Drones provide an up close look at the health of forests

Drones provide an up close look at the health of forests

WWF is on a mission to save the world’s forest land. Success means a lot of land—in the right places—is protected or restored. But we also need to make sure that land is healthy, giving people and wildlife what they need to survive, like clean air and water, food and jobs.

Saving forests means using every tool at our disposal and working with partners around the globe. And that’s where drones come in to play.

The radio-controlled aircraft are capturing images that paint a picture of the forest. Soaring hundreds or thousands of feet above tree tops, they tell us if there are large patches where tree leaves have fallen (during a time of year when they should be covering the branches) or if a tree might have a disease. Big holes in the forest canopy might indicate illegal loggers have stripped trees from part of the forest.

And, most importantly, drones can be used to see if land is being properly managed in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. Adopting FSC standards is one of the best ways for landowners to conserve the world’s forests. These standards protect wildlife habitat, limit pollution, safeguard the rights of people living in or near the forest, and much more.

Within 500,000 acres of forest in Arkansas, Domtar is using drones to monitor land that is certified by FSC. Trees from the land—sitting near a mill that produces pulp for the company—are harvested to provide Domtar with much of the pulp it uses to produce things like copy paper, diapers and toilet paper. Although drones are commonly used today, Domtar is the only known US company to use them to monitor FSC-certified land.

Through its participation in WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network, Domtar worked with forest landowners near the mill and spread the word about the significance of FSC standards and why landowners should get their land certified by the FSC.

In the two years since it started using drones in the US, Domtar has been able to spot signs of the invasive engraver beetle much sooner and quicker than it would have if it were monitoring the land by foot or car. By catching this beetle early, the foresters can stop further tree damage through environmentally-friendly techniques.

Domtar also uses drones to calculate the size of wood chip piles that will produce pulp and to check if trees recently planted on FSC-certified land are growing well. With the success of the program in Arkansas, Domtar is now using drones over forests near its mill in Quebec, Canada to combat a new pest—the Emerald Ash Borer—in the area.

A forest-healthy future doesn’t require everyone to go high-tech. There are simple steps all of us can take to make a difference. Look for the FSC label when shopping for products that come from a forest.

Published June 19, 2018 at 05:00AM

International Paper and WWF Join Forces to Help Create First-Ever Science-Based Targets for Forests and Scale-Up Forest Restoration in Brazil

International Paper and WWF Join Forces to Help Create First-Ever Science-Based Targets for Forests and Scale-Up Forest Restoration in Brazil

How much forest land—and what quality—is needed to ensure forests can continue to provide people, plants and animals worldwide with the clean air and water, food and other “services” they need to thrive? In other words, what are the ecological tipping points for forests that we need to stay well above?

Through a new collaboration between WWF and International Paper (IP)—a participant in WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network program and one of the world’s largest packaging, pulp and paper companies—research and assessments will be undertaken with a number of entities to help come up with the answer. This information will be used to create the world’s first regional and global science-based targets for forests, as well as the first comprehensive set of guidance on actions that can be taken to sustain the world’s forests. We currently refer to these as “forest positive” actions.

Among the actions—which can be taken individually or collectively by companies, governments, NGOs and others—are investing in responsible forest management, supporting jurisdictional approaches to forest conservation, restoring forest land, and raising awareness about forests with consumers.

The collaboration also will bring one such action to life—investing in a new ambitious restoration project in a 5,584 square mile river basin called the Mogi GuaƧu, which is in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. The Atlantic Forest (spanning Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina) is within one of the 11 deforestation fronts identified by WWF, the areas where most deforestation is expected by 2030 if new approaches to forest conservation are not adopted. Yet it is one of the most important forests. It provides water for 60 percent of Brazil’s population and is home to many species, including pumas, anteaters and woolly spider monkeys, as well as several bird species found nowhere else on the planet. The hope of WWF and IP is that the restoration project will inspire other entities to invest in forest restoration in Brazil and beyond.

Through the collaboration, IP demonstrates that investing in the long-term sustainability of natural resources, including forests, makes economic sense. IP, for example, relies on the water and other services that these forests provide to produce paper and other fiber-based products that people depend on every day.

It also highlights the vital role companies play in ensuring forests do not reach their ecological tipping points. It is especially important for US companies to act, as the US is home to some of the world’s largest companies that depend directly or indirectly on forest resources. As a result, they have tremendous power to drive change at the global level—such as in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals—and local level.


Published June 18, 2018 at 05:00AM

US climate action grows stronger despite announcement to leave Paris Agreement

US climate action grows stronger despite announcement to leave Paris Agreement

This month marks one year since the United States confirmed it was pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a historic international accord that demonstrated global willingness to take urgent, decisive action on climate change.

Signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015, the Paris Agreement pushed countries to reduce their carbon emissions to prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5°C above historical levels, effectively limiting the worst effects of human-caused climate change. The pact was heralded as the world’s first collective commitment to address climate change and an unprecedented victory for the environment.

Less than 18 months later, though, President Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Agreement. This leaves the United States—the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter—as the only country in the world not supporting the deal.

“In stepping back from the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States government stands alone among the nations of the world,” said Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate change and energy at WWF. “No other country followed President Trump and his decision sparked a wave of new climate leadership in the United States.”

Since the US pulled out of the agreement, more than 2,700 leaders from states, cities, and businesses—representing 160 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the US economy—have ramped up their efforts to curb climate change, sending a resounding message to our federal government and the rest of the world: We are still in. Together, these subnational actors are working to ensure that our country still meets its climate goals by reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, growing the renewable energy sector, and investing in new jobs and technologies.

A clean energy revolution

Across the country, businesses have doubled down on their pledges to climate action, recognizing that clean energy technologies translate to better business and more American jobs. Today, half of all Fortune 500 companies have set climate or clean energy goals, and the clean energy economy employs more than 3.3 million Americans—a number that’s expected to double in the next ten years.

Subnational leaders, meanwhile, have stepped up their climate action: buying more renewable energy to help clean up our electric grid, setting science-based climate targets consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and enacting carbon pricing policies. In doing so, these new American leaders are signaling a deepening commitment to public health and safety.

Because of these crucial investments, energy-related carbon emissions in the US fell to their lowest levels in 25 years in 2017, which was the third consecutive year that they fell below 2005 levels. Last year also marked the fifth year of the last six where approximately half of new electric power capacity added to the grid in the US came from wind and solar. 

“One of the greatest drivers of this progress is the irreversible transformation of the electricity sector towards cleaner, renewable energy, led in large part by American businesses and local leaders,” said Leonard. “These leaders—the vanguard of a new American energy revolution—are demonstrating their ability to help achieve US climate targets under the Paris Agreement, despite what’s happening in Washington, DC.”

Deepening climate commitments

While these efforts offer hope for the future, there’s still more work to be done to make sure the US achieves the ambitious targets set out by the Paris Agreement. WWF urges America’s companies, mayors, governors, communities, and citizens to continue to expand their efforts to address climate change and demonstrate to the rest of the world that America remains dedicated to reducing our carbon emissions.  

This year’s Global Climate Action Summit will be an opportunity to do just that. Held in the US, the event will bring together leaders and citizens from around the world to share their achievements to date and make further commitments under the Agreement. It’s the first time that businesses and local governments will be front and center of the climate conversation, and marks an important milestone in a new era of decarbonization.  

Ultimately, we need the US federal government to reengage in the Paris Agreement and enact strong national climate and energy laws to accelerate our decarbonization and help American communities prepare for climate impacts. By following the example of this new wave of American leaders, the US can again position itself as a leader in climate action.

Published May 30, 2018 at 05:00AM

5 Reasons the Farm Bill Matters to Conservation

5 Reasons the Farm Bill Matters to Conservation

Right now, members of Congress are working out the final details of the 2018 Farm Bill, and the stakes for conservation are huge.

In addition to ensuring America’s farmers can provide food, fiber and fuel to hundreds of millions of Americans and many others around the world, the Farm Bill plays a critical role in conserving America's grasslands, protecting native species that live there, and preserving a rural way of life.

It’s important that the final version of Farm Bill include funding for robust conservation programs, align commodity and crop insurance programs with conservation, and incentivize protection of environmentally sensitive grasslands. Without those measures, we risk losing much of one of the last four intact grasslands in the world.

If Congress passes a Farm Bill that rolls back existing environmental protections and decreases funding by nearly $800 million for conservation programs, Americans risk losing critical ecosystems and economic resources:


1. Wildlife Diversity

When grasslands are plowed or mismanaged, wildlife and plant diversity is lost. Large, healthy grasslands are fundamental to many species including pronghorn, black-footed ferrets, and native pollinators such as bumble bees. Grassland birds, such as chestnut-collared longspurs and lark buntings, are among the fastest-declining bird species in the United States. They nest in prairie grasses, using them as camouflage, and relying on the insects they host for food. The Farm Bill is an opportunity to invest in programs and policies that conserve grasslands and increase biodiversity on working lands across the US.

2. Resilient Land

Growing demand for food and feed puts pressure on farmers and ranchers to use more natural resources that are already strained, like soil and water. Healthy soil helps the land store more carbon and build up nutrients that make it more fertile and resilient. As extreme weather becomes more commonplace across the United States, intact grasslands and conservation practices on farms and ranchland can help soil store and retain water, which helps during floods and droughts alike. We can help farmers and ranchers improve the food system through investments in on-farm conservation and a farm safety net that incentivizes sustainable production.

3. Thriving Rural Communities

People, plants, and wildlife make the Great Plains unique. The Farm Bill offers an opportunity to support rural communities and invest in the conservation of wildlife, their habitats, and other natural resources.

4. Clean Water

The Northern Great Plains form a large part of the Missouri River Basin, which is "the life zone" of the larger Mississippi River Basin. WWF calls this region the life zone because it is made up of largely intact grasslands, which absorb rain like a sponge and keep it from running off into waterways along with soil, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, and other compounds that endanger aquatic wildlife in rivers, lakes and even all the way down in the Gulf of Mexico. Grassland-friendly policies in the Farm Bill can help to preserve this vital ecosystem. Protecting threatened grasslands can save the same amount of water that's used by 11.6 million households a year.

5. Sustainable Food Production

Farmers and ranchers across the country can use on-farm conservation practices to improve soil health and water quality. While millions of bison used to roam the grasslands, today ranchers often use cattle to provide a similar service—breaking up soil, pruning grasses, and fertilizing the land. The Farm Bill's conservation programs create incentives to keep grasslands intact while also helping farmers and ranchers carry out more sustainable practices that support biodiversity on working lands across the country.

Published April 25, 2018 at 05:00AM

Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Following decades of seemingly irreversible decline, the Irrawaddy River dolphin population in the Mekong region is rebounding. According to a recent census released by WWF and the Government of Cambodia, the number of these critically endangered dolphins has risen from 80 to 92 in the past two years—the first increase since scientists began keeping records more than twenty years ago.

This historic population increase can be attributed to several factors, including more effective patrolling by river guards and an increase in the confiscation of illegal gillnets, which can trap and drown dolphins. Over the past two years, guards have confiscated more than 200 miles of illegal gillnets—almost double the length of the dolphins’ remaining home range—from core dolphin habitat.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of the government, WWF, the tourism industry, and local communities, we finally have reason to believe that these iconic dolphins can be protected against extinction,” said Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF Cambodia. “The tour boat operators are the secret ingredient of this success story—they work closely with law enforcement to report poaching and help confiscate illegal gillnets.”

The first official census in 1997 estimated that there were 200 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong, a figure that fell steadily due to bycatch and habitat loss. By 2015, only 80 dolphins remained.

Now, growing numbers are an encouraging sign for the long-term survival of the species. More dolphins are surviving into adulthood, and there’s been a significant drop in overall deaths. Nine calves were born this year, raising the number of dolphins born in the past three years to 32.


The census also has positive implications for the Greater Mekong region, where countless communities and species rely on healthy river systems and the natural resources they provide.

 “River dolphins are indicators of the health of the Mekong River, and their recovery is a hopeful sign for the river and the millions of people who depend on it,” added Teak. “We celebrate this good news, but we need to re-double our efforts to protect the dolphins—for their future, for the river, and for the communities that live alongside it.”

 Learn more about free-flowing rivers and how they’re essential for the continued survival of species like the Irrawaddy dolphin.

Published April 23, 2018 at 05:00AM

Want to help save the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

Want to help save the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

It’s one of the easiest things you can do to help save the world’s forests. Look for the label that says FSC® when you buy paper towels, tissues, furniture or any other products that come from forests.

What does FSC mean?

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council®, a certification system co-founded by WWF 26 years ago. What it really means is that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in these forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment and economy.

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.

Why it matters

Forests are essential to our survival. They filter the air we breathe and water we drink. And do so much more. Nearly half the world’s wildlife call forests home. Three 300 million people live in forests and more than a billion depend on them for their livelihoods.

Today, trees are being lost at a rate of 27 football fields per minute. Every action we take to protect the world’s forests makes a difference.

This Earth Day, help the world's forests: Look for the label and buy FSC.

Published April 22, 2018 at 05:00AM

Free-flowing rivers bring life to Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Free-flowing rivers bring life to Alaska’s Bristol Bay

For salmon, Bristol Bay is like a warm reception hall. Every summer, after years of navigating the wild waters of the Pacific Ocean, tens of millions of salmon arrive, seeking entry to the freshwater rivers that flow into the Bay. The fish surge upstream, instinctively navigating the clear waters of the intricate network of streams and lakes where water flows freely for miles and miles. In this pursuit to spawn, salmon also form a cornerstone to  a natural cycle that supports whales, birds, brown bears—and people.

Of the five salmon species fished in Bristol Bay, the sockeye fishery alone is worth $1.5 billion each year. In fact, nearly 20,000 jobs throughout the United States annually depend on the health of this run. Beyond the economic benefits, some 4,000 Bristol Bay locals, including many native Yup’ik and Dena’ina, depend on these fish, along with other subsistence foods  for 80% of their protein.

These fish form an integral part of the food chain for wildlife, from the offshore ecosystem of Bristol Bay all the way up to the headwaters. While belugas and orcas hunt offshore, brown bears and eagles in the tundra and hills above fish for their next meal. Even in a lake hidden hundreds of miles away in the bay’s headwaters, one of the planet’s only population of freshwater seals feast on the salmon.

These fish are the red blood cells that bring life to this region, the rivers the arteries that carry them. When those arteries become poisoned, then the system starts to break down. Now a proposal for a large, open-pit copper and gold mine risks ruining the natural resources that people and wildlife have relied on for centuries.

The Pebble Mine would extend one-mile-wide and a quarter-mile deep, destroying over 3,000 acres of wetlands and more than 21 miles of salmon streams. The infrastructure required to construct this mammoth mine would also disrupt this intact, free-flowing network of rivers that brings the entire watershed to life. For example, the current project calls for a road more than 80-miles long crossing more than 200 streams with a port facility at the end of it and a two-mile long dock into a shore of Bristol Bay that’s known habitat for an endangered population of Beluga whales.

In addition to the calamitous infrastructure, the tons of acid mine waste generated from this temporary extractive enterprise would pose a direct risk to the health of the bay and its headwaters, as well as the globally important fishery that swims in them. Disruptions to the hydrology and ecosystem health would harm the local economy and people with global ripple effects.

The US government is attempting to fast track the permitting process for Pebble Mine, a development that the US Environmental Protection Agency warns would cause irreparable, damaging impacts on both people and nature. In fact, the EPA found in a scientific study that, even without a mine disaster, construction of the Pebble deposit would destroy 94 miles of salmon streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds.

To protect the health of the ecosystems, wildlife and communities dependent on these connected waterways, WWF is educating the US government about the importance of the bay to Alaska and the rest of the U.S. We are also partnering with in-region organizations to amplify the voices of local communities and Native voices as well as promoting  support for a sustainable economy that lasts well into the future.

People from around the world are vocalizing their opposition to the project, citing the unparalleled ecological value of this region.

Take Action to keep Bristol Bay, and the free-flowing rivers that feed into it, healthy and functioning for future generations

Published April 19, 2018 at 05:00AM

Want to help the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

Want to help the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

It’s one of the easiest things you can do to help save the world’s forests. Look for the label that says FSC when you buy paper towels, tissues, furniture or any other products that come from forests.

What does FSC mean?

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, a certification system co-founded by WWF 26 years ago. What it really means is that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in these forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment and economy.

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.

Why it matters

Forests are essential to our survival. They filter the air we breathe and water we drink. And do so much more. Nearly half the world’s wildlife call forests home and 300 million people live in forests and more than a billion depend on them for their livelihoods.

Today, trees are being lost at a rate of 27 football fields per minute. Every action we take to protect the world’s forests makes a difference.

This Earth Day, help the world's forests: Look for the label and buy FSC

Published April 22, 2018 at 05:00AM

A win on Capitol Hill

A win on Capitol Hill

As WWF’s lead advocate on Capitol Hill, I spend much of my time with Members of Congress and their staff advocating for the organization’s top conservation priorities. Over the past year, friends and acquaintances often ask how that work is going, and whether there’s any hope for those priorities given the way that our government is working – or not working – here in Washington, DC.

They are often surprised to hear my answer.

There is no denying that deepening partisan divisions have stalled legislative action on issues WWF cares about, such as climate change, and continue to fuel attacks on America’s bedrock environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.

But even in the face of these ongoing challenges, we are making progress – and scoring significant wins – when it comes to convincing Congress to protect wildlife and wild places around the globe. In fact, even in today’s hyperpolarized environment, international conservation is an issue that regularly sees strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. 

The latest evidence can be found in the 2018 omnibus spending bill that finally passed Congress last month. For two years in a row, the Trump Administration has proposed deep cuts to U.S. foreign assistance programs, including those that fund important global conservation efforts. But after months of negotiations – and months of congressional advocacy by WWF staff, partners, and supporters– Congress rejected those cuts and protected funding for these programs.

The vote was also a vote of confidence in the role the U.S. is playing to protect our planet’s natural resources and a recognition that these programs aren’t just about international conservation – they are also important to international security, stability and economic prosperity. Thanks to the collective efforts of WWF and our partners, policymakers are recognizing these connections more and more.

Wildlife trafficking has been clearly linked to transnational organized crime and financing for violent groups that pose security threats in Africa and elsewhere. The global illegal trade in timber and fish respectively cost U.S. foresters and fishers roughly a billion dollars annually in lost revenue due to unfair competition and depressed prices. And scarcities of food and freshwater caused by environmental degradation are increasingly contributing to poverty, migration and conflict.     

WWF is fortunate to work with congressional champions on both sides of the aisle who are supporting efforts to address these challenges through U.S. government action. In addition to backing continued funding for international conservation programs, Members of Congress such as Republican Congressman Ed Royce and Democratic Senator Chris Coons have led the charge to pass new laws, including the END Wildlife Trafficking Act.

WWF’s advocacy efforts have been greatly enhanced by our members, supporters and Panda Ambassadors, who reach out to their Members of Congress throughout the year to reinforce our asks. As part of WWF’s annual congressional Lobby Day on March 13th, over 80 of these committed citizen advocates even traveled to DC, joining WWF on Capitol Hill to deliver a clear and compelling message: continue funding international conservation.

If the spending bill recently signed into law is any indication, at least on this critical WWF priority, Congress is getting the message.

Take action and tell Congress: Don't cut conservation funding

Published April 17, 2018 at 05:00AM

The world’s rarest big cat grows in number

The world’s rarest big cat grows in number

Inside Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park, more than 400 cameras are positioned to capture images of wildlife, specifically the critically endangered Amur Leopard. These cameras are the main source of monitoring data for the Amur leopard and their latest reveal is one to celebrate.

Recent images documented 84 adult cats and 19 cubs inside the park. This is a significant increase since a 2000 census recorded just 30 cats, and a 2015 survey numbered only 70.

The Land of the Leopard National Park is the core area for the rare wild cat. Formally established in 2012, the park is home to the majority of the Amur Leopard’s known territory and provides the cat sufficient prey and protection from poachers. It is also home to a population of Amur tigers and other wildlife.

Camera trap monitoring is the main research method used to study Amur leopards in the wild, and individuals are identified by their unique spot patterns. With around 400 cameras monitoring wildlife in the park, it is the largest camera trap network in Russia. Scientists processed the collected data over several months before announcing the new population numbers. WWF, along with partners WCS and the Far Eastern Leopard Centre, helped the park with camera trap monitoring and data processing.

"Our forecasts were optimistic, and since the establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park in 2012, the number of the rarest large cat has increased significantly,” said Sergey Donskoy, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia.

Experts believe more leopards may inhabit the territory outside the national park and are now working to collect more data from places like China where camera traps are already in place.

Considering the Amur leopard is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world, this increase is such welcome news and reflects the importance of regular species monitoring to assess their health in the ecosystem,” said Nilanga Jayasinghe, Senior Program Officer, Asian Species

Published April 13, 2018 at 05:00AM

Red pandas, climate change, and the fight to save forests

Red pandas, climate change, and the fight to save forests

Every year the northeastern state of Sikkim hosts the Red Panda Festival. The winter event features parades, live music and draws tourists and locals alike. It’s a joyful celebration named for Sikkim’s iconic state animal.

While residents of Sikkim honor the endangered red panda, they also understand the species is under a growing threat. Climate change is impacting species across the globe and red pandas—with less than 10,000 left in the wild—are not immune.

Average temperatures in Sikkim are rising. Within its forests, the red panda occupies habitat within a very narrow temperature range. As temperatures rise, the red panda will need to move to higher elevations to adapt to the changing climate.

This is a troubling scenario, as nearly 70% of suitable red panda habitat in Sikkim is located outside of designated protected areas. How much habitat will be available to accommodate potential range shifts is unknown. Human activities are taking a toll on local forests. And unless these forests are secured, red pandas may have an uncertain future in a changing climate. 

WWF is helping communities in Sikkim protect forests and ensure that, even with rising temperatures, the red panda has a secure place to call home. Specifically, WWF and its Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund are working to decrease human impacts on Sikkim’s forests through use of improved cookstoves, sustainable harvesting of forest products, and reducing the risk of forest fires.

In communities bordering red panda habitat, most households rely on firewood from the forest as their primary source of cooking fuel. To combat the loss of trees, project staff have now trained 23 families in the manufacture and installation of new cookstoves that require less fuel. Residents have noticed a change: the new cookstoves reduce fuelwood use by up to 35% per household, cut cooking times in half, and significantly lower indoor air pollution.  

Sikkim’s forests are also home to medicinal plants harvested by communities and often overexploited and traded illegally. WWF helped develop a nine-point action plan in collaboration with the village of Sindrabong to regulate use of forest resources and harvest plants more sustainably.

The changing climate in Sikkim also means changing rainfall patterns, which can lead to an increased risk of forest fires. To prepare for this, project staff conducted a study of current fire risk and mitigation efforts. As a result, they developed new recommendations for improved fire prevention and management.

WWF is working with high-level officials from the state government’s Department of Forests, Environment and Wildlife Management to share project findings, results and recommendations. As a result, important policy decisions will further strengthen forest management and ensure a healthy and secure habitat for the red panda.

Published April 10, 2018 at 05:00AM

Collaring elephants in one of Africa's last great wildernesses

Collaring elephants in one of Africa's last great wildernesses

Thanks to satellite collars, 60 elephants will be monitored for better protection against poaching in one of the last great African wildernesses, Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. It’s an ambitious undertaking—the country’s largest ever elephant collaring effort—carried out by the Tanzanian government in collaboration with WWF.

Once an elephant stronghold, rampant poaching of elephants for ivory has decimated the population in Selous. In less than 40 years, elephant numbers in Selous have plunged by 90 percent to only around 15,200 animals today. The severity of elephant poaching in Selous, a World Heritage Site, moved UNESCO to place it on its List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014.

Helping rangers guard the remaining elephants from poaching is an essential step in rebuilding the population. Satellite collars are a tried-and-tested tool for wildlife monitoring and will give rangers a leg up on poachers, allowing them to identify and respond to threats in real-time through mobile devices.

Data collected through these collars also helps predict where the animals are moving in order to anticipate any dangers they may encounter. This includes alerting neighboring communities when the animals are heading towards their settlement to reduce human-elephant conflict.

“The collaring of elephants in Selous is critical to better protect them from poachers and retaliatory killings by communities because of human elephant conflict. In a landscape of this magnitude, we need this kind of technology to be better understand elephant movements,” said Bas Huijbregts, African species manager, WWF.

The first two elephants were collared last week at Mikumi National Park, and an additional 58 will be collared by November 2018.

Poachers kill between 20,000 and 30,000 African elephants each year for their tusks, primarily to satisfy the demand for ivory products in Asia. Anti-poaching efforts, like this collaring, are critical to elephant conservation, but only when we stop consumer demand for ivory will we ensure a future for this majestic species.

Published April 03, 2018 at 05:00AM

Why we must help Bristol Bay now

Why we must help Bristol Bay now

The natural beauty and bounty of Bristol Bay, Alaska is indisputable. But a proposal to develop an open pit gold and copper mine leaves the region’s future up for a potentially disastrous outcome.

The US government is attempting to fast track the permitting process for Pebble Mine, a development that the US Environmental Protection Agency warns would cause irreparable, damaging impacts on both people and nature. Now, the US Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for assessing the mine’s effects on the environment and the public has just 30 days to weigh in on the mining proposal.

There is a lot on the line.

Bristol Bay, Alaska boasts one of the most productive, unspoiled ecosystems in North America. Home to the world's largest wild salmon fishery, it’s been called America’s fish basket. Bristol Bay is also brimming with sea otters, beluga whales, humpback whales, caribou, brown bears, and moose. While all arctic species face conservation challenges, Bristol Bay’s intact ecosystems provide a rare refuge for fish and wildlife in a warming and more crowded planet.

The proposal has a massive footprint

While the mine itself would be a major disrupter to important wildlife habitats and livelihoods, the infrastructure needed to develop and operate Pebble Mine doubles the threat.

According to proposed plans, the one-mile-wide and quarter-mile deep mine would destroy over 3,000 acres of wetlands and more than 21 miles of salmon streams. That’s just at the mine site alone.

Mining operations would require a power plant generating the energy equivalent of more than half of all homes in Alaska running their lights, heating and everything else at the same time. The plant would also use natural gas delivered by a new 188-mile pipeline stretching across siesmicly active Cook Inet from the Kenai Peninsula.

Getting supplies in – and copper and gold out – would require building a road more than 80-miles long crossing more than 200 streams. Developers propose building eight large bridges and using an 18-mile ferry journey to cross Lake Iliamna. A port facility would be needed at the end of the road, complete with a two-mile long dock on the western shore of Cook Inlet, known habitat for sea otters, humpback whales, seals, and an endangered population of Beluga whales

Over time, the impacts would pile up. Pebble Mine is projected to produce tons of acid mine waste—left over once the copper and gold are sorted out. Plans estimate that after 20 years of operation, roughly 1.1 billion tons of waste would be left in the pit and need to be monitored and maintained in perpetuity.

Environmental impacts

Bristol Bay’s tribes, communities, commercial fishermen, and other stakeholders have waited nearly two decades for a promised mine plan. Unfortunately, the plan just submitted is grossly inadequate to evaluate the mine’s full impacts on a region hugged by national parks and preserves. The lack of detail and lack of adequate scientific research to assess potential impacts are compounded by the Corps of Engineers’ break-neck pace to permit the project.

Pebble Mine would be more than a massive whole in the ground. The mine would impact the hydrology of the region, air and water quality, as well as ecosystems, wildlife and fish and recreational resources. The effects could devastate a region that continues to build a vibrant, sustainable economy as it successfully manages its resources.

There are a series of public meetings scheduled for the month of April. It’s short notice but it’s not the only way to get on the record with concerns.

Take action now to let the Army Corps of Engineers know that Bristol Bay must be protected.

Published April 02, 2018 at 05:00AM

A small-scale farmer leads the way for big changes to rubber farming in Myanmar

A small-scale farmer leads the way for big changes to rubber farming in Myanmar

Hey Mer shows me a sheet of natural rubber she made a few weeks ago. To my eye, there isn’t anything special about it. Roughly three feet by two feet. Light brown. Nearly translucent.

But judging by her smile, I can tell she is very proud of it. So, I ask her what she likes about it.

Through a translator, Hey Mer uses her native Myanmar language to point out that there is very little gradation in the color. The light brown hue covers almost the entire sheet, from rounded edge to rounded edge. She takes my hand and runs my fingers over the sheet so I can feel its smoothness.

This is the kind of sheet rubber buyers tell her they want. It’s perfect for making so many of the rubber-based products that are part of our daily lives—most notably, car and truck tires. The majority of the world’s natural rubber, which comes from trees, is used to make tires.

But producing such high-quality rubber is no easy task. Most of the people in her small southern Myanmar village can’t get it right yet. They come to Hey Mer for advice, carrying their blotchy, rough-surfaced sheets they know will not get them a good price. Add less water to your mix of latex, acid and water if you want a smooth sheet, she tells them. And don’t hang your sheets in the sun for more than three days if you want the color to be similar from end to end.

Her advice is in demand, as rubber production is a promising new livelihood opportunity in southern Myanmar.

With that context, it is clear that Hey Mer is a prominent leader in her village. She sheepishly tells me that she knows it. And that she knows that, for a woman to be perceived as the leader there, is a bit unique.

Hey Mer is not just producing good quality rubber, she is doing so in accordance with farming practices that don’t degrade the forests or mistreat workers. Such steps are necessary to protect the environment and human rights, but also to ensure good rubber prices for farmers and a long-lasting rubber industry.

Fortunately, the number of people like Hey Mer is on the rise. The Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture—along with WWF, the Karen National Union and the Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association—is going from village to village to educate people about why, if they want to produce rubber, they should do so in accordance with sustainable farming practices.

This is particularly important in Hey Mer’s village, as it is within the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape, a vast mountainous region that is one of the best remaining habitats in the world for tigers and Asian elephants.

Through this program, farmers learn from WWF and others that they must, at a minimum, avoid clearing healthy forests to plant rubber trees. Hey Mer planted her trees seven years ago on 10 acres of agricultural land that had gone fallow.

Educating farmers about sustainable rubber production is a big task, as most natural rubber production is done by farmers who manage a few acres, or less, of land. Nearly 85 percent of natural rubber is produced by approximately 6 million smallholder farmers—including nearly 80,000 farmers in Myanmar.

But the incentive to take on the task is big. Natural rubber is in demand by large companies, such as Michelin and Bridgestone, that now have  policies which require sourcing sustainable natural rubber. As a result, there is interest from the companies in sustainable rubber production initiatives in Myanmar and other priority forest landscapes for WWF, such as Cambodia, Indonesia and China

That’s good news for Hey Mer, who has embraced sustainable rubber production for two reasons: It supplements her income, so she can support her family of four; And it helps her to do her part to protect the forests in her village. Forests she hopes her children can enjoy for many years to come.

Published March 27, 2018 at 05:00AM

Lack of winter sea ice disrupts life in the Arctic

Lack of winter sea ice disrupts life in the Arctic

It’s the second-worst winter for sea ice in the Arctic, according to new data released by National Snow Ice Data Center scientists—the crescendo of a winter packed with environment-changing temperatures. Ice covered only an estimated 5.59 million square miles of ocean at its largest extent, that’s down roughly 448,000 square miles compared to previous years. It’s now receding as we move into the spring and summer months.

As this rapid warming trend continues, entire ecosystems are unraveling and the consequences are impacting daily life in the Arctic as well as life in coastal communities thousands of miles away.

Polar bear research trip cancelled 

Polar bears are trying to adapt a changing environment, particularly as one of their main habitats—sea ice—disappears. An important part of helping them adapt and become more resilient to the stress that comes with melting is better understanding polar bear populations through research. That’s getting more difficult to do as temperatures warm.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently canceled a polar bear study in the Chukchi Sea region, blaming “unusually warm weather and strong winds” for the lack of ice. Experts in Alaska concluded that “the risk to the bears and people is too high.”

The cancelled trip was intended to be the annual follow up to previous surveys of polar bear populations conducted in the region between Russia and the US since 2008.

Lack of sea ice near shore in Alaska

In the Bering Strait, the small community of Little Diomede Island has reported the worst winter for sea ice in their region in memory. Instead of ice off shore there have been long, unpredictable periods of open water, leaving the coasts extremely vulnerable to strong storms, high winds and dangerous surf.  

Global implications

Low levels of sea ice are a problem for the entire world. Millions of people will feel the effects.

Sea levels rise faster because of Arctic warming, and scientists warn that the regularity of extreme winter weather, as well as droughts, flooding and damaging wind events, will continue to increase in part due to Arctic warming.

While the Arctic has undoubtedly changed, and will continue to, it’s not too late to take action. The science behind the Arctic’s new environmental reality can help to guide that work. WWF continues to support communities throughout Alaska on climate smart, sustainable development, protect ecologically critical areas, and improve governance in the region. And efforts to reduce carbon emissions globally will make the difference between a new Arctic and one that collapses under the weight of devastating warmth.

“It is essential that we take action now to reduce emissions and move toward a low-carbon economy and climate-resilient world,” said David Aplin, interim managing director of WWF’s US Arctic program. “It is our shared responsibility to safeguard the Arctic and our planet from the ill effects of climate change, and we have no time to spare in doing so.”

Published March 23, 2018 at 05:00AM

An important win for the world's largest tropical wetland

An important win for the world's largest tropical wetland

The world’s largest tropical wetland notched an important win today with new commitments that require sustainable development of the Pantanal, a 42-million-acre wetland that touches three countries. It ensures that all future development of this essential landscape is balanced with the needs of wildlife and people.

Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay signed the landmark declaration that calls for sustainable development of the Pantanal, a 42-million-acre wetland that touches each country. The decision follows years of collaboration among the governments that are securing a prosperous future for one of the most biologically rich ecosystems on the planet. WWF has assisted this effort and applauds this landmark move. 

The Pantanal is a surprisingly well-kept secret in comparison to the Amazon, despite its massive size and the more than 4,700 animal and plant species that live within it.

Millions of people living downstream rely on its crucial natural resources and benefits, including natural flood control, groundwater recharge, river flow for boats to navigate, and absorption of carbon. A study conducted by Brazil's Agricultural Research Corporation concluded that these natural benefits are valued at $112 billion a year.

An essential resource under threat
All of the Pantanal’s natural wealth could be highly threatened if it is not developed in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Harmful land uses in the Pantanal have already contributed to the loss of more than 12% of the region’s forest cover. And scientists predict that the Pantanal’s native vegetation will disappear by 2050 if we don’t act now to combat this trend. Inadequate development planning by any of the three countries could damage not only the region's lucrative economy and the well-being of its inhabitants, but also the stability of the world’s fifth-largest basin, the Rio de la Plata, in which the Pantanal is located.

By signing the Declaration for the Conservation, Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Pantanal, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay recognize their shared responsibility to steward this vital resource. Together they’re ensuring that development of this beautiful and essential wetland is balanced with the needs of the environment and people.

Want to do more to protect valuable freshwater resources? Join WWF's Freshwater Force.

Published March 22, 2018 at 05:00AM

Last male northern white rhino dies

Last male northern white rhino dies

He was known as the Last Male Standing and attracted the attention of people around the world, but on March 19, 2018 the last male northern white rhino died. Sudan, 45 years old, had been under armed guard to protect him from the threat of poachers.
His death is heartbreaking. The extinction of the northern white rhino is happening before our eyes.

Why has this happened?

Rhinos are the targets of poaching because of an insatiable demand for their horns on the black market. It's thought that an average of three rhinos are lost to poachers every day, and poaching gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Sudan was guarded and cared for by Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and died at an old age, but for many rhinos it's a different story.

It's illegal to buy and sell rhino horn, but the trade continues because of a belief in the horn's medicinal properties. It's a stark example of the devastating impact of the illegal wildlife trade on threatened species.

Urgent action to tackle the illegal wildlife trade is needed now more than ever. To prevent more tragedies like that of the northern white rhino, everything possible must be done to cut demand, crack down on corruption, and tackle poaching.

Cause for hope

The story is almost over for the northern white rhino, with only two females remaining in the world, but there is good news elsewhere. The southern white rhino has recovered from a population of fewer than 100 in the late nineteenth century to just over 20,000 today, and rhino poaching in Nepal has been reduced to almost zero.

WWF will continue to fight for rhinos, and to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade once and for all.

Published March 21, 2018 at 05:00AM

How businesses can support a world united around water

How businesses can support a world united around water

There are few things that connect the human race as acutely as water. We all need it – to drink, to wash, to heal, to do just about anything. But we also all impact it. Water is the ultimate shared resource – what we dump into a river leads to the ocean and connected freshwater sources all around the world, affecting everyone. Water both builds and binds us, so it’s together that we must care for this precious resource.

While there’s a responsibility for everyone and everything to protect our water – from governments to communities and everyone in between – businesses have a special opportunity to be water stewards.

For your average business, water is present everywhere. Water flows from corporate headquarters, through manufacturing facilities and complex supply chains, into the fields where raw materials are grown and to communities where people live and work. That water doesn’t come from a tap - it is generated from river and groundwater basins – the likes of which collectively drive our world economy.

If we address water issues, we can secure the productivity of the world's 10 most populous river basins, which is projected to double by 2050. Doing so will not be easy – already freshwater species are disappearing from the planet faster than any other. This is why we are working to help achieve the world’s big, audacious water goal – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Most companies already know that water will affect their business growth and profitability and are making the businesses decisions to address water needs – particularly on how to operate facilities in ways that reduce water risks and promote sustainable management. Even shareholders and investors are increasingly interested in how companies are addressing water issues. Water is now recognized as a material risk, and stewardship is critical to long-term business growth.

But private sector’s impact on water issues can go well beyond the locations they choose to build their companies. Businesses can act as agents of innovation and change that will help us meet the water challenges of today and tomorrow. Private sector’s influence is enormous, and where it chooses to lead on natural resource management will be critical to tackling our water issues. That’s why working with corporations to be water stewards is a priority for World Wildlife Fund.

At WWF, our water team has a local-to-global approach that enables us to partner with companies ready to become water stewards, while also advancing the global dialogue on water issues. We help companies understand water risks, connect them to the tools to care for water, and create holistic water strategies that benefit their bottom lines and the world.

We need our water, we share water, so let’s take care of it together.

Published March 22, 2018 at 05:00AM


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