These scientists are setting a forest on fire — and studying it with drones

By: Alexandra Witze | 28 May 2019

 

Data from the blaze in Utah could improve models of how wildfire smoke spreads.

Sometime in late June, if all goes to plan, a helicopter will hover above a thickly forested slope in Utah and set it ablaze. The goal is to clear out dead conifer trees to allow quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) to regain a foothold in this high-altitude national forest. But the blaze could also help scientists better understand wildfires.

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Clearing dead timber could prevent forest fires, experts say

by | 28 May 2019

 

A new restoration project proposed by Manti-La Sal National Forest will strip dead and diseased trees from a swath of Utah about the size of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The idea is to take out the most volatile fuel for potential wildfires which have grown in size, frequency and cost to fight.

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Warmer summer expected in the West spells bad news for forest fires

 

With the wildfire season already under way in British Columbia and Alberta, Environment Canada is predicting a long, hot summer to come.

The wildfire threat has already forced evacuations in northwestern Alberta and central British Columbia, and the preliminary outlook for this summer points to worsening conditions, said David Phillips, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist.

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Weather conditions remain a concern for northern Alberta firefighters but crews keeping flames at bay

By: The Canadian Press |
Chris Schwarz/The Canadian Press

 

Warmer temperatures, gusty winds and no rain continued to cause unpredictable conditions for firefighters in northern Alberta on Monday, but officials said measures to keep flames away from threatened communities were working.

The largest blaze in northern Alberta remained about three kilometres southwest of High Level, where crews have been bulldozing, back-burning and water bombing to ensure flames don’t creep closer to the town.

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EU establishes initial firefighting fleet for next forest fire season

 

To prepare for the risk of forest fires during the upcoming summer, the Commission is launching today the first fleet of firefighting aircraft under the new rescEU system to tackle natural disasters. So far seven firefighting airplanes and six helicopters will be part of the rescEU fleet during an initial transition period, and the Commission is (more…)

Another forest fire in Vattavada region

15 Apr 2019

 

Officials calculate that the fire was intentionally created to delay or prevent departmental action in connection with the Neelakurinji garden. Further investigations are on.

Vattavada: Another forest fire has broken out in the Kambakkallu-Kadavari region near here in Idukki district on Monday.

The fire has destroyed several acres of land. The fire is spreading in block 58 of the stipulated Neelakurinji garden.

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NASA Comes to India’s Aid in Detecting Forest Fires

By TWC India Edit Team | 10 April 2019

 

India’s battle against forest fires is likely to get a shot in the arm, thanks to two new NASA-monitored satellites deployed over the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Uttar Pradesh. The satellites will keep an eye on any untoward forest fire incidents and will immediately notify PTR forest officials so that they can respond promptly to such incidents.

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Sparking debate over fire use on agricultural land in Indonesia

Sparking debate over fire use on agricultural land in Indonesia

ANGGRITA CAHYANINGTYAS | Monday, 26 Nov 2018

New peatlands research center aims to reshape conservation efforts

Indonesia “I can keep my land fertile and I’m able to work regardless of the season, but my neighbor who uses the burning method has difficulties during the rains because their land becomes a swamp,” said Akhmad (Taman) Tamanuruddin, addressing delegates at the launch of a new peatland research center in Indonesia.

Taman is a farmer in Palangka Raya, the capital of Indonesia’s province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. He rejects the traditional local practice of using fire to clear residue from the fertile peatlands before planting his crops.

Instead, he applies herbicides and lets the old vegetation die off and decompose, allowing it to become a natural fertilizer.

Traditional burning practices are under scrutiny by scientists and policymakers because peatlands are effective carbon sinks. They are made up of layers of decomposed organic material built up over thousands of years. When they burn, warming gases are released into the atmosphere exacerbating climate change. Fires often burn out of control, damaging vast areas and drying out the land, rendering it useless for farming.

In 2015, the impact of wildfires was far-reaching. Fire destroyed more than 2.6 million hectares of land — an area 4.5 times the size of the Indonesian island of Bali, according to the World Bank. The price tag for the damage was more than $16 billion, the bank said.

Indonesia has since boosted efforts to ban the use of fire to clear forested peatlands to plant oil palms, maize or rice by establishing the Peatland Restoration Agency in 2016.

Legislation banning fire use to clear land was introduced in 2009 and 2014.

Research compiled in Riau province by Indonesia’s Forestry and Environment Research, Development and Innovation Agency (FOERDIA) of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) shows that land prepared by burning vegetation before planting is more productive. They examined peatlands cultivated for oil palm, rubber, corn, rice, and other food crops.

Oil palm yield in burned peatlands was found to be almost 30 percent greater than in those that were not, producing yields of about 13.3 tons per hectare a year. In peatlands that were not burned, yield was only 9.4 tons per hectare a year. Rubber tree yields were found to decrease on average by 46 percent if the land was not burned. Corn yield disparities were even more extreme.

Burning resulted in higher soil fertility in the peatlands. It also reduced acidity, contributing to the higher yields.

Aware of the yield benefits, many farmers involved in the study disregarded prohibitive legislation and burned off their fields. Of the study participants, only 49.3 percent stopped the practice, while 45.2 percent of respondents continued and 5.5 percent said they would give up on farming as they did not see any alternative to burning.

“Some farmers are unwilling to cultivate corn without burning since the yield will drop sharply and produce only a third or a quarter,” said Murniati, a scientist with FOERDIA.

“They were afraid to use the burning techniques but they don’t have enough money to finance the no-burning techniques,” Murniati added, explaining that farmers are scared of incurring penalties for violating anti-burning laws but feel they have no choice but to face the risk.

SEEKING ALTERNATIVES

Since he got involved in sustainable agriculture, Taman has trained hundreds of farmers.  He adds fertile soil, dolomite, and manure to his land and plants a variety of crops, including corn, chili, and vegetables.

Initially, the cost of farming in this manner may seem more expensive, but over the long term it saves him money, Taman said, explaining the environmental benefits.

Although burning more resistant vegetation is a less expensive and easier solution, it can strip nutrient levels in the soil and spoil the peatlands in the long run.

As farmers, we need more support for infrastructure to lower costs, Taman said.

“We at least need proper roads and bridges in our village to cut distribution expenses,” he added. “It can help us big time.”

Currently, poor infrastructure causes high costs for herbicides and harvested crops. Farmers are forced to rent cars to cover a short 250-meter distance because trucks cannot fit into narrow roadways.

Finding other livelihood options might be key for helping local communities thrive while conserving peatlands, according to Dede Rohadi and Herry Purnomo, scientists with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) currently working with MOEF and several partners.

The Haze Free Sustainable Livelihoods project led by CIFOR, MOEF and the University of Lancang in Riau aims to find alternatives for farmers who cultivate crops in the province.

“We try to empower communities so they can maximize the existing livelihood potentials in their village,” said Rohadi, who leads the project.

Some villages already cultivate honey, develop fisheries and grow food crops such as chili peppers and pineapples.

In addition to the Haze-free Sustainable Livelihood project, CIFOR is currently coordinating the Community-based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration project with Riau University, local government, communities, and the private sector.

The latest commitment from the governments of Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo, to establish the International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC) promise for peatland preservation efforts. ITPC is currently based at CIFOR in Bogor, near Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.

It provides valuable opportunities for cooperation in the global south to ensure policymakers, practitioners, and communities have access to trustworthy information, analyses, and the tools needed to conserve and sustainably manage tropical peatlands.

Although peatlands extend over only 3 percent of the world’s land mass, they contain as much carbon as all terrestrial biomass and twice as much as all forest biomass.

About 15 percent of known peatlands have already been destroyed or degraded.

Is there a market-based solution to Southeast Asia’s haze problem?

Is there a market-based solution to Southeast Asia’s haze problem?

A cap-and-trade system helped to eradicate acid rain in the 1990s. Could Southeast Asia’s haze problem be beaten in the same way? American Financial Exchange chief Richard Sandor thinks so.

Trees made bare by acid rain in Smokey Mountain National Park, USA
Trees made bare by acid rain in Smokey Mountain National Park, which straddles the states of North Carolina and Tennessee in the United States. Acid rain was successfully dealt with and is no longer part of political memory, said Sandor. Image: The Shared Experience, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Acid rain was a major environmental problem in the 1970s and 1980s. The phenomenon was caused by the reaction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from power factories with moisture in the atmosphere to generate acid, which fell onto earth as rain, poisoning lakes and destroying forests.

The situation began to improve in 1990 when the United States government and economists introduced a cap-and-trade system for power producers, which put in place a cap on permitted emissions and enabled companies to trade leftover allowances, said Richard Sandor, chairman and chief executive officer of the American Financial Exchange, an electronic exchange for financial institutions.

Sandor, who played a key role in orchestrating the cap-and-trade scheme to tackle acid rain, was speaking at a lecture organized by the National University of Singapore in the Southeast Asian city-state.

“The idea was to put a cap on the number of emissions nationally, and then lower the cap over a period of time,” he said. There was the outcry that electricity prices would skyrocket, America’s competitiveness would be hurt, and power-producing states such as Ohio or Illinois would go bankrupt.

Instead, a decade after the first cap-and-trade programme was implemented, emissions were down to around 4 million tonnes from a high of 18 million in the 1980s.

“Electricity prices went down. The cost to the US economy was $1.2 billion, but there was an annual reduction of $123 billion in medical expenses associated with lung diseases,” said Sandor, who is also known as the “father of carbon trading” for his work on carbon markets around the world. “That does not include 37,000 lives a year saved nor the restoration of rivers.”

But could market-based solutions solve the persistent problem of transboundary air pollution in Southeast Asia, asked moderator Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large for Singapore’s foreign ministry.

Also known as the haze, it is caused by forests fires in Indonesia as land is cleared for palm oil plantations, said Koh.

Sandor offered two pieces of advice: to create a regional solution and to put a price on pollution.

Drawing from the example of acid rain, he said that the creation of local laws to regulate emissions from coal-fired plants resulted in utility companies building taller smokestacks so that emissions would blow into another state where the regulations didn’t apply.

“We thought of sulfur dioxide as a local problem, but it was as regional as [the haze] in Southeast Asia. It requires a regional agreement because local command and control, where there are externalities involved, just doesn’t work,” Sandor said.

When told that Asean—a political bloc of 10 Southeast Asian countries—already has an agreement to combat the haze, Sandor said pricing could be another solution.

Cap-and-trade markets work because companies find that it pays to pollute. “The question is, how do people get paid not to pollute?” he said. If polluters realize they could make money from cutting emissions—by selling leftover emission quotas, in the example of acid rain—they would do it.

Blockchain for the masses

Sandor was optimistic about the future of blockchain-based market trading, which could also empower small producers to access bigger markets. There has been a lot of hype and speculation around cryptocurrencies, which are digital tokens whose transactions are recorded on the digital open ledger that is blockchain technology, he said.

But the underlying blockchain technology is much more impactful as it can be used to facilitate trade in clean energy, as seen in South Africa’s Sun Exchange platform WePower from Lithuania, Sandor explained.

Recalling his work in Kerala state in Southern India in 2007, Sandor said he and the Chicago Climate Exchange partnered a non-governmental organization to encourage farmers to collect manure and process it using biodigesters. The methane produced was used for household cooking, and the carbon credits produced sold on the Exchange to provide additional income.

But a key obstacle was the need to travel to these remote villages to verify the carbon offsets were indeed being made, noted Sandor.

“If we had the blockchain and remote sensing … we could’ve reached 20 million rural poor [versus 150,000] because all they would’ve needed were cell phones and remote sensors and I could’ve built a blockchain registry,” he said.

Farmers who have mobile phones can record information about their crops and sustainability certification credentials on the blockchain, and take advantage of that transparency to connect with larger, international markets, said Sandor. “This is a way for an Indian farmer with a small plot of land to—because the information is recorded—be a supplier to Walmart that could never be without this technology.”

He added: “The message is: embrace change, don’t be bothered by blockchain, it’s no different to the cellphone or CNN. It’s information.”

Source Link: https://www.eco-business.com/news/is-there-a-market-based-solution-to-southeast-asias-haze-problem/

2018 in Environmental Review for Southeast Asia

As 2018 comes to a close it is worth taking a look at the environmental trends throughout the year, with a special emphasis on those within the last six months or so, in order to gain an understanding of what has been happening to this region’s natural heritage and so that we might know what to look for in 2019—and how to address the upcoming challenges.

While we can say that a lot has been happening everywhere, and this is especially true for Malaysia. The country produces durian that Chinese consumers covet. This means rainforests that are currently home to tigers are being converted into plantations so that more and more of the spiky, pungent fruit can be sold to China. That means bad environmental news, with China the driver. Furthermore, clearing forests will drastically reduce the number of pollinators such as bats and other wild animals, which will, in turn, lower the durian’s quality.

Another fruit—palm oil—is almost always the whipping boy for conservation problems in Malaysia (and beyond), however, the country is making headway in its own sustainable certification program, which attempts to incorporate Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) into development blueprints across Malaysian Borneo. Nonetheless, huge development projects in Peninsular Malaysia are pushing the environment to the breaking point, with gargantuan Chinese-funded residential projects such as Forest City across the strait from Singapore serving as a striking case in point.

However, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently shut down several Chinese Belt and Road projects.  Malaysia also wants to ban importing plastic waste, as well as single-use plastic straws. Nonetheless, serious problems remain. Even without the durians-to-China issue, tiger numbers are tumbling fast, scenic Langkawi island is coming under so much stress that it may lose its Unesco status, while in Sarawak the forest-dwelling Penan indigenous group continue to block bulldozers and fight for their traditional lands. However, a rehabilitated Bornean orangutan was successfully rewilded in Sabah’s Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, the first orangutan to fully return to the forest after such a long spell in captivity and rehabilitation, and a clouded leopard was sighted within the vicinity of a local hospital.

Across the Strait, in Indonesia, ecological issues are festering as well. While a new species of songbird has been identified on Rote Island, five other bird species have lost their protected status. The endemic Sumatran laughing thrush is fast disappearing, while the Helmeted Hornbill is relentlessly persecuted in Indonesia. The caged bird trade is bringing many species to the brink of extinction in the archipelago, and biologists say many forests where they work are becoming increasingly “quiet.”

Forest fires raged in South Sumatra and Riau provinces in 2018, and Chinese developers are stubbornly pushing ahead with a hydroelectric dam in the Batang Toru forest, home to the rarest species of the orangutan in the world. The Critically Endangered Sumatra rhinoceros is still in big trouble but there is a movement on to save it, while a pregnant Sumatran tigress was caught and died in a pig trap in Riau.

Like Malaysia, Indonesia has a major palm oil problem, but the country’s anti-graft department says it’s ready to take action against transgressors who are felling natural forest and breaking other laws. Sadly, the Bali government wants to build an elevated highway right on top of some of its last undeveloped sandy beaches. The small volcanic island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra has spewed lava and ash this year.   Widespread deforestation, poaching, overfishing, and plastic pollution has been taking over this island nation. Indonesian Presidential contender Prabowo has said that if he is elected to office he will review China’s Belt and Road plans, which could include a cancellation of the Batang Toru dam, and a court in Aceh recently threw down its stiffest penalty to date for two men caught trying to sell a tiger pelt.

Asia Sentinel recently reported on the surprising amount of wildlife to be found in Singapore today. Thailand also received high environmental marks in a recent Asia Sentinel critique, however, Thai-language media recently uncovered a story about a Vietnamese national caught with tiger bones in the kingdom— particularly worrying report as Vietnamese poachers are among the most tenacious in Asia.

Making matters worse, a new and improved road through Kaeng Krachan National Park will likely lead to greater disturbance to the forest’s wildlife, while a few provinces to the north a Burmese national gunned down a binturong. There is rising sentiment to build a Kra Isthmus Canal in Thailand. A large crocodile was caught off the Krabi coast, a whale shark was recently spotted of Koh Racha, and local conservationists have thus far succeeded in fending off a new marina development project in Phuket. However, the deluge of Chinese tourists into the kingdom is pushing Thailand to its breaking point, and it was largely Chinese tourists who are responsible for the closing of Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, which remains closed indefinitely so that it can recover.

In Laos, the Nam Theun 2 Dam has been such a disaster that its main financier, the World Bank, has thrown in the towel and walked away.  In Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Hydropower Project in Laos contributing author Glenn Hunt remarks: “For one of the pillars that were supposed to be the primary source of income, it’s been an unmitigated disaster.” With about 140 dams either under construction or on the drawing board in its quest to be the “battery of Asia,” Laos faces the potential for most disasters and large-scale environmental and social degradation in a country that has already lost its wild tigers, leopards, and many other species.

Despite the tragedy that unfolded in Attapeu province when a large dam collapsed, Laos remains bullish about constructing more dams. And the dam-building frenzy is harming the environment and wildlife all around the country. And while a recent Guardian write-up describing the fantastic-look am Et-Phou Luey ecotourism program up in the north of the country describes a healthy tiger population in this region, perhaps the author was given old data.

Wild elephants are reportedly being skinned alive in Myanmar to satisfy a new Chinese demand—for “blood beads,” which are blood-filled chunks of elephant fat. The previous link provides a window into some twisted tastes: “The online trader wants his customers to know the elephant was skinned quickly, with blood still fresh in its veins.” Chinese demand for elephant skin used in bags in jewelry was already shocking, but things can always get worse when it comes to wildlife.

But in more uplifting news from the country, Irrawaddy dolphins are being given greater protections, and the government is also cracking down on illegal wildlife trade in the city of Yangon.

Taking note of how poorly elephants working in tourism are treated across Asia, Vietnam has launched the region’s first “ethical elephant experience.” The country has also taken an interest in seeing that its shrimp farming industry become more sustainable, while the government also recently signed a deal with the EU that promises a reduction in illegal logging (though some in neighboring Cambodia have serious doubts about this). We reported earlier this year that Vietnam’s wildlife is in rough shape, and things haven’t taken much of a turn for the better since.

And finally, Cambodia.  A recent camera-trap check-in Virachey National Park so delighted the Ministry of Environment that he shared some of the photos on their Facebook page; even the Thai media took notice of the results. Asia Sentinel reported earlier this year that Cambodia is probably the last hope for Indochina’s wildlife, and this still holds true, despite the fact that nearly 110,000 snares were found in a single national park. A man was recently killed by a wild boar near the Cardamom Mountains, while Kratie province is cracking down on illegal mining, and at the same time, the central government is demanding that villagers who grabbed national park land return it.

In other news from the region, the Maubere tribe of Timor-Leste is bringing back ancient customary laws to help protect its forests, seas, and coastline. Chinese demand for logs is wiping out the forests of the Solomon Islands. India is losing tigers and elephants, while two elephants were struck by a train and killed in Sri Lanka.

As always, China casts a menacing shadow over Southeast Asia and nowhere is this more clear than on the Mekong River and in the South China Sea. The region, with the help of the US and Japan, must find a way to manage Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond, and then some of the numerous dams that it has planned for the region have to be canceled or scaled down.

Beyond that, Chinese citizens have to be educated about wildlife product consumption, including shark fins, tiger parts, bear gallbladder, elephant skin and blood, and much more, which have no known scientific value. And in a shocking and disturbing announcement,  China has said that it will lift its decades-old ban on the trading of tiger parts and rhino horn, a move that will almost certainly put these species in greater danger.  Or else one of the most biologically rich regions of the world loses everything that made it so special.

Gregory McCann is the Project Coordinator of Habitat ID, and the author of Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journeys to the Green Corridor. You can support his conservation projects in Cambodia and Sumatra here.

Source Link: https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/2018-environmental-review-southeast-asia/