Forest wildlife populations decline 53% since 1970

Forest wildlife populations decline 53% since 1970

Published August 13, 2019 at 05:00AM

A wake-up call on agriculture’s role in climate change

A wake-up call on agriculture’s role in climate change

Published August 08, 2019 at 05:00AM

What does transboundary conservation mean and why does it matter?

What does transboundary conservation mean and why does it matter?

Published August 06, 2019 at 05:00AM

Can forensics save forests?

Can forensics save forests?

Is this cut of wood cedar?

How about mahogany?

Or walnut?

If this wood quiz has you stumped, you're not alone.

Scroll to learn more

Even those with a keen eye struggle to tell the difference among tree species by looking at just the wood—especially if it's stained or painted.

That means when you're buying wood products like flooring, tables, and guitars, you rarely know for certain that the tree listed on the label is the tree you're bringing home—or, more importantly, from which country the wood was harvested.

And that's a problem because some of that wood is illegal.

WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI) decided to find out just how much of the wood we're buying is illegal.

Out of 73 wood products tested, 62% were mislabeled—a possible sign that they’re illegal.

We're unable to simply eye a piece of wood to determine the type of tree it came from, so we confirm whether we're buying good wood by turning to an unexpected science: forensics.

Yes, that forensics—the same investigative tool featured in your favorite crime drama.

More on that in a moment.

First—what makes wood illegal and why do we care?

Wood is considered illegal if it was harvested, transported, processed, bought, or sold in violation of national or international laws. A lot of illegal logging happens unsustainably and results primarily in a drop in forest quality—a phenomenon known as degradation.

Slashed trees and scattered branches signify a degraded forest. Long gullies mar the surface of the earth and eroded soil clouds river waters.

© WWF-Switzerland/A. della Bella; © Alain Compost/WWF-Canon

Some companies may unknowingly use illegally harvested or traded wood to make the things that they sell. Others may do so knowingly. Either way it's a problem for businesses, for forests, for wildlife, and for the climate.

Governments miss out on tax revenue. Businesses operating legally are forced to compete with wood market prices depressed by up to 16% by illegal logging. People forgo essential forest benefits such as clean air and water. And wildlife suffers from the destruction of precious habitat, such as:




Why do companies import illegal wood?

It's relatively easy to label an illegal type of wood as legal since it's so hard to tell the difference with the naked eye.

Some companies may not understand the risks involved with sourcing a particular species or from a particular region, and they may not know to ask for or receive sufficient verification from their suppliers to confirm whether the wood is legal or if the species they've order is, in fact, what they've received in their shipment.

Other companies engage in more corrupt, egregious practices because illegal wood is cheaper and gives their company a market advantage. Smuggling illegal wood into the US is made easier simply because a lot of wood species look alike.

Is this good wood? Forensics helps us find out.

WWF and the WRI used forensics to identify whether wood for products sold in the US is accurately labeled. 

We gathered samples of wood from products sold by a variety of online retailers and provided them to a forensics lab run by the US Forest Service.

Scientists used a powerful magnifying lens and other tools to compare the anatomical structure of each wood sample with species in reference libraries.

We found that out of 73 wood products tested, 62% were mislabeled—a possible sign that they’re illegal.

What can you do?

Our hope is that the results of this analysis will help companies better understand the amount of mislabeled and potentially illegal wood entering the country. We, too, hope the results will inspire them to make a bigger effort to ensure that they verify the wood species they’re importing, as well as that the wood is legal and comes from a responsibly-managed forest.

Shoppers can make a difference, too. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) label on any products that come from forests. FSC is a certification system that ensures that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in FSC forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment, economy, and society. Some of these guidelines include limiting the number of trees cut down, restricting highly hazardous pesticides and protecting the rights of indigenous people, as well as wildlife habitats.

Do your part. Pledge to buy forest-friendly FSC products when available and commit to preserving nature's beauty for future generations.


Published July 25, 2019 at 05:00AM

Four threats to manatees and mangroves in Florida – and how we can save them

Four threats to manatees and mangroves in Florida – and how we can save them

Manatees love mangroves; they use them for food and a quiet place to rest and raise their young. But these two key features of the Florida coasts are in trouble. There are, a rebound from previous years, but they continue to face threats. Almost 800 died in 2018 alone. And in the past 100 years, mangrove forests have been cleared at an alarming rate. Tampa Bay has lost nearly 50 percent of its mangroves, while farther south, the mangroves of Charlotte Harbor estuary have declined by nearly 60 percent.

But it’s not a lost cause. By addressing four key threats to both manatees and mangroves, they can thrive for generations to come.

Unsustainable Coastal Development and Infrastructure

The unique natural resources of the Florida coast have spawned a booming economy enjoyed by both residents and tourists. But after years of ill-considered coastal development, we’re jeopardizing the very resources that enabled this growth. We’ve cleared mangrove forests and wetlands to make way for resorts, harbors, roads, city expansion, and industry -- losing all the benefits they provide to both humans and wildlife. Infrastructure also brings people and pollution, adding to the risks of red tides and other impacts.

Poor Farm and Water Management Upstream

When farms upstream overuse or improperly manage pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste, and other toxic chemicals, those chemicals can enter the water supply. The polluted water flows to the coast and harms wild plants and animals.

The problem of poor water management is compounded by dams and irrigation systems that reduce the amount of freshwater flowing to the wetlands. Mangroves are tolerant of saltwater, but they need the right balance of freshwater too or else they can become too salty or dry out and die.

Irresponsible Fishing and Aquaculture

Overfishing can remove links in the marine food chain while fish farming can add excessive nutrient waste. Both shift the delicate balance of marine ecosystems and make deadly red tides – algae blooms that affect manatees and mangroves – more likely.

Fishers also accidentally snare manatees in nets and strike them with boats. And irresponsible aquaculture around the world has cleared mangrove forests to make way for fish and shrimp ponds.

Climate Change

Climate change is impacting all life on Earth, and manatees and mangroves are no exception. Abnormal weather means more cold snaps, to which manatees are very sensitive; around 70 individuals died from cold stress in 2018. For mangroves, sea level rise is the biggest climate-related threat, with some tree species unable to tolerate the influx of saltwater or escape the surging tides. Coastal wetlands, including mangrove forests, absorb a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. When these forests are cleared, we compound the climate change problem by releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere.

WWF is already fighting to save manatees and mangroves by addressing each of these threats: developing and implementing practices for responsible seafood; rethinking how and where we grow food to minimize impacts; advocating to keep rivers free-flowing; consulting with governments and financers for sustainable infrastructure; and working at all levels to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The beautiful thing is that taking these actions will not only secure a future for manatees and mangroves; it will bolster the entire coastal ecosystem. This includes other marine and terrestrial animals, seabirds, coral reefs, and even people. By taking action now in key areas, we can protect the beautiful Florida coasts and all life that depends.

Many species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, insects, and amphibians depend on coastal ecosystems like mangroves. Here are just a few.

Published July 25, 2019 at 05:00AM

The case for the right kind of logging in Peru

The case for the right kind of logging in Peru

The sounds of Peru’s jungles are akin to those of a symphony. The high-pitched calls of toucans, the slow roar of howler monkeys, and the buzzing of insects together create unforgettable melodies.

But these natural harmonies do more than simply please the ear—they provide us with valuable information about the health of the forest.

In a recent study supported by WWF, researchers used recordings from dozens of cellphones and camera traps in three tropical forests in the Peruvian Amazon to figure out the number and variety of animals that live in each. They were interested in finding out whether logging in accordance with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards impacts wildlife.

The key finding from the research is that the make-up of wildlife in the FSC sites that were part of the study area was similar to that found in the forests studied that aren’t logged at all. This is an encouraging sign that logging that is done with conservation in mind helps to protect the diversity of plant and animal life in that area.

Prior to this study, there was little rigorous scientific evidence of FSC-certified forests safeguarding biodiversity. Gathering this type of evidence needs to become the status quo for forest managers.

The FSC standards spell out how to manage a forest responsibly so that logging, among other things, minimizes the negative impact on the environment, economy or society. For example, the use of chemicals is limited.

The results from this study are based on hundreds of sounds of birds, insects, amphibians, and monkeys captured by 72 cell phones—along with 72 camera traps—hidden in several forests of the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon.

Although the study was limited to the Peruvian Amazon, the results from it have implications for tropical forests worldwide. Logging is permitted in one-third of the world’s tropical forests. If the logging is not done responsibly, it can lead to roads cutting through forests to create access, large “holes” in the forest canopy, as well as many other activities that degrade the forests and, ultimately, fragment the habitat many animals need to survive. Fifty percent of the species that live on land live in tropical forests.

One of the best ways to ensure animals and plants within forests can thrive is to create and properly manage protected areas. However, given that most forests are not in protected areas, other solutions are needed—such as managing forests in accordance with the FSC standards.

This new research complements an earlier study in five FSC-certified logged forests of the Madre de Dios region, conducted with images from 89 camera traps. The study concluded that densities of large- and medium-sized animals in the forests—including jaguars and pumas—was similar to or higher than those of protected areas.

In some ways, the newest study using sounds is more revealing because it involved small animals, which tend to be more sensitive to changes in habitats caused by low-intensity logging.

Given that the demand for forest products is projected to triple by 2050, monitoring the diversity of plants and animals with sounds and images is more important than ever—in the Peruvian Amazon and beyond. The advancement in technology to capture and analyze sounds and images has made it possible to implement such monitoring at large scale. Results from this type of monitoring can help drive home the need for managing the world’s forests responsibly.


Published July 23, 2019 at 05:00AM


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