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10 Most Intriguing Forest Stories of 2018

Insights + Opinion
An especially sanguine view of the Amazon jungle in Peru on Oct. 12, 2018. Kjell Eson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Genevieve Belmaker and Joseph Charpentier

Throughout 2018, forests continued to be threatened and destroyed. From the Amazon, to the Congo Basin, to the Mekong Delta and scores of places in between—journalists reporting for Mongabay filed hundreds of stories about the world's forests.

Although the significance of any one story is difficult to gauge in the short-term, several Mongabay reports from 2018 stood out. These pieces dealt with illegal timber trafficking, advances in technology-based environmental protections and human rights protections for the people doing environment-defense work—formal and informal.


The Last Trees of the Amazon

Logged trucks in the Amazon Photo by Mongabay

A team of journalists from five Latin American countries investigated how groups of timber traffickers manage to steal and process timber from the Amazon. Illegally-sourced timber from Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia are incorporated into the international market with falsified official documents that are almost never verified. Timber traffickers are now pursuing new species of trees, but the countries' governments do very little to protect the species. Reported by Nelly Luna Amancio of Ojopublico and translated by Sarah Engel for Mongabay Latam.

Environmental Reporting in Vietnam Often a Comedy of Errors

The main chamber of Hang En, the third-largest cave in the world, located in Phong Nha-Ka Bang National Park Photo by Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

Vietnam's global press freedom ranking is one of the lowest in the world. Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 175 of 180 in its 2017 annual press freedom index. Environmental journalists in Vietnam, including citizen journalists and bloggers covering forests or pollution issues, routinely face roadblocks and sometimes jail time. Reported by Michael Tatarski in Vietnam.

Land Restoration in Ethiopia Makes Progress

Students of the church live in small huts around the church's land.Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay

In Meket—a district in Ethiopia's Amhara National Regional State (ANRS)—efforts are underway to restore what experts say is one of the more severely deforested and degraded regions in the country. Of the land in ANRS, less than 2 percent forested land remains, and efforts are underway to restore degraded and deforested areas. In 2016, Ethiopia turned to forestry sector development projects in the form of short rotation planting and rehabilitation of degraded lands in ANRS and other districts. Reported and photographed by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese in Ethiopia.

How Land Is Stolen in Colombia

Many areas have been used to grow large crops. Photo courtesy of the Solidarity Development Corporation (CDS)

Mongabay learned that the superintendent of notary and registry has a record of empty lands being used illegally in seven Colombian departments. The illegally-used land is in the departments of Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Meta, Caquetá, Casanare, Cesar and Vichada. The land makes up a total of 762,807 hectares (almost 1,885,000 acres). Reported by Maria Fernanda Lizcano and translated by Sarah Engel.

Bangladeshi Forests Stripped Bare as Rohingya Refugees Battle to Survive

A Rohingya boy chopping wood from tree stump he freed from soil near Kutupalong-Balukhali refugee camp on Bangladesh Photo by Khaamil Ahmed / Mongabay

Their panicked dash from burning villages involved stumbling through forests or battling monsoon-charged waters in search of safety. Along the way and in makeshift shelters and eventually camps, refugees needed a massive supply of firewood and shelter for survival. The rapid decimation of the forest is also possibly contaminating groundwater supplies. Reported and photographed by Kaamil Ahmed on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

In Brazil, an Island Laboratory for Atlantic Forest Restoration

A rufous-collared sparrow in Anchieta Photo by Ignacio Amigo / Mongabay

Anchieta Island, just off the coast of Brazil near São Paulo, has seen the worst side of humans. Now, scientists and local authorities are laboring to restore its biodiversity. The island is located 800 meters (about 874 yards) from the municipality of Ubatuba, in one of the few regions of Brazil where the Atlantic Forest still thrives. Most of the island's original forest was devastated over a long period of human habitation, and more recent attempts to introduce foreign mammal species have also had a significant ecological impact. Scientists are now studying the complex interactions at play during environmental restoration, including removing some invasive species, as they embark on an intensive reforestation program. Reported and photographed by Ignacio Amigo in Brazil.

Trase.earth Tracks Commodities, Links Supply Chains to Deforestation Risk

Cerrado soy feeds a booming global soy protein market. The Trase 2018 Yearbook tracks the Brazilian soy supply chain in detail, from producers to export. Image by Flávia Milhorance

Launched in 2016, Trase is an innovative Internet tool, available to anyone, which tracks commodities supply chains in detail from source to market, and can also connect those chains to environmental harm, including deforestation. Until the advent of Trase, knowledge of supply chains was sketchy and difficult to obtain. The Trase Yearbook 2018 is the first in an annual series of reports on countries and companies trading in such commodities as soy, sugarcane and maize, which also assesses the deforestation risk associated with those crops, making it a vital tool for environmentalists, governments, investors and other interested parties. The Yearbook shows that in 2016 the Brazilian soy supply chain was dominated by just six key players—Bunge, Cargill, ADM, COFCO, Louis Dreyfus and Amaggi—accounting for 57 percent of soy exported. In the past ten years, these six firms were also associated with more than 65 percent of the total deforestation in Brazil. Trase shows that zero-deforestation commitments (ZDCs) have so far not resulted in greatly reduced deforestation risk for the commodities companies and countries making them. Between 2006 and 2016, soy traders with ZDCs, as compared to non-committed firms, were associated with similar levels of deforestation risk. Written by Claire Asher.

Fire, More Than Logging, Drives Amazon Forest Degradation, Study Finds

The Amazon arc of deforestation stretches across the southern and eastern edges of the forest and is rapidly expanding into the forest's core. Data in Global Forest Watch from Hansen et al (2013) and Brazil's National Institute of Space Research (INPE) PRODES project

Forest degradation has historically been overlooked in accounting and monitoring carbon stocks. A recent study combined ground-based inventory, satellite and LiDAR data to record the loss of carbon due to forest degradation in areas exposed to logging, fire damage or both, in the arc of deforestation of the southeastern Amazon. The study revealed that fire damage causes greater losses than logging, and fire-damaged forests recovered more slowly than logged forests. Accurate depictions of both deforestation and degradation are necessary to establish emissions baselines used to inform programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Written by David Klinges.

Seeing REDD: A Database of Forest Carbon Emission Reduction Projects

A woman in Senegal farms short-cycle cowpeas instead of millet due to poor seasonal rains, which are expected to become more frequent as climate changes. REDD+ aims to reduce emissions from forest loss. Image by Thierry Brévault, copyright CIRAD

A searchable database of 467 forest carbon emissions reduction (REDD+) initiatives in 57 countries is now available through the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The ID-RECCO database gathers in one free online tool over 100 different categories of information – including project partners, activities and funding sources – on these subnational projects aimed at conserving forests, promoting local economies, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation. The tool makes these data and their sources accessible to anyone, with minimal interpretation: while it does not summarize project results, it provides goals, activities, and links to project websites for the reader to learn more. Written by Sue Palminteri.

India's New Forest Policy Draft Draws Criticism for Emphasis on Industrial Timber

The new draft forest policy may not be beneficial for members of forest-dependent communities, such as this Malayali tribesman from Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier / Mongabay

India's Draft National Forest Policy 2018 is now open for public comment, and will replace the older 1988 policy once it comes into force. Critics are apprehensive about how the draft policy deals with community participation and industrial forestry. The current draft is bereft of knowledge-driven solutions, some experts say. Written by S. Gopikrishna Warrier.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

View of an Ivorian cleared forest at the edge of the 35.000 hectares Peko Mont National Park on Oct. 8, 2016. The Mont Péko National Park is located in the west of Ivory Coast where the forest officers fight with illegal immigrants to protect an exceptional flora and fauna, espacially dwarf elephants. SIA KAMBOU / AFP / Getty Images

Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.

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The Apusiaajik Glacier, as seen from Kulusuk village in East Greenland. Like most glaciers in Greenland, it's retreating rapidly, changing the local landscape year by year. Photo credit: Karin Kirk

By Karin Kirk

Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.

During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.

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Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.

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Chicago skyline on July 22 as high winds continue to push the waters of Lake Michigan over the top of the pedestrian and bike trail along the lakefront in Chicago. Raymond Boyd / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

By Daniel Macfarlane

Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. Some years the beach extends more than three meters to the water. This year, in many spots, there was no beach at all.

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Insects like bees, butterflies and even certain species of beetle and ant incidentally pollinate our crops when they collect protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar. Rolf Dietrich Brecher / CC BY 2.0

By Kerstin Palme

Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.

But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.

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Swedish automaker Volvo unveils its first electric vehicle the XC40 Recgarge EV, during an event in Los Angeles on Oct. 16. Frederic J. BROWN / AFP / Getty Images

Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.

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Cars are queued in Turin, Italy in August. Particulate matter levels were the highest in Italy, Poland and the Balkans countries. Nicolò Campo / LightRocket / Getty Images

Air pollution in Europe led to more than 400,000 early deaths in 2016, according to the most recent air quality report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.

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