reason, I failed to monitor their website for stories. And then today, this:

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Birds look like white flecks from the air.

‘River of Grass’: Inside the quest to restore the Everglades

Richard Mertens Special contributor

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Three eggs sit in a nest in the Everglades.

Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands. Continue reading