Planting Trees Is Not A No-Brainer

A plantation site for the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. BILLION TREE TSUNAMI PROGRAMME KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA

We have committed to planting trees. And we know that getting to a trillion trees planted is not going to be easy. But the effort has obvious and less obvious upsides. Every great idea also has its downside(s) and challenges to surmount, even planting trees:

Are Huge Tree Planting Projects More Hype than Solution?

High-profile programs aimed at planting billions of trees are being launched worldwide. But a growing number of scientists are warning that these massive projects can wreck natural ecosystems, dry up water supplies, damage agriculture, and push people off their land.

Women participating in Ethiopia’s mass tree-planting campaign in Addis Ababa last June. Ethiopia aimed to plant 5 billion seedlings in three months. MINASSE WONDIMU HAILU/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

In late January, the multibillionaire Elon Musk took to Twitter and abruptly announced, “Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology”. This triggered a deluge of sarcasm across the platform: “You mean, like, trees?” “I planted a tree, do I win?” Continue reading

Osa Peninsula Has A History Of Surviving Challenges, But It Takes Work

MAP BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY STAFF

After two visits in 2019 I wrote a quick note about the Osa Peninsula, and afterwards I found the map above on National Geographic’s website. A couple years have passed since those visits and National Geographic published this article that I somehow missed until now. Jamie Shreeve shares a history I was well aware of due to our four years managing Lapa Rios, and back then I heard versions of it many times in the first person; but here it is told better than by anyone else in my experience, plus accompanied by the kind of photography you expect from National Geographic (not included here out of respect for the copyrights of those images). The title notes the challenge facing the peninsula, and my bet is on the peninsula’s having the support it needs to survive:

A loss of tourism threatens Costa Rica’s lush paradise

The Osa Peninsula is a biodiverse wonder and a model for conservation. But its preservation programs have been devastated by COVID-19.

Celedonia Tellez doesn’t recall the year she moved to the Osa Peninsula, or exactly how old she was, but she remembers well why she came: free land. At the time, the peninsula, a 700-square-mile crook on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, was a forest frontier, separated from the mainland by a neck of near-impenetrable mangroves and accessible mainly by boat. Celedonia was pregnant when she arrived with her five children, six chickens, a dog, and 700 colones, about one dollar. She also brought her boyfriend, but he “hated nature, and would run away from insects,” she remembers. So she took an ax and cleared the land herself.

“When I was cutting down the trees, I would think how they must have taken so long to grow, and I cut them down in an instant,” she says. “That’s what we did. We cut down the forest to live.” Continue reading

America’s Best Idea Gets an Addition

Kayakers enjoy calm waters under the New River Gorge Bridge.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The fact that we’re a late to highlight this new addition doesn’t lessen our enthusiasm for the fact. The United States National Park Service and the those who created it, and continue to fight for it, are heroes in our eyes. It’s an especially strong breath of fresh air when this new administration moves immediately to promote this “great idea” rather than diminish it.

Meet America’s 63rd National Park

The New River Gorge in West Virginia got the federal government’s highest protection, thanks, in part, to the latest pandemic relief bill.

As Americans continue to weather the pandemic, the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and spending bill passed by the federal government in December brought an unexpected and lasting gift: a new national park.

The 5,593-page spending package included a raft of provisions authorizing little-known projects — the construction of the Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota, for one — and giving lawmakers a chance to advance a variety of long-delayed initiatives. Among them was the elevation of the New River Gorge, in southern West Virginia, to the status of Yellowstone, Yosemite and the country’s other most renowned outdoor spaces. The designation of the area — roughly 72,000 acres of land flanking 53 miles of the gorge — as a national park and preserve creates the 63rd national park in the United States and completes a multigenerational effort, started in the mid-twentieth century, to transform a tired industrial area into a national landmark.

“Towards the end of this year, with these big bills coming down, I decided to strike,” said Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican and the state’s junior senator, who, along with Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, introduced the New River Gorge legislation in 2019.

“This was the right opportunity,” she said. Continue reading

Dry Season Here; Massive Tree-Planting There

We got as many trees in the ground as we could during 2020, and since it has been dry season for a couple months now we are mostly in maintenance mode. The most pleasure to be had during these months is seeing how the wildlife on our small plot of land changes. For example, the creature above, which I saw yesterday. I believe it is a Drab Tree Frog, but if you have a different opinion please let me know. Tomorrow we begin coffee germination, take two–and I will post on that. Meanwhile, thanks to the Guardian’s coverage of the environment, we have this news:

Volunteers helping on project for Woodland Trust, which sent out a million trees last year. Photograph: Philip Formby/PA

Digging in: a million trees planted as villages and schools join climate battle

Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands

According to the Horticultural Trades Association, garden centre sales of hardy plants, shrubs and trees have soared. Photograph: Alamy

The UK may be in the grip of a winter lockdown but in one village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales the local climate-change group has been busy.

Plans are afoot to plant hundreds of trees on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows, in lower Wensleydale, in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. According to scientists, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Continue reading

Butterflies, Challenges & Hope

Monarchs in the early morning. They hibernate from November until the beginning of March. With warmer temperatures, they become sexually mature, mate, and begin their northerly migration.

Just for the beauty of the photographs, this is worth a visit. But there is also an audio accompaniment, allowing you to hear the butterflies. The story of the challenge their habitat faces is, like so many other stories we encounter, painful to read. But there is hope as well:

SAVING THE BUTTERFLY FOREST

Environmental destruction and violence threaten one of the world’s most extraordinary insect migrations.

Marciano Solis Sacarias,
a landowner, working at
Las Novias del Sol,
a tree-nursery coöperative.

Every November, around the Day of the Dead, millions of monarch butterflies descend on a forest of oyamel firs in the mountains of central Mexico. The butterflies have never seen the forest before, but they know—perhaps through an inner compass—that this is where they belong. They leave Canada and the northeastern United States in late summer and fly for two months, as far as three thousand miles south and west across the continent. The journey is the most evolutionarily advanced migration of any known butterfly, perhaps of any known insect. Continue reading

The Dasgupta Review, An Important Milestone In Quantifying The Value Of Nature

Hats off to the UK for commissioning the study, and to Professor Dasgupta for completing it. Sometimes a profession, like economics, takes time to catch up with the real world. Better late than never, like the guide to investing in nature, we are happy to see academia putting rigor into the analysis of how valuable nature is. Seemed obvious, even without these new studies, but this is what it takes to counter the disinformation promoted by extraction-intensive industries and their investors:

The Dasgupta Review is an independent, global review on the Economics of Biodiversity led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge). The Review was commissioned in 2019 by HM Treasury and has been supported by an Advisory Panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business. Continue reading

Organikos A Decade Ago & Non-Patagonian Beavers

In a brief interview a student recorded my description of the work I was doing in southern Chile from 2008-2010. The Patagonia Expedition Race had secured Wenger’s sponsorship, and now graduate students from Columbia Business School, as well as from Cornell Hotel School, were developing a strategy for how best to use that sponsorship money to achieve lasting conservation results. The patch on the left arm of my jacket shows another sponsor.

Organikos was a minor sponsor compared to Wenger, but in that earlier iteration of Organikos we were already thinking about what is now the 100% Forward commitment.  As a sponsor, I also served coffee from sunrise to sunset at each station along the Race’s 500-mile route. Somewhere I have photos of the race teams drinking Organikos coffee, but at the moment I only find this one of me prepping coffee in the traditional Costa Rican manner to serve to Race volunteers in a farmhouse where we had spent the night on Tierra del Fuego.

In this photo to the left I was waiting for the racers who would soon be arriving at this station in their kayaks. As serious as I appeared to be, it would take nearly a decade to get that coffee launched more formally into the market.

Images Andrew Wilson, Mark Humpfrey, Nicola MaCleod and Bruce Duncan of Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco paddling their way to victory in stage 15 of the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race on the island of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. Michael Clark Photography

Not long after the photos above were taken, we accepted a new assignment in India that would put the original idea of Organikos on hold. Recently, when Seth took the name and gave it a clear conservation mission, coffee was still the most viable product to start with. I am reminded of all that thanks to Sandra Laville, and the Guardian. Her article, full of good news related to conservation funding in the UK, triggers my memory of the fact that beavers are an invasive species in Patagonia and the Race had the mission of controlling their spread, in the interest of wilderness conservation. Beavers in their natural habitat are in need of protection in some locations, I see:

Wetlands, beavers and Cinderella causes; the growth of environmental funding

Donations from individuals and charities to green causes more than double since 2016

Funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species helped reintroduce beavers in Knapdale Forest in Scotland. Photograph: Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA

Philanthropic donations to environmental causes have more than doubled in value in the UK as the climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss attract increasing attention from individuals and charities.

The amounts of money given to support efforts to tackle climate change and nature loss range from £5,000 to millions of pounds, and the focus of the funding is as broad.

It includes a £10,000 donation given to support a successful campaign for a deposit return scheme in Scotland; the funding of grassroots defenders of Europe’s last primeval forest, in Poland, and the protection of wetlands in Montenegro; and millions of pounds in support of environmental legal challenges and donations to back campaigning against fossil fuels. Continue reading

One More Reason Why Native Plant Species, Not To Mention Insects, Matter

ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

As the curvy berm we started forming earlier this year, combined with 100+ newly planted trees, transition from wet season to dry season, we have been noticing an uptick in insects. While most of my early life experiences in Connecticut led me to believe that the world (or at least I) would be better off with fewer insects, I now think exactly the opposite. Last Sunday I had my first sighting of a bird (same species as our friend Daniel captured by camera in Guatemala a few weeks ago) that is likely here for some of those insects. That sighting alone would have been enough to convince me that more insects are better than fewer. Janet Marinelli‘s article in Yale Environment360 gives me more to ponder on this topic:

How Non-Native Plants Are Contributing to a Global Insect Decline

The impact of introduced plants on native biodiversity has emerged as a hot-button issue in ecology. But recent research provides new evidence that the displacement of native plant communities is a key cause of a collapse in insect populations and is affecting birds as well.

Zebra swallowtails are entirely dependent on pawpaw trees, which have leaves that are the butterflies’ larvae only source of food. COURTESY OF DOUGLAS TALLAMY

For years, Doug Tallamy sounded the alarm about the grave threat that plants introduced from abroad pose to native insects. By transforming native plant communities into so-called novel landscapes increasingly dominated by exotic species on which many insects cannot feed, the University of Delaware entomologist speculated, they imperil not only insects but also the birds and other animals that depend on insects for survival. Continue reading

Bees & Citizen Science

A rusty patched bumblebee. Nature Picture Library/Alamy

If you are a regular here you have seen plenty about citizen science. And plenty about bees. We have posted only one time previously about the intersection of bees and citizen science. Today makes twice:

How You Can Help Count and Conserve Native Bees

Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees. Continue reading

Parasitism’s Charisma Deficit

The medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is one of the few parasites formally protected. Photograph: Stephen Dalton/Alamy

By the time I was welcoming guests to a place where they would experience them in the wild, I had become accustomed to leeches. I did not enjoy feeling them in my hiking boot or elsewhere on my body, but after a few times I stopped being freaked out by it. As unlikely as it sounds, I eventually found them fascinating, if not charismatic. I could appreciate their place in the ecosystem we were working to protect, but I could not bring myself to celebrate them in public. A photograph like the one above would not win them new friends but illustrations like the one below might help. Phoebe Weston’s article about the challenges of protecting parasites rings true:

Overlooked and unloved: how a global project could unlock the world of parasites

The tiny freeloaders may be considered disgusting by many but new research shows they are crucial in shaping ecosystems

A coloured aquatint from the early 19th century shows three women gathering leeches in a stream. Photograph: Wellcome Collection

The leech craze of the 1800s put parasites on the map. Collectors (usually women and sometimes old horses) would stand in ponds waiting for medicinal leeches to come and suck their blood. They were then picked off and sold for bloodletting.

The parasites were so popular that by the early 1900s they were nearly extinct, and there was a coordinated effort to save them. Even so, the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalishas been labelled as near threatened on the IUCN red list since 1996, and remains one of the few parasites with formal protections. Continue reading

Does Planting A Trillion Trees Sound Implausible?

A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Here in Iota-drenched Costa Rica there is damage from this hurricane and from the one that just ended a week earlier, but it is minuscule compared to what Nicaragua and Honduras have sustained. If you are scientifically inclined, then two complementary ideas are easy to digest: 1) the people suffering most from the effects of climate change are among the least responsible for causing it; and 2) they live in places that may be best-suited for mitigating it.  For our part, planting trees when coffee is purchased is a drop in the ocean of need. A story we missed from a few months ago gives some hope that this particular idea has a future:

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate

Bipartisan backing for carbon capture tax credits, extensive tree-planting efforts

A majority of Americans continue to say they see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe that the federal government falls short in its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Continue reading

Protecting Peat Bog Is Big

Andrew Coupar, a NatureScot peatlands expert, at the Forsinard visitor centre. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

If you go to the home improvement center, or any gardening shop, you will see this stuff in plastic bags, ranging in size from small pillow to half-bale. If you purchase it you are buying into a destructive practice that goes beyond the destruction of amazingly beautiful landscape. If heritage status helps end that, we are all for it:

World heritage status for Scottish peat bogs could help UK hit net zero goals

Hopes rise that the Flow Country, the world’s largest carbon store, could become first peatland to win the status

Ecologists estimate that while peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold 30% of the carbon stored on land. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Andrew Coupar has crouched down by a small pool, its surface peppered with the small stalks of bogbean. In autumn its dark green oval leaves echo the muted browns, greens and ochres of the surrounding peatland.

In spring, however, the bogbean’s pink-fringed white flowers put on a remarkable display, carpeting the cluster of pools that mirror the blue skies and light clouds above and, along the horizon to west, the mountains of Sutherland. Continue reading

Intimate Ecological Ethos

A view of the Cherry Esplanade from the top of the Robert W. Wilson Overlook at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Beyond books and other published material, New Yorkers have plenty of places to see natural spectacles, places where nature can be better understood in an otherwise concrete jungle. Ecological ethos describes the new feel of the intimate 52 acres in one of those places:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Turns Over a New Leaf

A wild meadow and woodland ‘ruin’ are now on exuberant display. The new, ecologically minded garden boasts shaggy clouds of vegetation.

Lavender asters burst through ground-hugging meadow species at the overlook. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Only a skeleton staff at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden witnessed the blizzard of cherry blossoms scattered by spring breezes during the pandemic shutdown. Delicate blooms of wisteria tumbled over pergolas and plump roses unfurled with no appreciative fans to say “Oooh.”

The garden reopened in August for a limited daily number of socially distanced visitors. Now, as fall’s vibrant, showy display begins, meadow and woodland gardens completed at last winter’s onset are finally coming into their own. They are the culmination of a yearslong evolution, as the garden turns over a new leaf with the selection in September of Adrian Benepe, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as the new president and chief executive. Continue reading

Hidden Camera, Tiger Tree Hug, Award

Sergey Gorshkov’s image of an Amur tiger, which won him the 2020 wildlife photographer of the year award.

Thanks to Mark Brown, Arts correspondent at the Guardian, for this:

Image of tiger hugging tree wins 2020 wildlife photographer award

Sergey Gorshkov left a hidden camera in a Russian forest for 11 months to capture the big cat

An image of a clearly ecstatic tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir tree in a remote Siberian forest has won one of the world’s most prestigious photography prizes.

It took Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov 11 months to capture the moment using hidden cameras. His patience led to him being named 2020 wildlife photographer of the year by the Duchess of Cambridge at a ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum.

The image was selected from more than 49,000, with Roz Kidman Cox, the chair of the judging panel, calling the photograph “a unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest”. Continue reading

Know GEF Through Its New Leader

Mongabay‘s Rhett A. Butler offers an engaging conversation with the new leader of GEF, who we have confidence will lead this institution to the planet’s benefit. His realization at a young age about seasonal differences in bird abundance is a good example of why programs like Celebrate Urban Birds in places where migratory birds come and go are so important. It has been too long since we last sourced from Mongabay, but today we correct that with this recorded interview (click above) and the printed version (click below):

The post-COVID opportunity for the environment: An interview with the GEF’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Tropical forests in places like Costa Rica (pictured) can be an important source of livelihoods by attracting nature-oriented tourists. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay: Congratulations on the new role at the Global Environment Facility.

Rodriguez: Well, I’m very pleased and honored. I’ve been working half my professional life in government and half within the civil society in Costa Rica. I have worked very close to the GEF, including in the early days of the GEF. I was a negotiator for CBD for the Rio convention and also had the fortune to work with the government of Costa Rica in the first implementation of GEF funding in Costa Rica. Those were very interesting times, the mid-1990s.

I’m really delighted that 25 plus years after that, I’m leading this very prestigious organization. I never thought I would have that opportunity, particularly for coming from a developing country, a recipient country. Continue reading

Forests & Human Intervention

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana.

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana. STEVEN GNAM

Even as we may feel overdosed on news about forest fires, understanding what to do next is important. Thanks to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for sharing relevant science:

Natural Debate: Do Forests Grow Better With Our Help or Without?

Nations around the world are pledging to plant billions of trees to grow new forests. But a new study shows that the potential for natural forest regrowth to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and fight climate change is far greater than has previously been estimated.

When Susan Cook-Patton was doing a post-doc in forest restoration at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland seven years ago, she says she helped plant 20,000 trees along Chesapeake Bay. It was a salutary lesson. “The ones that grew best were mostly ones we didn’t plant,” she remembers. “They just grew naturally on the ground we had set aside for planting. Lots popped up all around. It was a good reminder that nature knows what it is doing.” Continue reading

Traditions Keeping Foodways Alive On Canada’s West Coast

A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid

Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:

‘Bringing beaches back to life’: the First Nations restoring ancient clam gardens

In the Pacific north-west, local people work the shoreline, creating conditions for useful species to thrive

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them.’ Photograph: Iain Robert Reid

On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations “knowledge holders” lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or “fluffing”, the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud – and a remarkable number of old clam shells. Continue reading

Rewilding: Restoring Ecosystem & Community

The jaguar Isis in her pre-release pen; she is part of a rewilding project in Iberá National Park in Argentina.

Rewilding, once a novelty idea, has been scaling and we are gratified to see Argentina’s progress:

‘Fixing the Damage We’ve Done’: Rewilding Jaguars in Argentina

Bringing back the top predator to Argentina’s wetlands could restore the health of an entire ecosystem. But inducing five felines with troubled pasts to hunt, and mate, is not easy.

IBERÁ NATIONAL PARK, Argentina — They had a big job to do, drafted as the first few jaguars to be reintroduced to Argentina’s wetlands after more than seven decades of absence.

Capybaras, a giant rodent, at the park.

But they were a troubled bunch.

Tobuna came from an Argentine zoo and was fat and lethargic, in the twilight of her reproductive life. Her daughter, Tania, had been hidden from view in the same zoo because a tiger had mauled one of her legs as a cub. Continue reading

Puzzling Palm Positivity

Palm-Full-Width-3

I saw this photo while skimming the headlines in the Environmental News section of the Guardian’s website. I have been skimming that section most mornings since July, 2011. Out of 3,000+ times skimming and always finding at least one news story to click through to read, today was the first time I ever clicked on an image that I could see was part of a paid advertisement. I landed on a screen filled with this:

Mars1

I have replicated as best I can what I saw, including the links to the messages embedded behind each of the images. The images of palm plantations are so pretty. The messages are so positive.

I am puzzled.

Palm?

Positive?

Rewilding & The Wilder Blean Project

WilderBlean

Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones

Rewilding started featuring in our pages with a bison story in 2013, and one year later a book review made the concept clearer. Since then dozens of related stories have fueled our imaginations, and understanding of how this makes sense.

3872 (3)

Blean woods, near Canterbury. The Wilder Blean project aims to restore the ecosystem of the area’s ancient woodlands. Photograph: Ray Lewis/Kent Wildlife Trust

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment editor, Damian Carrington, for bringing this new initiative to our attention:

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years

Release of a small herd of endangered animals in Kent is planned for spring 2022

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A herd of wild bison is seen in the Białowieża forest, Poland. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Wild bison are to return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years, with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022.

The £1m project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species. But they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

During the initial release, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female. The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe. Continue reading