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Asian Carp Quickly Advancing Toward the Great Lakes

Alliance for the Great Lakes

The leading edge of the Asian carp invasion in Illinois has advanced dramatically, with spawning moving nearly 100 miles upstream this year to within 25 miles of an electric barrier that is the last line of defense guarding Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes beyond.
 
Data collected by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in June shows that verified spawning of Asian carp—a key indicator of a viable Asian carp population and its ability to out-compete native fish species—has moved to within just 62 miles of the lake.
 
“The fish are beating a quick path to the Great Lakes and we need federal efforts to keep pace with the threat,” says Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Congress needs to take action now to support a permanent solution to the problem.”
 
Asian carp, a grouping that includes the notorious bighead and silver species, are invasive species with voracious appetites. The filter-feeders are capable of eating up to 20 percent of their body weight each day in algae and small microscopic organisms. Their rapid growth and intense feeding threaten the base of the food web in waters that they invade. Silver carp are well-known for leaping into the air at the sound of passing motorboats, a behavior that has injured boaters and other water enthusiasts in waterways they have infested throughout the U.S.
 
"The fact that Asian carp are reproducing, and these reproducing populations are moving closer, makes it even more important that action is taken quickly," notes Cheryl Kallio, associate director for Freshwater Future. “Thousands of citizens in the region have been contacting their members of Congress, calling for fast action on a permanent solution to stop Asian carp. They've had an impact with the Stop Invasive Species Act. We’re one step closer, but it is critical for people to continue reaching out to their elected officials.”
 
“At every phase of the game, the Asian carp have been underestimated in their advance up the Mississippi and through Illinois on their way to the Great Lakes,” says Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Meleah Geertsma. “We have to get out in front of this invasion once and for all, which means putting in a physical separation to avoid unnecessary environmental and economic damage that comes with these detrimental devils.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Geological Survey discovered Asian carp have an ability to spawn in waterways previously considered unsuitable, meaning their spawning can occur in shorter, slower-moving waterways and that there are more tributaries that could serve as carp pathways to the Great Lakes than previously thought. The trend of a now rapidly advancing spawning front in Illinois, as well as increased capacity for spawning, is further evidence the Asian carp threat to the Great Lakes is imminent.

Silver carp are well-known for leaping into the air at the sound of passing motorboats.

"This is another urgent indication that the entire Great Lakes region needs to support a physical barrier in Chicago in order to protect our economy, our fishery and our way of life," says Marc Smith, senior policy manager with National Wildlife Federation.
 
“Evidence of Asian carp breeding much closer to Lake Michigan is an urgent reminder that the clock is ticking on our opportunity to put a permanent solution in place,” said Jack Darin, director of Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “Breeding Asian carp near the barrier raises the threat level to Great Lakes. The carp are on the move, and we all need to redouble our work toward a permanent solution before it’s too late.”
 
The increased threat of Asian carp illustrates the need for a prompt and permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River to protect Chicago waterways and the Great Lakes. Lab testing has shown that Asian carp fry—or babies—are far less affected than adults by the charge on the electric barrier that is meant to keep them out of Lake Michigan.
 
“Fish don’t care about congressional authorization or timetables,” says Robert Hirschfeld, water policy specialist at Prairie Rivers Network. “The half-measures currently in place have not stopped the advance of Asian carp. Congress needs to act now to separate the basins or it will bear responsibility for a devastating blow to the Great Lakes economy.”
 
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to complete its long-awaited Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) in December. Its goal is to find solutions that end the transfer of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.
 
“Despite all the effort to understand the problem and stop the advance of bighead and silver carp, at present a fully implemented, permanent solution could still be years away,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director, Friends of the Chicago River. “With Asian carp on the move and our rivers at risk from dozens of other aquatic invasives already present in the Great Lakes, we need to do better than that and ask Congress to act as soon as GLMRIS is released.” 

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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