By Mason Adams
The camera wasn't where it was supposed to be. Clad in chest waders and camouflage, Kyle Hill stepped into the pond, reached into the shallow water, and lifted it from the post where it had been mounted. "They got it pretty good," he said.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brendan Jones
Since 2004, Alaska Natives, fishing councils and locals in the town of Dillingham have formed a rare alignment against a proposed gold mine near Bristol Bay and the headwaters of two of the last great salmon rivers on Earth.
Anishinaabe economist and writer Winona LaDuke identifies two types of economies, grounded in different ways of seeing. Speaking in Vancouver recently, she characterized one as an "extreme extractive economy" fed by exploitation of people and nature. The second is a "regenerative economy" based on an understanding of the land and our relationship to it.
By Jason Bittel
We don't know much about platypuses, but what we do know is pretty fascinating.
By Reynard Loki
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and images of animal abuse.
In September of last year, two executives of JBS, the world's largest meat producer, based in Brazil, were arrested and charged with insider trading. In May 2017, the billionaire siblings—Wesley Batista, JBS's CEO, and his younger brother Joesley, the firm's former chairman—admitted to bribing more than 1,800 politicians and government officials, including meat inspectors, in an effort to avoid food safety checks.
- Giraffe Parts Sold Across U.S. Despite Plummeting Wild Populations ›
- Animal Activists Face Felony Charges for Rescuing Dying Birds ›
By Andy Rowell
For years, environmentalists have warned that due to climate change, there will be billions of barrels of oil that we will never be able to burn. These reserves will become what has increasingly been called "stranded assets."
To give you one example: In a new report, Friends of the Earth argued that "The coal, oil and gas in reserves already in production and development globally is more than we can afford to burn. There is no room for any new coal, oil or gas exploration and production.
By Jennifer Weeks
Much news about the environment in 2017 focused on controversies over Trump administration actions, such as proposals to promote more use of coal and budget cuts at relevant federal agencies. At the same time, however, many scholars across the U.S. are pursuing innovations that could help create a more sustainable world. Here we spotlight five examples from our 2017 archives.
By Paul Brown
The collapse of the Soviet Union left Bulgaria achieving in the 1990s what the rest of the world is working hard to manage in the 2020s, a reduction in its carbon dioxide emissions of more than 45 percent.
But while a lot of inefficient mines and smelting plants have closed, the rump of the minerals industry survived. It is now expanding again, destroying pristine forests and wildlife and raising questions about Europe's policy of transporting ore across the globe for smelting and refining.
The lynx is one Bulgarian species in jeopardy from mining for gold and silver.Jonas Bengtsson / Wikimedia Commons
Vast quantities of raw material are transported by ship, but the emissions caused are not counted because shipping is not covered by the Paris Agreement of last December.
In countries across the Balkans the lure of high metal prices and the prospect of new employment are leading governments to ignore the heavy environmental costs of new mines.
In Bulgaria itself, for example, the collapse of inefficient mining and heavy industries led many to migrate to the cities, leaving the countryside with severe unemployment. More than one million emigrated to find new work abroad.
The knowledge that there are gold and silver deposits in the mountains has led to a new rush to open mines in pristine natural areas and a battle over whether Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria should foster agriculture and tourism or plump for the short-term gains of mining.
Climate change rarely gets mentioned in these arguments over the opening-up of beautiful forested areas and wildlife havens for mining. But the way the industry operates is adding dramatically to emissions of greenhouse gases.
This is because the banning of the use of cyanide means partly-separated silver and gold ore will be sent to Namibia for processing. Additionally, to feed spare capacity in European smelters for zinc and other metals, ore will be imported from South America.
The latest battle involves the impoverished and depopulated Trun border region of Bulgaria which contains a beautiful mountainous area, home to bears, wolves and lynx. Trun faces a difficult dilemma: to welcome or oppose plans for vast new gold and silver mines.
The mining area will come within 100 meters of the village of Erul, buried in the forested border with Serbia. Currently the village has 18 inhabitants.
Outside the tiny monastery next to the holy well, Archimandrite Joseph, the priest in charge, has no doubt that the mine will be bad for the people. "I am against the mine because it will destroy nature. God's garden should not be destroyed. We hesitate to build our houses bigger because it will damage the ecology, but the mining company wants to remove the whole hill."
The profusion of wild flowers, including many orchids, helps to make the area a Natura 2000 site, supposedly giving it special protection under European legislation. This has led the mining company, Euromax Services, to amend its original plans.
Instead of all being opencast quarries, three of the proposed mines inside the protected area will be underground, with three outside the Natura 2000 site still opencast.
The company's case is that the mine will provide 500 jobs in the impoverished municipality of Trun in which Erul lies, where by coincidence 500 of the population of 4,000 are unemployed.
The company is part-Bulgarian but the holding company, Assarel Medet, is incorporated in Malta. It has taken over an empty shop in the town and turned it into a well-furnished information center, where staff entertain local schoolchildren to geology lessons to educate them about the wonders of gold mining.
Elitsa Georgieva, the company's community relations chief, says it wants to take 750,000 tons of ore out of the mountain more than 26 years to extract the gold and silver. She says the 320-hectare tailings pond will be lined to prevent chemicals contaminating the water supply. In any case, she adds, the chemicals are not dangerous.
The proposed mine is on a ridge of mountains which have been exploited since ancient times, where the Greeks and Romans had extensive workings. The last mine in this area closed in the 1970s, but while gold remains at US$1,200 an ounce demolishing mountains to reach the ore is an economic proposition.
The company is currently paying experts to compile the environmental impact assessment required by law before the government will grant a permit to mine.
Rumiana Boyanova, aged 34, whose grandparents come from the district and who spends week-ends in the area, has formed a local resistance group.
"We have the cleanest air in Bulgaria, an untouched wilderness, with many rare and protected species. There are lots of interesting archaeological discoveries, Thracian, Roman and others yet to be properly studied", she said.
She does not believe the company's promises about recycling the water for the mine and fears the poisoning of drinking water and rivers.
"There is a much better alternative to mining in the increasing development of eco-tourism," Boyanova said. There is already an established local industry of picking wild herbs and hunting wild game like pigs and deer. "When the gold digging is finished in 20 years, we will be left with a moonscape."
Asked about climate change, she said that of course shifting 750,000 tons of rock would use vast amounts of diesel fuel and destroying the forests would release carbon. The company would not comment on climate change but said local environmental damage would be minimal. The concentrate containing the gold and silver will go to Namibia for final extraction.
Dimitar Sabev, a Bulgarian economist and journalist, who has studied the metal trade in Europe, said the new mine is part of a pattern of uncounted carbon emissions involving the transport of lead, zinc and copper concentrates from Latin America to the smelters of the European Union, Bulgaria's included. "This 10,000 km-long trade line across oceans is tax-exempt and free to create considerable emissions, since it is a several million tons load."
The controversial free trade agreement between the EU and Peru and Colombia, dating from 2013, cemented these fast-growing shipments.
"The least that could be said is that this trade is carbon-irresponsible," Sabev said. "I personally see here another manifestation of resource exploitation and profiting from others' underdevelopment. The environmental impacts remain hidden from the public."
He says work is still in progress on calculating the emissions involved, but ore transport from South America to Europe will not be less than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—which is not counted in EU inventories.
By National Wildlife Federation Staff
As naturalist David Mizejewski said, "What a gift."
Not only do they inspire and amaze millions of visitors, America's wild public lands provide habitat for an extraordinary range of rare and vulnerable wildlife species.
Explore some of these special places through the eyes of National Wildlife Federation naturalists, scientists and educators. Go ahead and fall in love!
1. Channel Islands National Park (California)
Island fox.Tim Coonan / National Park Service
My family has visited many national parks over the years, but one of my favorites is Channel Islands National Park off the southern California coast. It's a true gem for many reasons and since you can only get there by boat or small plane, it's one of the least visited national parks. Special memories from our day trip include taking a guided hike which led to stunning coastal views, along with a snorkeling adventure and several sightings of the island fox, only found on the Channel Islands.
—Kath Race, K-12 program coordinator, education
2. Mojave National Preserve (California)
Black-tailed jackrabbit at Mohave National Preserve.National Park Service
My favorite national park is the Mojave National Preserve, California. Why? Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Loop Trail and group campsite. It's a short hike, compared to most. Nevertheless, magic surrounds its trail and it's transformative. I remember my first visit, walking through a small valley and its walls filled with holes. Over millions of years, eruptions spewed layers of lava and uneven cooling and gases captured during the eruption formed the "holes." They make for great photos. Looking at pictures, I came to realize that I don't have a favorite park, but that I have a favorite realization. On my first visit, I came to realize the power of the wild. The wild brings us together and surrounds us like a warm embrace.
—Tony Bautista, California environmental education manager
3. Yosemite National Park (California)
Gallison Lake.Beth Pratt / National Wildlife Federation.
I call Yosemite my North Star—it's a place that always centers and guides me and has since I first stepped foot in the park almost thirty years ago. I worked in the park for over a decade, got engaged and married there and have explored much of its 1,169 square miles. Half Dome and Yosemite Falls usually dominate the scenic photos you see of the park, but the most beautiful place in Yosemite for me sits far in the backcountry, a lovely turquoise gem of a lake placed within the glacier-carved setting of the Cathedral Range. I've never known such absolute peace as when I relaxed in the embrace of its soft meadows, gazing at the rich blue Sierra sky and listening to the chirping of my favorite critter, the pika, echo off the rocks.
—Beth Pratt, California executive director
4. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Hawai'i)
Masked boobies, a species unique to Papahānaumokuākea.Kaleomanuiwa Wong / NOAA
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest protected areas in the world—encompassing 583,000 square miles of ocean waters, including 10 islands—and there's no other place like it. The Native Hawaiian people consider it the place where life begins. It is also part of the seascape used by wayfarers in traditional ocean voyaging by canoe. As a protected area, it helps to preserve top predators such as sharks and jacks. It includes the migratory routes of many threatened and endangered marine species, including whales, Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, sea turtles and seabirds. Its rich biodiversity is amazing and new species are discovered every time scientists explore the area. It is truly a world heritage site set aside for our children and generations to come.
—Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of NWF affiliate Conservation Council for Hawai'i
By The Goldman Environmental Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world's six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. The Goldman Prize views “grassroots" leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.
Here are the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winners:
Baltimore Youth Changes Hearts and Minds to Prevent Toxic Incinerator in Community Beset by Pollution
Last year Freddie Gray's death put Baltimore at center stage in the national dialogue about race in America. Much of the focus has been on police brutality and differential treatment of racial minorities by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. There has been less attention to the environmental consequences of institutional racism, which are disproportionately experienced by poor people of color.
For decades, residents of South Baltimore have been plagued by pollution from heavy industry. The area hosts the nation's largest medical waste incinerator, alongside chemical plants, coal piers and associated diesel-truck traffic. The small neighborhood of Curtis Bay is the epicenter of a community's fight against South Baltimore's aggressive industrial expansion. In recent years, it was determined to have the worst toxic air pollution in the U.S., but development continues apace.
The latest threat is another behemoth—the nation's largest trash incinerator. The project's legal approval was secured by developer Energy Answers under the pretense that the facility would produce renewable energy as clean as solar and wind by burning waste. The reality is different. Although Energy Answers' incinerator was ranked in "tier 1" of Maryland's Renewable Portfolio Standard, research revealed that it would wreak havoc on the community's health and environment. It would emit vast quantities of toxic heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic that have been linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease—in a community already plagued by industrial pollution.
The only thing standing in the way of the incinerator's construction is Curtis Bay native and college student Destiny Watford. From the age of 16, she mobilized her disaffected community to fight the incinerator using social media and performing arts, coupled with a creative strategy to limit Energy Answers' ability to fund the project.
Watford, now 20, became an environmental activist when she learned about Energy Answers' proposal to build the incinerator in Curtis Bay. Her first-hand experience watching neighboring towns wither from industrial pollution motivated her to protect her battered community. With clear-eyed enthusiasm, Watford and other public high school students united the people of Curtis Bay in support of their efforts.
After attempts to halt the project by invoking local health-related regulations were unsuccessful, Watford turned to arts and information as modes of activism. Inspired by a play she saw about pollution and deception, Watford called for her schoolmates to utilize their passions in videography and design to put pressure on 22 local organizations—including the Baltimore City Public School system—that had pledged to purchase energy generated by the as-yet-unbuilt incinerator. Through education she provided about the incinerator's impacts, Watford convinced 18 of the 22 organizations to nullify their contracts, effectively cutting off the main source of revenue for the incinerator.
However, the threat of the incinerator looms. Energy Answers still holds the lease on the 97-acre site, and Watford has reached an impasse with the Maryland Department of Energy, which has the ability to force Energy Answers out since it violated its permit by not beginning construction.
Despite this, Watford is not sitting idle. She has a vision to transform the site for the true benefit of the community by exploring alternatives like solar technology, filling the site with community-owned panels to make it the largest solar farm on the eastern shore board. This would provide clean energy jobs for locals and would be a first step to encourage sustainable development. Toward this end, Watford is collecting signatures and video testimonials appealing to the Maryland Department of Energy to enforce the law and evict Energy Answers. With enough support, Watford hopes to begin the process of re-claiming Curtis Bay for its resident.
Uncovering Phnom Penh: Cambodian man reveals government's destruction of indigenous farmers' homes and forest land for timber sales
In Cambodia, where eighty percent of the population depends on the land for its livelihood, large swaths of forest and arable land are being taken from farmers and destroyed. The seizures are permitted by a 2001 law that allows the government to take over citizens' property for development purposes through deeds called Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). Under the guise of clearing space for agricultural and industrial projects, the government has used ELCs to force 300,000 rural Cambodians off their land. Once the people are removed, timber companies illegally fell rare trees such as the Siamese Rosewood to make luxury wood furniture for the international market, mostly in China and the U.S. While a handful of companies with powerful political allies have made a fortune on the illicit sale of exotic timber, Cambodian villagers have been left homeless, jobless and hungry.
Ouch Leng, 39, grew up in the post-Khmer Rouge era when government corruption, violence and impunity for elites were ubiquitous. Ouch vowed from an early age to dedicate his life to protecting Cambodia's forests and defending the human rights of his people. As land grabbing via ELC deeds accelerated, Ouch founded the Cambodian Human Rights Taskforce (CHRTF), a nonprofit organization focused on exposing human rights violations behind ELCs. His work bridges human rights and environmental defense because ELC-initiated deforestation ravages wildlife habitat and devastates indigenous populations. Through his investigations into ELC-related human rights violations, Ouch found that most illicit logging occurred under deeds issued to Try Pheap, a Cambodian logging tycoon with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
For years, Ouch worked undercover, posing as a Try Pheap Group employee or hiding in muddy fields near logging sites to gather firsthand evidence of Try Pheap's criminal activity and of his company's alliance with the Cambodian government. Following multiple clandestine research initiatives, Ouch released findings to the international media, which demonstrated that Try Pheap and high-ranking government officials were colluding in illegal timber trade. Since then, Ouch and CHRTF have released a series of reports detailing the malfeasance. When the government was undeterred by the embarrassing revelations, Ouch mobilized Cambodian citizens to stage peaceful protests in the streets of Phnom Penh and block the illegal loggers from accessing their land. The added pressure from the protests led the government to nickname Ouch the “Land Revolution," as his activism was beginning to threaten the ELC system and the government's timber fortune.
In 2014, much as a result of Ouch's persistence, the government cancelled nearly 50,000 acres of ELCs granted to Try Pheap Group inside the Virachey National Park, which is home to sun bears, small-clawed otters and dholes, an endangered species of wild dog.
Ouch's work has put him at immense personal risk. It is unusual for a whistleblower in Cambodia to be so openly critical and willing to identify himself. A Global Witness report released last year revealed that Cambodian activists have been killed for standing up against these injustices. Today, Ouch lives in hiding following numerous threats to him and his family. Despite this danger, he continues fighting rampant government corruption to save the Cambodian forest for future generations.
Ouch wants to make the international community aware of the devastation caused by ELCs and illegal logging. To discourage the government from continuing this practice, Ouch calls for people around the world to make sure any wood furniture they purchase is sourced sustainably.
Puerto Rican Man Saves One of the Island's Last Few Pristine, Undeveloped Coastal Strips
For more than 15 years a battle has been fought over a segment of pristine coastline on the Atlantic tip of Puerto Rico known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor (the corridor). The 3,000-acre area nestled between the seaside municipalities of Luquillo and Fajardo is highly biologically diverse. Comprised of a patchwork of public and private parcels, the corridor is home to nearly 900 varieties of flora and fauna, including several endangered species such as the leatherback sea turtle. Often referred to as an “ecological wonderland," the corridor packs coastal wetlands, mangroves, tropical rain forest and desert-like habitat into a relatively small area.
In the 1990s, private developers seeking prime real estate for luxury hotel projects quietly arranged with politicians to build two mega-resorts along corridor beaches. Residents and environmental advocates didn't want the untouched area to succumb to development like so many other places in Puerto Rico. One local man has steadfastly combined legal savvy and traditional organizing to unite communities against the development.
Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, 43, is an environmental scientist who grew up on a family farm near Luquillo that has been passed down through four generations. Living and surfing in the corridor, Rivera Herrera was awestruck by nature from an early age. Rivera Herrera was especially taken by the massive female leatherback sea turtles that haul themselves onto the beaches to lay eggs. Then hatchlings, scarcely the size of a human hand, scamper into the ocean. The corridor is one of a dwindling number of suitable nesting sites for the largest species of sea turtle. Rivera Herrera believes the corridor is Puerto Rico's natural patrimony, and that it should be kept safe for humans, sea turtles and other wildlife to enjoy.
When the Puerto Rican government announced proposals to build the San Miguel and Dos Mares resorts in 1999—projects that were backed by Marriott and Four Seasons—Rivera Herrera sprung into action. He gathered data about the corridor's ecosystems and paired it with details about the resorts' construction plans. Rivera Herrera brought this information to the communities, and he also brought community members to the proposed resort sites to emphasize what was at stake.
After years of raising awareness among local people, Rivera Herrera founded the Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NECC) in 2005 to formalize his volunteer efforts and those of community groups. This included the Puerto Rico chapter of the Sierra Club, which had recently been established on the island with the corridor's conservation as its flagship issue. This marked a turning point for the campaign.
Rivera Herrera initiated a legislative act to protect the corridor as a nature reserve. The bill failed to pass in the legislature, but Governor Aníbal Vilá saw enough public support to pass an executive order in 2007. However, in a stunning example of the precariousness of legal protections, the next governor, Luis Fortuño, repealed the corridor's designation a mere two years later. This repeal caused speculation about the independence of Fortuño's decision given that Dos Mares resort contributed funds to his campaign.
In spite of this crushing setback, Rivera Herrera parlayed widespread public outcry over Fortuño's reversal to mount a second attempt to pass a bill that would permanently protect the corridor. His legislative campaign found success in 2012, and the following year, Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed the bill into law, protecting the corridor's public lands and ending the threat of development.
Due to financial constraints that have prohibited Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources from hiring a manager for the newly protected corridor, Rivera Herrera is acting as interim manager. He is working with others to develop a plan to develop sustainable tourism in the corridor. His biggest challenge, however, is raising funds to purchase the private parcels that remain in the corridor, a condition of the bill that must be met within eight years. The government earmarked funds for this purpose but they are in jeopardy due to Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis.
Environmental Lawyer Breathes Life into the Law to Stop Landfills in Slovakian Villages
For years, Slovakia has been a cheap and willing customer in the dumping of Western EU countries' waste. Its loose construction laws—which govern the management of waste disposal facilities—do little to prevent under-the-table deals between the national government and private developers, while individual municipalities are left with little choice but to store unwanted waste that they have no hand in approving. As a result, in villages across Slovakia illegal landfills sit just meters away from residential areas and leach toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater. They also release pollutants into the atmosphere, creating environmental and human health hazards that last for decades.
At a glance, the town of Pezinok—located just 13 miles outside the capital of Bratislava—seems to be an exception. Vineyards that once produced royal wine surround the small town at the base of the Little Carpathian Mountains. Yet, the rate of leukemia in Pezinok is eight times higher than the Slovak average. A landfill built in the 1960s, without any permits, sits at the town's edge, containing waste from medical facilities and chemical factories. Despite Pezinok's 2002 urban plan, which prohibited landfills within the city limits, construction began on a second landfill in 2003 due to the owner's connections with regional authorities. Though the country's nascent democratic system that operates on clientelism would have ordinarily provided an easy path for this new project, one community member began a fight that would challenge 'business as usual.'
Zuzana Caputova, 42, resides in Pezinok with her two young children. Having been born and raised in the town, the environmental lawyer was all too familiar with the negative effects of its illegal landfill. When the local people needed a leader to fight against the new landfill, they reached out to Caputova for help. But Caputova did more than mobilize her community. She combined legal know-how and bottom-up activism to take on the Slovakian people's illegal dumping problem in law and in practice.
Noted as one of the largest grassroots efforts since the Velvet Revolution, Caputova's fight to stop Pezinok's landfills marked one of the first times local residents took a stand on the waste dump issue. Caputova filed injunctions to shut down the older landfill, then turned her attention to halting construction on the new landfill before it was too late.
While Caputova and her public advocacy law firm, Via Iuris, filed petitions with officials to stop the new landfill, she also encouraged residents to organize. What resulted was a citizens' initiative called “Dumps Don't Belong in Towns," as well as the uncovering of illegal permits that gave Caputova the indisputable evidence she needed. By empowering others, Caputova inspired a demonstration involving 67,000 locals that convinced the municipality to acquiesce and cease the landfill construction.
But Caputova's fight did not end in Pezinok. In 2014, residents of nearby village, Smolenice, contacted her. They had heard of Pezinok's success and sought Caputova's help to stop a waste gasification plant that would convert garbage into fuel and electricity using a new, untested technology. The people of Smolenice didn't want to be guinea pigs. Caputova helped them prevail and since then eight other municipalities in Slovakia facing similar struggles have received help from Caputova.
Notably, Caputova has set her sights at the federal level to address the legal root of the landfill issue once and for all. She recently assisted in drafting an amendment to Slovakia's 49-year-old Construction Law—the source of the problem when it comes to the harmful effects of waste storage. The amendment would give a larger voice to municipal governments and increase public participation in the waste disposal and landfill development process. The Construction Law will be reviewed by parliament in March of 2016 and many have indicated support for the amendment.
To further the legal assistance of many Slovakian municipalities—and strengthen the country's judiciary system through advocacy—Caputova is encouraging all supporters to donate to Via Iuris, the not-for-profit public advocacy firm that she has partnered with to fight these landfills and challenge the Construction Law.
Peruvian Grandmother's Struggle to Stop Mega-Mine in Andean Highlands
Like many developing countries, Peru is the site of natural resource extraction projects that drive out local people with legal rights to their land. Corrupt private partnerships with regional governments and international investors leave the ordinary people whose lives are affected with nowhere to turn. But in a remote corner of Peru's northern highlands, one woman has put a wrench in the plans of Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation, which is angling to build a huge mining project in her backyard.
Máxima Acuña, 47, is a subsistence farmer, grandmother and unwitting activist whose fight to prevent Newmont from building the Conga Mine was born of her drive to protect her land and her right to peacefully live off of it. An unconventional environmental champion, Acuña has no formal schooling nor is she affiliated with any advocacy organization. Yet her iron spine and deep sense of injustice have put her at the forefront of a movement to stop the Conga Mine.
More than 20 years ago, Acuña and her husband purchased the land that they live on and farm. Their 60-acre homestead is located at the edge of Laguna Azul (Blue Lake), one of several high-altitude lakes that supply fresh water for her family and that of countless others downstream. The stark Andean mountain terrain has rich soil in which Acuña grows her crops, and native grasses that sustain her livestock.
In 2011, the Peruvian government granted Newmont a 7,400-acre concession to build the Conga Mine that included Acuña's property. In order to move forward with the project, Newmont would need access to Acuña's land. Her parcel provides optimal access to Laguna Azul, one of four lakes that Newmont plans to drain and convert into tailings ponds to collect toxic mining byproducts such as cyanide and arsenic.
After receiving the concession, Newmont representatives tried to persuade Acuña to sell her property. She refused, knowing that the mine would poison the region's fresh water, and because she feels a deep connection to the land she has tended for more than two decades. A year later, in 2012, Newmont won a lawsuit against Acuña in a local court, having accused her family of squatting on land Newmont claims it purchased as part of a bundle of properties.
Acuña enlisted the help of GRUFIDES, a local NGO that provides legal assistance for rural communities against mining companies. With GRUFIDES' help, Acuña appealed the local verdict in a higher regional court, often walking 10 hours over treacherous mountain paths to make her court appearances. In 2014, the higher court overturned the original verdict, lifting the criminal charges against Acuña. While this victory meant that Newmont couldn't proceed with building the mine, it has come at a high personal cost for Acuña as the company continues to dispute Acuña's land rights and harass her family.
Since refusing to be bought out, Acuña and her family have been monitored and threatened. Peruvian state police, working as private security contractors on behalf of Newmont and its subsidiaries, tried to evict her and they forbade her from planting crops on her land. Newmont put up a fence around her land, restricting Acuña's movement. Agents have destroyed her home two times, razing the structure and absconding with her possessions. When Acuña and her daughter tried to intervene they were beaten unconscious.
Despite relentless harassment, Acuña is standing her ground. She never sold her land to Newmont and won't hand it over. In the oral tradition, Acuña sings about her struggle to protect the land and her way of life. The lyrics of her songs communicate her wisdom and her voice reflects the trauma she has endured. However, Acuña's open expression and warm smile convey that she won't allow her spirit to be crushed.
Newmont may appeal the regional court's decision in the Peruvian Supreme Court in order to move forward with the mine. For the time being, Acuña has managed to block the construction of the Conga Mine in a region of Peru where one-half of all land has been granted to extraction projects.
Tanzanian Community Leader Secures Indigenous Land Rights through Innovative Use of Land Law
The native people of Tanzania are better known for their colorful cultural expressions than for their innovative approaches to addressing land rights disputes. Despite enduring decades of displacements, pastoralist and hunter-gatherer indigenous communities like the Maasai and the Hadzabe have co-existed with wildebeests, gazelles, rhinoceroses and other mega-fauna in Tanzania's arid rangelands for more than 40,000 years. Due to government policies that have prioritized foreign investment and development over traditional land use practices, the Maasai and Hadzabe constantly face the threat of losing their land, and with it their ways of life. One man has been able to secure hundreds of thousands of acres of indigenous territory via the creative application of a law intended to manage village land.
Edward Loure, 44, is a member of the Maasai people and is the Program Coordinator for the Simanjiro region with nonprofit Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT). Having grown up during a time when the government forcibly evicted the Maasai from their communities in order to create national parks, Loure was inspired to demonstrate that native peoples are good stewards of the land, caring for ecosystems while practicing traditional livelihood activities such as livestock grazing. Recognizing that the lack of legal documentation demarcating indigenous territory allowed outside actors to buy up land they considered to be unclaimed, Loure set about making the Maasai and Hadzabe's plans for their ancestral lands intelligible to the state.
During the last 50 years, land that was historically populated by endemic peoples has been sold to commercial hunting and eco-tourism operations, or to large-scale commercial farmers who produce crops for export. To date, the Maasai have lost more than 150,000 acres of rangeland across northern Tanzania. As the supply of available land in Tanzania decreases, pressure on areas managed by the Maasai and Hadzabe, often perceived as 'empty,' increases. This has resulted in multiple clashes between indigenous people and outsiders. The Maasai and Hadzabe defend against encroachments on their land and reject assumptions that they don't protect habitat and wildlife.
In 2003, Loure and UCRT set out to address the problem. They began meeting with indigenous community members and village leaders to discuss an unprecedented approach to documenting land rights. Loure used a provision called the Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO) from the Tanzanian Village Land Act to formalize land rights for the Maasai and Hadzabe. The rule was meant to manage individual land holdings within villages; however, Loure used it to recognize land rights on behalf of a community.
When they approached communities about creating CCROs, Loure and UCRT were met with apprehension. Maasai and Hadzabe people had been misled in the past. But over many conversations, Loure worked with communities to map the boundaries of their territories and create land use plans. In the years Loure spent shepherding the creation of CCROs, and navigating conflicts, he gained the trust of the people and earned a reputation for fairness and inclusion. It is not common for a Maasai man to work on behalf of the Hadzabe people but they knew he had their best interests at heart.
By 2013, after nearly a decade of work, Loure had secured more than 200,000 acres of land for the Maasai and Hadzabe using CCROs. For the Hadzabe, Loure negotiated an agreement between the group and Carbon Tanzania, a nonprofit, for the Hadzabe to be paid for the carbon sequestered in their forests.
Loure's success has inspired other indigenous groups to use the same tactic to protect land, and Loure is currently working on 12 additional CCROs to secure rights for more than 970,000 acres of land, mostly in northern Tanzania.
Looking ahead, Loure hopes the success of CCROs will draw awareness to the issue of land rights for indigenous people and increase support in Tanzania. To further the development of CCROs, Loure and UCRT need funds to support their work. Those interested in helping are encouraged to donate to the local fund for UCRT, here.
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When a tailings pond broke at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine in south-central B.C., spilling millions of cubic metres of waste into a salmon-bearing stream, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett called it an “extremely rare” occurrence, the first in 40 years for mines operating here.
He failed to mention the 46 “dangerous or unusual occurrences” that B.C’s chief inspector of mines reported at tailings ponds in the province between 2000 and 2012, as well as breaches at non-operating mine sites.
The Mount Polley tailings spill threatens two of B.C.’s most valued resources: salmon and water.
This spill was predictable. Concerns were raised about Mount Polley before the breach. CBC reported that B.C.’s Environment Ministry issued several warnings about the amount of water in the pond to mine owner Imperial Metals.
With 50 mines operating in B.C.—and many others across Canada—we can expect more incidents, unless we reconsider how we’re extracting resources.
Sudden and severe failure is a risk for all large tailings dams—Mount Polley’s waste pond covered about four square kilometers, roughly the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. As higher-grade deposits become increasingly scarce, mining companies are opting for lower-grade alternatives that create more tailings. As tailings ponds grow bigger and contain more water and waste than ever before, they also become riskier. The average height of a Canadian tailings dam doubled from 120 meters in the 1960s to 240 meters today. Alberta writer Andrew Nikiforuk likens increasing mining industry risks to those of the oil sands.
Open ponds of toxic slurry aren’t the best way to manage mining waste. Although there’s no silver-bullet solution, and more research funding on alternative technologies is needed, smaller underground mines are finding safer ways to deal with waste by backfilling tailings. Drying tailings or turning them to a paste before containment are two other options. Safer solutions cost more, making them less popular with profit-focused corporations. But surely B.C.’s $8-billion mining industry can afford to pay more for public and environmental safety.
The government allows the mining industry to choose the cheapest way to deal with waste, and companies often lack adequate insurance to cover cleanup costs when accidents happen. Imperial Metals admits its insurance will likely fall far short of what’s required to repair the damage at Mount Polley.
The mining industry and provincial and federal governments must do a better job of managing risks. But how can this happen when we’re facing unprecedented dismantling of Canada’s environmental regulations and decreased funding for monitoring and enforcement?
Although the B.C. government rightly appointed an independent panel of three top mining engineers to review the cause of the Mount Polley breach and report back with recommendations, the lack of an environmental or cultural perspective on the panel makes it unlikely we’ll see meaningful industry reform. And even the most thorough reviews remain ineffective without implementation commitments—a point made clear by the federal government’s failure to act on the Cohen Commission’s 75 recommendations on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.
Canada’s mining industry must also work more closely with First Nations, some of which are challenging industrial activity in their territories. The Tahltan blockaded Imperial Metals’ nearly completed mine in the Sacred Headwaters, and the Neskonlith Indian Band issued an eviction notice to an Imperial subsidiary, whichproposed an underground lead-and-zinc mine in Secwepemc Territory in the B.C. Interior. With the Supreme Court’s Tsilhqot'in decision affirming First Nations’ rights to land and resources within their traditional territories, we’re likely to see more defending their lands against mining and other resource extractions.
The Mount Polley tailings spill threatens two of B.C.’s most valued resources: salmon and water. As one of the largest sockeye runs enters the waterways to spawn, we must wait to find out the long-term repercussions for Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake and aquatic life further downstream.
This disaster has eroded public trust in the mining industry and regulations governing it. If risks are too high and long-term solutions unavailable or too expensive, the only way to ensure that toxic tailings are kept out of our precious waterways and pristine landscapes may be to avoid mining in some areas altogether.
As the government rallying cry of “world-class safety standards” echoes in our ears, it’s time we lived up to our self-proclaimed reputation.
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By Hallie Smith
Our national parks can be fun for the whole family. Here are a few parks that are especially kid-friendly and great destinations for National Park Week.
This year marks the centennial year of the National Park Service, so there is no better time to teach our children how precious our national parks are and that they belong to all of us as Americans. We would be hard-pressed to find any park that doesn't offer unforgettable experiences and engaging activities for children, but these 12 parks are a good place to start if you're looking for parks to visit with kids.
Children in fourth grade can get in for free as part of the “Every Kid in a Park" program—and that includes free entrance for everyone in the same car.
Many national parks offer Junior Ranger Programs for children to learn about what it takes to be a park ranger and the responsibilities of taking care of our parks.
1. Badlands National Park—South Dakota
At Badlands, kids can also go on a geological scavenger hunt and take the Geology Challenge at one of the world's richest fossil beds, brimming with artifacts and history. The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a quarter of a mile long with plenty of signage so kids know what they are looking at. If they want to feel like they've traveled to another planet, take them to see The Wall, which stretches for 80 miles with its other-worldly rock face and colorful stripes of erosion. Children can also visit the Paleontology Lab to see what fossils have been recently found in the park and earn a Junior Paleontologist Badge. Badland National Park's 244,000 acres are also home to bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets, so children should be on the lookout.
2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park—New Mexico
Children will be enchanted by the ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cactus and wildlife above ground in the Chihuahuan Desert. Imagine how amazed they will be at the more than 119 caves hidden below ground, full of stalactites and stalagmites! Take the kids you know on a self-guided tour of the cavernous Big Room or crawl through the narrow passageways during a tour of the Hall of the White Giant at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, world-famous for cave tours and spelunking. Watch from afar as Brazilian free-tailed bats perform their daily mass exodus from the caverns during the summer—a free air show for viewers.
3. Mesa Verde National Park—Colorado
With all the different cliff dwellings to choose from, kids will be endlessly entertained. They can tour Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America or perhaps Balcony House, which is like a fun yet historic obstacle course with all of its ladders. Or take a self-guided tour to Stephouse and explore its petroglyphs, cliff dwelling and pithouse. After kids get tuckered out exploring the dwellings, challenge them to quietly spot a mule deer or turkey. Mesa Verde National Park is also a great spot for stargazing as there is little artificial light. Children can spot constellations in the sky after a fun day exploring the park.
4. Yellowstone National Park—Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
With more than 500 gushing geysers and mudpots and nearly four dozen elegant waterfalls, Yellowstone National Park comes alive and breathes excitement for children. With more than 400 different animal species here, including bears and elk, you can spot animals nearly anywhere in the park. You may even get lucky enough to have a herd of bison pass by your car for a close-up view. Kids can also participate in “Wildlife Olympics" and compare their skills to those of the animals at the park. Check out a Young Scientist Toolkit to investigate the area around Old Faithful so kids can earn a Young Scientist patch or key chain.
5. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park—Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia
Kids can don a tri-corner hat, hunting frock or linen dress and experience the life of an early settler at the pioneer playhouse at the visitor center at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Children can also see actual artifacts and touch animal skins or can go sightseeing and wildlife watching for deer, beaver, fox, bobcat, bear and 150 species of birds. Beyond that, kids can discover rich history, spectacular overlooks, unique rock formations, cascading waterfalls and an extensive trail system in the park's 24,000 acres.
6. Everglades National Park—Florida
Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, protects numerous rare and endangered species, like the gentle manatee, fearsome American crocodile and the stealthy Florida panther. Children can get involved with a real-life treasure hunt and search for geocached items or go canoeing down the Wilderness Waterway, a canopied river framed with ethereal greenery. Rangers lead hikes, slough slogs, bike trips and tram tours, all get-up-and-go activities that introduce kids to nature.
7. Grand Canyon National Park—Arizona
By itself, the 18-mile-wide, 277-mile-long Grand Canyon is itself the view of a lifetime at any age. Make it even more fun from the back of a mule. Families can also explore an exposed fossil bed during a one mile, one hour tour along the South Rim. Impressions of sponges, brachiopods and other marine creatures from more than 270 million years ago allow kids to travel back in time.
8. Lava Beds National Monument—California
Over the last half-million years, volcanic eruptions have created a landscape with diverse volcanic features for kids to explore. One of the most exciting features the lava left behind were the Lava Tube Caves. The caves have varying levels of difficulty, so inexperienced cavers or children can enjoy the caves, too. They may even spot cave crickets, bats or rubber boas—all of which are neither dangerous not poisonous. This summer, Lava Beds is offering special events for children and those who want to become junior rangers.
9. Minuteman National Historic Park—Massachusetts
Kids can learn about how America came to be its own nation at this national historic park. Through multimedia programs about the road to revolution, British Redcoats and American rebels, children can hear about the first battles of the American Revolution. Beyond that, kids can participate in a ranger-led demonstration and be a part of a militia muster with costumed Minutemen, complete with drilling with wooden muskets. Don't just learn about the Revolution—become a part of it.
10. Olympic National Park—Washington
Olympic National Park encompasses several distinct ecosystems and protects a rich mosaic of natural and cultural history. Rivers flow, untamed, from glacier-capped peaks through sturdy forests while waves crash against the shoreline. Only trails traverse the vast interior of this internationally recognized wilderness. Kids can explore the tide pools that provide small windows into the lives of ocean dwellers and rivers, and visitors can end the day away from the city lights, stargazing and tracing constellations in the night sky. Among the thick trees, babbling rivers and foamy seashore, children can try to spot birds, deer, elk, bears and whales.
11. Petrified Forest National Park—Arizona
Hike through the rugged and majestic backcountry to give children an up-close look at the colorful petrified wood that is the namesake of the park. Explore around the hoodoos in Black Forest and marvel at the rocks' height and balance. Try your hand at family geocaching or go horseback riding along trails in Petrified Forest National Park. Visit the Painted Desert Visitor Center and watch the park film, then visit the outlooks or the Painted Desert Rim Trail to view the vibrant stripes that decorate the rock formations of Painted Desert. The Rainbow Forest Museum features paleontological exhibits with displays of prehistoric skeletons. Kids can try their hand at being a paleontologist in the museum's Blue Mesa Room.
12. Acadia National Park—Maine
In Acadia, kids can feel like they're on top of the world as they explore Cadillac Mountain, which reaches for the sky as the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast. Acadia National Park also offers the chance to hike granite peaks or horseback-ride along historic carriage trails. Children can chase the clear blue waves at Sand Beach and Echo Lake Beach, which are also perfect for constructing sand castles or lounging in swimming suits. Tide pools teem with aquatic animals and offer an up-close view of marine life. Kids can search for frogs in a pond or cast a line at one of the many fishing spots. Rangers lead tours and activities and kids can take part in the Junior Ranger Program to earn a certificate and patch.
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