Amazing American Songbirds or American Warblers

At the end of April – May, the migration of small songbirds begins in Ontario. By their small size and tinny graceful beaks, they resemble the warblers of the Old World. Warblers of the Old World belong to the Phylloscopus genus and include small insectivorous birds found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Most of the American small songbird species, occupying similar ecological niches and specializing in insect hunting,  are also called “warblers”. However, taxonomists distinguish warblers of the Old and New World. They place the American species in the family Parulidae or New World Wood Warblers. American “wood” warblers are very different from “true” warblers and have just some morphological similarities, related to adaptation and life to comparable environmental conditions. New World wood-warblers are small passerines that are also mostly insectivorous. During migration and at breeding sites, they vigorously examine trees and shrubs, skillfully extracting insects and arachnids from foliage and inflorescences, from the bark of trees and shrubs, and from other hidden places.

The Latin name of the New World wood warblers’ family – Parulidae – is associated with tits. The Old World tits belong to the genus Parus, described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Linnaeus, however, described one of the North American wood warblers – as the “American tit” – Parus americanus. The bird’s Latin name was soon slightly changed, retaining the root. This bird recently still was called Parula americana or Northern Parula and just recently was moved by taxonomists in another genus. Its Latin name now is Setophaga americana. However, the common name “Parula” is originated from the title given to this species by Carl Linnaeus. The entire wood-warbler family name – Parulidae – comes also from a Latin name designating tits – Parus and may be interpreted as “tit-like”. Obviously, both the species and the entire family have nothing to do with either tits or Old World warblers. However, our perception of passerine birds connects these unrelated taxonomic groups. Taxonomists consolidated the name of the family in 1947, highlighting the genus Parula as a type. It is noteworthy that the parula really looks somewhat like a tit: it has a slightly bluish color and when examining trees, especially birches, it can hang upside down, deftly clinging to thin twigs with its long fingers.

The New World Warblers – representatives of this family – occur entirely in the Americas. The family unites small insectivorous birds, many of which are brightly colored, especially males. All American warblers are rather small birds. The smallest species is Lucy’s Warbler (Oreothlypis luciae), weighing about 6.5 g with a length of a little more than 10 cm. Relatively large songbirds are Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) and Northern Waterthrush (Parkensia noveboracensis) with weight up to 25-28 g and length up to 15-16 cm. Most part of the birds from Parulidae family is associated with forest and shrub communities, nesting in shrub branches and in tree crowns. But there are also species that prefer to settle the nests on the ground, camouflaging them among the roots of trees.

Currently, 119 species of songbirds, belonging to 18 genera, have been listed to the family. It is believed that American warblers were originated and evolved in the northern part of Central America, where even now their species diversity is very great. During the interglacial periods, they spread far to the north, forming a group of long-distant seasonal migrants that fly to nest far beyond the tropical zones in the forested-tundra and taiga of North America.

These birds are found on migration in the Ottawa River Valley on their way to nesting sites in the northern boreal forests. The first migrants arrive in the Ottawa area in late April – early May. It is remarkable that some of the northernmost migrants appear in the northern latitude in late spring-early summer, they can be observed in the parks of Toronto or Ottawa only in late May-early June; they also begin to fly back prompt as early or mid-August. Thus, these birds have adapted to breed in a relatively short nesting season – one and a half to two months. In this period, they need to form pairs, find nesting territories, lay clutches, hatch, and raise chicks. Therefore, the size of clutches in migratory American warblers is quite large, they incubate up to 6-7 eggs and then feed large broods. For comparison, the tropical warblers from the same family usually have clutches with 2-3 eggs.

From May to early June, about 30 species of American warblers migrate through Ontario. Many of them stay for breeding in the orchards, parks, fields, and wetlands around large and small towns. But most migrants fly to the central and northern parts of the province and beyond its territory for nesting in boreal forests. Some the migratory songbirds, such as the Myrtle or Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), or Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), are abundant and highly visible, while others are not always easy to spot even by a skilled naturalist. They migrate invisibly and quickly, trying to get to nesting places in northern latitudes as soon as possible. Many of those songbirds are characterized by a narrow food specialization. In nesting places, they hunt certain types of insect pests and caterpillars. In years when outbreaks of insect pests are observed, the populations of species-“specialists” also increases, then gradually reducing in accordance with the available natural resources.

It is not easy to spot many songbirds in the breeding places. Even having the bright color of plumage, they dissolve among the leaves of trees in the changeable play of light and shadow. But the presence of many species can be recognized by listening to their characteristic song. Some bird count techniques are based on the knowledge of bird songs and calls. For example, the famous “point count” method includes the identification of all birds around by their songs and calls from one point. The monitoring of breeding birds in North America has been conducted for over 50 years. Any citizen who has an interest in birds and their conservation may contribute his or her “two cents” to one of the bird monitoring programs by joining one of the environmental programs of Birds Canada, for example to the program on the Breeding Bird Survey or Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. You also can contribute your bird knowledge to the citizen science program on birds survey – ebird, which holds the global database, collecting bird observation data from all naturalists.

Our Planet, Our Future: SEU Didgest, No21

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. Please, send me the addresses of your friends and colleagues to be included in the list. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices. If you know sites or mailing lists where I can find positive news for our digestы, please send me their addresses.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

An Urgent Call for Action

This statement was inspired by the discussions at the 2021 Nobel Prize Summit, issued by the Steering Committee and co-signed by Nobel Laureates and experts.

“It seems appropriate to assign the term ‘Anthropocene’ to the present.” Paul Crutzen (Nobel Laureate 1995). Geologists call the last 12,000 years the Holocene epoch. A remarkable feature of this period has been relative Earth-system stability. But the stability of the Holocene is behind us now. Human societies are now the prime driver of change in Earth’s living sphere – the biosphere. The fate of the biosphere and human societies embedded within it is now deeply intertwined and evolving together. Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Evidence points to the 1950s as the onset of the Anthropocene – a single human lifetime ago. The Anthropocene epoch is more likely to be characterized by speed, scale, and shock at global levels. The global commons. Global heating and habitat loss amount to nothing less than a vast and uncontrolled experiment on Earth’s life-support system. Multiple lines of evidence now show that, for the first time in our existence, our actions are destabilizing critical parts of the Earth system that determine the state of the planet. For 3 million years, global mean temperature increases have not exceeded 2oC of global warming, yet that is what is in prospect within this century. We are on a path that has taken us to 1.2oC warming so far – the warmest temperature on Earth since we left the last ice age some 20,000 years ago, and which will take us to >3oC warming in 80 years. At the same time, we are losing Earth resilience, having transformed half of Earth’s land outside of the ice sheets, largely through farming expansion. Of an estimated 8 million species on Earth, about 1 million are under threats. Since 1970s, there has been an estimated 68% decline in the populations of vertebrate species.

Inequality. “The only sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity.” Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Laureate 2001) While all societies contribute to economic growth, the wealthy in most societies disproportionately take the largest share of this growing wealth. This trend has become more pronounced in recent decades. In highly unequal societies, with wide disparities in areas such as health care and education, the poorest are more likely to remain trapped in poverty across several generations. More equal societies tend to score highly on metrics of well-being and happiness. Reducing inequality raises social capital. There is a greater sense of community and more trust in government. These factors make it easier to make collective, long-term decisions. Humanity’s future depends on the ability to make long-term, collective decisions to navigate the Anthropocene.

Technology. The accelerating technological revolution — including information technology, artificial intelligence, and synthetic biology — will impact inequality, jobs, and entire economies, with disruptive consequences. On aggregate, technological advancements so far have accelerated us down the path toward destabilizing the planet. Without guidance, technological evolution is unlikely to lead to transformations toward sustainability. It will be critical to guide the technological revolution deliberately and strategically in the coming decades to support societal goals.

Planetary stewardship. “We must break down the walls that have previously kept science and the public apart and that have encouraged distrust and ignorance to spread unchecked. If anything prevents human beings from rising to the current challenge, it will be these barriers.” Jennifer Doudna (Nobel Laureate 2020). Effective planetary stewardship requires updating our Holocene mindset. We must act on the urgency, the scale, and the interconnectivity between us and our home, planet Earth. More than anything, planetary stewardship will be facilitated by enhancing social capital — building trust within societies and between societies.

Is a new worldview possible? 193 nations have adopted the SDGs. The global pandemic has contributed to a broader recognition of global interconnectivity, fragility, and risk. Where they possess the economic power to do so, more people are increasingly making more sustainable choices regarding transportation, consumption, and energy. They are often ahead of their governments. And increasingly, the sustainable options, for example solar and wind power, are similar in price to fossil fuel alternatives or cheaper — and getting cheaper.

The question at a global systems level today is not whether humanity will transition away from fossil fuels. The question is: Will we do it fast enough? Solutions, from electric mobility to zero-carbon energy carriers and sustainable food systems, are today often following exponential curves of advancement and adoption. How do we lock this in? The following seven proposals provide a foundation for effective planetary stewardship

The City of New York has filed a lawsuit in state court against Exxon Mobil (XOM), Shell, BP (BP), and the American Petroleum Institute for allegedly misleading New York consumers about the role their products play in climate change and for allegedly “greenwashing” their practices to make them seem more eco-friendly than they are. “Three of the largest oil and gas companies and their top industry trade association—have systematically and intentionally misled consumers in New York City…about the central role their products play in causing the climate crisis,” the lawsuit states. “They have engaged in this deceptive conduct both to compete against growing safer energy options and to distinguish themselves from industry competitors as they vie for consumer dollars.”

Boats laden with seagrass seeds set off from Plymouth Harbour on Wednesday as England’s largest seagrass restoration project got underway. Led by Natural England, the LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES programme will plant eight hectares of biodiverse seagrass meadows off the coast of southern England over the next four years. The project aims to turn the tide for the beleaguered ecosystems, which have declined by 90 percent in the last century due to pollution, trawling and coastal development. Reckoned to sequester carbon 35 times faster than a tropical rainforest, the meadows provide a haven for seahorses and other marine life.  

Trees will no longer be cut down in this 950 sq km (236,000-acre) area after the land was bought by a coalition of conservation organisations to save one of the world’s last pristine rainforests from deforestation. “The forest will now be protected in perpetuity,” says Kay. The news is timed to coincide with Earth Day, the annual event established in 1970 to mobilize action on environmental issues. The newly named Belize Maya Forest is part of 150,000 sq km (38m acres) of tropical forest across Mexico, Belize and Guatemala known as the Selva Maya, a biodiversity hotspot and home to five species of wild cat (jaguars, margay, ocelot, jaguarundi, and puma), spider monkeys, howler monkeys and hundreds of bird species. Combined with the adjacent Rio Bravo Reserve, Belize Maya Forest creates a protected area that covers 9% of Belize’s landmass, a critical “puzzle piece” in the Selva Maya forest region, helping secure a vital wildlife corridor across northern Guatemala, southern Mexico, and Belize. Protecting large areas of pristine rainforests will help mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. “Forests like these hold vast amounts of carbon,” says Julie Robinson, Belize programme director for the Nature Conservancy, one of the partners behind the acquisition. “We’re at a tipping point, so it’s really important to try to reverse the trend we’re on.” The area was owned by the Forestland Group, a US company that had permits for sustainable logging. When it came up for sale, the Nature Conservancy and others, including Rainforest Trust, World Land Trust, University of Belize Environmental Research Institute, and Wildlife Conservation Society, saw an opportunity to buy the land

Saimaa Geopark has been granted UNESCO Global Geopark (UGG) status by the UNESCO Governing Body. The matter was announced today, Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 3 pm (Finnish time) in Paris. Recognition of the status will continue the development work of Saimaa Geopark, focusing on international nature tourism and bringing vitality to the region, as well as strengthening environmental education with stakeholders in the region. The vitality has been also strengthened by cooperating with entrepreneurs in different projects and creating a Saimaa Geopark Partner network. All the activities of the network are based on principles of sustainable development and the United Nations Agenda 2030 goals. 

Starting in 2004, Asiatic black bears Ursus thibetanus were reintroduced and tracked in the Republic of Korea, along with their descendants, using radio telemetry, yielding 33,924 tracking points over 12 years. Along with information about habitat use, landscape, and resource availability, we estimated the population equilibrium and dispersal capability of the reintroduced population. Researchers used a mixed modeling approach to determine suitable habitat areas, population equilibria for three different resources-based scenarios, and least-cost pathways (i.e. corridors) for dispersal. The population simulations provided a mean population equilibrium of 64 individuals at the original reintroduction site and a potential maximum of 1,438 individuals in the country. The simulation showed that the bear population will disperse to nearby mountainous areas, but a second reintroduction will be required to fully restore U. thibetanus. Northern suitable habitats are currently disconnected and natural re-population is unlikely to happen unless supported. Our methodologies and findings are also relevant for determining the outcome and trajectories of reintroduced populations of other large carnivores (Andersen et al., 2021).

Magnificent Zonotrichia-American Sparrow Species

In the spring, noticeable small “sparrows” appear on forest paths in the green belt of Ottawa. They often stay on the ground among the grass, collecting seeds of cereals and small weeds. Their modest variegated striped brownish coloration resembles sparrows. However, these passerines have only external similarities to real sparrows. For a long time, they belonged to Emberizidae (bunting) Family, and only recently they, together with other American sparrows, were singled out into a new family, which is called the Passerellidae or New World Sparrows. Five representatives of this vast family belong to the genus Zonotrichia or American sparrows. All birds from this genus have brown backs with black stripes and streaks and heads with distinctive markings – white, yellow, or black. Four of five species are North American dwellers and one – the rufous-collared sparrow – inhabits highlands from southeast of Mexico to Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south of South America.

White-throated Sparrow during migration in Ottawa area

The white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is a Canadian patriot. If you enter the forest and hear whistles coming from the tree crowns resembling melodic and solemn “Oh! Canada! Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada“, then know that the singer lurking in the branches is a white-throated sparrow. This bird is widespread in the forest zone of North America. Small portion of the species population nests in the northeastern part of the United States, but nevertheless, the main breeding range of this sparrow covers the boreal forests of Canada. Some pairs of white-throated sparrows stay for nesting in Ottawa’s Greenbelt, but most of the birds fly for breeding to the north in boreal and taiga regions. For example, in Algonquin Park, the white-throated sparrow is one of the most abundant passerine birds. Its songs pour from almost every corner of the forest in the quiet morning from late spring to mid-summer. This sparrow begins to sing first at dawn – even before sunrise. On migration, the white-throated sparrow is also very widely distributed. It loves to visit bird feeders in green areas around towns and cities. And for the winter, most part white-throated sparrows migrate to the United States, where wintering birds can be seen even in Central Park in New York. More information about this bird you will find on pages of the Cornell Lab “All about birds”.

The white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) is a bird that breeds in the northern latitudes of North America – in the northern boreal forests, taiga, and forested tundra of Canada and Alaska. This sparrow inhabits shrub thickets and other bushy areas. In the migration season, the white-crowned sparrows may be observed in temperate zones of North America. They are often observed along trails, on grassy lawns, and in meadows in the green areas in mid-latitudes, where they collect small seeds of weeds and cereals, as well as small insects and other invertebrates. However, even during migration, they prefer to stay close to forests and can be spotted in many provincial parks of Ontario. In autumn, this sparrow does not appear early; it is a late migrant, which passage takes place in October. It migrates for wintering to the southern United States, sometimes reaching Mexico and Central America. Back migration in Southern Ontario takes place in early-mid May. At this time, white-crowned sparrows sometimes combine with white-throated, which also return to their breeding areas. Their joint flocks of both species can be seen feeding in dandelion meadows, under bird feeders on forest paths, and near houses. Near Ottawa, the first white-crowned sparrows appear at the end of April, and at the end of May, they already fly further north. The presence of white-crowned sparrows in the forest also gives out a characteristic melodic song. Males of this sparrow learn the songs in the places where they grow up (All about birds), they usually come back for breeding in the same places and therefore they have diverse local dialects of song and need to learn several dialects when living at the edge of the population range.

While hiking in one of the parks in Vancouver, my attention was attracted by small birds, which resembled females of the white-crowned sparrows, both in appearance and in behavior. But looking closer, I noticed “golden” caps – yellow spots in the center of the head and wide black “eyebrows” attaching from both sides to the yellow caps. These birds were immediately identified as the golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla), which inhabit the taiga forests in the uplands of the western edge of North America. The breeding grounds of these sparrows are stretched from northern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to the central regions of the Yukon province in Canada. In fall, golden-crowned sparrows migrate along the Pacific Coast to the south of British Columbia, western United States reaching on wintering southern California. The white-crowned sparrow inhabits dense shrubs and other brushy areas. These sparrows are often found in many parks of Vancouver, where they, like other species of this genus, gather to feed under bird feeders. Just like their relatives, golden-crowned sparrows prefer to feed on the ground, collecting small seeds of cereals and other plants. Song mnemonics of this species are described in “Dendroica” as whistles “Oh! Deer me” or “ Teeeewwww twee twee”. Although miners from the Yukon hear their song as “No gold here” (All about birds). This species is also known for its vagrant behavior: individual birds during periods of seasonal migrations reach the Far East in Russia and Japan. Also, a small number of sparrows sometimes roam along the eastern coasts of North America, where they are observed from Nova Scotia to Florida.

My daughter and I were walking with heavy backpacks through the streets of the town of Banos in the province of Tungurahua in Ecuador. The town is adjacent to the northern foot of the active volcano Tungurahua in the Andes at an altitude of about 1800 m above sea level. Several “sparrows” with a melodious voice were jumping along the narrow streets of the town. We could see them only when we reached the hotel and dropped our backpacks. The remarkable features of the external appearance made it possible to quickly identify the species. These were the rufous-collared or “Andean” sparrows (Zonotrichia capensis) – a species that inhabit South America. This sparrow is distributed from Mexico in North America to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago on the southern tip of the continent. In July, when we voyaged and had a chance to observe these birds, rufous-collared sparrows roamed. They begin to nest in the Andes in December-January. Traveling in summer, we saw rufous-collared sparrows only in mountainous areas. Small flocks of sparrows were found both in their natural environment and in the vicinity of human habitation. However, they were most abundant in the streets of small mountain settlements. Like their northern relatives, the rufous-collared sparrows justify their recognition as the “plantain finches”, vigorously looking for food – seeds of plants and invertebrates – along the roadsides and among the grass on the meadows of mountain slopes. Their energetic song is reminiscent of the voices of their articulated fellows from North America.

Harris’s sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) is the largest species among Zonotrichia genus. The breeding habitats of this species are known in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, therefore, it is the only endemic breeding bird in Canada. Harris’s sparrow occurs in low-growing, stunted coniferous forests with adjoining shrubs in the forest-tundra regions. Because of its remote breeding areas, the first nest of Harris’s sparrow was found only in 1931 in Churchill, Manitoba by George M. Sutton (All about birds). This species overwinters in the United States, flying south in October over the prairies and mountainous regions of central Canada. They usually return back at the end of April-May, preferring to travel across the mountainous valleys to flying among the open prairies. Perhaps, the mountains allow better orientation in space and facilitate the return back to the beginning of the breeding season. In the nesting places, Harris’s sparrows feed on the ground, eating small berries, buds, and flowers, as well as small invertebrates. During migration and wintering, they also feed on the ground, collecting the seeds of herbaceous plants. The species can be recognized by its vivid whistling song. Harris’s sparrow is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN due to declining population that could be associated with climate change impact on the restricted habitats of this species.

One day in October I saw this species near one of the trails in the Ottawa Greenbelt. It was a bright adult male, but while I was preparing the camera, the sparrow disappeared and I could not take a photo of this species. It could be an individual that accidentally drifted from his usual route. Without documentation, I did not even include the species in the list of birds observed that day online in ebird.

It is the time now when two of the five listed species have already appeared in the Ottawa Greenbelt and around other settlements and parks of southern Ontario. This is a wonderful time for bird watching and wildlife photography. Have you been lucky enough to observe the “Zonotrichia” species during your hikes and travels?

Reverse the Red: the new initiative of IUCN

IUCN – International Union for Nature Conservation – recently launched a new initiative, which aim is “Reverse the Red” or stop and reverse extinction of threatened species in the world.

ReverseTheRed is a global movement that calls for joint action and the belief that our community can ensure the survival of all the species we live with on this planet, as well as ensure the protection of all the ecosystems in which they live. The IUCN Species Survival Commission, which oversees this initiative, tries to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the conservation work. The Species Survival Commission unites more than 7 thousand experts who work in the field of biodiversity conservation in different countries of our blue planet. However, it is definitely clear now that it is impossible to preserve species without the wide participation of not only specialists and narrow experts working in the field of studies and conservation of species and ecosystems, but also the whole society, including different sectors that affect the habitats of species and their populations. Participation of local communities and concerned citizens can also contribute to the protection and restoration of species.

The IUCN Red List contains information on the assessment of species at the global level with an evaluation of the threats for species. All threatened species can be categorized as Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), and Critically Endangered (CR). According to modern estimates, the Red List currently includes 37,400 species, that were categorized as threatened and the state of their populations is of concern at the global level. If you look at taxonomic groups, according to modern estimates, 41% of all amphibian species, 26% of all mammals, 14% of all bird species, 36% of all shark and ray species, as well as 34% of all gymnosperm (coniferous) tree species are threatened with extinction risk. And this is only among those taxonomic groups that have been assessed by experts. But there are still many taxonomic groups on the planet that have not yet been evaluated, for example, many species of invertebrates and angiosperms (flowering) plants, the diversity of which is very high on our planet and extinction of some tiny species may be almost invisible. By now, the conservation biology science and experts involved in nature conservation have accumulated knowledge and methods that allow the preservation of species and ecosystems, ensuring their survival and recovery. Experts from the IUCN Species Survival Commission argue that:
We KNOW how to save species
WE BELIEVE we can
TOGETHER we will

While a strategy to reverse biodiversity loss is still under development, it is now clear that it will be an umbrella initiative to work with key partners to achieve biodiversity conservation and recovery tasks for species and ecosystems. The IUCN Species Survival Commission has identified the following mechanisms to achieve its ambitious goals:
(1) Engage biodiversity conservation partners at national, regional, and global levels in the development of standardized tools and methods. The Reverse the Red initiative creates an umbrella mechanism for the conservation of species and ecosystems. (2) Work with pilot countries to refine and implement tools and collaborative strategies. Increase national capacity and commitment utilizing ReversetheRed framework for target species and ecosystem assessments, planning, and action. (3) Empower the country-based “Reverse the Red” partners to engage and activate their local communities through a diverse set of educational resources focused on biodiversity conservation, personalized experiences, advocacy campaigns, and behavior-change campaigns. (4) Establish a global reporting mechanism and forum to report on and celebrate the reversal of species extinction and ecosystem destruction.
These mechanisms will provide the structure, tools, and framework for objective setting of the Global Species Congress.

You can support this initiative by voting for it at: Webby Awards People’s Voice – Reverse the Red.
Images of threatened animal species from Nepal were used to illustrate this message.

The Garter Snake on the forest path…

The mating behavior of snakes is not so easy to see. The mating displays usually occur immediately after the snakes leave their hibernacula (this term is used for winter shelters, where snakes brumate of sleeping, similarly to hibernation of other animals such as mammals) places, where they sometimes congregate in large clusters. But getting to such a hibernacula without a special purpose and without knowing the peculiarities of the ecology of snakes is almost impossible.

In spring, garter snake likes to bask in the morning near forest path

But then one day at the end of April, on a forest path, the rustling of foliage attracted my attention. I did not immediately understand where the rustle came from, but looking around I spotted an extraordinary sight. On the dry foliage of last year, covering the first shoots of the breaking green growth, an unusual ball rolled, from which for a moment heads or tails appeared on the surface … Yellow stripes on the body made it possible to immediately identify the species – it was a mating procession of a Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). One larger snake was distinctive from another dozen and half snakes of smaller size that are literally hovered around it. Squirming, first merging into one large ball, then stretching in a chain, the snakes continued their movement along the invisible pass in the dry foliage. But as soon as I took a step towards this extraordinary procession, the ball instantly became alert, assessing the situation, and began to disintegrate. Individual snakes crawled on the sides, looking for cover under the foliage, in the cracks between the hard rocks and between the roots of trees. Nevertheless, about a dozen of the most persistent continued to follow the largest snake. The presence of a small rock in the forest indicated that the snake hibernacula was somewhere nearby: snakes usually hibernate in cavities under rocks or in natural depressions formed under the roots of dead trees, where they can gather from several tens to several hundred or even thousands of individuals.

The common garter snake is widespread in Ontario. In the forests around Ottawa, it is the most common snake species. The slender body of garter snakes with a light stripe running along the keel from head to tail, with yellow or reddish longitudinal stripes on the sides and an elegant narrow head that smoothly merges into the body, allow anyone to immediately unmistakably identifies this species. The average length of a snake with a tail is 50-70 cm. Sometimes there are specimens that are larger – up to a meter in length, but they rarely can be found. Females are much larger than males. Only one female, accompanied by more than a dozen males, led the mating procession that I observed. This feature of the biology of the species directed to the fact that there are much more males in the population than females. Garter snakes are also remarkable by the reproduction features: they can both lay eggs, from which small snakes then hatch, and give birth to alive little snakes. Usually, individuals living in the north latitudes give birth to live offspring, and more southerly occurring counterparts lay eggs. In Ontario, garter snakes give birth to live young. During the season, the female can give birth from ten to forty offspring. But only a few individuals survive to adulthood since snakes are a desiring prey for both four-legged and feathered predators. In addition, a significant number of snakes are killed on the roads, under the wheels of cars in populated areas with a dense road network. In Ontario, there are two subspecies that are externally different: in the south, the nominative subspecies of Eastern Garter snake has the bright yellow stripes on the sides of the body, and in the northern subspecies, the red-sided garter snake has reddish-orange stripes.

Garter snakes are found in a wide variety of habitats, both in forests and in meadow communities as well as around wetlands. In the Ottawa Greenbelt and around, it is definitely a forest species, inhabiting light deciduous and mixed forests. The main food items for snakes are amphibians and earthworms, but on occasion these snakes can catch small rodents and passerines, as well as small fish. Hunting strategy includes two types of behavior.  Sometimes, garter snakes wait for prey, attacking approaching animals. But more often they actively pursue their prey, effectively catching fast tadpoles and small fish.

Garter snakes are harmless to humans. But this does not mean that anyone can catch them. It must be understood that the capture of any living creature is a huge stress for the latter. Therefore, if you notice a garter snake near the forest path, walk by, or watch the snake from the side without trying to catch it.

Garter snakes often hide in construction near human settlements, especially near forest cabins

If you wish, you can also join one of the programs of Ontario Nature such as Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas or Youth Circle for Mother Earth, and contribute to wildlife monitoring and conservation.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International, No14

March, 2021

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. Please, send me the addresses of your friends and colleagues to be included in the list. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Iberian Lynx.

The idea of being able to put a price on nature is dividing opinion, but the financial value of ‘ecosystem services’ is increasingly guiding policy. More than half of global GDP – $42tn (£32tn) – depends on high-functioning biodiversity, according to the insurance firm Swiss Re. The “natural capital” that sustains human life looks set to become a trillion-dollar asset class: the cooling effect of forests, the flood prevention characteristics of wetlands, and the food production abilities of oceans understood as services with a defined financial value. Animals, too. The services of forest elephants are worth $1.75m for each animal, the International Monetary Fund’s Ralph Chamihas estimated; more than the $40,000 a poacher might get for shooting the mammal for ivory. Whales are worth slightly more at over $2m, he also estimates, due to their “startling” carbon capture potential, and therefore deserve better protection.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF of Russia) and JSC “Onezhsky LDK” signed an agreement on the conservation of ecologically valuable forests in the Arkhangelsk region with a total area of about 600,000 hectares. Under the agreement with WWF Russia, JSC Onezhsky LDK will voluntarily preserve forests of high conservation value on the territory of its lease in the Onezhsky, Severodvinsky and Priozerny forest districts of the Arkhangelsk region. The total area of forest areas where forestry activities will be restricted is about 600,000 hectares, of which logging on more than 150,000 hectares will be completely prohibited. Among them are primeval forests, called intact forest territories by scientists, where many rare species of plants and animals live. The purpose of the signed agreement is to preserve such territories.

In Onega Pomerania. Old-growth forest. Photo by Igor Shpilenok.

Cyclone Winston devastated vital coral colonies off Fiji, but five years on, the reefs are alive again, teeming with fish and colour. In the immediate aftermath of the strongest cyclone to ever make landfall in the southern hemisphere, reefs across the Namena reserve and Vatu-i-Ra conservation park off Fiji were reduced to rubble. Tropical Cyclone Winston struck Fiji on 20 February 2016, causing devastation on land and underwater. Winds of up to 280km/h claimed 44 lives, leaving more than 40,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and storm surges smashed reefs in their path. Winston caused US$1.4bn in damage, the most destructive cyclone ever in the Pacific. But four years on, to the delight of scientists, the coral reefs of the Fijian archipelago are vibrantly resurgent and once again teeming with fish and colour.

Australian conservationists on Wednesday unveiled plans to build the world’s first refuge for the platypus, to promote breeding and rehabilitation as the duck-billed mammal faces extinction due to climate change. The Taronga Conservation Society Australia and the New South Wales State government said they would build the specialist facility, mostly ponds and burrows for the semiaquatic creatures, at a zoo 391 km (243 miles) from Sydney, by 2022, which could house up to 65 platypuses. “There is so much to learn about the platypus and we know so little,” Taronga CEO Cameron Kerr told reporters. “These facilities will be critical in building our knowledge so that we don’t let this iconic creature slip off the earth.”

By 2002, the Iberian lynx was extinct in its native Portugal and down to fewer than 100 animals in Spain, well on track to becoming the first cat species to go extinct since the saber-toothed tiger 12,000 years ago. But a battery of conservation measures targeting the wide range of threats to the species has seen it bounce back from the brink, with a wild population today of around 1,000. Reintroduction of captive-bred lynx has been complemented by rewilding of historical lynx ranges, along with boosting of prey species and the creation of wildlife corridors and highway tunnels to reduce deaths from road collisions. The species is one of a handful highlighted in a study showing how targeted conservation solutions can save species from going extinct, although threats still remain, including climate change.

Conservationists are elated as a rare species of Smooth-coated otter has been sighted at the Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary, near Guntur, India. The sight of otters peering their head above the water, and swimming has caught the attention of forest department watchers, who say that the water tank is able to hold more species and helps in the conservation efforts. Known by its binomial name Lutrogale perspicillate, the mammal is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since the year 1996. “We are delighted to see otters in Uppalapadu and its sighting is a testimony to the conservation efforts at the sanctuary for over 30 years. Otters feed on juvenile birds, reptiles like snakes, etc., and help in preserving the balance in ecosystem,” said District Forest Officer, Guntur, M. Siva Prasad. The Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary, located at about 20 km from Guntur, has evolved over the years and is often touted as a shining example of human coexistence with the migratory birds, is home to about 12,000 birds — mostly, spot-billed pelicans and painted storks, which have made the water tank spread over four acres their home after arriving during the nesting season beginning in September-October. There are others too, spot billed duck, darter, black headed ibis and open billed storks, all of them local migratory birds.

The Port of Tallinn has entered into a renewable energy purchase agreement with local energy group Eesti Energia and now consumes only green electricity produced in Estonia.

Under the deal, Eesti Energia will supply Port of Tallinn with 10 GWh of renewable electricity during 2021 for the port’s own use. This leaves a total of almost 7,000 tons of CO2 unreleased in the air per year. According to Ellen Kaasik, Head of the Quality and Environmental Management Department at Port of Tallinn, the port has consistently contributed to its business and development in order to reduce the negative impact of its activities on the environment.

“Energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy sources are an important step in reducing the port’s ecological footprint and achieving climate neutrality,” Kaasik noted.

“Port of Tallinn is a progressive and responsible company, which is an example for many major companies with its consistent activities. We are pleased to see that they have taken the next step towards a cleaner future,” Dajana Tiitsaar, Estonian Market Manager at Eesti Energia.

In the Ecuadoran Amazon, at least 447 flares have been burning gas for decades. Local communities say these flares are responsible for the high cancer rates in the area. In January, the Sucumbíos Provincial Court ruled in favor of the petition filed by Jurado, Leonela Moncayo and seven other girls, and ordered that the flares be shut down. But getting to this point wasn’t easy. (Read the report in Spanish here: “Apaguen los mecheros”: niñas acuden a la justicia para frenar la quema de gas en la Amazonía de Ecuador) The full story

Forests and Wildlife in Central Asia

Tien-Shan Birch in Western Tien-Shan Mountains in Uzbekistan.

The World Wildlife Day (March 3) this year highlights the role of forests for the livelihood of humanity. UN celebrates this day under the theme: “Forest and Livelihoods: Sustaining people and planet”. Forests in Central Asia occupy only a small part of the territory but play an enormous role in providing multiple ecosystem services and not only for local communities. First of all, forests regulate climate and water cycles, ensure food, fibers, and habitats for people and abundant wildlife. Forest have cultural and spiritual values. They serve as recreational places. One of the most important roles of the forests, especially in the mountains, is relevant to the allocation of space for evolutionary processes. The richest and diverse fauna and flora are presented in the forests.

Forests play a crucial role in Central Asia. Their loss impacts wildlife and human livelihoods.

In 2003, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered area in 769.5 thousand ha, including coniferous forests 280.1 thousand ha, hardwood forest 34,400 ha (ash, maple, elm), softwood (birch, poplar, willow) 14,100 ha, others 98,300 ha (walnut, apple-tree, almond, apricot); shrubs 342,6 ha (Forests of Kyrgyzstan, 2003). In 2010, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered 1,123,200 ha or 5.6% of the total area of the country (FAO, 2010). According to the assessment prepared by UNECE-FAO in 2018 (Tsevs, 2018), 160,000 ha of forest were lost in Kyrgyzstan in the last 50 years. The total forest area in 2015 was 637,000 ha or 3.2% from the country’s area, including 590,000 ha primary forest and 47,000 ha planted forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).

In the past (about 100 years ago), forests in Tajikistan covered about 25% of the country. However, many areas were cut off for the development of agriculture. In 2010, forests occupied around 410,000 ha (Kirchhoff & Fabian, 2010), but the statistic of forest dynamics were complicated due to lack of adequate data management. The total forest area (assessment of 2015) is evaluated in 412,000 ha or 2.9% of the country’s territory, including 297,000 primary forests, 103,000 ha planted forest, and 12,000 ha naturally regenerated forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).  

The percentage of forest land in Uzbekistan is 7.3% (UNECE, 2015). At present, the total area of the State Forest Fund is 11,196.2 thousand ha or 25.2% of the total land area, including 7.2% of forest land (trees and shrubs). The State Forest Fund is comprised of desert land (81%), mountain lands (16%), valleys (2%), and tugai or river gallery forests (1%).  According to law, forests in Uzbekistan are state property and national wealth. All forests are an integral part of the State Forest Fund, except for protective planting, forest belts, urban forests, trees on farmland, and gardens. According to NBSAP (2015), desert and tugai are most degraded and need urgent recovery measures. The agroforestry (walnut, pistachio, almond, and fruit) planting partly compensates for the degradation of mountain forests. However, it is not enough for the recovery of lost forested areas.

Forests provide habitats for many animal species. The diversity of species and subspecies is the most rich in mountains and river valleys. Many species are “least concern” and can be found during short visits to forested areas. However, many species (especially large birds and mammals, beautiful butterflies) are rare and threatened and included in the national red lists and red books. Examples of local communities involved in conservation gave positive results in many countries. The most striking such examples are in Tajikistan, where many charismatic large mammal species recovered last decades due to community participation in protection and benefit sharing.

Flora is very rich in the region, and especially in the mountain areas and in the mountain forests. Only around Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, the plant diversity is evaluated in 1,500 – 1,800 species. The plant diversity in the region is more than 5,000 species. And, in particular, due to this fact, the region is evaluated as one of the biodiversity hot-spots: The Mountains of Central Asia.

The conservation and recovery of species and ecosystems are results of the cooperation between state agencies and civil society: environmental NGOs, grassroot groups and academia.

Used Literature:

FAO, 2010. Capacity building for National Forest and Tree Resource Assessment and Monitoring in Kyrgzystan, Report, 19 p.

Kirchhoff & Fabian. (2010). Forestry sector analysis of the Republic of Tajikistan. GTZ/DED/CIM Regional Program “Sustainable use of natural resources in Central Asia”. Dushanbe, 2010. 56 p.

UNECE & FAO. (2019). Forest landscape restoration in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Paper 72, 66 p.

Used images are from author’s archive.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International. №12

Magpie River. Photo by Peter Holcombe Photography 2017.

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices. Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

River’s rights

In a first for Canadians, a river in Côte-Nord, Que., has been granted legal personhood by the local municipality of Minganie and the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit.

The Magpie River, (Muteshekau-shipu in the Innu Coet) is an internationally renowned whitewater rafting site, winding nearly 300 kilometres before emptying into the St. Lawrence. The river has one hydroelectric dam managed by Hydro-Québec, and environmental groups have long sought a permanent solution to protect the river from further disruption.

It is unclear how this will affect attempts to build developments on the river, including dams, moving forward, as legal personhood for nature doesn’t exist in Canadian law and could be challenged in court. Minganie, Innu council and several environmental groups — collectively called the Alliance — hope international precedents set in New Zealand, Ecuador and several other countries will help pressure the Quebec government to formally protect the river.

“This is a way for us to take matters into our own hands and stop waiting for the Quebec government to protect this unique river,” explained Alain Branchaud, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Quebec chapter. “After a decade of our message falling on deaf ears in government, the Magpie River is now protected as a legal person.”

In accordance with Innu customs and practices, the Alliance has granted the river nine rights: 1) the right to flow; 2) the right to respect for its cycles; 3) the right for its natural evolution to be protected and preserved; 4) the right to maintain its natural biodiversity; 5) the right to fulfil its essential functions within its ecosystem; 6) the right to maintain its integrity; 7) the right to be safe from pollution; 8) the right to regenerate and be restored; and perhaps most importantly, 9) the right to sue.

The Magpie River in in Côte-Nord. Photo by Boreal River

Energy & climate

A hydrogen-powered snowmobile is now running on slopes at the Hinterstoder ski region, Austria. Unveiled last year (2020) by BRP-Rotax to decarbonize winter tourism, the vehicle emits only water vapor and runs almost silently. After one and a half years of experimental development on the test bench and in the vehicle, the fuel cell system now boasts 120 operating hours. A complimentary hydrogen refueling system, which generates green hydrogen on-site, is supporting the zero-emission vehicle. Developed in collaboration with Fronius, the station produces green hydrogen for the vehicle right next to the slope. The electricity for the electrolysis is generated from green photovoltaic power; the plant was planned and built by ECuSol GmbH.

BP and Chevron have led a US$40 million investment round for a Canadian startup that claims to have developed a unique way to extract energy from geothermal heat on demand, using an unpowered looping fluid design that’s already prototyped in Alberta. There are lower-temperature, low-enthalpy geothermal projects out there that can generate energy from hot rock in a flexible, scalable, on-demand fashion, but according to Eavor CEO John Redfern, these haven’t taken off because they lose between 50-80 percent of the power they generate in the task of pumping the water up and down.

Plans for Europe’s largest gas plant were scrapped. Climate groups scored a victory this week as plans to build Europe’s largest gas plant were axed. Energy giant Drax was due to construct the facility in Yorkshire, but abandoned the project after campaigners argued it was incompatible with the UK’s climate targets. The firm pulled the plug despite climate groups losing a legal challenge against the UK government in January over its approval of the plant.

The positive news was tempered by a report by the thinktank Carbon Tracker. It revealed how plans to build 17 gas power plants in the UK (including the now abandoned Drax one) would undermine climate targets and push up energy bills. Carbon Tracker said clean energy could offer the same level of grid services as gas, at lower cost.

Biodiversity

Three years ago, Panji Gusti Akbar was flipping through the pages of Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago when he came across a photo of a bird with brown wings and a black stripe across its brow, appropriately named the black-browed babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata). On the map beside the bird, there was a question mark, indicating that no one knew where the species lived. In fact, this bird hadn’t been sighted for the past 172 years. Then, in October 2020, Akbar received a message from a colleague on WhatsApp with a picture of a living bird with brown wings, a gray breast and a distinctive black stripe on its brow. Two men had accidentally caught it in South Kalimantan province, in Indonesian Borneo, and had taken photos of it before releasing it unharmed.

The rediscovered black-browned babbler. Photo by Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan.

Melting ice has forced polar bears in the Russian Arctic to change their diet and switch from hunting seals to catching fish, geese and even lemmings, scientists said. “In recent years, there is a trend that bears are beginning to adapt to life on the shore. Previously, we noticed emaciated individuals in greater numbers, now more often there are well-fed animals. Their behavior suggests that they find an opportunity to adapt on the shore,” said Ilya Mordvintsev, a leading researcher at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve, which is home to about 800 polar bears, said that the predators began to fish. “Two years ago, a lot of pink salmon appeared in the rivers, bears began to actively hunt for fish, although not as successfully as brown bears in Kamchatka. We haven’t seen this before. The activity of the bears was high, and they became well-fed on fish, ” the director said. According to him, the bears also began to practice uncharacteristic ground hunting. “There are attempts to hunt musk oxen, sometimes they try to chase geese. When there was a large number of lemmings, the bears dug through the entire tundra, extracting them, and so waited out the ice-free period on them, ” said the head of the reserve. Director of the National Park “Lena Pillars” (Yakutia) Arkady Semenov noted that in the region there is a similar behavior of polar bears. “With the Lemmings, this is absolutely true. Even this year, we had two bears terrorizing reindeer herders, we somehow drove them away. The bear is really adapting, ” Semenov said.

A polar bear in a field of flowering cypress on the shore of Hudson Bay. Photo by Dennis Fast.

Over the past two decades, orangutan researcher Marc Ancrenaz watched as a tidal wave of oil palm has engulfed his once-forested research sites in northern Borneo. When he would find an orangutan in a patch of forest surrounded by planted palms, he said he figured the animal would soon disappear. But as the months and years rolled on, some of those orangutans stayed where they were, Ancrenaz said. Females turned up with babies clinging to their bellies, and he would occasionally spot males swaggering on the ground between the palms. “Year after year, they were still there,” he said.

A male orangutan in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongobay.

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee not recorded for almost a century has found it’s been there all along — but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Only six individual were ever found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, Pharohylaeus lactiferus (Colletidae: Hylaeinae), from 1923 in Queensland.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and nothing was known of its biology,” Flinders University researcher James Dorey says in a new scientific paper in the journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

“Three populations of P. lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favored plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation,” says Flinders University biological sciences PhD candidate James Dorey.

Emmanuel’s NGO, Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW), is training locals as beekeepers, giving them the prospect of a decent income from honey and beeswax products – and an incentive to protect the forest from bushfires. His particular forest is known as Kilum-Ijim and it rises up the slopes of Mount Oku in Cameroon’s remote Western Highlands. It’s a fragment of rare montane rainforest which once cloaked the slopes and valleys as far as the eye could see. It’s been losing ground for decades – but not anymore. Now it’s starting to recover. Which is where the bees come in. And it’s working. Fires are now a rarity – and when they do happen, he says, “people rush to the forest to put them out”. CAMGEW’s work doesn’t begin and end with bees. It’s set up tree nurseries to restore lost acres, where local schoolchildren care for the seedlings and “learn to love the forest”. It’s trained farmers in sustainable techniques, like forest gardens and alley cropping, which can provide better yields than destructive slash-and-burn methods (which all too often start bushfires). And it’s working with local women’s groups, arranging micro-credit loans to help them establish small businesses and earn their own income. Result? Over the last decade, it’s simultaneously restored the rainforest and massively improved the lives of those who live in and around it.

Lower Border of the Oku forest above the village of Elak, Cameroon. Photo by B. Gill.

Wastes

A nairobi-based 29-year-old entrepreneur and inventor — is the founder of a startup that recycles plastic waste into bricks that are stronger than concrete. Called gjenge makers ltd, her company initiated following the development of a prototype machine that turns discarded plastic into paving stones. One day at the factory means 1,500 churned plastic pavers, prized not just for the quality, but for how affordable they are. Inspiring video

Also in https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-bricks-in-kenya-2650645441.html

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International №10

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Swamps in the Komi Autonomy of the Russian Federation.

Two courts have defended the Pechorsky Nature Reserve, the Komi Republic, which was liquidated in 2016 under the pretext of losing its value. At the request of Greenpeace, the Prosecutor’s Office of the republic sued and won the case. The decision on liquidation has been canceled. The Pechora Nature Reserve was established in 1989 to preserve a swampy area of several thousand hectares. The territory has not undergone significant changes, but the authorities recognized it as having lost its value and in 2016 abolished the reserve. The elimination of protected natural areas is not provided for in federal laws, and any change in the regime must be approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation. But in this case, these norms were not taken into account. To restore the reserve, Greenpeace appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Komi Republic. The prosecutor’s office fully supported us and challenged the decision of 2016 in court. The Supreme Court of the Republic also upheld these claims. The liquidation of the reserve was declared illegal. The Komi government appealed but lost, and the Supreme Court’s decision went into effect.

The gharials of Chambal will now be found in the Kuno River inside the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. 25 gharials were released in the Kuno river. These gharials were being taken care of at Deori Gharial Breeding Centre in Morena district for the past three years. Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wild Animals) Rajnish Kumar Singh said that so far 50 gharials have been brought from the breeding center and released into the river. Now the number of these gharials has gone up to 50 in the Kuno National Park. Out of which 10 are males and 40 are female gharials. The gharials left in the river are between 120 and 150 centimeters in length. Wildlife scientists studying gharials in the Chambal River for some years found that one of the radio-tagged gharials in the Chambal River had given eggs in the Kuno National Park. Thereafter, it was decided to secure the gharial breeding site and release a large number of gharials from Deori to the Kuno River with a view to conserve the reptile. And after that, almost 50 gharials have been released so far. Out of which five gharials have been radio-tagged for the purpose of the study. (One of the main reasons for gharial extinction is degradation – pollution of habitats and depletion of fish. The gharial survival depends on wise management of water resources and the ability of rivers to provide habitats for wildlife).

The Gharial has been recognized as Critically Endangered at the global level. Photo-credit: https://wildfauna.ru/gavial

The Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge, which connects San Antonio’s Phil Hardberger Park across a six-lane highway, opened Friday afternoon for people and animals alike. A project ten years in the making, the bridge is now the largest completed wildlife crossing of its kind in the U.S. “For many years, the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge was only a dream. Thanks to overwhelming community support of the 2017 Bond, the generosity of donors from across the city and the hard work and dedication of so many, the vision is now a reality,” former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said in a City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation press release. “I am honored to invite San Antonians to come to experience the Land Bridge and hope it will offer them an escape from the stresses of this year — a place where they may spend time with family and friends and connect with the natural world.”

Agroforestry-grown coffee gives Amazon farmers a sustainable alternative.

Located alongside the Trans-Amazonian Highway near the border with the state of Rondônia, Apuí became a municipality in 1987 through the development projects implemented under Brazil’s military dictatorship. Settlers from all over Brazil flocked to the region to claim large swaths of open territory. The first groups of migrants came from the state of Paraná and were followed by people from other states in southern Brazil. Many settlers already knew about coffee farming and brought with them their conventional monoculture farming systems: large treeless plots flooded in sunlight, with pesticides in the mix. For some 20 years, coffee production was strong in Apuí. But the inevitable degradation of the soil caused farmers to begin abandoning their plantations around 2012. “Without spending money on supplies, without constant technical support and, especially, without tropical technology or that more compatible with the Amazonian climate, the soil became worn out,” Reia says. “Our soil is acidic, so if you don’t work at it, you don’t get any coffee here.” When the experts from Idesam arrived in the region, they saw an opportunity. Patches of forest had sprung back up in the abandoned plantations, supplying organic material to the soil and shade for the fruit trees. Coffee plants, in particular, adapt well to low light. As a result, the abandoned plantations were healthier than those being farmed by traditional methods.

Farmer Ronaldo de Moraes harvesting coffee cherries. Image courtesy of Idesam.

Last week two local anti-coal fights in Turkey scored big wins. First, the Çırpılar thermal coal plant project, which would have caused wide-scale destruction on the local ecology, was denied an application to overturn a local court decision to uphold the EIA. Meanwhile, in Northern Anatolia, the local resistance in Bartın managed to stop a second EIA process of the Amasra Thermal Coal Plant project (after the first was overruled by the State Council). 350 Turkey worked closely with the local groups in both regions that made these victories possible. Drue Slatter-Fossil Free News 350@350.org

Power engineers have installed 28 autonomous hybrid electrical installations operating with the use of solar energy technologies in the peasant farms of Buryatia, Russia. This was reported by the press service of Rosseti Siberia. The 28th autonomous hybrid electric power plant (ASUE) with a capacity of 5 kW was launched in the area of the Khory tract of the Tarbagatayskoye rural settlement. In total, 28 installations of this type have been installed in the republic for the period from 2019 to the present. The company noted that thanks to this, it was possible to save more than 290 million rubles, which could be included in the tariff for consumers. The Government of Buryatia provides subsidies from the republican budget, compensating for 95% of the costs of purchasing and installing ASUE.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

February 09, 2021. №9

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Three court decisions – three incredible precedents.

The Court of Appeal in The Hague has ruled in favour of Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians on most points in an oil pollution case that was first brought against Shell in 2008. Shell Nigeria in particular is liable for oil pollution at three locations in the Niger Delta, but according to the court, the parent company Royal Dutch Shell also violated its duty of care. Three of the four Nigerian plaintiffs and their fellow villagers must now be compensated for the damage caused and Shell must ensure that there is a leakage detection system in the pipelines in Nigeria. It is the first time that a court has held a Dutch transnational corporation accountable for its duty of care abroad. For decades, millions of people living in the Niger Delta have been suffering the consequences of large-scale oil pollution. Every year, 16,000 babies die as a result of pollution, and life expectancy in the Delta is ten years less than in the rest of Nigeria. Friends of the Earth Netherlands’ lawsuit revolves around pollution from leaks of Shell oil in three villages, which has rendered local people’s fields and fish ponds unusable. The leaked oil was never thoroughly cleaned up and new oil is still leaking out regularly.

The Paris Administrative Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, including Greenpeace France, in a landmark case acknowledging the responsibility of the French State for the climate crisis. 

Executive director of Greenpeace France Jean-François Julliard said in response: 

“Let’s be frank: this is an historic win for climate justice. A French judge has ruled that climate inaction of the French State is illegal. This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts. For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts! This story is not over, we will use this decision as a crucial first step in pushing our scientifically-grounded arguments and get the court in the coming months to order the French State to act against the climate emergency. No more blablas!
Why is it historic?

  • It’s the first time the State’s responsibility in the climate crisis, because of its lack of action, is acknowledged by French justice.
  • It’s a victory of truth over the denial of the State, who has relentlessly claimed its actions are sufficient, despite evidence (GHG emissions consistently over carbon ceilings, reports from the High Council for the Climate, etc.). Today justice sides with all those who have been warning about the climate crisis for decades.
  • The recognition of the State’s fault and responsibility is a crucial step to obtain a court order forcing the State to act.

In a ruling believed to be the first of its kind in France, the appeals court in Bordeaux overturned an expulsion order against the 40-year-old man because he would face “a worsening of his respiratory pathology due to air pollution” in his country of origin. A Bangladeshi man with asthma has avoided deportation from France after his lawyer argued that he risked a severe deterioration in his condition, and possibly premature death, due to the dangerous levels of pollution in his homeland. “To my knowledge, this is the first time a French court has applied the environment as one of its criteria in such a case,” the unnamed man’s lawyer, Ludovic Rivière, said. “It decided my client’s life would be endangered by the air quality in Bangladesh.”

Other positive news.

The UK crane population has soared, a census found. Their courtship dances have inspired ballets, while some cultures worshipped them as gods. Now cranes are soaring again in the UK, some 400 years after they were wiped out by hunters. A census published this week revealed that 23 crane chicks were born in the UK last year, pushing the national population past the 200 milestone. The birds returned to Norfolk in the 1970s under their own steam and have spread to Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Somerset thanks to ongoing efforts to restore their wetland habitats.

“The return of cranes to the British landscape shows just how resilient nature can be when given the chance,” said Damon Bridge, chair of the UK Crane Working Group. “If we want to see this success continue then [the] sites that cranes use and need must get adequate protection.”

Common Crane (Grus grus). Photo by Andreas Trepte/ Creative Commons

Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and the world’s oldest known, banded wild bird, hatched a new chick this week at Midway Atoll. Biologists first observed the egg pipping on Friday, January 29. After several days, the chick hatched on Monday, February 1. Every year, millions of albatrosses return to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. Beginning in October, birds return to their same nesting site and reunite with their mate in the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012 when biologists first banded Akeakamai. “At least 70 years old, we believe Wisdom has had other mates,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr. Beth Flint. “Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary — for example, if they outlive their first mate.”

Wisdom’s newest chick shortly after hatching, with its Dad, Akeakamai. Photo credit: John Brack/ Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Cambodian authorities on Monday released five environmental activists after they were detained for three days for protesting against illegal logging inside one of the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries. The five, including Ouch Leng, a 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, were detained by rangers on Friday for being inside the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary without permission, Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. The Kratie Provincial Court court had released the five who signed an agreement not to enter restricted areas without permission, Neth Pheaktra said. A case has also been filed against Ouch Leng’s Cambodian Human Rights Task Force for not being registered with the Interior Ministry, he said. The begging of history. On Friday afternoon Kratie provincial environment officers reportedly arrested prominent environmental activist Ouch Leng along with Heng Sros, Men Math, Heng Run and Choup Cheang. They are being detained at the Kratie city police station, according to Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson for human rights group Adhoc, as reported by VOD.

Mr. Leng Ouch. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize