Monday, September 27, 2021

Now for the Good News - 1 Conservation, Restoration and Rewilding

 


This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA


Spring’s here - the time of hope and renewal, so let’s ignore the news cycle for a moment and celebrate some of the good things which are happening. There’s a surprising number of them, though they often get lost amid stories of disaster and despair. I’m indebted to Angus Hervey and FutureCrunch.com for alerting me to many of these along with important advances in medicine, education, civil and human rights and poverty alleviation. Hervey’s excellent essay “Collapse, Renewal and the Rope of History” particularly explores these issues more deeply, but for now I shall simply mention some of the environmental gains which have been made in recent years.

Conservation initiatives around the world (not in any particular order)

While almost all environmental topics are connected, I'll start with conservation because we all know biodiversity and life itself depend on healthy ecosystems. They are so far also the only effective way we have to store and sequester CO2. According Future Crunch almost 21 million km2 -an area the size of Russia has been protected since 2010 resulting in 26% of the earth’s surface now being reserved for nature Protected Planet

 

In the USA, President Biden has begun to reverse the wilful destruction of environmental protections of the Trump era by restoring protections to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest area of intact temperate rainforest in the world. This region is a biodiversity hotspot for large mammals such as bears and moose, otters and salmon and also giant trees such as the Sitka spruce which stores 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon and sequesters and additional 10 million tons a year. The Biden administration has not only overturned plans for an enormous open cut copper and gold mine at its heart, but plans to end old growth logging. Local communities will benefit from a $25 million development fund. 

 


This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

 

When Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law in 2020 he may have had Doomsday Preppers in mind rather than conservationists, but it allocates $1.6 billion annually for National Parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and Tribal Schools and an additional $900 million a year for the protection of watersheds, wildlife and ecosystems on public lands. One year on projects worth $285 million are in progress in 40 states with another 1,000 in the pipeline.  

"The Department of the Interior reports that it in 2021 it generated more than 18,000 jobs and contributed $2 billion to GDP. "

Another Trump era ruling which allowed sand mining on beaches has also been reversed to protect undeveloped beaches so that they will continue to provide a home for coastal birds and a buffer against storm surges and rising seas. Audubon

Scientists and members of Green Forest Work, a small non -profit organisation, are rehabilitating 2000 acres (809 ha) of a former coalmine in the Appalachians, to make it part of the 40,0000 (16,000 ha) Monogahela National Forest purchased by the Forest Service in 1989. It is among several coalmines being reclaimed by Green Forest Work where mines have gone bust before doing the necessary restoration work. This one in particular is an important repository for the rare native red spruce.

 A philanthropist in South Carolina has given 7,500 acres to conservation groups in the largest private land donation in the state’s history. The area is home to numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species and includes America's largest chestnut restoration project. ABC13

After passing legislation to protect migration routes for species such as the endangered Florida panther, Florida's lawmakers have committed $100 million to preserve environmentally sensitive lands.  It is the state's most significant spending on land conservation since 2014. WUSF

 OTHER COUNTRIES

Not to be outdone, Canada, having literally been burned by climate change in recent months, and in keeping with its goal of protecting 25% of its land and 25% of its oceans by 2025, has committed $25 million for protection, restoration and enhancement of peatlands, wetlands and riparian zones.

 

--Wrin at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Norway is not only shutting down its  last coalmine in Svalbard but rehabilitating it so that can be added to existing national parks to make a 3 million square Km wilderness. The region is already home to countless polar bears, seals and other arctic species including some 20 million birds of 80 different species and Norway plans to make this the best managed wilderness area in the world. 

 

Polar bear (Ursus) maritimus female with its cub, Svalbard (2)
Female Polar Bear tries to persuade her cub to go into the water, Svarlbard, Norway

 -Image AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Meanwhile in Indonesia, the government has restored more than 2 million hectares of damaged, carbon-rich peatlands and has announced a plan to replant an additional 1.5 million acres by 2024. The policy reset has been driven by environmentalists who demanded action to curb fires, and an unsung army of ordinary Indonesians who have been toiling for decades to restore these habitats. Last year, the country achieved its fourth consecutive year of decline in deforestation. Reuters 

Also in Indonesia, under pressure from consumers, giant palm oil grower KPN has promised to rehabilitate 38,000 ha of land in both Borneo and New Guinea to make up for land, mostly rainforest and peatlands, it has cleared. New Guinea remains the largest tract of tropical rainforest in Indonesia.

Between 1987 and 2019 India has restored approximately 25% of its lost mangrove forests. The World Bank which has supported several restoration projects since 2010, regards it as one of the largest restoration efforts of all time. Apart from their general ecological benefits, mangroves stabilise coastlines and act as a buffer against cyclone damage. 

In Africa, Namibia has made protecting the environment part of its constitution and progress is finally being made on the Great Green Wall on the edge of the Sahara, despite meeting only 8% of its targets in earlier years.

 

 

In the Congo the largest tract of intact rainforest, the Salonga National Park and home to the world’s largest population of bonobos -our nearest living relatives, has just been removed from UNESCOs endangered list due to improved conservation efforts. Peviously granted mining concessions have been overturned. This reserve also protects a number of other species including endangered bush elephants. If don't know if this is due to the work of Vanessa Vash and her tireless efforts to bring the plight of the Congo's rainforest to international attention, but if so, congratulations to her and her fellow environmentalists.


I'm not sure if this is a bonobo or chimpanzee, but primates have had a win in the Congo

In Bolivia a partnership between indigenous communities and private donors has resulted in conservation of 2 million acres on its border with the Amazon, making 37 million acres around the globe for the Rainforest Trust.

In Belize,  conservationists have banded together to create the Maya Forest Corridor connecting  Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Forty per cent of Belize's land area is now protected and the additional 950 Km2 makes this the largest continuous block of rainforest in Central America. It also protects one of the world’s most pristine rainforests from deforestation. Already a biodiversity hotspot, and home to five species of wild cat including jaguars and pumas, two species of monkey and hundreds of bird species, the Maya Forest Corridor will enable them to migrate over a much larger range and thus give them better prospects for survival. 

After nearly 20 years of negotiations, the Peruvian government has established the 10,000 km² Yavarí Tapiche Reserve for uncontacted peoples deep in the Amazon rainforest. “This constitutes a historic milestone in the protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples in a situation of isolation and initial contact.” Mongabay

In the Galapagos,a coalition of more than 40 groups, ranging from local NGOs to governments and international organizations, has provided $43 million to restore degraded habitats in the Galápagos Islands. The initiative aims to reintroduce 13 extinct species, and help increase the population of 54 threatened species.

A revolutionary new conservation program in southern Ecuador, funded by a small fee on municipal water, has achieved spectacular success, re-wilding 1,500 ha and putting an additional 337,000 ha under conservation. It represents a simple, yet effective model that can be replicated across the world. 

Korea will plant three billion new trees over the next 30 years after joining the WEF's One Trillion Trees initiative  BBC

Greener Cities and Urban Forests

We have already talked about Greener Cities, so here's a little refresher. Many cities have already gone in that direction, particularly in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city has just created a large network of “green corridors” - bike lanes and shaded walkways, across the city to offset rising temperatures.  Japan Times


Rewilding

This really deserves a separate post as there is so much of it happening around the world. It's certainly is an idea whose time has come, whether it's about micro spaces or grand ones like the American Prairie Project which covers 3 million acres and is the largest in the United States.

What's Rewilding?

There are many definitions, but basically Rewilding is "about allowing nature and  natural processes to return to degraded or altered landscapes and  protecting those that remain wild and creating corridors for wildlife and micro wildernesses of any size. It’s about not cutting down trees and planting more, especially native vegetation. It’s also about free rivers and protecting watercourses." [Christine Rose writing in Local Matters, New Zealand"]. She cites the following examples.

 

"The Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) project unites two countries, five states, two provinces and territories, and the lands of over 30 native governments. In South Africa, massive ecosystem recovery is facilitated through the Peace Parks Foundation, and elsewhere schemes aim to restore Great Plains prairie and Siberian tundra grasslands, complete with bison (wisent), deer, elk, and wolves; predator and prey."


Or to quote Rowan Kilduff in Rewilding.org

“Rewilding is a way to put the balance back in favor of wild nature, which is also our life-support system. To rewild means to give space for native ecosystems, to bring back native biota and to leave it alone and let life do what it does best.”

 

Argentina is seeing good results in Patagonia, and the US based Tompkins Conservation which has been operating in Chile since the 1980's, has changed it's name to Rewilding Chile to reflect the concept of linked parks - the Route of Parks, right across Patagonia.  

 

 

Rose also mentions The ‘European Greenbelt’ which runs along the former Iron Curtain, a ‘transboundary’ project, which recognises that ecosystems transcend political boundaries.

Non - profit Rewilding Europe based in the Netherlands is celebrating its 10th birthday. It has at least ten rewilding projects underway in several European countries including Portugal, Italy, Romania, Croatia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Swedish Lapland and Scotland.

 

 
 
 
 Its UK counterpart, Trees for Life, which started in Scotland in 1989 with plans to rewild the Scottish Highlands and has already planted two million trees to that end has just purchased an additional 5,200 acres in the largest crowd- funded buyout of private land  to create the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. The organisers hope it will become a model for returning land to community ownership and nature restoration.

WildEast in the South East  of the UK is taking a different tack. It wants 250,000 acres returned to the wild by asking all farms, schools, private households and industrial estates and even churchyards and railways stations to pledge 20% of their land for nature and simply leaving it alone to go wild and provide habitat throughout the country.

Wildflower corridors are being planted throughout the UK to facilitate the passage and survival of beneficial insects, especially under conditions of climate change, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Called the B-Line initiative, it will create "insect superhighways" throughout the UK.

 



 In the UK too, seagrass beds are being planted to regenerate coastal ecosystems and provide habitat for  160,000 fish, seahorses and other marine species. They are also believed to capture even more Carbon than rainforests. Glasgow is embarking on an ambitious new Urban Forest Program which will yield ten trees per person. For a daily fix of good news about the environment, see click here.


New Zealand has been working on it's North -West Link Project since 2006. This is a series of connected reserves to create habitat and enable the migration of birds and other wildlife. It is also working hard to free its braided rivers from artificial barriers such as dams and stop banks because it has been found that confining them to narrow channels increases their velocity, resulting in increased erosion and higher risk of flooding than when they are allowed to meander and braid as they used to. Anticipating a warmer climate, flood plain harvesting is being banned also because it prevents water being absorbed by the soil. Australia please take note!

 
A major clean-up of New Zealand’s Kaipara Harbour has also begun with community groups, landowners and local government working together to restore the water health of the 602,000 hectare catchment. Twenty million native trees will be planted around the erosion-prone land to stop sediment running into the harbour. RNZ

Australia

Despite dragging its feet on Climate Change, the Australian government has committed $100 million to ocean conservation, in an effort to protect ‘blue carbon’ environments. The funding will go towards ocean management and methods to draw down carbon with seagrass and mangroves. An additional $11.6m will be spent to establish nine Indigenous protected marine areas. 

Some states are also taking independent action. Western Australia is protecting 9000 ha of high value Karri forest immediately and plans to phase out old growth logging by 2024. As may be expected, the powerful Forest Industry complains about lack of consultation, but Environment Minister Amber -Jade Sanderson points out that that these trees store 600 million tonnes of Carbon and that forestry workers will be assisted via a $50 million transition plan.

From the Arctic to the Tropics, from Patagonia to the Sahara and many places in between, governments, individuals and non - profit organisations are no longer talking about the need to do something about Climate Change and Biodiversity loss, they are taking action. These are but a few examples and there are no doubt many which I have missed. Things are also improving for many of the world's endangered species too, something we'll talk about in the next post. Over the next couple of weeks we'll look at advances in renewable energy and the movement away from fossil fuels. Lastly there'll be a bit of a ragbag of issues such as plastics, pollution and pesticides.    

Many thanks to the good people of Future Crunch and to the unknown authors of stories and images I have used.

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Progress Report: 

Trees Planted on my behalf since switching to Ecosia -321

Trees Planted by Ist. Energy since my solar panels went on line in March -57, CO2 reduction1.04 tons, Coal savings 0.42 tons, despite heating flat out for the last three months.

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