A diadem sifaka, a type of lemur, in northern Madagascar. Erik Vance/The New York Times
Erik Vance, whose work I have not seen in more than three years, caught my attention again this week. Then it was in National Geographic and from my perch in Belize his story had an obvious connection to my location. This story, in the New York Times, is read from a perch in Costa Rica. My perspective, as ever, is influenced by the search for examples of entrepreneurial conservation. I am happy to read about this one full of interesting characters, in a country I have yet to visit, where there is resonance with some of my experience in Costa Rica. Creative people, knowing that the country’s public conservation commitments have their limits, achieve remarkable conservation goals through private reserves that add to the public good. The section describing a small park with big potential could have also been written about Seth’s workplace last year:
Climate change is shifting the habitats of endangered species and requiring conservation scientists to think outside traditional park boundaries.
Sambava, Madagascar — Madagascar has always been one of the best places on Earth to study the natural world. Continue reading
You had us at hello. By the time we saw welcome, we were already in:
If you’re a fan of national parks, you’ve come to the right place. Heck, if you’ve got even a fleeting curiosity about national parks, you’ve come to the right place. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ardent backpacker, a casual day-tripper, a glamper, or a full-time RVer, national parks are for everyone, and Hello Ranger is here to celebrate you all. Continue reading
While the actual events of the Environmental Film Festival had been canceled, the wonder and value of each entry remains intact. In fact, the DCEFF is offering hundreds of the films for streaming on line.
So many of these amazing projects strike home, but the one featured above has even more so, as Claver Ntoyinkima was Seth’s field assistant during his work doing bird surveys in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.
Claver Ntoyinkima, a native park ranger, shares the secrets of Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda as he guides us through the forest. With almost 300 bird species, over 1,000 plant species, and dozens of large and small mammals, Nyungwe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Twenty-five years after the devastation of the Rwandan Civil War, the park is now one of the best-conserved montane rainforests in Central Africa. As Claver walks through the forest we uncover the origins of his conservation values and the history of an ecosystem that survived one of Rwanda’s darkest periods.
Find this and more films here.
American Prairie Reserve’s Patchwork Of Properties
American Prairie Reserve’s purchased and leased land is shown in green with white borders adjacent to Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Together, these parcels complete a network of land larger than Yellowstone National Park, the second-largest national park in the Lower 48 states. Source: American Prairie Reserve, Montana State Library, U.S. Geological Survey 1 Arc-Second SRTM, Natural Earth, Montana Department of Transportation, U.S. Census Bureau, National Park Service
Credit: Daniel Wood/NPR
Hats off to Sean Gerrity, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who have kept the native prairie grasses intact in recent generation, and to the native communities who stewarded these lands long before all this became a story. Our thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for sharing the story:
Bison walk on American Prairie Reserve land. The organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Claire Harbage/NPR
This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.
Sean Gerrity founded the American Prairie Reserve more than 18 years ago after he moved back home to Montana from Silicon Valley, where he ran a firm that consulted for companies such as AT&T and Apple.
But the reserve is facing fierce opposition from many locals because to build it, the organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Those private properties are then stitched together with vast tracts of neighboring public lands to create one giant, rewilded prairie. The organization has purchased close to 30 properties so far, but it needs at least 50 more.
“I see them coming in with big money, buying up ranches and walking over the top of the people who are already here,” says ranch owner Conni French. “For them to be successful in their goals, we can’t be here, and that’s not OK with us.”
She isn’t alone. Driving around, you see signs everywhere that say, “Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve.”
A “Save the Cowboy” sign is posted along a fence. The “Little Rockies” on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are seen in the distance. Claire Harbage/NPR
But the project’s efforts have garnered a lot of positive attention from those living outside northeastern Montana because, once it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Continue reading
Thanks to Jon Waterman, a former park ranger and the author of National Geographic’s Atlas of the National Parks, for this note of caution:
CARBONDALE, Colo. — Deep inside Alaska’s six-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, I could see miles of space beneath my feet as I stood on the summit of the tallest mountain in North America. The startling view from the 20,310-foot Denali of rugged wilderness spreading out in all directions, plus the challenge of climbing it, were just two of the many wonders and adventures that I’ve experienced in America’s national parks.
I recently finished writing a book for National Geographic, Atlas of the National Parks, based on extensive research, a lifetime of exploring the parks and several years in the 1980s working as a ranger in two of them, Denali and Rocky Mountain in Colorado.
I meant the book as a celebration of the 103-year-old national park system, and it is. But what I also discovered was an operation in deep trouble, with some parks degraded by ruinous overcrowding; invasions of nonnative plants and animals that are upending delicate ecological balances; and a warming climate that is melting glaciers and withering away the rare yuccas that give their name to Joshua Tree National Park. Continue reading
A Brazilian soldier swims in the Negro river holding Jiquitaia, a two-year-old jaguar that was adopted by the military command of the Amazon. Jiquitaia was rescued as a cub after hunters killed his mother. Photograph: None Mangueira/AP
A jaguar in the Yasuni national park, Orellana, Ecuador. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/NPL
Ecuador is mentioned in the title but is not the only country where deforestation is putting at risk the survival of one of the big predator species in the hemisphere. Thanks to Kimberley Brown, writing in the Guardian, for her reporting from our neighborhood to the south on one of the animals we have featured the most in our pages over the years:
Across the American continent, from the north of Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has long been revered for its strength and power. But in some parts of Ecuador, the largest cat in South America is increasingly at risk as roads, mining and agriculture take over the rainforests.
The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to jaguars in Ecuador, particularly along the coast, where more than 70% of the original forest cover has been lost. The vast majority of this destruction has taken place over the last 50 years with the expansion of the logging and agriculture industries, including coffee, cacao, palm oil and bananas, one of the country’s largest agriculture exports. Continue reading
The Lilac-breasted Roller is the star of Akagera, in my opinion (at least for the bird life), as a reliable and beautiful species that you can’t miss while visiting.
Over the last month and a half I’ve been immersed in my Gishwati bird research, so I have not been able to take as much time to write about experiences from the Rwanda Study Tour as much, but now that I’m back in the US, I have some better bandwidth to share media from places like Akagera National Park.
Akagera has the highest bird species richness in all of Rwanda, with literature about the park normally citing either high 400s or low 500s as the total tally. On eBird, there’s a number of different hotspots for the park, but the top three hotspots in the country are all in Akagera, with another two hotspots within the top ten.
There are an estimated 1,000 snow leopards in Mongolia. HEMIS / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Our thanks to the activists who take on the cause of endangered wild cats around the world, and to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for bringing them to our attention:
Mongolian activist Bayarjargal Agvaantseren spearheaded the creation of the world’s first reserve for endangered snow leopards. In an e360 interview, she describes how she helped win over the local herders who once sought to kill the leopards but now patrol the reserve to protect them.
Bayarjargal Agvaantseren. GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL PRIZE
Bayarjargal Agvaantseren has spent 20 years traveling to remote regions of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, fighting to protect native snow leopards. The 50-year-old teacher-turned-activist persuaded Mongolia’s parliament in 2016 to create the world’s first national reserve specifically for the endangered animal. It links two existing protected areas to create a continuous safe zone for the species covering 31,000 square miles, where over a third of the country’s estimated 1,000 snow leopards live.
The creation of the reserve led to the banning of all mining in one of the animal’s key habitats. In a country so dependent on extractive industries — coal and minerals make up 85 percent of exports — her achievement is astounding. She attributes it to the support of remote goat-herding communities, people who she converted from regarding leopards as their enemies to patroling the reserve to protect them. Continue reading
from the Uwinka Visitor Center of Nyungwe National Park
The first national park that the Yale FES Rwanda Study Tour visited was Nyungwe, in the south of the country bordering Burundi’s Kibera National Park. A montane tropical forest spanning over a thousand square kilometers, Nyungwe is quite biodiverse, and while it used to host elephants, water buffalo, and leopards, many other mammals are still present in the forest, including thirteen species of primate. Of these, we were able to see eight: vervet monkeys, l’Hoest’s mountain monkeys, blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, mona monkeys, a single olive baboon, and eastern chimpanzees. This was fairly lucky, as the only primates we missed were the owl-faced monkeys, which are shy and restricted to the bamboo groves in a remote part of the park, red-tailed monkeys, which I know nothing about, and three species of galago, which are very small nocturnal primates sometimes called bushbabies, of controversial cuteness. I’ve included some of my photos below:
Wood Storks nesting in the Everglades. Photo: Mac Stone
Thanks to By Andy McGlashen, the Associate Editor of Audubon Magazine, for this bright spot on the horizon, a signal that long shot comebacks are possible:
An official report says that South Florida’s wading birds had an even better 2018 than we thought.
A year ago, Everglades scientists and environmentalists were ecstatic about what looked like a blockbuster breeding season for South Florida’s wading birds. Turns out, it was far better than those early estimates indicated. New data show that the region hosted its biggest colonies of waders in more than 80 years, offering a flashback to the historical Everglades and a glimpse of how the ecosystem again could look once restored.
All told, wading birds built 138,834 nests throughout South Florida, with 122,571 of them in the Everglades, according to an annual report released last week by the South Florida Water Management District. That’s about three and a half times the average for the past 10 years, making it the strongest nesting season since before the region’s hydrology was transformed with engineering projects that made development possible but also contributed to steep declines in wading bird numbers. Continue reading
For reasons I will need to write more about another time, Colombia has been on my radar recently. When I first visited that country, the conflict was in full swing and my only task was to give a series of lectures related to the country’s potential for nature-based tourism. And I remember very clearly my sense of responsibility for not creating false expectations: as long as there was conflict, this potential would remain just that.
My most recent visit was as the conflict was nearing formal resolution. At that time I was engaged for some weeks of work to be very specific about the potential, location by location. And I was then able to say, based on my own direct observation, that this country would be a powerhouse in the birdwatching market. And I have to admit, I did not have then the knowledge I have now, thanks to the Lab of Ornithology, about the country’s species count and its ranking in the world. The information was there, but I did not have it. Now I do, and my sense of confidence in the country’s opportunity to leverage this abundance into sustainable development is strong. The film above came to my attention in the last 24 hours from several sources, all of whom I thank. But particularly I thank the sponsors of the film for their vision, and the director of the film for his visual acuity:
The Birders, a documentary film on Colombian bird diversity and birdwatching presented by ProColombia, with support of FONTUR and directed by Gregg Bleakney. The film highlights Colombian local birdwatching guide, Diego Calderon-Franco and National Geographic photographer / videographer Keith Ladzinski as they travel through one of the most diverse bird regions in the world to capture new and rare birds that have never been filmed before. The Birders, also takes people through the Colombian landscape, highlighting several of its’ top locations, culture, birds and music. Continue reading
A custodian in Death Valley National Park, which would gain 40,000 acres under the measure. Credit Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated Press
At a time when the current administration and it’s legislative supporters are busy dismantling the environmental protections that have been painstakingly developed for over half a century, this bipartisan achievement is surprising, and heartening news.
The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.
The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.
“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader.
Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support.
“This package gives our country a million acres of new wilderness, protects a million acres of public lands from future mining, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and balances conservation and recreation for the long term,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress.” Continue reading
REEF FISH, BAHAMAS Fish congregate near a shallow reef in Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. © Jeff Yonover
Those familiar with our work will recognize the word valorization, which is an essential element of what we write about and what we do. It’s increasingly important to note that Nature, made more fragile with each passing year by human impact climate change, requires human efforts to protect and hopefully, turn back the clock on damage already done; and it appears to be human nature that maintain a direct correlation between how something is valued and the amount of attention it gets.
We’re particularly impressed by this example of tech collaboration. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for highlighting these stories…
AI and social media are helping quantify the economic value of coral reefs
The Caribbean region is more dependent on tourism than any other region in the world—the sector accounts for over 15 percent of GDP and 13 percent of jobs in the region. And almost all visitors to the Caribbean take part in some activity that relates to coral reefs—either directly, like snorkeling and scuba diving, or indirectly, like enjoying sandy beaches, eating fresh seafood and swimming in crystal waters. That means the health of the Caribbean’s tourism industry—and thus the whole regional economy—is dependent on the health of its coral reefs.
But just how much value do reefs produce? After all, “what gets measured gets managed and improved.” The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently released the results of a study that focused on reef-adjacent activities and the value they generate for the tourism industry, island governments and Caribbean communities. This study, which builds on an earlier body of globally focused research produced by TNC, found that reef-adjacent activities alone generate an estimated $5.7 billion per year in the Caribbean from roughly 7.4 million visitors. When combined with reef-dependent tourism activities, they generate $7.9 billion total from roughly 11 million visitors.
In other words, a major draw for people traveling to the Caribbean are activities related to coral reef ecosystems, and both the tourism industry and other aspects of the local economies depend on healthy coral reefs to keep this relationship afloat. This evidence offers a pivotal opportunity for advancing coral conservation initiatives not only in the Caribbean but around the world, as it can catalyze both the tourism industry and local governments and communities to invest in protecting and restoring coral reefs for the benefit of economies and incomes.
We now know that these natural wonders are responsible for generating billions of dollars, sustaining livelihoods and anchoring economies in the Caribbean as well as other tropical destinations across the globe. And that should translate into a major incentive to conserve them. Continue reading
Thanks to the Guardian for the latest story in this series. We have avoided adding our voice to the many rightly concerned about the radically pro-extraction, carbon-freewheeling policies of the United States since early 2017. The concern is loud and widespread. We have listened. Today, reading this story, I pictured a naughty boy, a bully, getting away with bad behavior for an extended period. Any period of bad boy behavior is intolerable but it happens. Until it is no longer tolerated. Which eventually always happens. And that may be the best stand-in for optimism these days:
Exclusive: a new study reveals the vast extent of public lands being opened up to the energy industry. The Guardian heard from three communities on the frontlines
by Charlotte Simmonds, Gloria Dickie and Jen Byers
Colter Hoyt, an outdoors guide and conservationist, at Grand Staircase-Escalante. Photograph: Charlotte Simmonds for the Guardian
In the great expanses of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, the silence hits you first. Minutes pass, smooth and unbroken as glass. The smallest sound – a breath of wind, a falling rock – can seem as loud as passing traffic.
Colter Hoyt knows this landscape well. As an outdoor guide, he walks the monument almost daily. Yet these days he is full of fear. This remote paradise of red rocks, slot canyons and towering plateaus faces an uncertain future, following a controversial presidential proclamation that removed 800,000 acres from the monument and opened land up for potential energy development.
When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of “American energy dominance”. This would only be possible by exploiting America’s 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country. Continue reading
In a merged image, the photographer Peter McBride captured a vision of the Grand Canyon choked by noise and exhaust. Photograph by Pete McBride
Noise pollution was the topic of several of the first posts on this platform when we started it in 2011, and has been a persistent theme ever since then. We especially appreciate those related to noise in wilderness areas, so thanks to Nick Paumgarten for this story:
Three years ago, in the course of thirteen months, the photographer Peter McBride and the writer Kevin Fedarko hiked from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other. They did it in eight sections, mainly so that McBride could shoot in different seasons. In all, it took them seventy-one days to cover two hundred and seventy-seven river miles and some eight hundred shoe-leather miles, through some of the continent’s roughest hiking terrain—“a whole lot of scratching around the rock puzzles in that giant abyss,” as McBride put it recently.
Before they set off, the Grand Canyon had been hiked nose to tail only nine times in recorded history. There is also a handful of obsessives who have chipped away at it, piece by piece, in the course of decades. “Maybe some crazy ancestral Puebloan did the whole thing, but that wouldn’t make logical sense—they wouldn’t have had any reason to,” McBride said.
McBride, a native Coloradan who shoots for National Geographic, has been documenting the Colorado River for a decade, sometimes from a perch in an ultralight aircraft. Fedarko, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, has guided on the river and is the author of “The Emerald Mile,” an account (with many historical tributaries) of a harrowing speed run of the Grand in a dory during the biggest flood in generations. (As it happens, Kenton Grua, the boatman in the book, was also the first person to walk the canyon, in 1976.) McBride and Fedarko have both become persistent, ardent advocates for preserving the place, in all its spellbinding, inhospitable glory, in abidance with Teddy Roosevelt’s famous dictum, issued during his one visit, in 1903: “Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit.” Still, this was the first time, and surely the last, that either of them had tried to walk it. Continue reading
On a game drive in Akagera. Shannon Sims
Thanks to Shannon Sims for this story of a refuge defying the odds:
Despite modest tourism numbers, Akagera National Park is a success story in the making, particularly considering that, like its host country, it survived catastrophe.
A velvet monkey and her baby in Akagera National Park. The Rwandan park is a success story, despite modest tourism numbers. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press
The road through Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda was blocked. Two giraffes had positioned themselves smack in the middle of the dirt road and were rubbing their necks together. In the car, with a driver and a guide, my cell service was long gone; there was nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Right around this time of year, to the east of Rwanda’s borders, in Tanzania and Kenya, big packs of tourists are stumbling over each other to get the perfect photo of a scene like this. They’re driving through protected areas like Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in caravans of Land Rovers, each packed so tightly that peoples’ binocular straps get tangled up. It makes sense: the animal migrations that occur in this part of the world these months are rightly considered by many to be the greatest natural show on earth. Continue reading
Thanks to Blake and Jen for all their awesome work. Also thanks to Sara Ventiera (a new food and travel writer for us to follow!) and her colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for keeping us connected to such heroics:
Hell’s Backbone Grill is located in Boulder, Utah, about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. The restaurant’s owners are fighting Trump’s plans to slash the size of nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by more than half. Ace Kvale
Standing between peach and cherry trees on her 6.5-acre Utah farm, Blake Spalding points to the Kaiparowits Plateau. The looming bluff is dotted with thousand-year-old pinyon pine and juniper trees.
“That is one of the areas they’re hoping to mine,” she tells a group of visiting chefs from Salt Lake City. “It’s full of dinosaur fossils and more than 650 documented species of wild bees.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Spalding and her business partner, Jen Castle, founded Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah, on the edge of the then-newly designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. The remote and sustainable restaurant has become a destination for culinary travelers seeking a taste of its terroir-driven fare. It’s an amalgam of Mormon pioneer, Western range cowboy and traditional Southwest flavors, like juniper lamb posole or grilled pork chops with Boulder crabapple barbecue sauce. Continue reading
There is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (though it appears nowhere in his published writings), that history never repeats itself but it often rhymes. That quote comes to mind reading this report below by the Oakland Institute, in light of yesterday’s news from Greece. There is a rhyme with no reason that echoes between the two stories. It also brings to mind, for me, an ever-present question about the work I have done for the last two decades. Tourism, even if it is sustainable tourism development, has its downsides. So, I am always on the lookout for ways to avoid regret in projects I take on, and how they are executed. More often than not, if I sense regret it is about not having had enough impact. I prefer that to the regret of too much of this type of impact:
Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement. Continue reading