Rainforest Articles - October 2003
They're our forests, says PNG
By Craig Skehan
Sydney Morning Herald
October 27, 2003
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, has signalled that he will not allow Australia and other foreign donors to use aid to impose further restrictions on rainforest logging.
Australia and institutions such as the World Bank have been critical of Malaysian timber companies operating in PNG over environmental degradation and corrupt practices such as bribery.
However, Sir Michael said during a two-day state visit by Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, that he hoped Malaysian companies would play a growing role in the forestry sector.
"We must use our land, our forests and our sea to propel our economy in order to meet our responsibilities to our people," he said.
Malaysian companies control more than 80 per cent of logging and timber processing in PNG, which has the largest remaining stretches of rainforest in the Asia/Pacific region.
Sir Michael complained at the weekend that international lending institutions, and by implication aid donors such as Australia, were using loans and other development funds to try to dictate forestry policies.
"We have been encouraged and even told to keep our rainforests in order to receive some money from somewhere to spend most of it on someone who the donors select to do something in the country," Sir Michael told Dr Mahathir.
Australia is by far PNG's biggest aid donor, giving more than $330 million annually.
The biggest forestry company in PNG - the Malaysian conglomerate Rimbunan Hijau - has moved into downstream timber processing, improving its poor reputation by making a bigger contribution to the local economy.
However, PNG conservation groups say environmental abuses by the company have continued and that other Malaysian logging operators less concerned about public perceptions have blatantly disregarded the law.
Rimbunan Hijau is a big donor to Dr Mahathir's political party.
How an army of bad attitude ants became environmental home wreckers
By Deborah Smith, Science Reporter
Sydney Morning Herald
October 27, 2003
Scientists describe it as a case of ecological meltdown.
The yellow crazy ants that invaded Christmas Island not only decimated its famous population of red land crabs by spraying formic acid into their eyes and then devouring millions of them.
The tiny ants also caused a cascade of events on the island that led to the death of rainforest canopy trees within only two years, new research shows.
Dennis O'Dowd, one of the authors of a study on the devastation, said it showed how an invader could alter an entire ecosystem. "This is one bad ant."
Earlier this year, infestations of crazy ants were discovered on the mainland, in Arnhem Land, raising fears they could spread across Australia, devastating communities, forests, agriculture and native wildlife.
The ants - referred to as crazy because of their erratic behaviour when disturbed - are thought to have been introduced to Christmas Island about 70 years ago.
Dr O'Dowd, of Monash University, and his colleagues first noticed the invaders' numbers were increasing dramatically in 1997. When they disturbed the crabs' burrows, ants came pouring out. "There were lots of dead crabs inside," Dr O'Dowd said.
Amazon Rainforest in Peru
Woolly Monkey in Brazil
The ants used the crabs' homes to build supercolonies that could expand by up to three metres a day, eventually taking over about a quarter of the rainforest and killing 10 to 15 million crabs.
For the study, published in the journal Ecology Letters this month, the team compared infested and unifested areas.
They found that the extermination of the crabs, which had fed on the forest floor, led to a build-up of ground litter and a change in the number and kind of seedlings, which in turn affected the birds living there.
The ants had also swarmed up the trees, where they eat honeydew secreted by scale insects.
In return, they protected the insects from predators so their numbers swelled. This led to an increase in sooty moulds that live on the honeydew. As the mould spread, its dark colour blocked photosynthesis by the canopy trees, causing dieback and death.
An aerial bombardment with poisonous bait late last year, overseen by Parks Australia and Monash University, wiped out 99 per cent of the ants.
Oil giant in dock over Amazon waste
Clean up our polluted forest, Ecuadoreans demand in landmark suit
Saturday October 25, 2003
ChevronTexaco could be fined hundreds of millions of dollars and be forced to spend more than $1bn (£590m) cleaning up pollution from 28 years of oil extraction in Ecuador, if a court case which has opened in a small frontier town on the edge of the Amazon forest finds against it.
The class action case against the world's second-largest oil company is being watched closely by oil firms and indigenous groups around the world. It is being brought by 30,000 people who say their lives and livelihoods were damaged by the company's operations between 1964 and 1992.
ChevronTexaco had hoped that the case, being heard in Lago Agrio, 115 miles northeast of the capital Quito, would be held in the US, but a New York appeal court ruled last year that it should be decided in Ecuador.
In a landmark decision which shocked the global oil industry, the court also ruled that any judgment against ChevronTexaco would be enforceable in the US. This opens the legal floodgates to claims by indigenous peoples around the world against western oil and mining companies.
According to the original lawsuit, brought in 1993, Texaco extracted 1.5bn barrels of oil during the years it spent in Ecuador, and systematically disposed of its oily waste in up to 600 open, unlined pits, many of which have leaked and affected water supplies.
Lawyers working for the indigenous peoples will argue that Texaco saved $4bn by not reinjecting the toxic waste back into the earth, which is standard practice. They also allege that the company discharged up to 4 million gallons a day of highly toxic wastewater, contaminated with heavy metals, straight into the Amazon wetlands, rivers and estuaries. They allege that this was done on a scale much worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, which devastated parts of Alaska in 1989 and cost more than $500m to clean up.
It is claimed that up to 1m hectares (2.5m acres) of rainforest along the route of Texaco's pipelines and wells were polluted or destroyed.
"All of our land was destroyed and invaded, and what we got was oil camps and platforms and oil infrastructure. Our rivers, which were once good, now are contaminated with oil," said Elías Piyahuaje, a leader of Secoyas, an indigenous group.
Much of the waste oil has leached into the groundwater and rivers. Samples taken from the waste pits show that many contain cancer-causing chemicals. Several studies suggest high incidences of cancer - almost unknown elsewhere in the Amazon.
But ChevronTexaco will argue that the use of waste pits was legal and common at the time. "Pits were an acceptable method of dealing with produced water," said a spokesman this week. "It's still allowable in many countries, including in parts of the United States."
The company is expected to argue that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that its operations caused cancer, and to argue that many oil spills were a result of political sabotage, earthquakes and of poor people flooding into the region.
"There's never been any credible substantiated evidence to support the claims," a company spokeswoman, Maripat Sexton, said. "We intend to vigorously defend the company against what we view to be a lawsuit without merit."
She said that the government of Ecuador, the national oil company and four local administrations had absolved Texaco of any legal claims after it spent $40m capping 250 of the pits and building schools and medical centres in the mid-1990s.
A panel of three judges is expected to visit the affected areas and take evidence from hundreds of people. A verdict is not expected for at least six months.
Steven Donziger, a New York-based lawyer for communities, said the case could set an international precedent for millions of people affected by oil drilling to use their own legal systems to sue corporations. "This has enormous significance for the oil industry."'
Shannon Wright, associate director of Amazon Watch, a leading US-based environment group, said: "It's historic. What happens in this one-room courthouse could be a turning point for indigenous people trying to protect their land and for multinational companies looking to avoid responsibility overseas."
Section 1: Tropical Rainforests of the World
Tropical Rainforests of the World
Biogeographical Forest Realms
Types of Rainforest
Changing Times - Changing Forests
primary forest cover versus total forest cover for selected countries
Section 2: Structure & Character
Biogeographical Forest Realms
Section 3: Rainforest Diversity
Climate and Stability
Canopy, Structure, & Area
Short Term Variation & Ice Ages
Diversity of Image
Mimicry & Camouflage
Convergent or parallel evolution
Increase in Diversity Toward the Tropics
Countries with the High Biodiversity
Mean Net Primary Production by Ecosystem
Portraits of Diversity
Section 4: The Canopy
Vines & Lianas
Amphibians, Reptiles, Invertebrates
Canopy Tree Adaptations
Mean species richness in of lianas across four tropical regions
Easily observed differences between butterflies and moths
Section 5: The Forest Floor
Forest Floor Introduction
Soils & Nutrient Cylcing
Seeds & Fruit
Mammals (Carnivores & Omnivores)
Reptiles & Amphibians
Amazonian Reptiles - A Historical Account
Epipedobates tricolor and ABT-594/epidatidine
Gastric Brooding Frog
Leaf Cutters in Perspective
What if There Were No Insects
Tiger Medicinals Available in the U.S
Where are the Rocks in the Lower Amazon?
Article on gorilla poaching
Article on tracking forest elephants in Ghana
Section 6: Rainforest Waters
Types of Rivers
Rivers, Streams, & Creeks
Flooding, Low, and High Water
Life by the River
Importance of Rainforest Rivers
Threats to Rivers
Varzea vs. Igapo Forest
Damming the Amazon
The Death of Lac Alaotra, Madagscar
Section 7: Forest People
African Forest People
Asian Forest People
American Forest People
Forest People Overview
Incas - Wade Davis
Lessons from the Maya
Forest people plant knowledge
A Brief Social History of Borneo
Forest people today
Tri-country Amerindian summit
Indigenous people estimates
Varzea vs Terra settlements
Section 8: A World Imperilled -- Threats to Tropical Rainforests
Rainforest Destruction: A World Imperilled [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Natural Forces [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Threats from Humankind [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Subsistence Activities [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Economic Restructuring [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Oil Extraction [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Logging [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Mining [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Fires [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: War [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Commercial Agriculture [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Cattle Pasture [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Hydro, Pollution, Hunting [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Fuelwood, Roads, Climate [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Debt [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Population & Poverty [Deforestation]
Rainforest Destruction: Consumption, Conclusion [Deforestation]
Logging . . . Amphetamine Style
Illegal poaching in Africa
An Account of Illegal Logging in Thailand
Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
Satisfying International Timber Demand
FAO 1997: Regional forest change: 1990-1997
Freeport mine in Indonesia
Tropical Hardwood Log Imports into Japan
The Asian Forest Fires of 1997-1998
Impact of Interest Rates on Deforestation
Total Tropical Timber Imports into Japan
Case Study: Mahogany
Deforestation as a Protest
Rains Impacted by Smoke?
Commonly Harvested Tropical Timber Hardwoods
Indonesia's Transmigration Program
U'wa of Colombia
Photo of mining operation near Mandraka, Madagascar
Section 9: Consequences of Deforestation
Consequences of Deforestation
Local Climate Regulation
Loss of Species, Disease
Loss of Renewable Resources
The Origin of AIDS
The Impact of AIDS in the Developing World
Global Carbon Emissions Breakdown
Global Warming and Developing Nations
Extreme Deforestation - Easter Island
El Niño: A Preview of Global Warming?
Historic Mass Extinctions
Global Warming in a Nutshell
Linking Global Warming and the Ozone Hole
Presence Does Not Always Signify Survivability in Degraded Forest
Questions Over Global Warming
Coral Reefs: the Tropical Rainforests of the Sea
Global Carbon Reserviors
A "tippy" climate - 1°F Warming per year at the Poles?
The Extinction Vortex
Species Highly Vulnerable to Extinction
Biologist Alfred Wallace on Biodiversity Loss
Where Are All These Disappearing Species?
Estimates for extinction rate of today
Anti-HIV compounds from the rainforest
Section 10: Solutions
How to Save the Rainforest
Saving Rainforests Through Sustainable Dev - Agriculture
Saving Rainforests Through Sustainable Forest Products
Saving Rainforests Through Eco-tourism
Saving Rainforests Through Large-scale Forest Products
Saving Rainforests Through Foods & Genetic Diversity
Saving Rainforests Through Medicinal Drugs
Saving Rainforests Through Medicinal Drugs & Pesticides
Saving Rainforests Through Sustainable Logging
Saving Rainforests Through Increasing Productivity
Types of Reserves
Reserve Size & Valuation
ANTI-HIV COMPOUNDS FROM THE RAINFOREST
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: COSTS AND BENEFITS
BP: Moving Ahead
Tradable Greenhouse Gas Budgets
Returning Carbon Dioxide to the Earth?
Animal Alternatives to Cattle
The Complexity of Ecosystem Interactions
Sampling of Corporations that Support Rainforest Projects
Ecological Corridor Project: Sponsored by the "new" World Bank
The Costal Rainforest Coalition
Domestic Timber Consumption
MEDICINAL DRUGS DERIVED FROM RAINFOREST PLANTS
Combatting Amazonian Forest Fires
Are Forest Fragments Worth Saving?
The Problem with GDP as a Measure of Economic Health
The WWF Global 200
Grains: Savings from Genetic Resources
Possible Funding Strategies for the Future
Intergovernmental Institutions involved in Rainforest Use and Conservation
invasion of alien species
The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
IUCN's eight categories of protected area,
Lower Taxes and Save the Environment
Species - Area Math
international conservation organizations
There Are No Lemurs in America?
Bolivia's Noel Kempff Mercado National Park
Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs)
Carbon Offset Programs
COMMON PLANTATION SPECIES
Profit Through Reduced-Impact Logging
multiple use reserve
The Petroleum Revolution
Reforestation of a Mining Concession
The History of Rubber
Brazil Moves to Slow Amazon Settlement
Examples of Sustainable Forestry
Shell Oil in Gabon
Solar and Wind Power as an Economic Stimulus
Small Steps to Reduce Energy Consumption
Valuing a Sustainable Harvest in Ecuador
Overharvesting: the Wotango Tree
Nov 17 2002 - Big-leaf mahogany, also known as American mahogany, is listed on Appendix II of CITES
Texaco faces $1bn lawsuit
Wednesday, 22 October, 2003
A trial has begun in Ecuador's jungle town of Lago Agrio of the US oil giant ChevronTexaco, which is accused of polluting the country's rainforest and water resources.
A billion-dollar lawsuit against the firm was brought by the lawyers for 30,000 Ecuadoreans, who say a Texaco subsidiary - which later merged with Chevron - poured contaminated waste water into open pits.
The plaintiffs say the company's activities have destroyed large areas of rainforest and also led to an increased risk of cancer among the local population.
ChevronTexaco denies the accusations, and its lawyers say the company had cleaned up the area after drilling the oil.
The trial began after almost a decade of legal battles in the United States ended with a US appeals court ruling that the dispute should be heard in Ecuador.
Environmentalists hopes the case will set a precedent forcing companies operating in the developing world to comply with the same anti-pollution standards as in the industrialised nations.
Ecuadorian Indian groups say Texaco - which merged with Chevron in 2001 - dumped more than 18 billion of gallons of toxic materials into unlined pits and Amazon rivers from 1972 to 1992.
As a result, they say, crops were damaged, farm animals killed and cancer has increased among the local population.
As the trial opened, hundreds of Indians in body paint and feathers marched outside the courthouse in Lago Agrio, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) northeast from the capital, Quito.
"It is irreparable damage," Jose Aguilar, a local settler, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
"Everything has been damaged. People have died. Everything has been lost," Mr Aguilar added.
The company has said that after leaving the country it spent $40m in a clean-up project that was inspected and approved by the Ecuadorean Government.
The company also has been arguing that environmental damage was minimal and that oil production water had been treated before being released into the environment.
But on Tuesday, Judge Alberto Guerra rejected an opening challenge to the court's authority by the oil company's lawyers, who argued that the judge did not have the authority to bring ChevronTexaco trial for alleged damage caused by Texaco.
Legal experts say that with appeals and challenges on procedural matters, the case could drag on for months
Brazil president faces growing criticism on environment
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
By Michael Astor
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A growing number of conservationists are accusing Brazilian President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva of betraying them over environmental issues.
On Monday, the leaders of more than 20 environmental groups sent Silva a letter registering their dissatisfaction with plans to go ahead with 82 infrastructure projects in the Amazon rainforest.
They are particularly incensed about plans to build three large hydroelectric dams in the jungle and 200-mile-long (320-km-long) gas pipelines that would cut through the heart of the rainforest. The dams alone would displace 200,000 people and flood large swaths of virgin forest, the environmentalists claim.
"The measures contradict the government's program, weakening social and environmental policy," the letter read, "They provoke the erosion of the government's image with both national and international public opinion."
The letter was signed by representatives of Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Living Rivers Coalition, among others.
Silva, who was elected in a landslide last November, enjoyed wide support from environmental groups, and he was widely praised for appointing Sen. Marina Silva, who is not related to the president, to head the Environment Ministry.
The minister was a close friend and colleague of the late rainforest defender Chico Mendes, and many here believed her appointment signaled a greater commitment to the environment.
But since taking office, Silva has tended to favor economic development over the environment. His government recently announced plans to begin enriching uranium for use in nuclear reactors and has decided to allow farmers to plant genetically modified soybeans.
"This is not the program the president promised," said Roberto Smeraldi, director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Brazil. "These works projects create job growth while they're underway, but the focus is not whether these works bring about long-term benefits for the country."
The pipeline projects would cut through areas inhabited by uncontacted Indian tribe and destabilized delicate ecosystems, environmentalists say.
Disagreements over the government's environmental policy caused one of Brazil's most prominent environmentalists, Rep. Fernando Gabeira, to abandon the governing Workers' Party in protest last week.
"I'm in disagreement with government's environment policy, which runs against what I've always stood for and what was mutually agreed upon as environmental policy," said Gabeira. "It's like the old Eastern European leadership that prioritized industrial policy and left a disaster behind."
Bats Scan The Rainforest With UV-Eyes
Max Planck Society
Bats from Central and South American that live on the nectar from flowers can see ultraviolet light (Nature, 9. October 2003 p. 612-614). This was discovered by York Winter, a German researcher at Munich University and the Max-Planck-Research Centre for Ornithology together with colleagues from Germany and the University of Guatemala. As bats generally lack cone pigments in their eyes, the flower bats capture the ultraviolet with the rhodopsin of their rod pigments. This mechanism was unknown in mammals until now. The researchers discovered this ability while keeping the bats in an environment with computer controlled artificial flowers equipped with small signal lights. Flower visiting bats seem to need UV-vision, because the flowers they visit in the rainforest are characterised by a strong reflection of UV-spectrum light at night. It remains open whether the unusually high UV-sensitivity found in these bats involves a further photo-mechanism that is as yet unknown for mammals.
Modern mammals lost their ability to see ultraviolet in the course of evolution, contrary to birds and lower vertebrates. Of the originally four cone pigments of ancestral vertebrates, the higher mammals have retained only two. Therefore, most mammals are dichromats and have an only limited colour resolution. Only the primates have regained a third cone pigment by gene duplication and hence, tri-chromatic vision with high colour resolution. In night-active bats the reduction of the visual system went even further: they lost functional cones altogether and retained only the rods as photoreceptors. Rods are also present in the human retina for black and white vision during low levels of light intensity. The ability for UV-vision in some other mammal species is due to one cone pigment.
There is only little light at night. But compared to daylight, the colour spectrum is shifted towards short, UV-wavelengths. The flowers that are pollinated by bats in the central and south American rainforest utilise this fact by having their petals strongly reflect UV radiation. But what does a mammal do, if the need for UV-vision arises again, but the necessary anatomical structure has been lost? The flower-visiting bats use their rod receptor for UV-perception and catch the UV-photons with the so-called beta-band of their photoreceptor, a peak of minor sensitivity for light absorption. In these mammals, therefore, only a single photoreceptor is responsible for the perception of light radiation over the whole wavelength spectrum from about 310 nm to 600 nanometres. Interestingly, bats achieve an absorption efficiency in the UV bandwidth of nearly 50 percent of their photoreceptors major peak of absorbance (alpha-band). This is nearly five times the value expected from in-vitro measurements of beta-band absorption in rhodopsin molecules. Whether this indicate a novel mechanism for light perception in the bats eye that is still unknown for mammals remains open.
The researchers discovered that bats can see UV-light in so called psychophysical experiments that only involve behavioural observation. The animals learnt over several months in a computer-controlled artificial environment that only flowers with a small signal light will also give food. The researcher made use of the bats ability to react to the lit flowers by changing the wavelengths of the signal lights and varying their intensity. This showed that the bats could still see the signal lights on the flowers far into the UV range. All the same, bats are colour blind. Attempts to teach them colour discrimination remained unsuccessful.
Light receptors are less sensitive under bright light. The scientists used this fundamental property to investigate the cause for UV-sensitivity in bats. They immersed the artificial environment of the bats in a one colour, monochromatic background light. At the same time, the researchers reduced the intensity of the signal lights at the artificial flowers and were thus able to measure, at which light intensity the bats could still see the lights. This experiment was repeated with different background colours, so called adaptation lights. The results showed that independent of the colour of the background light the decreases of visual sensitivity of the animals was uniform over the whole spectrum of wavelengths. This is the case when only a single photoreceptor is active in the eye.
That bats can see ultraviolet is also due to the fact that a UV-filter is lacking from their eyes lenses. Normally, the UV-absorbing lens protects a mammals eye from UV-radiation. UV-light not only damages the retinal cells but it also causes an optical problem. The angle of light refraction depends on the wavelength of the light. A point of light is refracted at the lens, the refractive surface of the eye. As different wavelengths are refracted at different angles, a light of many colours such as one containing UV, will lead to an out-of-focus image on the retina of the eye. But the smaller the size of the eye, the less disturbing this effect will be. Thus UV-vision should only be expected in small, nocturnal mammals such as the bats with their small, 2 mm eyes.
The search for UV-vision in mammals has so far mainly focused on specialised cone types. This new finding, which originated from research on the ability of animals to orient in space, now points in a new direction for those mammals not dependent on colour vision: They have the potential to utilise a fundamentally different mechanism.
York Winter, Jorge López & Otto von Helversen Ultraviolet vision in a bat Nature, vol. 425, p. 612-614, 2003
Blocking the road to extinction
Assistant professor works to know, protect Borneo's orangutans
By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office
After more than 10 years following orangutans through the rainforests of Borneo, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Cheryl Knott finds it hard to believe that some day the shy great apes may not be part of the forest.
But she's also seen the inroads that illegal logging has made in the Gunung Palung National Park where her studies are based. She knows the apes, which live almost entirely in the forest canopy, cannot survive without the trees. And she knows that the vanishing trees at Gunung Palung make up one of the last orangutan strongholds on the planet.
"There's just been an amazing degradation of the forest in many of the areas surrounding our study site," Knott said.
When she arrived at the Cabang Panti Research Camp in 1992, Knott found pristine forest, reachable only by dugout canoe. Soon, however, she could hear the distant sound of chainsaws. Today, she can walk to the camp on foot, through paths and roadways cut by loggers. Peat swamp forests that used to support towering trees now support rice paddies to feed local people.
A widely cited estimate is that at current rates of deforestation, orangutans will be extinct in the wild in 20 years. But Knott, who heads the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project, believes all is not lost. Despite the increased logging, Gunung Palung still supports a healthy orangutan population, estimated to be about 2,500, perhaps one-tenth of those remaining in the wild. Knott says there are healthy populations at perhaps six to 10 other locations. If they can be protected, Knott said, the species can be saved.
"There are just a handful of viable populations in the world; one is at Gunung Palung. If we protect those, there's hope," Knott said.
Low reproduction rates
For the past decade, Knott has helped humans understand orangutans, their treetop world, and their precarious grip on existence. With the lowest mammalian reproduction rate in the world, orangutans have very little capacity to recover from local population crashes or from major habitat disturbances.
Orangutans breed an average of once every eight years, and produce just one young per breeding. While that is extremely low compared with other mammals, Knott has found that to be in tune with the orangutans' environment.
Though the rainforest may look lush, the fruit that orangutans prefer to live on can be quite rare. The tall rainforest trees tend to produce fruit all at once, during an event called "mast" fruiting. Scientists think the rainforest trees adopted this strategy as a way to overwhelm insect pests, ensuring that some fruits get the chance to grow into new trees.
The problem, if you're an orangutan, is that these mast fruiting episodes average just once every four years, and can range as long as 10 years, though there are smaller annual fruiting peaks.
In the meantime, orangutans have learned to survive by eating lower-quality foods, such as leaves and bark. These foods provide enough sustenance for the apes to survive, but Knott has shown that their daily energy intake falls to less than 2,000 calories, compared with as high as 10,000 calories during fruiting periods.
Knott's work has shown that the orangutans' reproductive cycles are keyed to these periods of high fruit production.
By spreading plastic sheets under the trees where orangutans reside, researchers have collected samples of urine, which they've tested to determine hormone levels. Knott said hormones are higher during periods of high fruit availability. On the other hand, ketone levels, which indicate the ape is burning fat, are elevated during low fruit availability.
Knott said the picture that has emerged is that orangutans conceive their young during periods of plentiful food, which will provide them with the extra energy needed for gestation, lactation, and parenting. That makes sense, Knott said, because they can't predict food availability in the future, but they can time reproduction for when they're in the best physical condition.
Knott's more recent work, detailed in National Geographic, has focused on the two different types of reproductively mature males. One type of male is much larger than the others, much more aggressive, and is marked by large cheek pads not present in females. The second type of male is smaller, nonaggressive toward other males, more commonly engages in forced copulation, and does not have cheek pads. Males of the second type usually develop into the first type, called "prime" males, but the timing of this development is very variable and the phenomenon is poorly understood.
Knott has discovered that the males in their prime usually don't stay in that prime form very long. After a few years they become what she terms "past prime males" who rarely mate, have shriveled cheek pads, do not produce the characteristic male long call, and are nonaggressive. This is not seen in zoos where males can maintain their prime form indefinitely. Her theory is that being a prime male is so difficult - they are larger, fight other males more, and follow females around more waiting for an opportunity to mate - that an individual male can only sustain that form for a few years. Thus, she suspects, the timing of male development is critical, leading to a variable development period.
As with female reproduction, Knott suspects that the prime form is linked to food availability and that males time their passage into this phase of their lives to coincide with periods of greater food availability and greater female receptivity. The number of other prime males in the area may be a factor as well, she said.
Preservation through education
Hand in hand with the scientific work, Knott and her team are trying to save Gunung Palung through education. Though logging in the park is illegal, and police have responded to researchers' reports of illegal activities, loggers invariably return shortly after the police leave.
The multipronged education effort, begun in 1998, is attempting to raise environmental awareness in the surrounding communities in hopes a budding environmental consciousness will lead to locally grown efforts to preserve Gunung Palung and to stop illegal logging.
The work entails bringing students into the research station and letting them observe orangutans, doing outreach to the local schools through in-class lectures and teacher training, and creating an environmental curriculum as a resource for teachers.
Knott said this outreach is essential if there are to be orangutans to study in the future. Researchers are there for a year, or a season, but the local people live in and around the park year in and year out. Despite that proximity, many of the children in the surrounding towns have never seen an orangutan, either live or in a picture.
Since its inception, the program has reached 5,000 children and several hundred teachers. She said the children who visit the research site, mostly high school kids, are energized and excited by the experience. One result, she said, is that nature-lover clubs have sprouted in several local schools.
In addition to efforts targeted at schools, the project also has a regular radio show; has sponsored billboards and coloring contests; supported local park rangers; and meets regularly with government officials on the subject.
"I feel like if we hadn't been doing this the last few years, we wouldn't have a site anymore," Knott said.
Rainforest fate may rest with drugmakers
By Lidia Wasowicz
UPI Senior Science Writer
Published 10/16/2003 12:00 PM
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- In the end, the destiny of the world's dwindling rainforests may depend on drugs, diversity and dividends, conclude researchers who spent five years determining the pragmatics of pinpointing plants with pharmaceutical potential beneath the lush canopy of the Panamanian jungle.
In completing their $3-million survey, the investigators have devised what they see as a practical plan to protect nature's delicate handiwork from decimation. Given proper financial incentives, drug companies can work hand-in-hand with developing nations poor in economy but rich in biodiversity to salvage one of Earth's most valuable, and most threatened, natural resources, the international team of scientists maintains.
Their vision hinges the gateway to success on the pharmaceutical industry establishing scientific laboratories in the Third World and hiring local researchers to extract new medicines from plants that, over the eons, have devised defense mechanisms against insects.
"Until now, efforts to find drugs in the rainforest haven't really led to rainforest conservation," said Tom Kursar, an associate professor and one of the duo of University of Utah biologists who led the collaborative effort, which included 15 U.S. and Panamanian specialists. "But we have developed a novel approach that provides a direct link between looking for drugs and promoting conservation and economic development in biodiversity-rich countries."
Their own experience bespeaks the soundness of their proposal, the scientists state.
"In our research, not only are we finding potential pharmaceuticals, but we are (also) contributing to conservation of the forests," said Phyllis Coley, a biology professor and Kursar's personal and professional partner.
Searching for drugs in the rapidly vanishing rainforests of developing countries might forestall the disappearance of natural treasures that could fill humanity's coffers, she noted.
"(Rainforests) are home to more species of organisms than any other habitat," Coley told United Press International. "The repercussions of losing these habitats are enormous, not only for the species that are lost, but also for global climate, for the livelihood of people living in the tropics and for the goods and services we receive."
The so-called bioprospecting route to rainforest salvation is built on the premise that developing nations will work to preserve their wilderness if nondestructive industries -- among them drug research, ecotourism and watershed protection -- outperform logging and ranching in financial benefits.
The fly in this potential ointment for the ailing economies and disappearing forests of the Third World has been the failure to produce timely, lucrative results. Only a small fraction of compounds derived from plant extracts -- 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 5,000, by some rough estimates -- actually are developed into drugs. Even when they are, it takes years for the rainforests' home country to start earning royalties.
"The challenge, therefore, is to provide immediate and guaranteed benefits even if royalties are not forthcoming," the biologists note in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a journal published by the Ecological Society of America.
Up to one-third of the research carried out by drug companies -- which invest $27 billion to $43 billion worldwide each year in such endeavors -- could be conducted in the Third World, the researchers estimate.
However, those in the business may have other ideas, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America suggested.
"Most companies already have more targets in their research bins than they can handle," said Mark Grayson, PhRMA's deputy vice president for communications. The group represents 34 of the biggest names in an industry that invested more than $30 billion in 2002 in discovering and developing treatments and cures.
"As the National Institutes of Health points out, only 5 percent of research targets are developed, so there's no shortage of targets," Grayson said in a telephone interview. Looking for medicines in plants growing in developing countries "is nowhere near the top of our priority list," he added.
Grayson noted drug discovery and development is an arduous, high-risk and expensive proposition, and called it "suicide" for a company to establish research projects in areas with small potential for investment recovery or profit making.
Nevertheless, proponents do not regard the plan as such a hard sell.
"The advantage of the Panama model is that we are not asking for new funds, simply suggesting that it might be productive to invest current funds in new places," Kursar told UPI, "and, in fact, those research dollars might stretch farther in developing nations."
In a mere five years, for example, the pilot project realized:
-- the establishment of six laboratories in Panama;
-- the employment of home-grown talent, including 10 senior scientists, 57 paid research assistants and 12 student volunteers, and
-- the higher education of dozens of local students, with 20 earning bachelors degrees, 12 receiving or working on master's degrees and one embarking on doctoral studies.
"We don't think there is actual resistance to the idea of collaborating with scientists from developing nations, so if we can make it easy for pharmaceutical companies or granting agencies, we think it will actually happen," Kursar said.
The impetus must come from institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the European Union, non-governmental organizations, conservation groups, the United Nations and non-profit foundations, researchers told UPI. Already, there is some progressive movement afoot, they noted.
For example, the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups program, conceived in 1991 by the NIH, NSF and the U.S. Agency for International Development to focus on the interrelationship among drug development, biological diversity and economic growth, has just entered its third round of funding projects.
"In part because of the success of the Panama model, (the ICBG) made it a requirement to have a significant portion of the project based in the (plant) source countries," Kursar said.
About half of all new drugs come from natural products derived from plants, microbes and, to some extent, animals such as corals and other marine lifeforms, poison arrow frogs and insects, the ICBG notes.
Of the 868 treatments developed between 1981 and 2002, 55 percent had such beginnings, David Newman, Gordon Cragg and Kenneth Snader, all of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., noted in an analysis published in the July issue of the Journal of Natural Products. From 2000 to 2002, they traced 50 of 83 new drugs -- or 60 percent -- to similarly natural roots.
"To stay competitive, companies must find unstudied organisms that may provide novel medicines, the tropics being a very attractive target," Coley said.
As a bonus, the Panama project yielded the first test of a compound's effect on malaria -- a plague that kills a child somewhere in the world every 20 seconds -- that does not require radioactivity, thereby making its use plausible in developing countries. Already, scientists from Madagascar have arrived in Panama, eager to learn the technique.
In addition, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama -- where Coley and Kursar also hold appointments -- and Panamanian scientists have obtained a provisional patent for four alkaloid chemicals extracted from local plants.
Laboratory tests by Luis Cubilla Rios of the University of Panama and Luz Romero of Florida State University in Panama revealed the compounds' toxic effect on the parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a disfiguring and potentially fatal disease transmitted by the bite of any of 30 species of sand flies.
Endemic in 88 countries on five continents -- Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America -- the infection threatens some 350 million people, according to the World Health Organization. The disease affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide, with 2.4 million new cases and 59,000 deaths reported in 2002 alone.
Most often attacking the skin or internal organs, the disease brings on a variety of symptoms, ranging from self-healing but unsightly ulcers to life-threatening infections. Currently, no vaccines or drugs are available to prevent the infection.
The researchers are establishing mice colonies in Panama to test the safety and effectiveness of the newfound compounds against leishmaniasis. They hope to expand the research to other tropical diseases. Their work -- funded by the NIH, NSF and U.S. Department of Agriculture -- won praise from Jeffrey McNeeley, chief scientist of the World Conservation Union in Switzerland.
"(The new project) shows how to conduct more of the value-added bioprospecting research in the source country and build the technical capacity of local people while doing so," McNeeley said.
The study brought to light ways to boost the effectiveness of drug discovery by focusing on the chemical arsenal plants have assembled against insects. The scientists tested extracts from leaves carpeting Panama's protected wild lands on breast, lung and nervous system cancer cells; the AIDS virus, and organisms causing malaria, leishmaniasis and Chagas' disease, a parasitic infection with an annual death toll of 50,000. They found younger leaves, not yet toughened in their anti-pest defenses, showed greater chemical activity and higher number of potentially useful compounds than did older ones, even on the same plant.
They also discovered shade-tolerant flora offer a more plentiful source of active substances than the sun worshippers, which can replace insect-ravaged leaves more quickly and, therefore, have less need to develop stronger chemical defenses.
"Probably the most important, from a drug-discovery point of view, is that young leaves are defended by both greater amounts and by unique compounds not found in mature leaves," Coley said. "Thus, conventional collections, which have focused on mature leaves, may have missed much of the chemical promise in plants."
In the next phase, the scientists will work to improve techniques to purify and test promising compounds in mice, continue training Panamanian students and serve as a model for other countries.
"Personally, we have seen the destruction of tropical forests worldwide, and it is very painful," Coley told UPI. "Although drug companies have done little to safeguard this resource, our project agrees that drug discovery could play a key role in saving the rainforest."
Copper offers new wealth from Brazil's Amazon
BRAZIL: October 15, 2003
CARAJAS, Brazil - A huge copper mine is rapidly taking shape on a southern Amazon plain stripped of rainforest cover by wildcat gold diggers, loggers and ranchers over the past quarter of a century.
The $384 million Sossego mine is the first copper project by the world's biggest iron ore producer, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce VALE3.SA (CVRD), and part of a multibillion dollar programme to diversify output and strengthen its position among the globe's top five miners.
CVRD VALES.SA RIO.N plans to invest $4.9 billion by 2007 in developing copper, nickel, bauxite, kaolin and iron ore deposits in the Carajas area of the northern state of Para.
Half the investment will be in copper. Five mines are due to start by 2010 with overall output of between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes annually, turning Brazil into a net exporter of more than 300,000 tonnes a year.
"Our projects will fill 25 percent of the forecast global copper deficit in 2008," said Lafayette de Freitas, CVRD's copper quality control manager.
World copper demand is seen rising, notably in the electricity, telecommunications and auto sectors as economic recovery strengthens.
Carajas, a spotless mining town of 5,000 people, is located in the heart of a national forest and protected by a 7 km (4 mile) fence to keep out pumas and other wild animals.
Environment manager Mauricio Reis said CVRD created a park to protect 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of forest.
"Iron ore mining affects less than 2 percent of the forest area," he said.
But Friends of the Earth Brazilian Amazon Director Roberto Smeraldi said the cash-rich miner could do much more to aid local people so they did not need to slash and burn the forest to grow food.
"The mines have attracted to the region more than 50,000 poor families, many of whom don't even have identity cards," he said.
More people will migrate to Sossego, located below the Carajas plateau and 110 km (68 miles) southeast of the iron ore mines.
It is a hive of activity with some 4,000 workers rushing to meet a July 2004 production start-up target.
The mine is set to produce 140,000 tonne per year of copper and three tonnes of gold by-product for some 13 years.
"Geological surveys began only seven years ago so it will probably be a world start-up record," said De Freitas, noting that Sossego was able to tap into rail, port and energy lines used by the iron ore mines.
CVRD pressed ahead with copper development after buying out U.S. miner Phelps Dodge PD.N 's stake in Sossego and Anglo-American's share in the Salobo scheme.
The main infrastructure cost was an 85 km (53 mile) paved road - now nearly complete - from the mine to the rail terminal at Paraupebas.
From there copper will be railed 890 km (553 miles) to the port of Ponta da Madeira at Sao Luis in Maranhao state.
De Freitas said civil works, including an ore crusher, concentrator and conveyor belt, were about 75 percent complete. With concentrate containing 30 percent copper and 8 grams of gold per tonne the mine is an attractive prospect.
About 80 percent of Sossego's copper will be shipped to Europe, India and the Far East under long-term contracts.
Despite the $2 billion spending on copper, iron ore will still account for the vast bulk of mineral output at Carajas. Production there is seen rising to 59 million tonnes in 2003, from 56 million last year, and is due to reach 70 million tonnes in 2004.
With estimated ore reserves of 18 billion tonnes the potential for expansion is enormous. Output started at 15 million tonnes in 1985.
Most of this year's extra output will be destined for China, which is overtaking Japan as the major market. The high quality of Carajas iron ore (67 percent hematite and less than one percent silica) make shipments across the globe profitable.
Nearly $70 million of investment is planned by 2008, including two semi-mobile crushers and a conveyor belt from the mine to the processing plant.
A new iron ore quay and warehouses are being built at the port of Ponta da Madeira to increase exports.
Ways of recuperating iron ore residue from waste water and tailings dams as well as recycling waste water are being studied.
"We're trying to reduce costs and raise efficiency," said Mining Development Manager Leopoldo Aguiar de Pilo.
Mining operations in the vast lunar-like craters are remarkable for the little manual labour employed and the relatively small number of shovels and trucks.
Operations are managed from a computerised control room.
"We aim to tailor production to meet the specific quality needs of clients," said Operations Manager Kesley Julianelli.
E.U. aims to stem illegal rainforest timber trade
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
By Jeremy Smith
LUXEMBOURG — E.U. countries plan to deal a blow to a billion dollar trade in illegal logging in endangered rainforests whose profits often fuel organized crime and conflict in some of the world's poorest countries.
European Union farm ministers meeting on Monday instructed the E.U.'s executive commission to draft legislation for certifying legal timber imports in a bid to clean up the US$150 billion global forest product trade.
A key part of the E.U.'s battle against illegal logging is to stop the trade's laundered profits from being diverted into organized crime. One problem to be addressed in the commission's draft law is that only a handful of E.U. states designate crimes relating to illegal logging under current money-laundering legislation.
"In some forest-rich countries, the corruption fueled by profits from illegal logging has grown to such an extent that it is undermining the rule of law, principles of democratic governance, and respect for human rights," an E.U. statement said. "In some cases the illegal exploitation of forests is also associated with violent conflict. Profits from the illegal exploitation of forests and of other natural resources are often used to fund and prolong these conflicts."
Environmental groups estimate that European imports of illegally sourced timber are worth 1.2 billion euros a year.
Under the planned scheme, once a country or regional bloc has signed up to a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT) agreement, the E.U. will refuse to accept imported timber from that state unless it is certified as legal.
The E.U. is an important market for both legal and illegally harvested timber entering international trade. It is the largest importer of plywood and sawnwood from Africa, the second largest from Asia, and a key market for Russia.
"Although the supply-side of the problem lies in timber-producing countries, strong international demand for timber can be exploited by unscrupulous operators and traders ... encouraging illegal logging operations," the ministers said. "As a major source of this demand, important measures can be taken by the E.U. and other major consumers of timber products to direct demand towards only legally harvested timber," they said.
In the draft law to be prepared by mid-2004, the E.U. will target southeast Asia, South America, central Africa, and Russia.
Half of global trade in tropical timber is illegally produced and causes severe environmental consequences, environmental groups say, citing estimates for 1990-95 that show a net forest loss equal to 33 soccer fields per minute.
Sun, Oct. 12, 2003
Kraft, activists still differ on coffee standards
COMPANY TEAMS WITH RAINFOREST ALLIANCE, BUT GROUPS SEEK `FAIR-TRADE' COMMITMENT
NORTHFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Kraft Foods is still at odds with some activist groups over its coffee-buying standards, despite a new partnership with the Rainforest Alliance.
The nation's largest food and beverage company announced last week that it had agreed to buy coffee from growers who meet certain social and environmental standards, as certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a conservation group.
But the decision did not mollify groups pushing for large companies to sell coffee certified as ``fair trade,'' which its advocates say has higher social and economic standards for its growers than the standards agreed to by Kraft.
``We appreciate efforts on the part of industry to help coffee farmers,'' said spokeswoman Haven Bourque of Trans Fair USA, an Oakland non-profit that certifies fair-trade coffee. ``But we have to be aware that the farmers need the strictest standards in order to make a difference in their daily lives.''
Valerie Orth, fair-trade organizer at Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, said fair-trade advocates still want big coffee companies such as Kraft and Nestle to follow the lead of Procter & Gamble. P&G last month began selling a line of fair-trade coffee called Mountain Moonlight as part of its gourmet Millstone line.
Kraft spokeswoman Patricia Riso declined to address whether the company might buy fair-trade coffee in the future, but said: ``We just don't think it's a long-term meaningful solution.''
``Fair trade does offer another choice for consumers, but we don't believe it is the only way to benefit coffee farmers,'' she said. ``Fair trade is a niche market based on the guaranteed minimum price. The Rainforest Alliance is bringing the concept of sustainability into the mainstream.''
The partnership comes with an increasing number of U.S. coffee sellers responding to activists' calls about the coffee industry. In addition to Procter & Gamble, Starbucks Coffee and Sara Lee also sell fair-trade coffee.
In the first year of the new program, Kraft will buy 5 million pounds of coffee beans from farms in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Central America that are approved by the Rainforest Alliance.
Kraft's coffee brands include Maxwell House and Jacobs.
Chad's new oil bonanza buys guns, not schools
The latest scheme to end a continent's pernicious corruption has got off to a sorry start, reports Tim Butcher, Africa Correspondent
The Daily Telegraph
Yesterday should have been a great day for Africa. The president of Chad opened a 650-mile pipeline that will give the world a new source of oil and flush hundreds of millions of pounds into the desperately poor country.
For the first time, too, there was a revolutionary attempt to stop Africa's politicians stealing the money. Set up by the World Bank, it was meant to be a model for development.
Stung by the examples of Nigeria and Angola, where the benefits of oil wealth were denied to the people, the Chad scheme marked a serious attempt at change.
But, with the leaking of news that the first £3 million of oil money has been spent on arms, and aid groups declaring yesterday a "day of mourning" for the loss of the country's potential wealth, the scheme is already in trouble.
President Idriss Deby turned the taps on the pipeline at a colourful opening ceremony in Kome, in the south of the country, watched by the heads of state of Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guniea.
Nils Tcheyan, of the World Bank, issued a warning that the country's rulers must "efficiently use oil revenue to improve living conditions for all Chadians". He added: "To achieve this, we need good economic management and good governance."
But there was little optimism yesterday in the country, where many see the imminent flow of oil more as a curse than a blessing.
A vast complex of hi-tech drilling and pumping facilities has been constructed as part of the £2.2 billion investment. The pipeline snakes through almost impenetrable rainforest into Cameroon.
When Chad's oil facilities reach full production, 250,000 barrels of oil will be pumped each day through the pipeline, earning the country royalties of about £60 million a year and doubling its current annual earnings.
Under terms of the anti-corruption plan, the money will go to an independently administered account at a financial institution in the City of London.
In theory, funds can be drawn from this account only if approved by the Chad government and an independent committee including a number of non-politicians. Eighty per cent of the money is to go on national schemes in education, health and infrastructure.
Shortly before the opening ceremony, Mr Deby insisted that the oil revenues would be used responsibly, saying: "We must build a modern and working Chad together."
However, the first proceeds were spent on arms after Mr Deby's government invoked a clause within the agreement allowing military spending in times of national emergency. Chad has had an armed rebellion in the north for more than five years.
Supporters of the scheme hoped it was a temporary glitch, but it is not clear whether the government of Chad, the most corrupt nation in Africa according to a survey by the World Economic Forum, is serious about financial probity.
"Chad has to be different because we're staking our reputation on it," a World Bank official told The Economist magazine.
Ngarlejy Yorongar, an MP from the oil region, supported the "day of mourning". He said: "We don't even know how many barrels they will be pumping a day."
The Forest for the Trees
International Development and Environment Article Service
08 October 2003
Imagine you are walking through of a hectare of forest — it doesn't matter what kind of forest. Take your time and look around. A hectare is a sizeable piece of land (2.5 acres for those of us who don't think metrically). How many trees do you see? The number would vary depending on the terrain you're hiking in, but let's agree there'd be a lot of trees.
Keep that “lots-of-trees” image in mind. Every year, 15-million hectares of forest — an area twice the size of New Brunswick — are clear-cut. This annual harvest cuts deeply into the 20 to 30 per cent of original forest that remains in large tracts on the planet. Forests have all but vanished in 87 countries.
Eight thousand years ago trees dominated the Earth's landscape. Today's great deserts — the Sahara and the Gobi for example — were once temperate forests. Even the barren, rocky soils of the Middle East were famous for their magnificent cedar forests.
But wood was a necessity for survival and after local trees were consumed, empires fell unless they were powerful enough to exploit far-flung forests. For a thousand years Egypt's pharaohs imported huge cedar logs from Lebanon to make their ships, temples and palaces.
“Cut and run” forestry hasn't changed much other than an immense increase in scale and global reach. International trade in wood fibre — particularly paper — has quadrupled in the past 40 years. Japan uses 11 per cent of the world's paper, none of which comes from its own trees. With only 5 per cent of the population, the United States consumes 20 per cent of the world's paper.
Each year industrial countries use an average of 164 kilograms per person, while developing countries use just 18 kilograms per person. Specifically, the U.S. devours 335 kilograms per person per year, Japan 249, Canada 229 and Germany 192.
By contrast, Brazil uses 39 kilograms per person per year, China 27 and India 4. However, usage is growing rapidly in some developing countries. For example, between 1980 and 1997 consumption in Indonesia rose more than seven-fold, in China more than five-fold, and more than four-fold in both South Korea and Thailand.
While many countries have enacted laws to protect their forests, regulations are simply not enforced, according to the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch (GFW). By combining on-the-ground local knowledge with digital and satellite technology, GFW is tracking what's happening to the world's remaining forests. The news isn't good:
In Indonesia, about 70 per cent of timber production is from illegal logging.
In Central Africa, logging concessions cover more then half of the world's-second largest tropical rainforest.
In Chile, government policies encourage people to clear native forests that are thousands of years old to make way for plantations of exotic (and more lucrative) species. As a result, the prehistoric araucaria forests, and the alerce, the second oldest living tree in the world, are endangered.
In Venezuela, logging and mining practices threaten one of the most pristine forests on the planet.
“Much of the threat facing the remaining intact forests boils down to bad economics, bad management and corruption,” said Dirk Bryant, founder and co-director of GFW.
Even in the world-renowned “once-threatened but now supposedly saved” Amazon, deforestation is getting worse. Brazil's Amazon forest could vanish by the year 2020, according to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Despite worldwide attention and its importance as a centre of biodiversity, the Amazon still has the world's highest rate of forest destruction — averaging almost two million hectares a year from 1995 to 2000.
And it will get worse if the Brazilian government goes forward with its “Advance Brazil” plan to invest over US$40-billion in new highways, railroads, hydroelectric reservoirs, power lines and gas lines in the Amazon over the next few years.
Brazilians and their government are concerned about conservation and have enacted strict conservation laws, acknowledges Thomas Lovejoy, Chief Biodiversity Advisor to the World Bank. But Brazil suffers from the seemingly universal dilemma of semi-independent government departments doing their own thing — road building, economic development — without considering the long-term impacts, says Lovejoy, a pioneering tropical biologist who has worked in the Amazon since 1965. “We have the same kind of problems in America.”
The history of the Amazon clearly shows that new roads lead to colonization, logging, hunting and land speculation. Third World countries will continue to develop in this way — who are we in the First World to say they can't do what we've done — but the impacts on the environment can be worse than expected.
“Cutting up the forests into fragments, even large ones, increases their vulnerability to fires and edge-development that creates ongoing degradation of the forest,” Lovejoy says.
The people moving into the Amazon should to be encouraged to live in urban areas, not in forest areas as homesteaders, he adds. And there must be more thoughtful and integrated forms of sustainable development.
But the root of the problem of the planet's disappearing forests remains a global economy built on the foundation (some would say fantasy) of an endless and relatively cheap supply of natural resources. This economic system fuels a demand for wood and wood products, such as paper, that's expected to double in the next 50 years.
The World Commission on Forests estimates that the current rate of global deforestation results in 15,000 species becoming extinct each year. The Commission was formed after the 1992 United Nation's Rio Earth Summit when world leaders finally acknowledged that forests were in trouble.
The chopping down of an area twice the size of New Brunswick every year has profound implications for us all. “It could change the very character of the planet and of the human enterprise within a few years unless we make some choices,” a 1999 World Commission report concludes.
And the consumption of wood and paper products in the First World fuels the chainsaws of the Third World. Reducing our consumption will take the pressure off forests and allow time to make the transition to more sustainable forestry practices. While reducing and reusing are preferable to energy-intensive recycling of paper and wood, all “wood-wise” efforts are necessary.
Reducing the North's overall consumption of the South's natural resources and closing the gap between rich and poor must also happen if there are to be any tropical forests left. Illegal logging of tropical hardwoods is often the only way impoverished people can feed their families.
If a tree falls...
A tree did indeed fall in the forest, but fortunately somebody heard. We can now buy wood products from forests that are managed in balance with the environment.
There is rising consumer awareness that wood products ought to come from well-managed forests. Many big forest companies now claim to be sustainable and slap “green” labels on their products. But how do you know if the claims are true? Can you truly judge a tree by its label?
The strongest and most reliable system of certification is from an accredited body called the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC is the only system that globally tracks products from the forest floor all the way to the retail shelf, a process known as “chain of custody” monitoring.
An FSC logo on a wood product means it came from a forest that meets the highest environmental and social standards. Done right, for example through careful “selection logging,” timber production can support important conservation values such as biodiversity, water quality and the rights of indigenous peoples.
The appeal of the FSC logo program has prompted companies including Home Depot, DIY and IKEA to adopt policies preferring FSC certified products. The Council has also earned the endorsement of mainstream environmental organizations including the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
While significant, only 25-million hectares are currently FSC forests. (Bolivia is the world leader in certified tropical forest with one million hectares, because of the strong support of the country's forestry sector.) However, 30 large corporations hold 120-million hectares of the world's best remaining forests, little of which is FSC certified.
But consumer demand for FSC products is increasing worldwide. In the Netherlands for example, 68 per cent of the timber purchased is already FSC certified. Many of the sustainable forests the Council certifies are in the Third World, and are community owned and operated.
The forests of the Sierra Norte mountains in the southwest Mexican state of Oaxaca are home to a unique mix of trees. Pine-oak forests, cloud forests and mossy tropical forests blanket the region. “It's a very beautiful area,” says Caitlyn Vernon of the Falls Brook Centre, a New Brunswick-based sustainable development organization active in the Sierra Norte.
But like many natural areas, it was falling to the cutting edge of mass logging. Fabricas de Papel Tuxtepec S.A., a former Canadian pulp company in partnership with the Mexican government, owned the timber rights in the region from 1957 to 1983. Deplorable logging practices left valleys filled with unwanted logs, eroded hillsides and ruined watersheds.
There was no reforestation and few of the millions of dollars earned remained with local people. It took a prolonged struggle by indigenous communities to get the timber licenses overthrown so they could take control of their own forests in 1983.
They formed a co-operative called UZACHI to manage their forests for the long-term, and to keep the money in the community. “People are already seeing the benefits,” says the Falls Brook Centre's Vernon. “They have clean water again. They're happy and proud of what they managed to accomplish.”
Local people are trained as forest technicians, forest engineers and biologists. Logging is only done on 40 per cent of the total 26,000 hectares. There are tree nurseries of local species for reforestation. Conservation and preservation of biodiversity are high priorities.
The Forest Stewardship Council certifies these forest practices as sustainable. There is no illegal cutting and everyone shares in the natural wealth of the forest. Responsibility for protection and management is shared widely and official roles rotate through different members of the community every three years.
They're also looking beyond timber, adds Vernon, including the planting and harvesting of forest-grown mushrooms, orchids and other epiphytes. Finished wood products such as children's toys are being made to increase the 'value-added' of the forest to the community.
Eco-tourism is also part of the push for diversification. In just a few short years, the area has become something of a mecca for people around the world wanting to learn how to do sustainable community-based forestry the right way.
Based on their work with UZACHI, the Falls Brook Centre is now developing guidelines for sustainable harvests of ground hemlock and balsam fir for Canada's forests. Falls Brook also has a shiitake mushroom growing demonstration site in their New Brunswick forest.
“UZACHI is an inspiring example that can be successfully replicated throughout the world,” says Vernon.
Another inspirational case study can be found on the island of Chiloé, a couple of thousand kilometres south of Mexico's Sierra Norte. Lying off the southern coast of Chile, Chiloé is home to 150,000 people in an area approximately 180 by 50 kilometres.
Once entirely forested, only 50 per cent of the diverse temperate rainforest (similar to the coastal forests of British Columbia) remains. Unlike mainland Chile, which exports huge volumes of lumber and pulp, all of the wood here is used domestically.
It's a cool temperate climate so most wood goes to cooking and heating — year-round. Visited by Charles Darwin during his famous travels in South America, the island is well known for its wooden churches, some more than 150 years old.
The citizens of Chiloé are small landholders who farm, fish and log to survive. Without proper management, the remaining forest is slowly being eaten away.
In an effort to reverse this decline, the Chilean government invited Canada to bring its successful “Model Forest” program to Chiloé. The Model Forest (MF) is a process for getting everyone in a forest area onboard to develop a consensus-driven partnership to achieve social, environmental and economic sustainability. It's a Canadian idea being put into practice in a number of countries through the International Model Forest Network.
Sixty communities are now involved, covering nearly the entire island. “The people have a very good knowledge of their forest but don't know enough about ecosystem functioning,” says Sylvain Legault, a CUSO cooperant who volunteered in Chiloé for two years.
For hundreds of years people cut whatever they needed, assuming there'd always be enough, explains Legault. The first thing was to bring awareness that their lands need to be managed sustainably in order to have a forest for the future. Communities are learning how to plan and manage their forests for the long-term.
Financial incentives from the Chilean government help put these ideas into practice. Experts are brought in to teach forest management techniques. There is a new emphasis on non-wood products such as honey and hazelnuts. “Local groups also see eco-tourism as an income source,” adds Legault.
A new environmental education centre has been an invaluable tool in understanding resource management issues and to improve decision-making on the use and conservation of resources. Other projects include a local geographic information system, and the development of island-wide indicators of sustainable forest management and development. Both the community's income and the area covered by forest have increased. International funding has also helped integrate the indigenous community into the management of the Chiloé National Park. The model forest idea has taken root on the island. As Legault says, “Communities are very strong here. They've resisted offers from multinational companies.”
Some community forests in the Third World have even been re-grown on lands long deforested.
Tropical forests grow in relatively poor soils and once the trees are cut, the strong sunlight turns the land into hard-packed earth. Once the forests are gone, it is very hard to bring productivity back to the land, says Jean Arnold, also with New Brunswick's Falls Brook Centre, a Canadian sustainable development organization.
So getting some kind of cover on the ground is crucial. In Nicaragua, vanilla vines are used to help shade deforested areas or depleted coffee plantations. The vines also help retain some of the rainwater that causes erosion and flooding. And, just as importantly, the vanilla can be sold.
In Sri Lanka, there is a broader process at work helping to restore degraded and even disappeared forests. Called “analogue forestry,” the idea is to restore the diversity and ecological functions of original forests by using a combination of planting, natural regeneration and reintroduction of flora and fauna. The end result is (hopefully) a healthy forest and a wide range of marketable products.
Developed more than 25 years ago by the Neo Synthesis Research Centre, there are now analogue forests throughout the world. The main resources needed are land, time and knowledge. The investment in plants and trees is relatively low, as most species used are indigenous and locally available. As an analogue forest matures to resemble a forest of the past, biodiversity increases, which in turn helps soil conservation and water quality.
A healthy environment is not just important for Mother Nature. When communities can no longer depend on the forest for survival, their children drift to urban areas, further impoverishing and isolating rural areas. Lack of interest and commitment to the land leads to more environmental degradation, says Arnold of the Falls Brook Centre.
But restoration is only possible when local people can get some immediate benefit for their efforts — survival depends on it. Fruit, berries, nuts and spices are usually the first things planted. These “forest gardens” often support production of 20-30 different crops, and farmers can access fuelwood and local building materials. There is also a certification process for products such as teas, coffees, nuts, spices and syrups that are sold in health food stores in Europe and elsewhere.
Ranil Senanyake of Neo Synthesis believes sustainability will only be achieved through local land tenure. Local communities need to have ownership over the agricultural and forest lands in their area. Instead of governments developing industrial pine or eucalyptus plantations to meet wood needs, they should encourage communities to plant and manage multi-species forest plantations that mix native tree species with environmentally appropriate exotic timber species.
The analogue forest movement hopes to grow healthy, diverse ecosystems, which will then provide local economic opportunities and grow healthy, diverse communities.
That is the hope of community timber projects the world over. These forests of the future offer practical and inspirational examples of working with an ecosystem instead of merely exploiting it. And consumers can use their power to ensure sustainable forests remain a cut above.
Tuesday October 7, 2003
Wong Ee Lynn
The Star Online
A DRIVE along Karak Highway will bring to one’s attention a most depressing state of affairs concerning the plundering of our natural heritage and the ready market for the spoils of environmental pillage.
All along the highway, stalls offer for sale protected or endangered birds such as the Hill Mynah, as well as orchids, ferns and Baya Weaver nests. The popularity of Balinese-style gardens has led to a rise in the demand for such ferns and birds’ nests, but the environmental costs are high.
Also, the Baya Weaver is a bird under increasing threat since its nests are much sought after and it is always the newly-built nests and not the ragged, abandoned ones that are taken and put up for sale. Reports of nestlings and eggs being thrown out of the nests by nest harvesters are not uncommon. It is a terrible shame that human fads and trends would actually endorse such acts of mindless cruelty to animals.
Laws must be put in place immediately not only to restrict but to ban the sale of weaver nests unless we intend to systemically drive yet another species to extinction.
As for Hill Mynahs, there is no point in according these beautiful birds Protected or Endangered status if there is little or ineffective enforcement of laws against wildlife trade.
A trade ban can only be as effective as the national and state measures taken to curb the illegal hunting, plundering and trade of wild flora and fauna.
Consumers too must re-examine their need to purchase exotic flora and fauna.
Exotic plant specimens can be cultivated and propagated in a nursery environment in compliance with the regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Therefore, consumers need to know that they do have an alternative to purchasing plants robbed from old growth forests.
Judging by the number of wildlife species put up for sale at the stalls, one shudders to think of the countless numbers that are making their way to or have already ended up in shops and private homes. The impact on wild populations must be immense.
Every organism, from the Staghorn Fern to the Baya Weaver, has a role to play in our complex ecosystem. Habitat destruction is already big enough a threat to the planet. We really could do without the illegal trade of wild flora and fauna. The public must be informed and reminded that the purchase of wild fauna and weaver nests is an abusive practice, while buying plundered plants is simply ridiculous given that certified and parasite-free specimens can be purchased legally from conservatories and nurseries.
Those involved in the sale of rainforest spoils are not in it due to financial desperation. Many of these stalls also offer local delicacies and orchard fruits for sale and therefore these people do have a genuine choice as regards their source of income.
The Government should work together with conservation groups as well as the public to halt the desecration of our natural environment.
Wong Ee Lynn, Rawang, Selangor
A Realistic Way To Save Rainforests: Exploit Plant Defenses, Build Local Drug Discovery Industry
Misty-eyed idealism alone will not save Earth's dwindling tropical rainforests. But a five-year, $3 million study in Panama indicates rainforests can be protected if the pharmaceutical industry establishes Third World laboratories and hires local researchers to look for new medicines extracted from plants that evolved defenses against insects.
"Until now, efforts to find drugs in the rainforest haven't really led to rainforest conservation," says Tom Kursar, an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah, who led the study with his wife, biology Professor Phyllis Coley. "But we have developed a novel approach that provides a direct link between looking for drugs and promoting conservation and economic development in biodiversity-rich countries."
Coley adds: "Rainforests are disappearing at a terrifying rate. Searching for drugs in the rainforests of developing countries might be one solution. In our research, not only are we finding potential pharmaceuticals, but we are contributing to conservation of the forests."
The study was funded by $3 million in grants to Coley and colleagues through the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, where they also hold appointments and spend a few months each year. The money came from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The results were published in October's issue of the Ecological Society of America journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The report was written by Coley, Kursar and 13 other scientists, most from the University of Panama.
Trying to save rainforests via "bioprospecting" for potential new medicines is based on the idea that developing nations will work to conserve their rainforests if nondestructive industries such as bioprospecting, ecotourism and watershed protection provide greater economic benefits than logging and ranching.
But the concept has not been particularly effective because only a small fraction of plant extracts actually are developed into drugs, and when they are, it takes years for the nation with the rainforest to start earning royalties.
"The challenge, therefore, is to provide immediate and guaranteed benefits even if royalties are not forthcoming," the biologists wrote. "A solution becomes apparent upon recognizing that the research and development pyramid underlying the successful development of a drug is based on many basic but essential discoveries, a tiny fraction of which result in a product."
Worldwide drug company investment in research and development is estimated at $27 billion to $43 billion annually, and "about one-third of that is spent on research that could be carried out in developing countries," including extraction of chemicals from rainforest plants, synthetic production of those chemicals for use as medicines, lab testing of the chemicals' activity against disease, and testing in animals.
"If part of these huge investments by industry, governments of developed nations and nongovernmental organizations would be redirected toward bioprospecting research in the source country [the source of the plants], then biodiversity-rich countries would receive immediate and guaranteed benefits from the nondestructive use of their natural resources," Coley, Kursar and their Panamanian colleague said in the study.
The pilot project in Panama demonstrates how that could work. The project produced benefits for Panama by establishing bioprospecting, chemical extraction and laboratory operations in the nation using local students as well as scientists who taught at local universities but who previously lacked funding to conduct research.
"By conducting all of the research in Panama, we circumvent the issue of uncertain royalties and provide immediate and lasting benefits in the form of training, employment, technology transfer and infrastructure development," the biologists wrote.
During the past five years, the project established six laboratories in Panama and employed local citizens: 10 senior scientists, 57 paid research assistants and 12 student volunteers. Twenty Panamanian students earned bachelors degrees in the process, a dozen earned or worked on master's degrees, and one started work on a doctorate.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Panamanian scientists recently obtained a provisional patent for three alkaloid chemicals extracted from local plants. Tests by Panamanian scientists Luz Romero and Luis Cubilla-Rios showed the chemicals were active against the parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal disease caused by parasites transmitted by sand fly bites. The chemicals now are being tested in Panama on mice to determine if they are safe, and tests are just starting to determine if they are effective against leishmaniasis in animals.
Kursar says the number of plant extracts that become drugs is less important than having scientists from Panama find and develop potential drugs.
"You do the work in the host country and you are creating jobs," Coley says. "The next step is for the country to recognize those jobs depend on the intact rainforest."
Why should drug companies set up labs and hire staff in developing nations?
"They collaborate all the time with academic scientists and small biotech firms in the developed world," says Coley. "If the capability exists in developing nations, such research could be done there, perhaps at a lower cost."
In a commentary accompanying the study, Jeffrey McNeeley, chief scientist of the World Conservation Union, noted some bioprospecting efforts have been called "biopiracy," such as when a drug company made $200 million in profits selling cancer drugs developed from Madagascar's rosy periwinkle while that country "got nothing."
McNeeley praised the Panama project led by Coley and Kursar as "an excellent first step" that "shows how to conduct more of the value-added bioprospecting research in the source country, and build the technical capacity of local people while doing so."
The new study also showed how potential drugs can be found more effectively by focusing on how plants make chemicals to defend themselves against insects.
"Despite the many drugs obtained from plants in the past, success rates could be greatly improved by incorporating ecological knowledge," the researchers wrote.
The scientists collected leaves throughout Panama's protected wild lands, prepared extracts and tested the extracts on breast, lung and nervous system cancer cells; on the AIDS virus; and on organisms that cause three tropical diseases: malaria, leishmaniasis, and Chagas' disease, a parasitic infection that kills 50,000 people each year. Plant extracts were considered highly active if they killed or inhibited the growth of the cancerous or infected cells without killing other cells. The study found:
* Chemical activity was much greater in young leaves than in older leaves because young leaves lack the toughness that older leaves use as a defense against insects. So young leaves are more likely to contain potential medicines.
* Young leaves contain more active chemicals than older leaves, even from the same plant. The researchers tested 18 woody plant species, and found 10 of the species contained toxic chemicals called alkaloids that were present only in young leaves, not old leaves. Only three species had alkaloids in old leaves and not young leaves.
* Plants that live in the shade are more likely to contain active chemicals than sun-loving plants. It takes longer for a shade-tolerant plant to grow new leaves to replace those eaten by insects, so the shade-tolerant plants develop stronger chemical defenses than plants that live in sunlight and can replace leaves more quickly.
The drug-hunting principles tested by Coley and Kursar in Panama were developed during years of earlier work in Africa, Southeast Asia and Panama, "and therefore should be applicable to tropical forests worldwide," they wrote.
Editor's Note: The original news release can be found here.
This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University Of Utah.
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