Verdant, Drenched & Down At Ground Level

During the last six weeks or so of rainy season in Costa Rica, the word verdant is the perfect word for describing coffee plantations, especially those with long-lived canopies. The photo above, which I took while visiting a coffee farm in the Turrialba region, shows a mature canopy and coffee that is thriving under it, as are the lichens and moss on the gigantic rock in the foreground. Greenest this time of year, the coffee will have red cherries ready for picking within the next two months as the rains subside.

At home, potted flowers that have been providing color on a rock wall near our terrace are getting that drenched look.

Drenched does not have the same beautiful implication of verdant, but it will have to do. I cannot find a prettier alternative to describe the look of flowers that have absorbed as much water as possible and now just let the morning mist roll off.

I was surprised to find this nest while tending to some overgrown grass yesterday. It was right by a post of the fence that protects the land we are replanting. The surprise was a nest at ground level. According to Seth these are most likely eggs from this bird. Good luck, eggs. Good luck, birds.

Keep Peat In Place

Peat bogs on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. ALAN NOVELLI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Peat made two appearances in our pages in 2014, both underscoring the importance of this type of landscape for storing carbon. More such stories in 2017 and again last year made it clear how the case has been building over the years:

Why Saving World’s Peatlands Can Help Stabilize the Climate

Peatlands make up 3 percent of the earth’s landscape, yet absorb large amounts of carbon and harbor surprising biodiversity. Although peat bogs and fens are under increasing environmental threat, efforts to protect and restore these ecosystems are gathering momentum.

Peatlands in northern Canada’s Mackenzie Valley, seen here in autumn. ED STRUZIK

The Aweme borer is a yellowish-brown moth with an inch-and-a half wingspan. In the often-colorful world of lepidopterology — the study of moths and butterflies — it’s not particularly flashy, but it is exceedingly rare. For decades, entomologists thought the moth lived in the sand dunes and oak savannahs in southern Manitoba and the Great Lakes region. Continue reading

Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, Forever

Rock of the King, NP Piatra Craiului, Transylvania, Southern Carpathian, Romania

The word Carpathian appears, to my surprise, only once in a post before today. Likewise Romania is underrepresented except in passing, and was the focus of just one post, five years ago in our pages. Today I will correct the oversight.

FOUNDATION CONSERVATION CARPATHIA
Bears in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, Romania.

It is surprising because after I was exposed to the idea of rewilding, I started receiving The European Nature Trust’s newsletter. Frequently the newsletter highlights one of the projects they support, in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. I have been admiring the photographs for years now, and silently supporting TENT’s joint mission with the FCC. Silent no more. Let’s all actively support the Carpathian Mountains of Romania being there forever, intact:

DANIEL ROSENGREN
A frosty morning in the Piatra Craiului National Park, Romania.

TENT is committed to the protecting and restoration of Romania’s natural resources through supporting Foundation Conservation Carpathia.

Romania has 250,000 hectares of virgin forest, mostly in the Southern Carpathians, which constitutes the largest unfragmented forest area in Europe. They contain an extraordinarily high number of indigenous species, one third of all European plant species and are home to the largest European populations of large carnivores. Continue reading

Know Where Your Coffee Comes From

Illustrations by Hokyoung Kim

Most of the coffee stories I tell here are short reports on our efforts to regenerate a onetime coffee farm. Plenty of others we link to are about challenges facing coffee farmers and efforts to improve their lot . I cannot find a story like the one below that we have featured previously, where coffee farming is effectively undermining conservation. Reading this new longform work by Wyatt Williams will not make anyone happy, but that must be the point. The illustrations by Hokyoung Kim are a perfect accompaniment:

The Case of the Vanishing Jungle

It seemed like an easy crime to stop: protected Indonesian rainforest, cut for coffee farms. But a globalized economy can undermine even the best-laid plans.

In the fall of 2015, Matt Leggett, a newly hired senior adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society, found himself sitting in a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, wondering if someone had missed the point. The meeting, as he remembers it, was meant to unveil some good news about tigers. In brief: Back in 2002, a survey of one of the last habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, showed a tiger population that, in biologist-speak, amounted to only 1.6 tigers per 100 square kilometers. Continue reading

Nature, Intervention & Protection

Discovery inspires.

Participation motivates.

Discovery + Participation + Organization =

Results

Click any of the images above to go to the website of this organization featured once before in our pages and now again in the article below. It will make more sense after reading the article. But do visit the site and consider volunteering. Take some kids along.

In New York, Kate Orff will use oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges. Photograph by Thomas Prior for The New Yorker

Eric Klinenberg‘s work on the topic of libraries provided a sense of common cause. After featuring so many stories about libraries and librarians (my more recent personal anecdote was purposely brief so did not relay how many ways my local library impacted my young life, a topic for another day), his book summed up much of why the institution matters to us. And then some. Advocating for libraries was something a talented academic could do on a larger scale than we could in these pages, especially with publications like those. Bravo. And now this.

After lots of attention to rewilding in these pages, plenty of it related to urban landscapes, the same author that further illuminated our understanding about the value of libraries has convinced me of how much more there is to learn on this topic:

The Seas Are Rising. Could Oysters Help?

How a landscape architect is enlisting nature to defend our coastal cities against climate change—and doing it on the cheap.

On a windy afternoon in April, the landscape architect Kate Orff stood on the open walkway of a container crane, some eighty feet above the Red Hook Terminal, in Brooklyn, and the Buttermilk Channel, a tidal strait on the southeast side of Governors Island. Continue reading

The Largest Forest In The World

Virgin Komi Forest in the northern Ural Mountains in the Komi Republic, Russia. MARKUS MAUTHE / GREENPEACE

We have not posted many times on the vastness of Russia, and its various natural resources, but they are worthy of more attention. Thanks to Yale e360:

Will Russia’s Forests Be an Asset or an Obstacle in Climate Fight?

New research indicating Russia’s vast forests store more carbon than previously estimated would seem like good news. But scientists are concerned Russia will count this carbon uptake as an offset in its climate commitments, which would allow its emissions to continue unchecked. Continue reading

Rewilding In London

When we have linked to rewilding initiatives in the past the settings are usually but not always rural locations. Here is an urban exception worthy of note, as seen on the project’s overview page:

Hunted to extinction across the UK 400 years ago for their pelts and oil from their scent glands (known as castoreum), we have a vision for returning this charismatic animal back to London where it once thrived. In January 2021, working with the Beaver Trust, we brought together some of London’s key conservation organisations, community groups and environmental decision-makers in London to discuss the possibility of beavers in our Capital once again.

BACKGROUND

As the Rewilding movement continues to grow, species reintroductions are gathering pace, and beavers are now high on the agenda of many conservation strategies. As ecosystem engineers, they breathe life into ecosystems, damming up streams to create wetland habitats where wildlife can thrive. In addition to this, the wetland habitats they create are excellent for flood prevention, sequestering carbon and providing water during periods of drought. Continue reading

Milkweed, Monarchs & Meaning

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant in Vista, Calif. Gregory Bull

We feature monarch butterflies in our pages to highlight conservation challenges, and milkweed is often part of the story. Claire Fahy’s story below reminds me that the link between the insect and the plant, and the effort in California to repair that link, is one example of why we created, and why I continue to post on, this platform. A short statement of purpose might be something like: in hope there is meaning. June 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of the first post, and I intend to start the next decade with a more regular series on our regeneration efforts on a few acres of land here in Costa Rica. Because it provides a sense of meaning, among other reasons. So we thank those in California who are doing the same on a 200x scale:

A coalition of conservation groups have partnered with the state to add 30,000 milkweed plants in an attempt to restore the species’ population.

A consortium hoping to rescue the Western monarch butterfly is planting three varieties of milkweed: showy milkweed, narrowleaf milkweed and a desert milkweed. Rob Cardillo for The New York Times

Known for their windowpane wing design and bright orange color, Western monarch butterflies add a dash of magic to the California coast, where they spend the winter. Now a coalition of conservation groups, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the environmentalist organization River Partners are working together to extend a lifeline to the monarchs, whose population has been dwindling drastically.

The groups have embarked on an effort to add 30,000 milkweed plants across the state to provide the butterflies with places to breed and acquire the sustenance for migration.

The Western monarchs’ California population has fallen 99 percent since the 1980s, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. A major factor in that drop has been a decline in milkweed caused by farming and pesticide use. Milkweed is vital to monarchs as a place to lay eggs and as a food source for their caterpillars. Continue reading

Healing Earth & Avoiding Amazon

Longleaf pines once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to east Texas but today only about 5 percent of historic range remains intact. Marion Clifton Davis was a modern conservationist who bought tens of thousands of acres in the Florida sandhills and turned them into a private reserve, a project aimed at restoring back the Longleaf pine forest. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr, CC BY ND 2.0)

When you have 12 minutes to spare, listen to Tony Hiss talk about his new book on this excellent episode of Living On Earth, and if you decide to buy the book and want to avoid Amazon click the image of the book below:

The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and is a carbon sink. It’s estimated that if global warming exceeds the 3-5 degree Celsius heat stress and water scarcity could trigger extensive forest death and a dangerous release of the stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo: Kevin Owen, Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Climate change is placing stress on plants and animals to rapidly adapt but without intact habitat, that could become impossible for many. Tony Hiss is an award-winning author and joins Host Bobby Bascomb to talk about his book Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which looks at several places across North America where communities are already working to protect habitat and biodiversity.

Transcript

BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

During his first few days in office President Biden announced the goal of protecting 30 percent of US land and water by the year 2030 with a long term goal of 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading

Moving Species To Protect Their Viability

The endangered western swamp turtle, which scientists have reintroduced into its native habitat in Australia. AUSCAPE/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360 for this:

Amid Climate Pressures, a Call for a Plan to Move Endangered Species

The conservation community has fiercely debated whether to help species move as climate change and habitat loss threaten more extinctions. Now, scientists are calling on an upcoming international conference to set guidelines for this complex – and potentially risky – challenge. Continue reading

Michelle Nijhuis On Species Solidarity

LUISA RIVERA

Michelle Nijhuis is one of several science writers who have made our pages better in the 10 years since we started this platform. This essay is in good company:

Species Solidarity: Rediscovering Our Connection to the Web of Life

As climate change intensifies and human activity impacts every corner of the planet, repairing our world increasingly means realizing that our fate is intertwined with that of other animal and plant species — not separate from theirs — and that we must think and act accordingly. Continue reading

Brazil’s Middle Earth

A white-vented violetear hummingbird feeds on the nectar of the flowers of a Stachytarpheta glabra

Thanks to Augusto Gomes for bringing this region, unknown to us, to our attention:

Life on the rocks in Brazil’s campo rupestre

In a little-known region that calls to mind Tolkien’s Middle-earth, photojournalist Augusto Gomes marvels at one of the oldest, harshest, most biodiverse – and most threatened – ecosystems on the planet

Lutz’s poison frog, which feeds primarily on ants

When I was a child, my family would drive three hours from our home in Belo Horizonte to visit my grandfather’s ranch near the town of Santana dos Montes. On the way, we would cross the Espinhaço mountain range, which runs north to south in the central-eastern portion of Brazil.

Espinhaço means “spine” in Portuguese, and the name could not be more apt. The range spans 1,200km (750 miles), its bony peaks reach as high as 2km, and the thriving, humid Atlantic Forest drops away to the east, foggy and dense with evergreens, ferns, mosses and bromeliads, the air bursting with the strange songs of birds you never see. On the west side of the mountains, the arid, savannah-like Cerrado stretches flat and exposed, with golden grasslands and small, twisted trees. Continue reading

Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest

Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest: ‘I didn’t just want to talk about ‘hey, this is happening,’ without offering solutions.’ Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy

First reading about this in another publication (one that rarely features photographs), the concept was clear, especially if you are familiar with “What Is Missing,” a long-running project about ecological loss. Picturing the result for this new installation was not easy from that first review. The artist’s website offered the photo above, which is also featured in this Guardian review, and Madison Square Park’s website offers an audio tour of the exhibition along with the image below.

On her own website the artist’s description is worth reading:

Ghost Forest, 2021
Madison Square Park, New York, NY
Commissioned by Madison Square park Conservancy
May 10 – November 14, 2021
49 Atlantic Cedar trees (36 – 46 feet)

Photography: Maya Lin Studio / Andy Romer, courtesy MSPC

Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest, brings a towering stand of forty-nine Atlantic white cedar trees, victims of salt water inundation due to climate change to downtown manhattan’s Madison Square Park. Continue reading

Stewarding Species & Ecosystems

Kawesqar National Park in Patagonia, Chile, is regarded as one of the world’s few remaining intact wild lands. ANTONIO VIZCAÍNO / WWW.PARQUESNACIONALES.CL

Yesterday’s news from Brazil was dismal, providing a how-not-to stewardship example. Today we link to Fred Pearce’s article in Yale e360 about alternative, and more positive examples of stewardship, with a question at the center of the story:

Species or Ecosystems: How Best to Restore the Natural World?

What’s the best way to protect nature and restore what has been lost? A series of new scientific papers offer conflicting views on whether efforts should focus on individual species or ecosystems and point to the role human inhabitants can play in conserving landscapes.

Wildebeest on the Serengeti plain during their annual migration. ALEX BRAMWELL / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

The Serengeti plain of East Africa is one of the world’s great wild lands — teeming with lions, leopards and migrating wildebeest. But is it ecologically intact, a rare fragment of the earth unaltered by the hand of humanity? Or is it, as many researchers argue, a human-created landscape, nurtured by generations of Maasai cattle herders? Continue reading

Belize Maya Forest, Mission Accomplished

The Belize Maya Forest is home to five species of wild cat, including endangered ocelots. Photograph: Sergi Reboredo/Sipa USA/PA

The photo above, from the news story below, is similar not only to guest photos I saw but of sightings too quick to catch well on my on phone camera in 2016 and 2017. During that period, when we were under contract to oversee the management transition at Chan Chich Lodge, wilderness conservation was our primary motivation. In addition to the animal wildlife, the forest was habitat for other forms of life that have had a lasting impact on me. When we started offering ojoche in our shops in Costa Rica, I was able to check off one more item on a long to-do list that came from the time in Belize.

The last felled trees in Belize Maya Forest. Photograph: Handout

The idea for organizing a group of investors to accomplish this protection was more than well-formed. Names were attached to the idea already, and it was easy to imagine then that they were the right names; it just took more time than I expected for it to get accomplished. Now that it is, if anything this news understates the wow factor:

Conservation organisations purchase 950 sq km biodiversity hotspot, helping to secure a vital wildlife corridor

“These logs are historic,” says Elma Kay, standing in Belize Maya Forest, where she has been doing an inventory of felled trees. “These are the last logs that were cut here, for mahogany and other hardwoods, left behind by the previous logging company.” Continue reading

Felling Forests, Featured Frankly

The remnants of an old-growth forest in northern Sweden. Forest biologist Sebastian Kirppu counted over 100 trees more than 150 years old in these piles. Photograph: Marcus Westberg

The Guardian features this gallery of photos with commentary, by Marcus Westberg, to raise awareness; click any image to see the entire collection:

Each year, about 1% of Sweden’s forest is cut down, according to the trade association Swedish Forest Industries, mainly in the northern half of the country. Since 2000, Sweden has lost more than 48,000 sq km (19,000 sq miles) of tree cover, not accounting for replanting, or 17% since 2000, according to Global Forest Watch. It is an area greater than Denmark

‘Forests are not renewable’: the felling of Sweden’s ancient trees

Forests cover 70% of the country, but many argue the Swedish model of replacing old-growth forests with monoculture plantations is bad for biodiversity.

The remains of an old-growth forest are silhouetted against the aurora borealis in Pajala municipality, in Sweden’s northernmost county of Norrbotten

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