One of '25 Most Wanted' Species Rediscovered in Remote Vietnam
By Jeremy Hance
VIETNAM, July 2019 – I'm chasing a ghost, I think not for the first time, as night falls and I gather up my gear in a hotel in a village in southern Vietnam. I pack my camera, a bottle of water, and a poncho; outside the window I can see a light rain.
I'm here to report on the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor), a so-called mouse-deer that's been missing in action (at least from science) for nearly 30 years.
My phone goes off. It's a WhatsApp message from Anh The Nguyen, my wildlife guide on this venture. It's time: the chevrotain is nocturnal, meaning our best chance to see one is at night. To help us, Nguyen has hired two local hunters from the Raglai ethnic group. They know the territory and they know the animal.
We take two motorbikes from the village to the forest, but barely make it a few blocks before taking shelter under an aluminum overhang as the rain, drowsy until now, becomes a full-blown tropical downpour. It thunks against the metal and the night sky growls with thunder.
Long forgotten by scientists, two years ago, the silver-backed chevrotain, also known as the Vietnam mouse-deer, gained prominence as one of the "25 Most Wanted" in the Search for Lost Species Initiative by Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC).
Illustration of a silver-backed chevroatin. Eric Losh / Mongabay
"That's when we first put together a plan of action," said Andrew Tilker, the Asian species officer for GWC, who described a 2017 meeting in Hanoi with a who's who of Vietnamese mammal conservation that ended with a planned expedition to see if the species persisted.
The search, focusing on camera trapping, would be headed by An Nguyen, an associate conservation scientist for GWC as well as a field coordinator and Ph.D. student with Germany's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. The endeavor would partner GWC with both the Leibniz Institute and Vietnam's Southern Institute of Ecology.
By the time I show up in Vietnam at the end of July this year, the search has already succeeded — but the announcement is still months away from being made public. Searching one primary location, Nguyen and his colleagues were able to get more than 2,000 photos of the silver-backed chevrotain, a mammal many feared extinct. And they did it not far from the little hotel where I'm staying.
Still, even as the scientists rediscovered the species, none of them had seen it in the flesh. I was here to hopefully do that — and if not, at least get a firsthand sense of the story behind this animal's re-emergence and its chances for long-term survival. I mean, the animal had lived wholly under the radar for nearly 30 years; how hard could it be for a journalist to spot in just two days?
Light appears as one of the men from the Raglai ethnic group ignites a cigarette. Nguyen, the guide, chats with them in Vietnamese. One of the Raglai men, I'll call him Chi, looks to be in his late forties; he's grizzled but has a wide, friendly smile. The other, Xuan, is young, I'd hazard in his late teens or early twenties, and is married with a newborn. As the rain hammers above, the three men share a joke and stories of recent hunts with Nguyen. No one knows this species better than these indigenous hunters. Even as it dropped off scientists' radar, it was still being hunted.
We wait 20 minutes for the brunt of the storm to pass the village (we are not divulging the exact location in an effort to mitigate potential poaching). When the rain dwindles, Nguyen says, "We go now." The older hunter, Chi, tosses his burnt-out cigarette on the ground and he and his fellow villager get on their motorbike.
I take a deep breath, jump onto the motorbike behind Nguyen, and we speed off into the night, headed to a thorny, vine-filled dry forest. The missing chevrotain is here.
Nguyen and I know it because of the camera trap photos. But our other two travelers know it with much greater physical intimacy: the younger man had hunted a silver-backed chevrotain a fortnight ago, while the older man had killed three of them just five days ago.
Lost and Found
The silver-backed chevrotain, a handsome (one could even say adorable) small ungulate, was first described in 1910, based on four specimens. No scientists recorded it again for another 80 years, but in 1990 a Russian expedition collected a fifth specimen — though that one came under some doubt.
The doubt is gone now.
"We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a mouse deer with silver flanks," said An Nguyen, the expedition leader. "Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don't lose it again."
Researchers setting up the camera traps that would rediscover the silver-backed chevrotain, after missing for nearly 30 years. GWC / Mongabay
After conducting interviews with wildlife rangers and local people, Nguyen set five camera traps in a target area. They caught the first photos ever of this species, taking 275 photos of the animal over a period of five months. Nguyen came back with 29 camera traps, capturing 1,881 photos of the animal in the same area. This, of course, doesn't mean these were all individuals — many of the photos are of the same animals. But it does mean, at least in this one small area, that the animal is relatively abundant.
This is GWC's first success in finding one of the missing mammals in its Search for Lost Species. Four other species on the list have been discovered in the past couple of years. Twenty remain missing.
Still, rediscovery is only the beginning. The lives of silver-backed chevrotains are almost entirely a mystery. They are similar in size and looks to the far more common lesser mouse-deer (Tragulus kanchil), but have an unmistakable silver back, whereas the lesser mouse-deer are a one-tone animal.
"There are other less obvious differences," Tilker says. "The gray hairs on the silver-backed chevrotain are tipped with white, giving the posterior a grizzled appearance. Also, the silver-backed chevrotain lacks the transverse throat stripe that is present in the lesser chevrotain."
A silver-backed chevrotain on camera trap. Note the handsome silver-gray of its back. GWC / Mongabay
Chevrotains may be called mouse-deer, and they do resemble rabbit-sized "deer." But they are not in the deer family, Cervidae. Instead they make up their own family, Tragulidae, and infraorder, Tragulina, which translates roughly into "little goat." All the world's chevrotains but one (the water chevrotain of Central Africa, Hyemoschus aquaticus) are found in Asia. The world's smallest ungulates, chevrotains are actually ancient and primitive, having broken off from all other ruminants 50 million years ago. Chevrotains have surprising features like four toes, fangs, and for some, at least, the ability to stay submerged underwater for a surprisingly long time; some believe they may even represent a direct link to the kind of early mammal that eventually evolved into whales and hippos.
The silver-backed chevrotain is not only important as a unique member of this bizarre and wonderful family, but also the only chevrotain found only in Vietnam, making it an endemic, endangered species for this Southeast Asian country.
Into the (Wet) Woods
My guide, Anh The Nguyen, and the young hunter, Xuan, and I had been to this same site the night prior, scurrying through the low, dry forests, stooping below branches and vines bent in natural tunnels (if we were gnomes) or crawling along the rock and dirt as thorns tore at us. We had spent two hours in the forest, but with no luck. The silver-backed chevrotain, small, shy and wary of humans (for good reason), did not make itself known.
We hope for better luck tonight, but the recent deluge adds a new level of misery: every branch and vine is slick and dripping, while the dirt has turned into mud.
A typical habitat for the newly rediscovered silver-backed chevrotain. GWC / Mongabay
Still, we split into two groups: I go with Xuan while Nguyen shadows Chi. To keep in touch, Xuan and Chi hoot back and forth.
Within minutes, my clothes are soaked through despite the poncho. I can't see anything more than an Impressionist painting-like view of a dark forest, thanks to my smudged, water-splattered glasses. But I feel the vines entrap me, catching across my chest like ropes, and I find myself just pushing through, shoving my way in and out of the indistinguishable branches and vines. I slip and fall, and suddenly I'm on my hands and knees, just army crawling through the mud.
Ahead of me, Xuan, whom Nguyen and I nicknamed Spiderman, floats through the forest like some ninja. I struggle to keep pace, my heart pounding, my mind a blank, my only real thought: "C'mon, Jeremy, keep up."
Suddenly the hooting from the other team increases in tempo — that's the signal! — and I hear the branches crack and snap as Xuan and I attempt to make our way toward the sound.
By the time we get there, though, there's nothing to see. Chi had spotted a female chevrotain, pregnant, he thought, but she'd vanished into the ticket as the three of us tried to reach him.
As the three men chat in Vietnamese, I touch my temple to find an inch-long thorn stuck deep. I pull it out and sit back against a boulder, exhausted and trying to catch my breath.
Silver-backed chevrotain close up on camera trap. GWC / Mongabay
After a few minutes, Nguyen comes over. "They say we are too loud and we scare away the chevrotain."
"Yup," I agree.
"They say we are so loud that our noisiness even scares them!" We both laugh.
"Time to call it then?" I ask.
"Yes I think so."
In that moment, my feeling is less disappointment, and more relief. I knew that trying to see the animal in the flesh with two days was always a long shot. But my trip could hardly be called a failure. I'd seen the species' natural habitat and met, at least, one of its potential threats: overhunting.
Five days before our arrival, Chi had hunted down three silver-backed chevrotains.
A single dead chevrotain provides about 2 kilograms, about 4.5 pounds, of meat (from a 3–kilogram, or 6.6-pound animal), and he and his family had already eaten the three animals — a shame since a dead specimen would have been scientifically important.
Prior to our wet adventure, Chi and Xuan had told us how they did not hunt chevrotains with guns (guns are illegal in protected areas) but with slingshots. Chi showed me his: it was sturdy and well-crafted; I pulled back on the rubber bands and test the weapon's tautness. Yet the skill needed to sneak up on and kill a rabbit-sized animal with one well-aimed projectile is incredibly impressive.
Illustration of Interviews with locals were key in nailing down potential locations of the missing species. Eric Losh / Mongabay
The Raglai people have been hunting chevrotain here for centuries if not millennia. The hunting of the silver-backed chevrotain and lesser mouse-deer (hunted in the rainforest) isn't really a commercial endeavor, so far as I'd heard.
It wasn't like the story Nyugen told me of how a few poachers with guns had managed to nearly wipe out the entire local population of doucs (Pygathrix spp.), a type of monkey, to sell in Vietnamese cities. The douc population is only now starting to recover.
Local hunters, at least the ones we met, simply hunted chevrotain to put some cheap meat on the table — though they did so illegally, given the area's status as a protected site.
But that doesn't mean other hunters kill only for subsistence consumption. Vietnam is home to a thriving and massive bushmeat trade where animals are killed in the forest and then trafficked to urban areas for sale.
Moreover, since scientists don't know how many of this species may be left, any hunting, even if just for local consumption, may well be wholly unsustainable.
An even larger worry: the deepening snaring crisis across Southeast Asia, like a pestilence that hits all wildlife, could wipe out this species before scientists even have a chance to develop means for its conservation. Snares, cheap and easy, have been set in the millions and are indiscriminate killers.
To understand how imperiled the species may be, the scientific team has begun camera-trapping in two additional locations. Once they have more information, they plan to develop a much-needed conservation plan.
Nguyen, the expedition leader, says that while the team hopes to find the species in other locales, it's quite possible these populations have "collapsed" due to hunting, snaring, and habitat loss. Time will tell.
"The work is only beginning with the rediscovery and initial protection measures that have been put in place," said Barney Long, GWC senior director of species conservation. "Now we need to identify not just a few individuals on camera trap, but one or two sites with sizable populations so that we can actually protect and restore the species."
Even though Chi and his family have eaten the rewards of his recent illegal hunt, he did keep the tail of one of his quarries. He'd dried it out and planned to use it as a decoration for his motorbike key chain.
The tail of a recently hunted silver-backed chevrotain. Scientists will conduct genetic analysis on the tail. Jeremy Hance / Mongabay
We ask if we can buy it from him.
The next morning Nguyen and I meet Xuan over coffee in town. As the coffee drips into the cup, in the traditional Vietnamese style, Xuan hands us the tail of the recently slaughtered silver-backed chevrotain. Brown and silver hairs kick out of the top while the bottom is white; the nub is still wet.
Two days later, I pass the tail off to researchers in Hanoi who will get it to An Nguyen, for genetic analysis. Before I do, though, I hold it in my hand for one moment longer, the softness of the tail the closest I physically get to the silver-backed chevrotain.
Still a ghost, I think, but one that has managed against all odds to hang on.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.
By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
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The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
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By Agustín del Castillo
For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.
The Nevado de Colima volcano stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level. Agustín del Castillo<p>According to biologist José Villa Castillo, the director of Nevado de Colima National Park and Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park, it is imperative to stop the commercialization of the tree's timber and to create policies that conserve the forests in which it lives. Villa Castillo also supported the inclusion of the tree on the endangered species list.</p><p>Villa Castillo acknowledged the enormous challenge of conserving this tree, and he said the pressure to exploit its timber without sustainable management is far from the only problem. The expansion of the nearby avocado industry also threatens its survival.</p><p>When allowed to grow, the Colima fir tree can become monumental: It can reach 60 meters (196 feet) in height and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. To protect this giant, specialists and communities often promote ecotourism and conservation projects inside the national and state parks that surround the Nevado de Colima volcano.</p>
Fires That Clear Land for Avocado Crops<p>In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Guadalajara proposed to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) the recognition of the <em>A. colimensis</em> as a unique species to differentiate it from the sacred fir (<em>A. religiosa</em>), which is the dominant fir tree in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a collection of volcanoes in central Mexico.</p><p>The Colima fir tree "has extremely low genetic diversity; it has the lowest known genetic diversity among all the species in the Abies genus in Mesoamerica and one of the lowest among all the species of trees on the planet," according to the authors of the proposal to recognize the tree as an endangered species. The area it occupies "is very limited": just 15,002 hectares (37,071 acres), or 0.007% of the territory of Mexico.</p><p>The Nevado de Colima volcano, which stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level, is one of only eight peaks that exceed 4,000 m (13,123 ft) in Mexico. It is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Pacific Ocean and is considered an "evolutionary island" because the ecosystems in its high-altitude areas drive unique adaptations in species and are cut off from other ecosystems by hundreds of kilometers. The Colima fir tree is an example of the area's biological differentiation, according to Libertad Arredondo, a researcher and expert on the ecology of high mountains.</p>
The fir forests are mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. Agustín del Castillo<p>Even though the tree has remained on that "evolutionary island," its situation has become increasingly complicated by the impact of deforestation, which was propelled by the issuance of permits for forest exploitation. Fires, started to convert the land to agriculture or other uses, also present a threat to the ecosystem, according to the experts who suggested the tree should be considered endangered.</p><p>The researchers said the tree's future prospects are further complicated by its slow growth rate, its high degree of genetic erosion, the effects of climate change, and the movement of clouds to higher altitudes. The position of clouds is crucial because they act as an essential source of moisture for fir trees.</p><p>Villa Castillo, an expert in pine genetics and reproduction, said the Colima fir tree has never been successfully reproduced in nurseries, which would likely make it impossible to conduct reforestation efforts to help repopulate the species.</p><p>The forests that contain the Colima fir tree are in cold, humid climates, with very little light reaching the understory, and they're mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. The species thrives when surrounded by oak trees, coniferous trees and other types of vegetation common in mountainous cloud forests. The tree also requires a primary habitat with little disturbance from humans.</p><p>According to Villa Castillo, fire kills most Colima fir tree seedlings, as it kills seedlings of other species in the <em>Abies</em> genus. In recent years, more fires have been started in the forest to clear the way for avocado trees.</p>
A tree and other vegetation in the cloud forest surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo<p>Sonia Navarro Pérez, a researcher from the University of Guadalajara who has monitored and conducted biological inventories in the area, has seen firsthand how the growth of the avocado industry has led to the loss of important forested areas.</p><p>She described the case of the indigenous community of San José del Carmen, which is in the municipality of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, near one of the patches of forest.</p><p>"We were working with them to establish productive alternatives that are good for nature," Navarro Pérez said. "But when the avocado came, it overwhelmed us completely."</p><p>Since 2013, the coniferous forests around the Nevado de Colima volcano have lost nearly 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) due to illegal logging, livestock rearing and intentionally set fires, according to Mexico's deforestation risk index developed by the <a href="https://www.gob.mx/inecc" target="_blank">National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change</a>.</p>
A section of cloud forest in San José del Carmen, inside the state park created in 2009. Community members have been protecting the forest voluntarily for over two decades. Agustín del Castillo<p>"[What was once] an original area of 7,000 hectares [17,300 acres] of fir-specific forest is now cut in half," said Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks.</p><p>The expansion of the avocado crops is the most recent threat in a series of events that have negatively impacted the conservation of the forests in the area.</p><p>Between the 1940s and the 1990s, the Atenquique Industrial Company had exclusive rights to use the timber from these forests under a concession from the Mexican government. The result was "that the forests were skimmed — that is, they took the best parts," Villa Castillo said.</p><p>When the concession expired in 1995, the forests did not experience a transition to a sustainable timber extraction method. Those who, along with landowners who held small plots, had rights to the shared land were limited to selling the forested areas, at very low prices, to the new logging industries located in Ciudad Guzmán. "Then, there were many abuses against the communities. The money was given to the caciques" — families who have always controlled the shared land — "alms were left for the community, and our forests were very poorly managed," said Rafael González Merín, the former president of Huescalapa, a collective of communally owned farmland known as an <em>ejido</em>.</p><p>As a result, many residents of the community believe the solution is to conserve the forests with productive projects.</p>
Communities Pitch in to Save Their Trees<p>Unlike the communities that have been overtaken by the avocado industry, Huescalapa has largely managed to resist its arrival. The community of shared land, which spans more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), is home to pine and fir trees within its shady temperate forests.</p><p>The residents of Huescalapa have also set aside the proposals they've received from the forestry industry, which has expressed interest in buying their trees.</p><p>According to Gerardo Bernabé Aguayo, logging activity in this area of Jalisco "has been very negative because the industry has managed delicate areas — with very limited species — poorly, so we are supporting and launching projects with the communities." Bernabé Aguayo is the president of the board of trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins, a civil association created about 20 years ago after being promoted by the government of the state of Jalisco. To support the conservation of the national and state parks, the board has financing from the regional private sector.</p><p>The board manages about 6 million pesos ($268,000) contributed by the federal government in 2020. With resources from the private sector, it has been able to access an additional 1.5 million pesos ($67,000).</p>
An area of fir trees that has been destroyed by logging. Agustín del Castillo<p>Rodrigo Cantera Hernández, the president of the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center, said that in Huescalapa, the caciques removed timber from the fir forests, "but they did not report any money to the other community members, so we fought to eject them and were able to do so a couple of years ago."</p><p>In Huescalapa, three main conflicts over timber have taken place in the past 20 years. First, in 1999, a group of community members sold part of the forest to a forestry industry from Ciudad Guzmán. A movement led by citizens put an end to the logging five months later.</p><p>Next, in 2012, environmental authorities granted permission for forest exploitation in these areas, so fir trees continued to be cut down. An opinion by the <a href="https://www.ideaac.org.mx/" target="_blank">Institute of Environmental Law</a>, a civil society organization, cited scientific evidence that demonstrated the uniqueness of mountain fir trees and forced SEMARNAT to withdraw these permissions.</p>
The citizens of Huescalapa formed a cooperative to launch the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center. El Alcázar Ecotourism Center<p>Then, in 2015, a federal judge suspended a new authorization to exploit timber in the cloud forest.</p><p>For communities like Huescalapa to have economic options that do not involve the use of timber because of the detrimental effects that this may have on the remaining population of Colima fir trees, ecotourism and similar activities are promoted.</p><p>According to Bernabé Aguayo, the goal is for the natural forest to be conserved as "a key area for contemplation, enjoyment, the preservation of environmental services, and research."</p><p>In 2019, the cooperative in El Alcázar received 1 million pesos ($44,600), which allowed it to have the basic infrastructure for the ecotourism center. The cooperative may receive an additional 3 million pesos ($133,800) in 2020 to purchase more equipment and improve the roads, but support for this funding was blocked in a community assembly. "They have not understood that it is for the benefit of everyone, that it is not money for our pockets," said Cantera Hernández, the president of the cooperative.</p><p>In Huescalapa, one of the challenges that interferes with efforts to promote the ecotourism center is the division that exists between community members. Many seek to use the timber, but others are already convinced of the importance of conservation.</p><p>Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks, emphasized that projects similar to the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center are being promoted in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo, which are very close to the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima.</p>
María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, the leader of the Amixtlán cooperative, which was created in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>The Amixtlán Ecotourism Center is located in the community of San José del Carmen. A cluster of cabins marks the entrance to the cloud forest, designated a state park since 2009.</p><p>"We decided to protect our forest long before they declared the state park, 20 years before then," said María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, a community leader in San José del Carmen. She recalled that when loggers came with offers to buy the forest, members of the community believed that they offered very little payment and that "the damage [that the loggers left] was too much." For that reason, they decided "not to touch the forest, because it produces water for the crops and for our houses."</p><p>Cortés Reyes said the community was able to construct the ecotourism center because it had resources managed by the Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park and by the Board of Trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins. However, she said it is important that more promotion is given to the area and that urgent problems, such as those with the water supply system, are resolved.</p>
A view of the Nevado de Colima volcano from the Amixtlán Ecotourism Center in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>In the community of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, citizens also promoted the Puerta de la Hacienda Ecotourism Center, where administrators support the biocultural production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from agave. The drink is made by two <em>mezcaleros</em>, or people who are experts in creating mezcal: Marcario Partida from Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and Rosario Pineda from Tetapán, a small community in Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>Other productive projects that are promoted in the communities include the organic production of eggs, such as by Efigenia Larios, a small producer from the community of El Tecuán. Additionally, the shared land communities of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, San José del Carmen and Huescalapa are provided with equipment for fire prevention and materials to help restore the forest soil.</p><p>Artists have painted murals that shine a spotlight on forest conservation in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>The intention of these efforts is to allow those who own land or have rights on this fragile mountain to "understand that there are other options besides logging, and that they, too, can generate development," said Arredondo, the researcher who specializes in the ecology of high mountains.</p><p>Despite the strong pressure for land use changes brought by the avocado agroindustry and fostered by the high level of impunity that often prevails in rural areas, many of the area's landowners continue to search for a model in which their forests can remain standing.</p><p>"Many neighbors say that we are foolish for not wanting to sell this beautiful forest that we have, but that money only lasts for a short time," said José Avalo Lino, a farmer in San José del Carmen. "We are so certain of [the importance of] preventing logging that, long before the declaration of the natural protected area, our community assembly had already decided to save this forest. We will continue to be 'foolish' in this decision."</p>
By Jeanette Cwienk
This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.
"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?
Going Green, or Just Greenwashing?<p>"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/patents-on-plants-is-the-sellout-of-genes-a-threat-to-farmers-and-global-food-security/a-49906072" target="_blank">genetic modification</a> nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."</p><p>Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace, says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.</p>
Independent Certifications Trustworthier<p>Both experts emphasize that independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Examples include the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS) and the IVN Best certification, which is awarded by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN).</p><p>Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.</p><p>"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable."</p><p>And that comes at a price. <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/heres-why-your-next-t-shirt-should-be-made-of-organic-cotton/a-39083921" target="_blank">Organic cotton</a> summer dresses certified with the GOTS label usually cost somewhere between €60-100 (about $67-113). </p>
Water Polluted and Wasted<p>Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/bangladeshs-textile-industry-works-towards-becoming-more-eco-friendly/a-50983898" target="_blank">textile producing countries across Asia</a> are worst affected.</p><p>Since launching its <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/" target="_blank">'Detox My Fashion'</a> campaign in 2011, Greenpeace has secured commitments from some 80 global companies in the fashion industry to eliminate hazardous chemicals by the end of this year.</p><p>But that alone doesn't imply sustainability. Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn.</p><p>"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."</p>
Eco Collections Remain a Market Niche<p>Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.</p><p>Germany is pursuing a new approach to green certification with its government-backed <a href="https://www.bmz.de/en/issues/textilwirtschaft/gruener_knopf/index.html" target="_blank">'Green Button' label</a>. A company can only use the label if all its products comply with high environmental and labor standards. These standards are not as strict as those demanded by organic certifiers, but experts say the 'Green Button' label is a step in the right direction, as it prevents producers offloading responsibility to subcontractors in the production chain.</p>
An 'Eco' Dress for €20 ($22.60): Too Good to Be True?<p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and 50% more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost.</p><p>Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their "sustainable" ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW.</p><p>H&M uses its own "CONSCIOUS" label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures."</p><p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic.</p><p><strong>The Real Problem Is One of Quantity</strong></p><p>Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. </p>
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