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

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union, February 5

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

North Atlantic whales

Biodiversity: North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are in serious trouble, but there is hope. A total of 14 new calves of this Critically Endangered species has been spotted this winter between Florida and North Carolina. The 14th latest calf of the season was spotted Thursday off of Florida’s Amelia Island, News4JAX reported. “What a way to start the weekend – a new right whale!” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast announced on Twitter.

Calf number 14th was born by a 12-year-old female named Champagne and it is her first known calf, the agency said. The news came just two days after the 13th calf of the season was spotted off of Wassaw Island, Georgia, News4JAX reported. This baby was also born to a first-time mom who was 14 years old. All of this is good news for the species, which ended 2020 on a low note. An NOAA report highlighted that there were no more than 366 of the animals left alive. Then, the first known calf of the season washed up dead off the North Carolina coast in November.

12-year-old whale named Champagne and her first-known calf. Photo credit: @GeorgiaWild, under NOAA permit #20556.

An investment group of Swedish retail giant Ikea has acquired forestland in southeast Georgia to protect the land and its diverse ecosystems from development. The Ingka Group, which owns and operates most Ikea stores, purchased 10,840 acres of land near the Altamaha River Basin, the company announced on January 14.”We truly believe responsible forest management is possible and we see that a large part of our responsibility towards the land we own — and by extension the planet — is to restore forests and plant more than we harvest,” Ingka Investments managing director Krister Mattsson told CNN. “In all our properties nature conservation is important. In this particular US investment in Georgia, first, it is important that the land cannot be broken up into small units and it remains forever forestland. “The land, acquired from non-profit conservation organization The Conservation Fund, is home to more than 350 plant and wildlife species — including the endangered longleaf pine and gopher tortoise — which are now protected.

The grey steel girders of Platform Holly rise 235ft (72m) above the waters of the Pacific Ocean, just a couple of miles off the Santa Barbara coast. Above the water, this decommissioned oil rig is dull and lifeless, but the view below the surface is very different. Beneath the waves, colorful fish, crabs, starfish, and mussels congregate on the huge steel pylons, which stretch for more than 400ft (120m) to the ocean floor. There are more than 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms worldwide. As they drain their reservoirs of fossil fuels below the sea, they eventually become defunct when they produce too little fuel for extraction to be profitable to their operators. The big question is what to do with these enormous structures when fossil fuels stop flowing. With curbing climate change rising up the international agenda, and with some questioning whether we have already passed peak oil, hastened by the coronavirus pandemic, the number of defunct rigs in the ocean is set to get bigger. Removing them from the water is incredibly expensive and labor-intensive. Allowing them to rust and fall into disrepair is an environmental risk that could seriously damage marine ecosystems.

For some species, offshore rigs are even better nurseries than natural reefs. The towering pylons are the perfect spawning grounds for tiny fish larvae. But there is one way in which these old rigs can be remarkably useful: the subsurface rig provides the ideal skeleton for coral reefs. Teeming with fish and other wildlife offshore rigs like Platform Holly are in fact the most bountiful human-made marine habitats in the world: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210126-the-richest-human-made-marine-habitats-in-the-world

In 188 km from Arkhangelsk, Russia not far from the Golubinsly karst massif, a cultural and landscape park has been developed on the place of a bankrupt campsite. The park is maintained by two families – Klepikov and Shestakov. “For a couple of years, we thought we were doing tourism, and then we realized that we had become big. We began to be called the point of socio-cultural development. But I always had the idea to show the nature and beauty of the Russian North,”- explained Anna Klepikovskaya. The owners followed the path of American national parks, the main idea of which is the beauty of natural places. People come here not far from amenities and luxury service, but for natural attractions. Around Pinega there are karst caves, waterfalls, and other natural beauties. “At first, most people came to us from Arkhangelsk, but since the year before last, there have been more Muscovites. Our Russian territories do not have enough ambassadors in Moscow, so my husband and I stayed in the capital. Relatives live there,” – Klepikovskaya added. Especially popular in the park is the deer festival, where thousands of people sign up: https://ecologyofrussia.ru/park-sever-tayga-proekt/.

Deer. Photo by Golubino Park.

Climate

President Joe Biden signed an order directing federal agencies to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels on Wednesday, amid a bonanza of climate-focused executive orders. “Unlike previous administrations,” he said at a press briefing, “I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil.” Climate activists have been waiting to hear those words for years. Fossil fuel subsidies, they argue, keep oil and gas companies in business and help them spew planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The problem is that not everyone agrees on what counts as a fossil fuel subsidy and what doesn’t. Subsidies aren’t blank checks from the government: They usually take the form of tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, or anything else that gives a particular industry a leg up. The estimates for the U.S. run from around $20 billion to as much as $650 billion a year, if you think fossil fuel companies should be paying the government for all the damages from their pollution. http://www.envirolink.org/2021/01/28/biden-is-canceling-fossil-fuel-subsidies-but-he-cant-end-them-all/

Climate Change Policy Simulator: C-ROADS is a free, award-winning computer simulator that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of national and regional greenhouse gas emission reductions at the global level. C-ROADS has helped the world to understand the impact of the emission reduction pledges countries proposed to the United Nations. These proposals take different forms with various reference and target years, however, using C-ROADS we can rapidly test these policies to determine whether collectively they are enough to stabilize temperature below 2°C. C-ROADS is made available for free to make insights about what it takes to address climate change more accessible. We encourage you to use C-ROADS as part of a World Climate Simulation, where a group of people plays the roles of UN climate negotiators working to create an agreement to limit global warming https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/c-roads/

ALPS: National food system modeling, to make sense of national policy priorities.

Climate Interactive developed the Agriculture and Land Policy Simulator (ALPS) allows users see to the interactions of different policy decisions on a nation’s food system. As a national-scale model, country ministries and civil society groups can think about different development pathways to see if those policies could create their desired future. ALPS frames the importance of agriculture in the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDCs) that countries pledged for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change (UNFCCC, COP21). As part of that global climate change agreement, countries declared their goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With ALPS, countries can create an interactive tool to explore their pledges to see what it would take to achieve their goal and how different policies affect the timing of reach food production and emissions targets https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/agriculture-and-land-policy-simulator-alps/.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

January 27, 2021

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let’s us 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

Saiga tatarica
Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a species that evaluated as Critically Endangered at the global level. Photo by Mark Pestov .

Climate & Energy

The Prince of Wales launched an ‘Earth charter’ for firms. Most people are familiar with the Magna Carta, the historic tome that laid the foundations for human rights. Now there’s the Terra Carta – or ‘Earth charter’ – which seeks to safeguard the planet by putting sustainability at the heart of the private sector. As he unveiled the initiative this week, the Prince of Wales called on firms to sign up to the Terra Carta https://www.sustainable-markets.org/terra-carta/, which offers a roadmap for businesses to become more sustainable. The charter was launched alongside a fund run by the Natural Capital Investment Alliance, which aims to direct $10bn (£7.3bn) towards safeguarding nature by 2022. “The Terra Carta offers the basis of a recovery plan that puts nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation – one that will harness the precious, irreplaceable power of nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector,” said the Prince of Wales: https://www.positive.news/society/positive-news-stories-from-week-2-of-2021/?utm_campaign=5%20things%20from%20the%20week&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=107799024&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_-PCzfD9eqZ7aixCO4FJeCoDrq63dOsG1ZdgOL5YEMcgzZ2wpYXbg5YX6ehgYp2MuL2VbjvGfl6fP5_UIFLTxYhNwQeQ&utm_content=107680814&utm_source=hs_email

European Union foreign ministers will promote a global phase out of fossil fuels and reaffirm commitments to finance climate adaptation measures at a meeting on Monday (25 January). “EU energy diplomacy will discourage all further investments into fossil fuel based energy infrastructure projects in third countries, unless they are fully consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality,” according to draft conclusions from the meeting, seen by EURACTIV. Foreign ministers are expected to put green diplomacy at the top of their agenda, saying the EU “will seek to ensure undistorted trade and investment for EU businesses in third countries” as well as “a level playing field, and a fair access to resources and green technologies” in countries like China. Moreover, all EU trade agreements, overseas aid and foreign investment strategies will from now on also need to be aligned with the bloc’s climate ambition https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/eu-foreign-ministers-to-push-for-global-fossil-fuel-phase-out/.

Three of New York City’s largest employee pension funds representing civil servants, teachers, and school administrators are divesting from securities tied to fossil fuel companies. With a combined value of $239 billion, representing 70% of the city’s pension assets, the move is one of the largest fossil fuel divestments in the world. Under the resolution, the pensions would phase out fossil fuel investments over five years. “Fossil fuels are not only bad for our planet and our frontline communities, they are a bad investment,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. The NYC pension funds join others, including cities in California and Australia, in the divestment movement https://www.ecowatch.com/fossil-fuels-nyc-pension-2650142167.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1.

Biodiversity
Records in early January showed an increase in the number of saigas in the Bogdinsky-Baskunchak Reserve.

The year 2021 came, frosts came and snow fell. According to the historical tradition, the saiga had to go to Kazakhstan, to the Salt Mud, where it spends the winter, feeding on salt marshes. But it remained, and records in early January showed even an increase in its number from 400 to more than a thousand heads. The population has increased due to the “alien” animals and this pleases. They came to the untouched steppes, rich in food, where there is no man with a gun, and there is a special security regime. All this allowed the saiga to graze quietly in the protected expanses, to rest in the lowlands, sheltered from the icy steppe wind, without fear of an insidious shot.

Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) in winter. Photo from the Bogdinsky-Baskunchak Reserve.

An intergovernmental organization representing countries that produce the bulk of the world’s timber has thrown its support behind a decade-long effort to protect the last remaining primary forest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. In its November 2020 meeting, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) endorsed a proposal by the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) for what’s been called the Baram Peace Park. The proposed park would cover 2,835 square kilometers (1,095 square miles) of northeastern Sarawak on the island of Borneo, incorporating a hodgepodge of undulating forests, past and current timber and oil palm concessions, and agricultural lands for the thousands of Indigenous people who live in the area: https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/timber-organizations-backing-one-step-toward-peace-park-in-borneo/.

The Ministry of Forestry of the Primorsky Territory, Russia has canceled tenders for the right to harvest wood on eight sites in the central Primorye, which have plantings of different categories of protection. WWF Russia warned about the negative social and environmental consequences of the transfer of these lots to the cutting in December 2020. “The cancellation of these forest competitions is the right and timely decision. The existing forest legislation, unfortunately, does not provide for the possibility of involving residents in the process of forest management, even in cases where we are talking about the forests closest to the population – green zones and other forests with high social significance. That is why the social aspect should be taken into account in advance-at the stage of planning and forming lots. The World Wildlife Fund positively assesses the decision of the new leadership of the regional Ministry of Forestry and Hunting».

The tree of Tilia mandshurica. Photo by Denis Kochetkov

Environmental News’ Digest, January 11, 2021

Socio-Ecological Union, International

This digest covers the various environmental problems in different countries with focus on biodiversity, forest restoration, cooperation in Arctic and waste management.

Aral Sea Restoration
Digest, January 11
The view on Aral Sea from a space.

Kazakhstan was able to increase the water surface of the Aral Sea by 40% within the framework of restoration program. As a result, the water surface increased by 870 square kilometers. This work will continue, trees will be planted on the dried-up territory. Over the past 20 years, about 270 thousand hectares of Halóxylon forest have been planted on the dried-up territory of the Aral Sea, and another 160 thousand hectares of forest will be planted in the next five years.

Activism

An unprecedented and innovative legal mechanism is making its way through Latin America in an effort to protect social leaders in the world’s deadliest region for environmental activists. The Escazú Agreement, approved in March 2018 after a six-year negotiation under the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, guarantees access to environmental information, ensures public participation in the approval process for environmental projects, and requires states to take measures to protect environmental and human rights defenders. The treaty, signed by 24 out of 33 countries in the region, needed 11 ratifications to enter into full force. With Mexico’s ratification on Nov. 5, countries can now enter the implementation phase. The agreement is the first of its kind in Latin America, and stands out both for the content of the treaty and the deep involvement of civil society groups through every phase of the process https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/for-latams-environmental-defenders-escazu-agreement-is-a-voice-and-a-shield/.

Environmentalists and journalists from Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland announced the creation of the international organization “Briz” (BRIES) to jointly monitor the state of nature in the Barents region and combat harmful industries. Members of the association noted that the Scandinavian countries have no less environmental problems than Russia. In their opinion, now the environmental institutions of the region, working separately, do not cope with the situation in European Arctic.

Biodiversity

A new study shows that global conservation action has reduced the effective extinction rate of birds by an astonishing 40%. A paper, co-authored by BirdLife’s Chief Scientist Dr. Stuart Butchart, has developed a more thorough measure of extinction rates by taking into account changes in extinction risk category on the IUCN Red List https://www.iucnredlist.org/ rather than just measuring extinction over time [see “How we worked it out” https://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/new-study-conservation-action-has-reduced-bird-extinction-rates-40]. Thanks to conservation over the last three decades, Critically Endangered species are now twice as likely to improve in status and move to a lower threat category as they are to deteriorate and become extinct. Without such conservation efforts, the opposite would be true.

Aichi Target 12 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) contains the aim to ‘prevent extinctions of known threatened species’. To measure the degree to which this was achieved, we used expert elicitation to estimate the number of bird and mammal species whose extinctions were prevented by conservation action in 1993–2020 (the lifetime of the CBD) and 2010–2020 (the timing of Aichi Target 12). We found that conservation action prevented 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammal extinctions since 1993, and 9–18 bird and two to seven mammal extinctions since 2010. Many remain highly threatened and may still become extinct. Considering that 10 bird and five mammal species did go extinct (or are strongly suspected to) since 1993, extinction rates would have been 2.9–4.2 times greater without conservation action. While policy commitments have fostered significant conservation achievements, future biodiversity action needs to be scaled up to avert additional extinctions https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/conl.12762.

Efforts to conserve the critically endangered Philippine eagle, one of the rarest raptors in the world, soared high even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the global havoc wreaked by the health crisis, the year 2020 ended on a high note for eagle conservationists, with at least two eagle families sighted in the Davao region of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The Philippine eagle (Pithecopaga jefferyi) enjoys a special status as the national bird of the Southeast Asian nation, but faces extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat. Growing the population is difficult, as the birds are slow to reproduce. It takes them five to seven years to mature sexually, after which the female lays a single egg every two years https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/a-good-year-for-the-philippine-eagle-in-2020-but-not-for-its-supporters/.

Wastes

Plastic dishes have been banned in Belarus. The National Legal Internet Portal published Resolution No. 14 of the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade of the Republic of Belarus dated February 19, 2020 “On the list of disposable plastic tableware”, which establishes a list of disposable appliances prohibited for use and sale in cafes, canteens and cookeries. According to the document, from January 2021, tubes (straws), sticks for stirring drinks, plastic glasses, cups, plates, plastic packaging for public catering products and food products (containers, trays, boxes, lunch boxes, boxes, cans, bottles) should disappear from public catering facilities, with the exception of packaging for culinary semi-finished products and confectionery products. Plastic cutlery (spoons, forks) are not included in this list.

China has launched a plan to reduce plastic pollution. It was unveiled in January 2020, and it details steps to reduce pollution from 2020 to 2025. The first stage touched the straws. While enjoying the New Year 2021 holidays, many Chinese residents noticed that they had to say goodbye not only to 2020, but also to convenient disposable plastic dishes and appliances in supermarkets, grocery stores and cafes. First of all, it affected plastic straws, which were almost indispensable for Chinese youth who are fond of milk tea. In Beijing, supermarkets offer recyclable bags and baskets for rent as a replacement for plastic packaging.

Burnt Lands near Ottawa

Burnt Land alvar

If you are driving from Ottawa to the west in the direction of Almonte, Ontario, taking March Rd. (Regional Road #49), you will spot the sign of Burnt Land Road at right side along the highway and fence along the road, surrounding a large piece of land, mostly empty, which is unusual in the forested areas around Ottawa. This is the Burnt Land Provincial Park with area of 516 hectares, which supports unique alvar vegetation community. Alvars have been recognized as globally vanishing ecosystems.   

The Park’s name – “Burnt Lands” – is originated from old forest fires during the time of first European settlers. However, the large patches of area with scanty vegetation formed by limestone bedrock, black in the hot summer season, could also initiate the name of the area. The Burnt Lands consists of a mosaic diverse habitats, represented by wetland and swampy area, mixed and coniferous forests and grassland meadow. The area is surrounded by developed agricultural fields and forest concessions. In spite of development around, the small patch of the open landscape can support the diversity of prairie species, including many plants and animals. The land of Burnt Provincial Park is owned by Nature Conservancy Canada and managed by Ontario Parks under a lease agreement (Brdar, 2000). It is one of protected areas identified as a Nature Reserve provincial park since 2003.

The use of the area of the Park is limited, due to fragile nature of unique habitat. There are no special facilities in the Park; it is closed for visit by large groups. There is no special parking and rare visitors usually park on the road-sides. Although some limited activities are allowed. The park is attractive for birdwatching and plant-watching by small groups of naturalists. Hikes and excursions have been sometimes organized by Ottawa Field Naturalist Club. There are no official trails in the Park, although there are some incidental trails. The information about alvar is presented in several nature-guides (Brunton, 1996; Wake, 1997). It also can be found in internet with direction link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/canada/ontario/burnt-lands-provincial-park-trail

Alvar plant community is distinguished from surrounding landscape. It is rich with many unique species of open plains, including some rare plants. The Park provides habitat for many vascular plants, including one Globally Threatened species, three provincially rare and around 20 regionally rare species. Since spring until end of summer, the Park is attractive for plant-watchers who can find many interesting species in the area. Some of them are common in Ontario, but infrequent in Ottawa area. Others are typical only for calcareous areas or prairies. The visitors should pay attention to presence of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). This plant actively colonizes all appropriate habitats. It can be found abundant on the alvar and on openings in the forest areas. The Eastern Poison Ivy can burn the skin even after visit of Burnt Lands. It is recommended to change clothes after visit of the area, especially in wet morning, and thoroughly wash hands with soap. It is not recommended to visit the area with open legs to avoid severe burns.

In the end of May, the site provides opportunity to see two blooming species of lady slippers: Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) and Rum’s head Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) as well as other spring flowers. Later, in June and July plant-watchers can find blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albium), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), hairy beardtongue (Penstomen hirsutus), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius), wood lily (Lilium phyladelphicum) and many-many others.

White-tailed deer, coyotes, skunks, American red squirrels often visit alvar grasslands and marshy forest in the Burnt Land area.  However, the area is mostly settled by diversity of bird species typical for open and forest landscapes. Birdwatchers will find in the area upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicaudata) and killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). Several “sparrow” species nest in the area including clay-colored (Spizella pallida), grasshopper (Ammodramus svannarum), savannah (Passerculus sandwichensis) and most abundant field sparrow (Spizella pusilla). The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erhytropthalmus) usually arrives later than other birds, when hairy caterpillars attack trees. The cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is one of the common and abundant due to good harvest of creeping juniper and many other berries. More than 50 birds can be found in the area during spring morning with good conditions for bird observation.  

The best time to visit park is from the end of April until October. This time is good for naturalist hikes to observe diversity of plants and animals, which typical for alvar communities and surrounding landscapes.

“Time for Nature”- World Environmental Day in 2020

Red Marmot (Marmota caudata) in the mountains of Central Asia

The UN World Environmental Day is celebrated widely in more than 100 countries since 1974. This is an important day to encourage awareness and actions to protect our environment. The theme for World Environment Day 2020 is, “Time for Nature”, with a focus on its role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on Earth and human development.

We all as a part of environment and a biological species with ability to change the environment at the global scale are responsible to protect biodiversity as a base of our life and prosperity. What means biodiversity in our everyday life? For people leaving in rural or urban conditions of many “developing” and “developed” countries it is just a source of surviving, providing food, fiber and other needs of families and communities. Biodiversity is a source of inspiration and creativity, our art and literature reflect the vision of the world – the vision of environment and biodiversity.

Because our growing population and increasing consumption, our civilization takes more and more space from nature occupied for our needs. We use all possible resources destructing natural habitats and replacing them by rural and urban landscapes, managed for needs of our growing communities. We reduce space for other species, fragmenting habitats and transforming natural ecosystems. We pollute environment with many new substances changing landscapes and seascapes. We use too much resources that leads to declining of species and their extirpation in many areas. We introduce new species and diseases impacting native flora and fauna. We are changing climate that leads to biotic changes, impacting our lives and lives of all other creatures…

Only changing own behavior as individuals, communities, civil societies, countries and regions we can achieve the conservation goals and turn into the way of “sustainable development”. What we can do as individuals or community? We need to reduce own consumption. We need to aware other people. We need to help environmental organizations. We need to be more responsible and responsive and think about own role as a citizen to save the diversity of our green planet for future generations.