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Places to Watch: 3 Forest Regions at Risk Right Now
By Mikaela Weisse and Katie Fletcher
This edition of Places to Watch examines forest clearing detected between Nov. 9, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2018 in Indonesian Papua, Cameroon and Brazil. Due to occasional cloud cover that can obscure satellite recognition, some loss may have occurred earlier.
Oil Palm Plantation Encroaching on Primary Forest in Indonesian Papua
Fears that the forests of Indonesian Papua would be the next frontier for oil palm expansion are coming true, according to new satellite imagery analysis. Papua is home to more than a third of Indonesia's remaining intact forest and experienced unprecedented tree cover loss in 2015 and 2016. GLAD alerts since November show further forest clearing, most likely for oil palm.
According to a report by the NGO awasMIFEE!, various Indonesian government agencies have actively promoted large scale-agricultural investment in southern Papua. This has resulted in several new oil palm projects, including investment in the PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA) concession highlighted in the previous edition of Places to Watch. PT BIA Block II has resulted in more than 20,000 hectares (49,500 acres) of tree cover loss since 2013, most of it in primary forest, with around 2,300 hectares (5,580 acres) affected since November, according to GLAD alerts.
However, this loss of primary forest has sparked opposition. Norway's central bank divested from PT BIA owner POSCO Daewoo in 2015 over deforestation concerns in the concession and in June 2017, Mighty Earth sent out a letter warning palm oil buyers that purchases from POSCO Daewoo would violate their No Deforestation and RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) commitments. More than 20 companies including Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L'Oreal, Mars and Unilever have said they will exclude POSCO Daewoo from their supply chains. In December, Boots, the UK's largest drugstore retailer, dropped its retail partnership with POSCO Daewoo. In response to this pressure, POSCO Daewoo reportedly instated a temporary moratorium on new clearing, and since the start of 2018, there have been less than 10 hectares (25 acres) of GLAD alerts detected within the concession.
Cameroon Rubber Plantation Nears Protected Habitat of Elephants, Gorillas and Leopards
A rubber plantation company in Cameroon is expanding its activities toward the edge of the Dja Wildlife Reserve UNESCO World Heritage Site. GLAD tree cover loss alerts show nearly 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of tree cover were affected from November 2017 through January 2018, including previously unfragmented intact forest areas. In total, more than 3,000 hectares (7,500 acres), an area about one-fourth the size of Florence, Italy, has been cleared since 2014. The UNESCO forest area is home to endangered species such as chimpanzees, forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, and a nearly extinct leopard species, with neighboring villages home to around 9,500 people.
The rubber plantation is owned by Sudcam, a subsidiary of the world's largest natural rubber company Halcyon Agri Corporation, with a China-based parent company Sinochem International. According to a CIFOR report, Sudcam has come under scrutiny because the plantation expansion involves clearing of "some 40,000 hectares of natural forests" buffering a park with rich biodiversity and protected species. The report notes that while the project has the potential to create needed employment in the areas, many of the communities are not eligible for compensation for loss of customary land to the plantation, as Cameroonian expropriation laws do not recognize customary rights. UNESCO authorities and Greenpeace have raised concerns over the project's impacts on community rights and the Dja Wildlife reserve.
Brazil's Brutal 2017 Fires Cause Massive Forest Degradation
Brazil's fire season in 2017 was among the most severe since fire detection began in 1999. Analysis suggests that more and more of these fires are happening in natural forest, in areas that normally would only burn very rarely. In the Amazon, where nearly all of these fires are manmade, officials attribute the increase in fires last year to a lack of law enforcement for fire use. Fires are also linked to forest degradation, which makes forests more vulnerable to future fire, and deforestation, which causes local drought that makes fires more likely.
GLAD alerts were detected in several forest areas affected by fire in recent months, including in the Xingu, Kayapó, Xikrin do Rio Catete and Arariboia Indigenous Reserves. The fires occurred primarily in August through October of 2017, but were only recently detected by GLAD alerts due to cloud cover and smoke that blocked previous satellite detection.
Brazilian Parks Left Vulnerable as Unprecedented Fires Eat Away at Forest Edges
In Brazil's Araguaia National Park and neighboring Cantão State Park, GLAD alerts since November detected around 17,500 hectares (43,000 acres) of forest affected by fires. Though disputes remain over the boundaries of Araguaia, park staff estimate that 400,000 hectares, or around 70 percent of the park's total area (forest and non-forest), burned in the 2017 fire season. According to George Georgiadis, executive director of local NGO Instituto Araguaia, the fires in the area occurred due to a "perfect storm" of conditions—lack of rain, low humidity and strong winds—making fires that would normally be easily suppressed uncontrollable.
Araguaia and Cantão sit at the transition between Brazil's forested Amazon and savannah-like Cerrado biomes, creating a unique ecosystem with biodiversity from both biomes. The 2017 fires mostly burned in the understory and damaged leaves and undergrowth, which will recover quickly. However, the drier forest edges experienced more intense burning, leaving them more vulnerable to repeated burning from which they may not recover. Georgiadis noted that as these fires "eat away at it [the forest edge], the landscape becomes more flammable."
A Time to Take Action
Government agencies, private companies and local people have the power to stop deforestation before it is too late, and readers like you can help this process by drawing public attention to these areas. We encourage you to share these places, including on social media using #PlacesToWatch.
Places to Watch is an initiative that uses weekly GLAD alerts on Global Forest Watch to spot changes in forests around the globe and identify the most consequential cases of recent deforestation.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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By Sam Nickerson
Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.
The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.
Tyson Foods Recalls Nearly 70,000 Pounds of Chicken Strips After Customers Find ‘Fragments of Metal’
Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.
The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.
"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."
Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.
The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.