Tag Archives: Conservation

Fight Rages On to Save Centuries-Old Giant Philippine Rosewood Tree

Bong S. Sarmiento, Mongabay
August 28, 2020

MINDANAO, Philippines — For centuries, a giant Philippine rosewood tree has stood as an iconic landmark along a stretch of the Pan-Philippine Highway that runs outside the rustic southern town of San Francisco.

Known locally as toog, and formally as Petersianthus quadrialatus, this particular specimen is believed to be 300 years old, dating back to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. It survived a strong typhoon in 1942 here in the village of Alegria in what is today the province of Agusan del Sur, on the southern island of Mindanao, and is considered the oldest and tallest tree of its species: it stands at 56 meters (184 feet), the height of a 13-story building, and its diameter close to the base is nearly 4 meters, or 12 feet, or about the length of the average car.

It holds significant cultural value and has become an iconic representative of a species that is losing ground in the Philippines. Threatened by illegal logging and kaingin, the traditional practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, the toog is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to habitat loss and unsustainable harvest. Its sturdy ruby-tinged wood is prized for making furniture and musical instruments, among others.

While it has survived the test of time and the fury of nature — from floods to typhoons to earthquakes — the Alegria toog tree could soon become a thing of the past: it’s threatened with a slow death after officials decided to cut its upper half. Without its crown, where the leaves thrive, the tree would be deprived of food, which would eventually kill it.

The decision to slash the height of the Alegria toog came after experts confirmed that it’s infested with fungi and termites. Having been left unchecked and untreated over time, the problem has led from a small cavity in the trunk to a hole large enough for a person to enter.

In April 2019, Marcelina Pacho, a pathologist and tree surgeon who assessed the health of the Alegria toog, noted that a basal cavity measuring 1.5 meters (5 feet) wide and 3 meters (10 feet) high had formed at its base.

“The presence of few mycelia, the vegetative part of fungus, and the fungal odor are indicators or signs of wood decay,” said Pacho, who was formerly associated with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB). “Rotting wood can be crumbled as well as the presence of moisture further indicated that the decay is in the advance and active phase.”

Pacho didn’t recommend that the tree be cut down; instead, she suggested a course of fungicide treatment and the extraction of the decaying wood, which could then be filled in with concrete mix reinforced with gravel, cinder block and rebar.

Following Pacho’s assessment, the ERDB’s Forest and Wetland Research, Development and Extension Center (FWRDEC) conducted a biomechanics and structural analysis of the Alegria toog.

The agency reached a different conclusion, recommending the cutting down of the tree due to the high risk it posed to residents, commuters and surrounding properties. (It stands 9 meters, or about 30 feet, from the highway.) In its findings released in July last year, the FWRDEC said the trunk structure was continuously deteriorating due to mycelial infection and only two of its eight major buttresses were holding it steady.

“The mechanical and structural strength and stability of the toog tree has already been compromised,” said Conrado Marquez, the FWRDEC head.

The decision to cut down the Alegria toog triggered an outcry from local residents, conservationists and tree lovers across the country. It’s considered sacred by the Indigenous Manobo tribe, who believe it houses the spirits of their ancestors. Over time, it has also become a major tourism draw for the town of San Francisco.

In September 2019, the iconic tree was saved from being cut down after officials yielded to public appeals to allow treatment for the decaying tree.

But almost a year later, the local government said it hadn’t seen any improvement in the toog’s health and scheduled it to be cut down, for a second time, on Aug. 7. Again, the decision sparked protests that forced officials to suspend the activity and call for a stakeholders’ dialogue.

By Aug. 10, officials headed by Solomon Rufila, the mayor of San Francisco, and members of the municipal council, following the stakeholders’ consultative meeting, changed tack. Instead of cutting down the tree entirely, they decided to reduce its height by cutting off the top half, including its leaf canopy.

Leaves produce food for their host plant through photosynthesis, so scalping the crown of the Alegria toog is a sure death sentence, albeit a slow and painful one, according to scientists and officials. Amando Palijon, a renowned tree surgeon and former forestry professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), said the tree would gradually die if the upper portion is cut, according to a report by news portal MindaNews.

“If you notice the tree is devoid of lateral branches from the base to the general crown level which is normal architecture of the tree,” Palijon said. “This means that this will not assure the tree will produce sprouts that will develop into branches that will subsequently form the crown that is needed to make it function physiologically.”

Lawrence Tinampay, a spokesman for the San Francisco municipal government, told Mongabay that officials had decided to trim the tree — the actual amount to be cut is still unknown — so the public can still see the legacy tree (or at least its trunk) at its exact location as part of a municipal landmark.

He agreed with the assessment that because the leaves of the tree, all on the topmost portion, would be cut off, the tree would eventually die.

“The toog tree will be cut off to a considerable height that it will no longer pose a danger to the lives of residents and commuters, and their properties,” Tinampay said. He denied allegations the government had been negligent about conserving the tree. The “time has come to choose between safety and heritage, and with the decision to cut it to a considerable height, local officials have achieved both ends,” he said.

Jurgenne Primavera, a renowned marine scientist and native of Agusan, blamed officials for their failure to curb the deterioration of the tree, which the municipal council recognized as a “protected tree” through a 2012 ordinance. “It’s a result of poor governance,” she told Mongabay.

Primavera, a pioneering member of Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts, a social media group with some 14,000 members, said that up until the 1990s, there was still a wide swath of vegetation surrounding the tree. In 2005, the community had begun to encroach on the area as people cleared away the vegetation to build their houses, she added.

Leonilo Tandog Jr., the San Francisco disaster risk reduction officer, said there are proposals to retrofit the tree with a support structure that will not only prevent it from falling over but will also double as viewing decks to keep the tourists coming to San Francisco. The town offers views of Mount Magdiwata and Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area spanning 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of complex freshwater marshes and watercourses with numerous shallow lakes and ponds.

But “we cannot compromise public safety,” Tandog told Mongabay.

The local consortium Save the TOog tree Please (STOP), headed by  Mauro Bravo Jr., urged the government not to cut the Alegria toog and instead allow the recommended scientific treatment to save it. The group called for a third-party scientific reassessment of the state of the health of the Alegria toog.

Primavera said she believes the tree can still be rehabilitated, citing the case of a bitaog tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) in the town of Magallanes, in neighboring Agusan del Norte province. Declared a Philippine centennial tree in 1998, the bitaog’s two big branches broke down due to fungal rot in June 2017.

Through a regimen of tree surgery, fungicide treatment and regular checkups, the bitaog tree is still alive today. Primavera said officials in San Francisco should do the same for the Alegria toog. “The toog tree can be saved, no need to cut it,” she said, adding it’s also important to conduct further studies to improve its physical and structural stability.

Officials have not yet set a date for cutting the tree “to a safe height,” pending further instruction from the DENR. For now, the STOP local consortium and Filipino tree conservationists say they’re committed to keeping the flame of protest glowing to save the centuries-old Alegria toog from being destroyed.

Eco-Friendly Behavior In This Finnish Town Gets You Free Cake

Ailsa Ross 
Aug 31, 2020

One Finnish town is literally helping green-minded citizens eat cake as they reward eco-friendly behavior with various rewards: including free public transport tickets, swims, and yes, cake.

A little north of Helsinki, the city of Lahti has developed an app tracking the carbon emissions of local residents based on whether they get around by car, public transport, bicycle, or on foot.

Residents who volunteer their information in the CitiCAP app get a carbon quota for the week.

If they have some of their allowance leftover, they get ‘virtual euros’ to spend on things like bus tickets, bike lights, access to public pools, or coffee and cake at a local cafe.

In a city of 120,000, so far 2,000 residents have downloaded the app.

The project’s research manager, Ville Uusitalo, told Euronews, “You can earn up to two euros (per week) if your travel emissions are really low, but this autumn, we intend to increase the price tenfold.”

MORE: 2 Million People in India Gather to Plant 20 Million Trees Along the River Ganges—All While Social Distancing

Currently, about 44% of trips in Lahti are considered sustainable. The city, which is the EU’s 2021 Green Capital, plans to lessen its environmental impact even more over the next decade, so that by 2025 the city is carbon neutral. By 2030, the aim is that at least half of the journeys taken are done so by sustainable means rather than by car.

Changing Perspectives

City council worker Mirkka Ruohonen, told AFP that the app has helped changed her perspective in the seven months she’s been using it.

“I went for a hiking weekend and we did 15km of hiking, but I had to travel 100km by car,” she said. “After that I checked the app and I was like, ‘Was that a good thing?’ Maybe for me but not for the environment!”

RELATED: Downtown Sydney is Now Powered By 100% Renewable Energy Thanks to Historic Deal

CitiCAP’s developers are planning to create similar tools in the future that will help people with their consumption-related carbon emissions.

After all, as Uusitalo explained to Euronews, “Mobility is only part of our carbon footprint.”

Once Left For Dead, The Aral Sea Is Now Brimming With Life Thanks to Global Collaboration

Andy Corbley 
Aug 17, 2020

Kissing the borders of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the North Aral Sea is experiencing an ecological resurgence following a long period of decline.

In 2005, a $86 million project from the World Bank made repairs to dykes and paid for the construction of an eight-mile dam.

This project raised water levels of the sea by 11-feet in just seven months—going far beyond scientists’ hopes of a rise over three years.

The Kokaral Dam’s erection south of the Syr Darya River has proven to be the catalyst in an incredible resurgence of local fish stocks. Beyond this great news for local fishing communities, the sea’s recovery has also led to a reduction in local disease rates from formerly-contaminated drinking water.

Once the fourth-largest freshwater lake on Earth, starting in the 1960s the Aral Sea shrank dramatically after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects—so much that it split into the North and South Aral Seas.

When this happened, increased salinity in the water led to the die-off of several fish species like bream and perch, leaving the resilient flounder as the only animal capable of dealing with the high salt content.

Fishing for hope

Between 1957 and 1987, fish harvests fell from 48,000 per year to zero. Now, since the Kokaral dam was built, levels of salt have returned to normal. As a result, fish stocks have exploded back to life.

National Geographic reports that in 2018, catch limits were set at a generous 8,200 tons: a 600% increase from 2006.

Many of the surrounding communities depend on fishing for their livelihoods, and for Askar Zhumashev, 42, a supervisor at Kambala Balyk Processing Plant, he has seen the recovery firsthand in the inland town of Aralsk, where he and his team process roughly 500 tons of fish a year.

“When I was born, the sea was already gone,” Zhumashev told National Geographic. “I went to the Aral Sea for the first time only two years ago. My parents used to tell me that the boats would come in and out every day from the old port.”

The World Bank followed up with an effort to restore delta and wetland habitats on the Uzbekistan part of the Aral Sea through the Drainage, Irrigation and Wetlands Project.

The project is based on a successful pilot program that saw the restoration of the 100,000 acre (40,000 hectare) Lake Sudochi elsewhere in the region.

Not only do fisheries benefit from improved wetland and delta habitat. Ranching and farming improves as well. Since the project began, river and delta salinity has returned to normal, allowing local farmers to irrigate their crops.

That’s good news for local communities. And the world. As Kristopher White, a professor at KIMEP University, put it, the success of the Aral Sea project just goes to show, “Anthropogenic ecological damage can be reversed by human intervention.”

How Costa Rica Slowed, Stopped, Then Reversed Deforestation in Their Rainforests

Andy Corbley 
Jul 30, 2020

In the 1970s and 80s, Costa Rica had the highest deforestation rates in Latin America—but the next few decades saw the country halt her forest loss, initiate replanting and conservation efforts, and regrow almost all of her lost tree cover.

Their methods have set up the most successful forest management model on earth.

Leading the way in the fight against human-accelerated climate change, Costa Rica’s success story of sustainable forestry was strengthened by a simple strategy of valuing forests by paying for their restoration, through their Payment for Environmental Service (PES).

In the 1940s, 75% of the country was shrouded in rainforest, cloud forest, and mangrove. But over the next 40 years, it is estimated that as much as half of all the trees were cut down. Intense logging bans were instituted in 1996, with PES programs arriving the year after.

Harnessing the indefatigable forces of economics, PES conservation strategies mean the forest is essentially treated like a utilities company, with companies or beneficiaries of the resources and processes provided by the forest, ‘paying’ the forest for the service or resource.

For example, a stand of old trees sit on a farmer’s acre who knows he could chop them down and plant cacao, coffee, bananas, or other tropical agriculture products. Instead he receives money from a fund which businesses and citizens pay into so that he can afford to keep the forest intact.

Now 60% of the country is forested once again, and every year, the Costa Rican Forest Fund collects $33 million which it uses to make sure the forests of Costa Rica which sit on privately-owned land are taken care of. $500 million has been paid out to landowners and farmers over the last 20 years, stewarding 2.4 million acres (1 million hectares) of rainforest, and incentivizing the planting of 7 million new trees.

A society in balance with the Earth

“People in Costa Rica receive a lot of money because of tourism and that changes the incentives of land use,” Juan Robalino, an expert in environmental economics from the University of Costa Rica, told CNN.

That’s because almost three million tourists come to see the country’s national parks and other protected areas, which cover a quarter of the nation and are home to half a million documented plant and insect species, including iconic animals like the sloth and great green macaws.

Employing 200,000 people, the tourism sector generated $4 billion in revenue last year, encompassing luxury beach-side resorts, and little agro-tourism spots like Pedro Garcia’s farm, who took advantage of the PES opportunity to transform a 7-hectare cattle ranch into a pristine slice of Costa Rican rainforest with native trees and wild agricultural products that provide homes for macaws, poison-dart frogs, and more.

RELATEDCosta Rica Announces Ambitious Plan to Ban Fossil Fuels and Become World’s First Decarbonized Society

Environmental ministers of Costa Rica and Rwanda: Carlos Manuel Rodriguez and Vincent Biruta

Costa Rica’s PES system has been adopted by other nations across the world in recognition of its success—notably Rwanda, whose commitment to restoring its natural forest ecosystems saw them sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Costa Rica in 2019.

“We’ve been working together for the last 3 years. We look forward to implementing it [MoU] and possibly expanding the scope in the future,” said Rwandan Environmental Minister Biruta at the time.

RELATEDMan Succeeds Where Government Fails: He Planted a Forest in the Middle of a Cold Desert

“We have learned that the pocket is the quickest way to get to the heart,” Carlos Manuel Rodríguez told CNN. As Costa Rica’s Minister for Environment and Energy, Rodríguez understands that while placing a dollar value on the natural world may seem dirty and unethical, it’s the best incentive for people to work to conserve the environment.

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The Search Engine That Plants Trees With Every Search Has Just Planted its 100-Millionth Tree

Staff Writer,
July 11th, 2020

For eleven years, the search engine Ecosia has used most of the revenue from advertising on its website and app towards planting trees—and this month they planted their 100-millionth tree.

The German nonprofit, which became the first ‘B Corporation’ in that country because it was established for social good, has earned its founder Christian Kroll widespread praise—and one reason is that they claim to plant more native species than any other mass tree planting effort.

The phenomenon of mass tree planting began in the early 2000s when scientists began hypothesizing that the increase in CO2 emissions could be countered by replenishing the world’s forests.

Since then, projects like Africa’s Great Green Wall (and China’s Green Great Wall) or dozens of others in Asia, like this man who planted an entire mangrove ecosystem, have seen billions of trees planted over the last two decades—although many died due to improper planting or post-planting management efforts.

Ecosia often targets countries that are the most biodiverse, where tree loss directly corresponds with species loss. This has caused them to launch projects in Nicaragua and Peru, Burkina Faso and Malawi, and Indonesia and Australia.

In 2018, for example, they created a tree nursery for 200,000 trees in Madagascar, to help create a forest corridor leading from an isolated habitat to the ocean. In 2019 they created a forest agriculture project in Borneo, to prevent locals selling the land to oil palm development.

Following the devastating fires in the Amazon, the number of people who had installed the Ecosia app doubled, allowing them to fund a 3 million tree-planting project in Brazil. In the wake of the Australian bushfires, Ecosia began restoring native forests there.

Just last year they celebrated their 50-million-tree milestone, having now doubled it in just one year’s time.

“100 million trees tackle the climate crisis by removing 1771 tonnes of CO2 every day, but it means so much more than that,” wrote Ecosia in their blog. “100 million trees means habitats for endangered animals. It means healthy rivers, more biodiversity, and fertile soil, and more fruits, nuts, and oils for local communities.”

Ecosia is a dream company for any environmentalist. Besides planting over 100 million trees, they have built their own solar power station—to energize 200% of all the power required to run their servers. They have also added little notes to their search results to let you see whether a company is tree/planet friendly, or whether they utilize a lot of fossil fuels.

They have also committed to never selling the company, so that no one will ever “become rich” from their efforts, except Mother Earth.

You can download the Google Chrome extension for Ecosia here.

The US Senate Passes Historic Conservation Bill, The Great American Outdoors Act

June 17, 2020

The U.S. Senate passed Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, 73–25, making a historic investment into conservation.

“Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation,” said Senator Gardner. “Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations, but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“I call on the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay in order to provide jobs to the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections for the great American outdoors for future generations of Americans to cherish,” said Gardner.

Gardner urged his House colleagues to take up the bill, before a guaranteed signature by President Trump.

“I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands,” President Trump said in March.

Many outdoor recreational organizations praised the passage of the Great Outdoor Act and also pushed for a vote in the House.

“The Great American Outdoors Act just passed the Senate! Now, wildlife needs your help: Ask your representative to pass the bill in the House of Representatives today,” posted the Wildlife Action Fund.

An advocacy group for the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Council said Wednesday, “A bit of good news today! The Great American Outdoors Act was passed, with annual funding up to $2.8 billion allocated to wildlands, recreation, restoration, and public green spaces.”

Congressman Brian Mast (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, called on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring the House of Representatives back into session to pass the Great American Outdoors Act as soon as possible.

“Speaker Pelosi should immediately call the House back into session so we can pass this critical bill ASAP!” Rep. Mast said.

Mast said the bill is critical to Florida’s economic health. He highlighted the fact that, if passed by the House, it would support a $58 billion industry and 485,000 direct jobs.

The bill will fully and indefinitely fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as well as invest billions of dollars into national parks and public lands.