Looming Line 3 Battle

Only a small percentage of Americans visit the Grand Canyon, but its existence, as an ancient place of inestimable value, has a global psychological importance.Photograph by Jim Kidd / Alamy

The Line 3 story started for us last month, and continues today, with another essay by Bill McKibben, this time using the Grand Canyon for context:

Lessons from the Fight for the Grand Canyon

We once saved natural landmarks for their beauty—now it’s for survival, too.

To float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is to meander through geologic time. As you descend, the formations you pass include the Coconino Sandstone, the Redwall Limestone, the Bright Angel Shale—by the time you reach the tortured-looking Vishnu Schist, you’re a couple billion years back in time. 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

Humpback Whale Rebound

A humpback whale off the shore of the Gold Coast in Australia. (Photo: Steve Austin, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Just absorb this (thanks to the Living on Earth podcast for this short segment):

…Experts estimate there are about 40,000 humpbacks that migrate each year between the southern oceans around Antarctica and the oceans around Australia. And there used to be 1500 a half century ago, mostly wiped out due to wailing. Continue reading

Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 Pipeline, The Keystone Sequel, Must Not Happen

A section of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Superior, Wis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Associated Press

McKibben, always ahead of the curve, has this proposal for us all to consider:

The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Dead. Next Target: Line 3.

Michael Siluk/Education Images — Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.

The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. Continue reading

Back To Impenetrable

A giant otter in the Brazilian Pantanal. They play a vital role in the health of a river’s ecosystem. Photograph: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

It had been a while. Too long. But great to see once again:

‘A huge surprise’ as giant river otter feared extinct in Argentina pops up

Conservationists thrilled at the sighting of the wild predator, last seen in the country in the 1980s

“It was a huge surprise,” said Sebastián Di Martino, director of conservation at Fundación Rewilding Argentina. “I was incredulous. An incredible feeling of so much happiness. I didn’t know if I should try to follow it or rush back to our station to tell the others.”

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

Congratulations, West Virginia

The New River Gorge Bridge, seen from Fayette Station, was once the world’s longest single-span arch bridge. Photograph: F Brian Ferguson/AP

A park is born. Challenges, yes, but opportunity too:

The New River Gorge in West Virginia: millions of years in the making; now a national park. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

America has a new national park but not all the locals are happy about it

The New River Gorge in West Virginia offers stunning views, rock climbing and rafting but some worry it is unprepared for an influx of visitors

The New River has spent millions of years carving a bucolic gorge in West Virginia. It is now home to one of the most biodiverse forests on the continent. And while humans have tracked prey along its jagged cliffs for thousands of years, now most people come to the gorge to find adventure. Continue reading

Bottom Trawling’s Carbon Release

Beam trawlers’ heavy chains are dragged along the seabed, releasing carbon into the seawater. Photograph: aphperspective/Alamy

One of the many things that humans have been doing for a long time that are going to have to change:

Bottom trawling releases as much carbon as air travel, landmark study finds

Dragging heavy nets across seabed disturbs marine sediments, world’s largest carbon sink, scientists report

Fishing boats that trawl the ocean floor release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry, according to a groundbreaking study.

Bottom trawling, a widespread practice in which heavy nets are dragged along the seabed, pumps out 1 gigaton of carbon every year, says the study written by 26 marine biologists, climate experts and economists and published in Nature on Wednesday. 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

Obvious Conservation Stakeholders, Finally At The Table

Canada Geese and other waterfowl occupy wetlands in the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana. Members of the Blackfeet Nation hold the area sacred and are working to protect it permanently. Photo: Tony Bynum

Indigenous communities might seem obvious stakeholders in the protection of wilderness areas, but it does not always, or even often, play out that way. Graham Lee Brewer, a reporter for Audubon Magazine, has this to say about changes in the works:

Tribes Could Play a Crucial Role in Achieving a Bold New Conservation Goal

An emerging effort to protect 30 percent of the country’s land and water is an opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty and heed Indigenous ecological knowledge, experts say.

For nearly four decades the Blackfeet Nation has fought off attempts to drill for oil and gas in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine area. Nestled in a national forest beside Glacier National Park, the region’s sweeping valleys, rivers, and wetlands—almost entirely unmarred by roads—form the setting of the Blackfeet creation story and host tribal ceremonies today. 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

Yaak Valley’s Fate, To Be Determined

The Biden Administration’s next few weeks may decide the fate of the remote Yaak Valley, on Montana’s Canadian border. Photograph by John Lambing / Alamy

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter, as usual, has gems worthy of attention, and the fate of the Yaak Valley qualifies:

The blizzard of federal climate initiatives last week (a blizzard that might help allow actual blizzards to persist into the future) is without precedent. For the first time in the thirty-plus years of our awareness of the climate crisis, Washington roused itself to urgent action; veterans of the cautious Obama Administration—the domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy and the global climate czar John Kerry chief among them—were suddenly going for broke. In fact, only one branch of the Cabinet seemed conspicuous by its muted presence: the Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for the nation’s farms and for many of its forests—that is, for the natural features that will either speed or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading

Waking Up 30 Years & Billions Of Tons Of Carbon Dioxide Behind Schedule

Elizabeth Kolbert rarely, if ever, could be faulted for sugar coating anything, but here she is lauding the simple act of the government of the USA talking about climate change again:

A New Day for the Climate

It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s sweeping climate directives can make a meaningful difference, but a critical threshold has been crossed.

Illustration by João Fazenda

Nine years ago, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had a sign made up that showed a photograph of the Earth as seen from space. “time to wake up,” it urged, in large, unevenly spaced letters. Every week that the Senate was in session, Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, would tote the sign to the chamber, set it on an easel, and, before a hundred chairs—most of them empty—deliver a speech. Though the details changed, the subject of the speech remained the same. Continue reading

Kenya’s Rangelands, An Ecologist, & Television Attention

In Kenya, those animals which poachers and cattle-herders have not killed off are being wiped out by new roads, power lines, mushrooming towns, and overgrazed, shrinking rangelands. Photograph by Khadija Farah for The New Yorker

Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson, whose Latin America stories’ gravity have compelled our attention in the past, for this story from another part of the world he once called home:

A Kenyan Ecologist’s Crusade to Save Her Country’s Wildlife

To get her fellow-citizens to care about threatened animals, Paula Kahumbu became a TV star.

Seventy miles southwest of Nairobi, the Loita Hills climb toward the sky from the red stone cleft of the Great Rift Valley. Situated beside the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the Loitas provide a vital watershed for migratory animals on the plains below. Forest pigs, bushbuck, black-and-white colobus monkeys, leopards, and Cape buffalo find refuge there, along with elephants that come to graze when the plains are dry. The Loita forest, one of Kenya’s last surviving stands of old-growth cedar, is sacred to the Maasai people, who call it Naimina Enkiyio—the Forest of the Lost Child, after the legend of a girl who followed wayward calves into the trees and never returned. Some twenty-five thousand Maasai live in settlements scattered through the lower valleys, where they herd goats and cows in sweeping meadows reminiscent of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The Loitas, rich in medicinal herbs and plants, are an irreplaceable resource for the laibon, the spiritual leaders of the Maasai. Continue reading

Hacienda La Amistad’s Neighbor Under New Management

The entrance to La Amistad National Park, which will now be controlled by the Naso under a joint management plan with the government. EDDIE GERALD / ALAMY

We offer coffee from the oldest organic coffee farm in Latin America, which sits on the border of the La Amistad International Park. During our visit to the farm in late 2019 we heard firsthand the family history that led to the creation of what is now a transnational park, while retaining a large private protected area named Hacienda La Amistad (coffee is farmed on a small percentage of that land). Recently Fred Pearce, who frequently writes about forest management best practices, shares news from Panama focusing on the decision to transfer park management to an indigenous community whose ancestral lands in:

Forest Defenders: A Panamanian Tribe Regains Control of Its Lands

With a landmark court ruling, the Naso people of Panama have won the rights to ancestral territory that includes two national reserves the tribe will now help manage. The victory comes as mounting evidence shows that Indigenous groups are often the best protectors of their lands.

Reynaldo Santana, the King of the Naso, on the banks of the Teribe River in northwest Panama. NORLANDO MEZA

Tribal groups in Panama are celebrating a victory for their rights to control some of Central America’s largest forests — a victory that could benefit conservation throughout the region.

The landmark ruling, by the country’s Supreme Court, upholds a claim by the Naso people of northwest Panama — who live in remote villages, grow subsistence crops, maintain their own forests and native language, and elect their own monarch — to create a semi-autonomous territory, known in Panama as a comarca, covering some 400,000 acres of their ancestral lands.

“This is an act of justice that will restore tranquillity to the Naso by securing our land,” says the King of the Naso, Reynaldo Santana. Continue reading

Reprieve For Alaskan Nature

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration has held the first oil lease sale in the refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to all those who protested the lease sale in the first place, and to National Public Radio (USA) for providing the welcome news that the protests had their intended effect:

Major Oil Companies Take A Pass On Controversial Lease Sale In Arctic Refuge

Rep. Deb Haaland at a 2018 rally in Washington, D.C., to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

One of the Trump administration’s biggest environmental rollbacks suffered a stunning setback Wednesday, as a decades-long push to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ended with a lease sale that attracted just three bidders — one of which was the state of Alaska itself.

Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation was the only bidder on nine of the parcels offered for lease in the northernmost swath of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. Two small companies also each picked up a single parcel.

Half of the offered leases drew no bids at all. 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

2020 Goldman Prize Winners

Nemonte Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

The last time we mentioned a Goldman Prize winner was also the only time we have done so. What explains that? Nothing, really. Just a missed opportunity each year to celebrate things we care about. Today we share the news on one of the six prize winners for 2020:

Guardians of the Amazon Rainforest

Despite its relatively small area, Ecuador is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth. It contains pristine Amazon rainforests with rich wildlife, complex ecosystems, and significant populations of indigenous communities. Long protectors of this territory, the Waorani people are traditional hunter-gatherers organized into small clan settlements. Continue reading

Sheltering in Nature

The Turrubares Hills in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region. Photo courtesy of Hugo Santa Cruz.

This is an exciting example of the old adage about life’s lemons and making lemonade. The Macaw Sanctuary is an inspirational space and we’re proud to have explored it with Hugo during the Global Big Day.

Thank you to Milan Sime Martinic and the inspiration of Mongabay for nature and conservation stories.

A new conservation project is created in Costa Rica thanks to COVID-19

  • Hugo Santa Cruz is a photographer contributing to a new Netflix documentary about nature and coping with COVID-19.
  • A Bolivian currently stuck in Costa Rica due to the pandemic, he has turned his camera lens on the local landscape, which has helped him deal with his separation from family and friends.
  • Many hours spent in the rainforest have given him solace and also an idea to aid the rich natural heritage that he is currently documenting.
  • Santa Cruz is now a co-founder of the new Center for Biodiversity Restoration Foundation, which will work to restore and connect natural areas in the region.

Call him inspired.

If Biblical Ishmael were banished to the desert, naturalist Hugo Santa Cruz is quarantined to wander in paradise, a paradise in the Costa Rican jungle, that is.

He is in the Central American rainforest along the Paso de Las Lapas Biological Corridor, an area near the Pacific coast that converges with the mountainous foothills of the western dry tropical forest.

Roaming some 370 hectares of ample primary and secondary forests, regenerated forests restored from human damage, plus plantings, ponds, and biodiverse jungle, Santa Cruz is deep in the wilderness, far from home due to the COVID-19 shutdown of travel and normal activities. He is exploring the jungle, studying the animals, photographing, filming, and registering the species he encounters. 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