Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 12

Laced Woodpecker and durians
from Bird Ecology Study Group

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

96 percent of the world's species remain unevaluated by the Red List from news by Jeremy Hance

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Decision to build Gardens by the Bay not an easy one: PM Lee

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE : Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the decision to build Gardens by the Bay was not an easy one.

Speaking to some 700 guests at the official opening of the Gardens on Thursday, Mr Lee pointed out the land could have been used for more valuable developments.

But he said that looking at it now, the decision to build it was correct.

Gardens by the Bay is Singapore's latest manifestation of its 'City in a Garden' vision.

Spanning 101 hectares, the S$1 billion superpark houses over a quarter of a million rare plants.

It is now an icon of the redeveloped Marina Bay.

But the decision to build it was not easy.

Mr Lee said: "(We) could have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city. But our planners in URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South, just like Central Park in New York, or Hyde Park in London.

"Mr Mah Bow Tan, who was then the Minister for National Development, strongly supported this project. He saw value in having Gardens by the Bay right in the city, value beyond enhancing the value of the rest of the land in Marina Bay."

Mr Lee said Gardens by the Bay is not just a pretty flower to admire from afar, but the "people's garden" for all to enjoy every single day.

And he urged all Singaporeans to visit the Gardens and embrace it as their own.

Mr Lee said: "This is just one example of how we are transforming Singapore's living environment. It may be a densely populated city, maybe one of the densest in the world, but we are determined that our people should be able to live comfortably, pleasantly, graciously.

"Not just good homes, efficient public transport, which we are working hard to improve, or safe streets. But also be in touch with nature, never far from green spaces and blue waters."

Gardens by the Bay features two conservatory domes - known as Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.

Cloud Forest contains a man-made mountain that houses a variety of high altitude plants that are not normally found in tropical Singapore, while Flower Dome features an indoor Mediterranean garden and seasonal changing floral displays.

There is also an Outdoor Gardens which members of the public can go to free of charge.

The Gardens cost about S$1 billion to build.

CEO of Gardens by the Bay, Dr Tan Wee Kiat, explained: "First of all, this is reclaimed land; in order to be the first project in here, you have got to drain the place, provide canals, bring in roads, electricity - in other words, a lot of the money is spent, half of it is on infrastructure.

"The major portion of the other half are the two glass domes. Twenty per cent of that budget, which is very high for most developments, goes into securing plant material. And it is money rightfully spent because Singaporeans want a bit of spring and autumn, which you can never in the land of perpetual summer."

The new green space opens to the public on Friday, and more than 30,000 visitors are expected to flock here.

- CNA/ms

Gardens by the Bay not an easy decision: PM
Vital to have such green space despite giving up 101ha of prime land, he says
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 29 Jun 12;

SETTING aside 101ha of prime land in the heart of Singapore's new downtown for Gardens by the Bay was not an easy decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

The land could have been used for far more valuable commercial and residential developments, but planners believed in the value of an iconic green space - one that would be a key part of the new downtown in Marina Bay South and Singapore's answer to New York's Central Park and London's Hyde Park.

Speaking at the opening of the attraction, at which he unveiled a silver plaque, he said that with the city-state being so densely populated, such green lungs were needed.

'In fact, the more developed a city Singapore is, the more important it is for us to have such peaceful oases amid our tropical concrete and expressways, in order to give us emotional well-being and a sense of belonging.'

He was addressing 700 civil servants, corporate partners and students who were at the Flower Dome conservatory for the opening ceremony. He had earlier gone on a tour of the Gardens, taking in the sights from the OCBC Skyway, a 128m-long aerial walkway linking two 42m-tall Supertrees.

Mr Lee had announced the idea for the Gardens in his National Day Rally speech in 2005.

By far the largest and most expensive endeavour undertaken by the National Parks Board, the facility is made up of three gardens and is the latest manifestation of the city-in-a-garden vision.

The first and largest of the gardens, Bay South, took five years and $1 billion to build. It has two cooled conservatories that are among the largest in the world. The other gardens, Bay East and Bay Central, will be developed later. A global design competition in 2005 was won by British firm Grant Associates, which came up with the idea for the Supertrees.

A construction boom fuelled by developments like Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa resulted in the cost of the Gardens going up by 35 per cent.

After some rethinking, the number of Supertrees was halved to 18, and excavation work for a full basement carpark forgone.

The Gardens' chief executive Tan Wee Kiat said the project had its share of problems, chief of which was that it was a full-fledged garden built on reclaimed land - and in a short time at that.

Yesterday, Mr Lee singled out former national development minister Mah Bow Tan for pushing for the project when he was in charge.

'He saw value in having Gardens by the Bay right in the city, a value beyond enhancing the price of the rest of the land in Marina Bay,' said Mr Lee.

Speaking to The Straits Times later, Mr Mah said no one would think of putting a commercial value on New York's Central Park. He said: 'Can you imagine if someone said, 'We should have built houses on Hyde Park'? Or 'Let's turn Botanic Gardens into good-class bungalows'?'

National Parks Board chief Poon Hong Yuen said he expects the new Gardens to attract five million visitors in its first year.

Guests at yesterday's opening took many pictures of the lit Supertrees, but the one thing that left most of them awestruck was the 30m waterfall in the Cloud Forest conservatory. 'Wow!' was the word that escaped many lips.

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West's Wildfires A Preview Of Changed Climate: Scientists

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 29 Jun 12;

Scorching heat, high winds and bone-dry conditions are fueling catastrophic wildfires in the U.S. West that offer a preview of the kind of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring, a trio of scientists said on Thursday.

"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like," Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said during a telephone press briefing. "It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster ... This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

In Colorado, wildfires that have raged for weeks have killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes. Because winter snowpack was lighter than usual and melted sooner, fire season started earlier in the U.S. West, with wildfires out of control in Colorado, Montana and Utah.

The high temperatures that are helping drive these fires are consistent with projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said this kind of extreme heat, with little cooling overnight, is one kind of damaging impact of global warming.

Others include more severe storms, floods and droughts, Oppenheimer said.

The stage was set for these fires when winter snowpack was lighter than usual, said Steven Running, a forest ecologist at the University of Montana.

Mountain snows melted an average of two weeks earlier than normal this year, Running said. "That just sets us up for a longer, dryer summer. Then all you need is an ignition source and wind."

Warmer-than-usual winters also allow tree-killing mountain pine beetles to survive the winter and attack Western forests, leaving behind dry wood to fuel wildfires earlier in the season, Running said.

"Now we have a lot of dead trees to burn ... it's not even July yet," he said. Trying to stop such blazes driven by high winds is a bit like to trying to stop a hurricane, Running said: "There is nothing to stop that kind of holocaust."

Fires cost about $1 billion or more a year, and exact a toll on human health, ranging from increased risk of heart, lung and kidney ailments to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Howard Frumkin, a public health expert at the University of Washington.

"Wildfire smoke is like intense air pollution," Frumkin said. "Pollution levels can reach many times higher than a bad day in Mexico City or Beijing."

The elderly, the very young and the ill are most vulnerable to the heat that adds to wildfire risk, he said. The strain of fleeing homes and living in communities in the path of a wildfire can trigger ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

The briefing was convened by Climate Nexus, an advocacy and communications group. An accompanying report on heat waves and climate change was released simultaneously here.

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