Best of our wild blogs: 5 Apr 13

Don’t just trash it, recycle!
from Otterman speaks

Random Gallery - Bluebottle
from Butterflies of Singapore

An insidious threat to tropical forests: over-hunting endangers tree species in Asia and Africa from news by Jeremy Hance

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Birds on the brains

The number of Singapore birdwatchers may be small, but they make up for it with their passion
Lydia Vasko Straits Times 5 Apr 13;

Junior college science teacher Yong Ding Li started birdwatching more than 15 years ago, has seen about 2,000 species and says his heart still skips a beat at the sight of a new bird.

Says Mr Yong, 29: "It is a feeling that is hard to describe. I enjoy the sense of discovery, of seeing something I have never seen before. I am so amazed by the variety of birds that exist. That keeps me going on and on."

While he goes on birdwatching trips four times a year to countries such as Japan, India and Spain, he has also spotted rare, endangered birds here - such as the masked finfoot he saw at Upper Seletar Reservoir in 2009.

Like Mr Yong, you need not go far to spot some spectacular birds.

From a white-throated kingfisher perched by a storm drain in Toa Payoh to a common goldenback woodpecker along Singapore's park connector network, chances are there are avian beauties in your own backyard. And groups and electronic guides here can help you suss them out.

Last week, the Singapore Land Authority launched its interactive birding map, Birder's Corner, on the Nature Society (Singapore) website.

The free software allows users to upload photos, videos or text about birds they have spotted directly on a map of Singapore to pinpoint its location for others or ask for help identifying them.

Members of the public had previously e-mailed information about bird sightings to the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group for dissemination on Web forums and Facebook.

Though only three posts have been made on the new birding map so far, one was a sighting of a rare bird, a green imperial pigeon, which sent dozens of birders to its location in Changi Village.

The website also hosts a map of birdwatching hotspots in Singapore which provides information about the different habitats, their locations and the birds you can see there.

"Birdwatchers like to take notes of the places they've been to," says Mr Yong of the value of such tech-based help for the hobby.

"They pay great attention to the sense of the space, the details of the bird. It gets etched in the memory, especially when you see something rare. You can remember what happened five or 10 years later."

Perhaps, then, a birding digital tool in hand is worth two analogue ones in a bush. A free iPhone app called Birds Of Singapore launched by the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group in May last year has been downloaded more than 3,000 times from the Apple App store so far - a sign that the short attention span of the digital age is not incompatible with the stillness and persistence required for birdwatching.

Aimed at getting more young people interested in birding, the app lets you access 554 images of about 375 species of birds found here and recordings of 100 bird calls.

These include the oriental pied hornbill. Thought to be extinct in Singapore for 140 years, a pair of these exotic black-and-white birds with distinctive yellow, horn-topped beaks appeared in Pulau Ubin in 1994.

Then, there is the crimson sunbird, voted Singapore's unofficial national bird by members of the public in a Nature Society (Singapore) poll in 2002.

Birders also stay in touch through online forums on Facebook and the Nature Society (Singapore) website, where they post bird sightings and related questions about bird behaviour and identification, for example.

There is a small but connected community of fewer than 500 birders here.

Most are members of of the Nature Society (Singapore), which started in 1986 as a continuation of the Malayan Nature Society, active in the 1970s.

The 200-member group organises about two birdwatching trips a month to parks and reserves around Singapore.

These trips are open to members of the public, novices and expert birders alike. It also conducts four bird census each year to keep track of the numbers and species of the general bird population here, as well as a parrot and raptor count to monitor their population numbers.

Joining such tours - sign up via the Nature Society (Singapore) website - allows new birders to learn enthusiasts' tricks, such as how to identify bird calls and the trademark features of different species.

Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group's immediate past chairman, retired businessman Alan Owyong, 66, says the field has come a long way.

"I started in the early 1980s with a guide book that had black-and-white illustrations and lots of text," recalls the avid birder who picked up the hobby with his then teenage daughter, as part of a school project she had been working on.

"Today, we have the latest technology and digital cameras to capture rare birds for identification. The mobile phone provides instant alerts, which is very important if you want to see some of the rarer species," he adds.

The 26-year-old birdwatching club also holds annual birdwatching competitions. Its Bird Race, a 24-hour bird-a-thon which sees groups of birders racing to spot as many species of birds as they can within 24 hours, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in October this year.

From about 10 participants in its inaugural year, the event on Oct 19 and 20 is set to attract roughly 50 people this year.

Last year, the group also ran its first Big Year: a year-long contest, in which birders try to spot as many bird species they can between Jan 1 and Dec 31 last year.

Fifteen participants traipsed around the island, from Pulau Ubin to Sungei Buloh, in order to see as many resident and migratory birds as possible.

Birders reported their sightings based on an honour system. They had to see the bird and not just hear it for the sighting to count.

The top prize eventually went to Mr Lim Kim Seng, 53, an outdoor education lecturer at a polytechnic here. He spotted 265 birds, a Singapore record. On winning top prize, the part-time nature guide and outdoor education lecturer at Republic Polytechnic says: "I felt relief that it's over. It is so tiring chasing birds almost every day. But it helped that we shared information about our bird sightings. It made it much more fun and more fulfilling."

There is no Big Year this year, however: Participants are still worn out by last year's competition, according to Mr Owyong.

"Doing a Big Year is very demanding," he says, adding that it will probably resume next year. "This year, we needed time to rest."

Seen as a kind of peaceful conquest - unlike the trophy-taking damage wrought by game hunters or specimen-staking, curio cabinet-filling of Victorian flora and fauna collectors - birdwatching typically requires some degree of study and preparation.

Enthusiasts spend hours studying bird species in bird guides and listening to recordings of their calls before they go out into the field.

Most birders go birding at least once a month. Devotees take one or two birding trips overseas every year.

"You have to be ready to drop everything and go when you hear about a bird sighting, miss work and family time to see the birds because they may be there for only a short time," explains Mr Owyong of the hobby's subtle kick.

"You might not see them for another, say, 27 years."

Marketing and commercial manager Tan Ju Lin, 41, who has been a committed birder for more than 10 years, says birdwatching is "something you often do unconsciously, daily".

A bird flies by while you are engaged in a mundane activity and you cannot help but look, she adds.

Similarly, Mr Owyong keeps a pair of binoculars in his car so that he can train them on birds wherever he goes.

"The young generation come, learn from people like me and then they will teach the next generation. It's a cycle," he says, of attracting younger people to birdwatching in an age of information and sensory overload.

"In the end, if only 10 per cent of those app downloads turn out to be birdwatchers, it will be enough."

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Dog trapping by town council riles animal lovers

Neo Chai Chin and Louisa Tang Today Online 5 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — An exercise to trap stray dogs in Bukit Batok was halted on Wednesday night after intervention by animal welfare activists, but the fate of the dogs going forward — except for seven puppies rescued that will be put up for adoption — remains unclear.

The incident has riled animal welfare activists, who questioned why Jurong Town Council (JTC) did not engage them before hiring pest controllers.

Responding to media queries yesterday, a JTC spokesman said it had engaged a pest control company to trap the stray dogs in the forested area beside Bukit Batok MRT Station and “move them to appropriate shelters”, following “several complaints” from residents. He said: “Residents have given feedback that these dogs are becoming more aggressive, and there were some incidents of the strays chasing after residents.” The strays have been around for years but became a “more prevalent” problem recently, and residents “urged for quick action” before anyone was harmed, he added.

The pest control staff arrived at the site on Wednesday night and were spotted by a caregiver for cats in the community, who only wanted to be known as Ms Siau. Fearing the dogs would be culled, she contacted dog welfare activists and the town council in hopes of linking them up. The JTC spokesman told TODAY it then ceased the exercise, with no dog trapped.

But volunteers from HOPE Dog Rescue and Voices for Animals who arrived past 9pm said they spotted the pest control staff on-site for about another hour. Dogs were running around and barking, sounding stressed, wrote HOPE founder Fiona Foo on the group’s blog.

The volunteers made three trips into the forested area with flashlights and spotted five or six dogs, as well as seven puppies, said Mr Derrick Tan, founder of Voices for Animals. The dogs ran away but the puppies were rescued.

An adoption drive for them will be held this Sunday at Mutts and Mittens on Pasir Ris Farmway 2, said Ms Foo.

Questioning the town council’s actions, Ms Foo wrote on HOPE’s blog: “Instead of working with animal welfare groups to trap and rehome, they took the easy way out, engaged a pest control company to get rid of what they deemed as pests.”

But JTC told TODAY it is “not into culling of these stray animals and will continue to work closely with dog lovers and interest groups” as well as the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) for a solution on the remaining dogs. It did not provide details.

An AVA spokesperson said it engages external contractors to round up stray dogs, who must follow guidelines on the capture, handling and transport of the animals and equipment allowed to be used. These guidelines have been extended to town councils Trapped animals are surrendered to the AVA, which supports rehoming efforts. Impounded dogs are humanely euthanised as a last resort, she added.

Mr Tan said Voices for Animals is keen to assist the AVA in trapping, sterilisation, vaccination and release of the dogs, which would help control the population and reduce the dogs’ aggression.

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In Malaysia's election, a focus on rainforest graft

Niluksi Koswanage Reuters 2 Apr 13;

(Reuters) - The island of Borneo may be all that stands between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and an unprecedented election defeat within weeks for his ruling coalition.

Borneo's two Malaysian states -- Sabah and Sarawak -- have been a bastion of votes for the National Front coalition headed by Najib's party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

The two states, among Malaysia's poorest despite vast natural resources, kept the National Front in power in 2008 even as a groundswell of support for the opposition deprived the government of its iron-clad two-thirds parliamentary majority.

That could start to change. Allegations of corruption in recent months have dogged the chief ministers of both Sabah and Sarawak, long-time rulers who hold vast sway over some of the world's largest tracts of tropical forests.

The National Front is favored to win the election that Najib must call by the end of April, extending its 56-year rule thanks to robust economic growth and its strong electoral machinery.

But it could be one of Malaysia's closest elections. Corruption scandals threaten to undermine one of Najib's central messages -- that he is making Southeast Asia's third-largest economy more transparent and competitive.

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, who is also the state's top UMNO official, has been under scrutiny the past year after whistleblower website Sarawak Report published documents from the Hong Kong and Malaysian anti-corruption agencies.

The two agencies started investigating Musa in late 2008. The probe was based on a tip-off that the chief minister was extracting money from businessmen seeking timber concessions and funneling it to UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore, sources close to the investigations said. They declined to say who gave the tip-off.

The Hong Kong anti-graft agency froze a UBS account managed by a lawyer on behalf of Musa, the sources said, and began a joint investigation with its Malaysian counterpart.

The agencies closed the case three years later and unfroze the funds after the Malaysian government publicly said the money was donations for UMNO, not bribes. The Malaysian government has not explained why political donations had to be routed through Hong Kong and Singapore.

Musa told Reuters in a statement that he has been cleared by both anti-graft agencies. However, an independent panel overseeing the Malaysian graft agency has recently requested the case be reviewed.

"These are the same old stories, rehashed over and over again," Musa said. "It is just the usual silly season before the general election, when the opposition gets up to their usual monkey business."

The opposition, which argues the fruit of Malaysia's brisk economic growth is largely concentrated in the hands of a well-connected elite, has vowed to keep pouring it on.

"How Musa manages Sabah in favor of the government rather than the people will certainly be a prominent part of election rallies on the opposition side," said Lim Kit Siang, a leader in the opposition coalition headed by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.


The Hong Kong anti-graft agency told Reuters it investigated a number of Malaysian nationals, including a government official, for breaching the prevention of bribery ordinance in connection with the UBS accounts. It neither confirmed nor denied that Musa was the focus of the investigation.

Malaysia's anti-corruption agency said it provided assistance to its Hong Kong counterparts but declined to give details. Malaysian anti-corruption officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the leaked documents obtained by Sarawak Report were genuine and Musa was, indeed, the focus of the investigation.

Sarawak Report said the Hong Kong and Malaysian anti-graft agency documents it acquired showed that $90 million in illegal logging proceeds from Sabah were channeled to the UBS accounts. That prompted Swiss prosecutors to open a criminal money laundering probe into UBS last August.

The investigations into UBS and its relationship with Musa are continuing, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said. UBS said it was fully cooperating with the authorities but declined to give more details.

As chief minister, Musa is in charge of the Sabah Foundation, which manages a state forest reserve covering 3,861 square miles, nearly half the size of New Jersey. The foundation allows timber companies to annually log a tiny fraction of that area. The logging proceeds are supposed to fund education and welfare projects in the state.

As chief minister, Musa signs off on all the logging permits that its board of directors agree to award to timber firms, or at least in one case, to a family member.

One of the Malaysian anti-corruption agency documents listed companies that won permits from the foundation. It shows the foundation awarded 2,000 hectares (7.7 sq miles) of primary forest to Musa's younger brother, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, at a special board of directors' meeting on May 7, 2004.

The same Malaysian anti-graft document shows Musa consistently signed off on concessions that exceeded, or even doubled, the allowable timber cut. While not illegal, it shows the state was exceeding its own guidelines on deforestation.

Some of the companies on that list made payments into a UBS corporate account belonging to a former Musa associate, bank statements on the account obtained by Reuters shows. From the same account, withdrawals were made by the associate to fund Musa's sons who were studying in Australia, the statements show.

Two timber firms in Sabah transferred two payments totaling $4.04 million on August 16, 2006 into the corporate UBS account belonging to the former Musa associate. Six days later on August 22, the exact same amount was transferred into a personal UBS account belonging to Musa's lawyer. The Hong Kong anti-graft agency described that account as "held in trust" for Musa, according to the bank statements and investigation documents.

That same day, the firms won a 32,000 hectare (124 sq miles) timber concession and a contract to maintain a road to a logging camp, according to the Malaysian anti-graft agency document.

The owners of those two timber firms confirmed to Reuters that the $4.04 million transactions were "donations" to Musa and UMNO to secure the contracts. They requested their names and the names of their firms not be identified.

Malaysia's government has said all the funds in that UBS account were ultimately sent to UMNO as political donations. Other firms on the list of companies that received timber concessions could not be reached or declined to comment.


While there is no published data on how much forest has been cleared within the Sabah Foundation forest reserve, official data shows significant deforestation throughout the state.

In 1992, the state's total forest cover stood at 17,000 square miles, about half the size of Ireland. By 2011, it had shrunk to 13,900 square miles, based on the latest available data from the forestry department. Primary or virgin forests have been particularly hard-hit, declining from 1,595 square miles in 1992 to just 348 square miles in 2011.

With diminishing forests left to cut, logging revenues fell by half over five years to less than 250 million ringgit in 2011 ($80.6 million).

Musa has made a push for Sabah to diversify into agriculture and oil and gas, which helped state budget revenues hit a record 4.1 billion ringgit last year. But the state's unemployment rate remains at 5.4 percent, the highest of any state in Malaysia, where the national average is 3.0 percent.

Musa's popularity ratings have declined as well, to 45 percent in 2012 from 60 percent in 2009, according to a survey by the Merdeka Centre, Malaysia's most respected pollster.


Law Minister Mohamad Nazri Aziz told parliament last October the funds in the UBS bank account held on behalf of Musa were political donations, without giving details about the source of the money or explaining why such funds had to be routed through foreign countries.

Based on evidence submitted by the Malaysian anti-graft agency, Malaysia's attorney-general found no indication of corruption or linkages with the Swiss government's investigation into UBS, Nazri said.

But an independent panel overseeing the Malaysian anti-graft agency has since written to the attorney-general requesting a review of his decision to close the case on Musa, a high ranking anti-graft official said at a public forum held by the Bar Council. The official did not disclose why the review was requested and declined to respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The attorney general did not respond to requests for comment.

As UMNO's party leader in Sabah, Musa is expected to find ways of raising money for the party - and to get out the vote.

"For UMNO, Musa is almost indispensable in Sabah. You lose him, you may lose your whole regime," said Oh Ei Sun, senior visiting fellow with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and a former political secretary to Prime Minister Najib.


The opposition, campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, is banking on winning 20 seats in Sabah and Sarawak in the election, which could put it within sight of a 112-seat simple majority in parliament.

Sarawak has also been under the spotlight over allegations of timber corruption. The Malaysian anti-corruption agency said it has been investigating Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud since 2011 in response to environmental activists' complaints about corruption in the forestry industry. That investigation continues and any new evidence will be taken into account, the agency spokesman said.

He was referring to environmental activist group Global Witness, which posted a video in March that went viral. It showed Taib's cousins and associates apparently offering thousands of hectares of forest land to the group's undercover investigators and formulating plans to book the land sales in Singapore to avoid Malaysian taxes. The cousins could not be reached for comment. (For the video, see: here)

Taib publicly denied the allegations raised as a result of the video. "I saw the so-called proof. It has nothing to do with me," he told local media. "Everything has to be done with government procedure."

In an interview with Reuters last Tuesday, Prime Minister Najib declined to discuss details of the investigations into the Sabah and Sarawak chief ministers, and said he was against corruption in "any form."

Asked about the Global Witness video, Najib said: "It's ok, everything will be investigated, and due process will take its course."

(Additional reporting by David Fogarty, Angie Teo and Stuart Grudgings in KUALA LUMPUR and James Pomfret in HONG KONG; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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WHO confirms five deaths from China bird flu

Many cases of the new strain have been found in Shanghai
BBC 5 Apr 13;

The World Health Organization says there have now been five deaths in China from a new bird flu virus.

There have been 11 laboratory-confirmed cases of the H7N9 virus, a form of avian flu which had not been seen before in humans.

But the WHO says there is currently no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Tests suggest that the virus could be treated with the anti-influenza drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.

Around 400 people who have been in close contact with the 11 cases are being monitored.

'Heightened surveillance'

The Chinese government has stepped up its disease surveillance and is retrospectively testing any recently reported cases of severe respiratory infection, to check if any cases had not been recognised as H7N9.

An inter-government task force has been formally established, and the animal health sector has intensified investigations into the possible sources of the virus.

China's government has also advised people to maintain good personal hygiene, including frequent hand-washing and avoid direct contact with sick or dead animals.

The WHO is not recommending any travel or trade restrictions.

China reports fifth H7N9 bird flu death
(AFP) Google News 5 Apr 1`3;

BEIJING — A new strain of bird flu has claimed two more lives in China's business capital of Shanghai, taking the total number of human deaths attributed to the H7N9 virus to five, state media said Thursday.

Four of the deaths have occurred in the commercial hub, while the other was reported in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang on Wednesday.

Chinese authorities are trying to determine how exactly the new variety of bird flu infects people, but say there is no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission.

The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 14, including six from Shanghai, according to the official Xinhua news agency which cited health authorities.

The first two deaths occurred in February but were not reported by authorities until late March. Officials said the delay in announcing the results was because it took time to determine the cause of the illnesses.

A 48-year-old poultry transporter was among the latest two reported dead Thursday while the identity of the other person was not released. Both were said to have died a day earlier.

Authorities said none of the eight people whom the 48-year-old had close contact with had shown signs of infection.

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of a pandemic because the sub-type is not thought to be transmitted from human to human, unlike the more common H5N1 strain.

But health experts have emphasised the need to quickly identify the source of the virus and its mode of transmission to reduce human exposure.

China's Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday the virus has been detected in pigeon samples collected at a marketplace in Shanghai, according to a Xinhua report, which did not define the nature of the samples.

After gene sequence analysis, the national avian flu reference laboratory found the strain of the virus in pigeons to be "highly congenetic with those found on persons infected with H7N9 virus".

The more common strain of bird flu, H5N1, killed more than 360 people globally from 2003 until March 12 this year, according to the WHO.

In another development, a man in the central province of Hunan died from H1N1 (swine) flu on Wednesday, Xinhua reported.

A 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic resulted in over 18,000 deaths worldwide, according to WHO estimates. But the strain, while highly contagious, is not thought to be more lethal than ordinary flu.

U.S. says following new bird flu closely, preparing vaccine
Julie Steenhuysen Reuters 4 Apr 13;

(Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday it was monitoring a new strain of bird flu and has started work on a vaccine just in case it is needed.

So far, the strain known as avian influenza A (H7N9) has only been found in China and does not appear to be capable of being passed from person to person.

The strain has killed five people, and global health officials are discussing if and when it may be necessary to start producing a vaccine.

The infections in China mark the first time humans have been afflicted by this new strain of bird flu, which causes severe respiratory illness.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency is monitoring the situation closely and working with its domestic and international partners.

The CDC has begun reviewing genetic sequence information on the strain and started the process of making a "seed" virus, a genetically modified version of the virus that could be used by manufacturers to make a vaccine. Because the agency is using artificial or synthetic DNA for this step, Skinner said the seed virus may be available within the next few weeks.

Then, several weeks of testing the seed virus in ferrets would be required to determine if it can be used to make a vaccine. If the answer is yes, then ramping up production would take several months. All told, said Skinner, production of a vaccine against the new strain - should one be needed - would not be underway for five to six months.

Before full-scale production of a vaccine begins, however, there are several questions that must be addressed, especially whether the virus is being transmitted from person to person.

"Right now there is no evidence to suggest that is the case," Skinner said in a telephone interview.

CDC labs will also be conducting tests to see if the virus is susceptible to current antiviral drugs used to treat flu, such as Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu, he said.

However, Skinner stressed that the steps the CDC is taking are routine preparedness measures that often apply when a new flu virus is detected in people.

Most conventional flu vaccines in the United States are still made using a 60-year-old process in which the vaccine is grown in fertilized chicken eggs. That method can take several months to complete, but it is changing.

In November, Novartis won U.S. regulatory approval to sell its cell-based flu vaccine, which uses a speedier manufacturing process.

In January, privately held Protein Sciences Corp won U.S. approval to develop the first gene-based flu vaccine, which uses genetic engineering to grow portions of the virus in insect cells rather than eggs.

Other U.S. flu vaccine makers include Sanofi SA, AstraZeneca Plc and GlaxoSmithKline.

(Additional reporting by Sharon Begley in New York; Editing by Xavier Briand, Christopher Wilson and Eric Beech)

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Indonesia: Asia Pulp & Paper denies breaking logging promise after WWF allegations

Asia Pulp & Paper has announced that it has not breached its deforestation policy following WWF allegations
Leigh Stringer 4 Apr 13;

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) announced today that it has not breached its deforestation policy following allegations by WWF that it will not provide "any real conservation benefits".

Announced in February, APP and Sinar Mas's deforestation policy stated that it would form "an end to the clearing of natural forest across its entire supply chain in Indonesia, with immediate effect."

However, according to new analysis released today by Eyes on the Forest (EoF), a coalition of environmental organisations, including WWF, Jikalahari and Walhi Riau, the policy protects "at most 5,000 hectares of natural forest".

WWF said that this compares to the deforestation of more than 2 million hectares caused by the operation of APP's Sumatra pulp mills over the past three decades.

Conservation director of WWF-Indonesia, Nazir Foead, said: "When APP published the policy, we thought it could be great news for Indonesia's forests, biodiversity and citizens".

"However, after this new analysis for Sumatra, it appears that the company has announced a halt to deforestation only after completing nearly all the deforestation it could possible do," added Foead.

WWF also claims that, despite previous company promises to exclusively pulp plantation fiber by 2004, 2007 and 2009, the company's rate of deforestation remained constant between 1995 and 2011, apart from a period in 2007-2009 when authorities were investigating alleged illegal logging by the industry, including APP wood suppliers.

It added that the rate of deforestation slowed in 2012 for "the sole reason that there was very little natural forest left to cut".

Responding to the allegations, APP told edie that, to date, there have been no breaches of the policy.

"We are confident that the amount of forest that will be saved by our recently announced Forest Conservation Policy will be significant. We intend to release the results of that work" it said.

The company said it does not have an exact figure for the amount of forest that will be saved through the policy because "that work is not complete and APP has no intention of making claims that do not stand up to scrutiny".

The policy has been criticised for being 'too little too late', while many green groups say it avoids past accusations of the company's "irresponsible" deforestation. Green groups have called for APP to be more transparent in its operations and the company has been a focal point in the press for its disputes with protesters.

Walhi Riau's, Hariansyah Usman, said: "Our analysis points to one conclusion: APP once again seems to hope that it can fool people into imagining huge conservation benefits while overlooking past transgressions".

"We don't see the policy's potential future conservation benefits balancing in any way the many unresolved issues stemming from APP's deforestation legacy," added Usman.

However, APP says it has never stated that the past is unimportant, and claims it recognises the importance of the issue of restoration of certain areas in which natural forest was cleared.

"That issue remains on the table, but our immediate priority is ensuring that our global supply base implements the moratorium we have announced and the ambitious goals of our Forest Conservation Policy," said APP.

"This is no small undertaking. Our key focus, and one encouraged by a number of NGOs during extensive recent local consultations in several locations in Indonesia, is to adhere to the High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments, findings and recommendations" it continued.

Despite APP's focus on assessing its activities, the EoF says that only full disclosure of all activities, including the status of all existing and planned wood supply bases and all mill expansion plans "can prove whether this policy contains any real conservation benefits."

Last week, NGOs in Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo, found continued logging of tropical forest taking place in the concessions of two APP wood suppliers, who, according to the WWF, are supposed to be bound by the February deforestation moratorium.

Director of Forests at WWF International, Rod Taylor, said: "WWF recommends that paper buyers do not rush into doing business with APP".

"APP cannot be regarded as a responsible producer without redressing the harm caused by its past operations and removing any doubt that wood linked to forest clearing can enter its mills," he added.

Later this week, APP shall release an independent report by TFT which, according to the company, will show that recent allegations about APP suppliers breaching the new Forest Conservation Policy are unfounded.

"We will release the report and associated data in full and welcome the fact that this, the third use of our new grievance policy since our Policy was announced on February 5th, has been shown to allow for considerable speed and transparency in assessing complaints made against APP and its suppliers," says APP.

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Indonesia: Minister supports proposal on extension of forest moratorium

Antara 4 Apr 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan said he supported the idea on extending forest moratorium, that will expire in May 2013, to preserve the Indonesian forests.

"I principally support to extend it (forest moratorium)... thus, the investment on forestry should be growing and managed that the environment become well-preserved," Minister Zulkifli Hasan said here on Thursday after opening the Fifth Indogreen Forestry Expo 2013.

The minister said the forest moratorium was beneficial to preserve the Indonesian forest area and there were many institutions that have supported the idea to extend it.

The Ministry is waiting the President to make decision about the forest moratorium, regulated in the President Decree No.11/2011, that will be expired in May 2013.

Hasan said the moratorium was not intended to hamper investment on forestry sector, but to keep the preservation of Indonesian forests.

However, he did not specify the period of the next term of moratorium, expected to be approved by the President.

Previously, The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) urged the Indonesian Government to extend the forest moratorium to prevent social and environmental conflict in the future.

"If the moratorium is not extended, we are certain in the next five years, social and environmental conflict would rise in the 25 million hectares of Indonesian forest area," Forest and Large Scale Plantation Campaign Manager of Walhi Zenzi Suhadi said.

The moratorium on primary forest and peat land should be extended and strengthened. "Not only by suspending the forest concession, but also improving the management of forest area and concession as well as determining the penalties against the violating institutions," Suhadi said.

Suhadi said the moratorium, had not been effectively conducted as the Forum found some attempts of local administrations and authorities to deceive the moratorium by proposing concession for residential area.

"There are many of them, agreed for residential area, turned into plantation areas. This is what the government should take notice," Suhadi said.

"The government should view the Natural Resource as the national`s and citizens` priceless asset, not to put itself as a tax collector for private enterprises which exploit the Indonesian forest," Suhadi said.

Or else, there would come into surface a phenomena of increasing social income without accompanied by improving social welfare because the local people will have to pay for what they can get freely from the forest, he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Isolated Bleached Coral Reefs Can Heal Themselves

Douglas Main Yahoo News 5 Apr 13;

Coral reefs may be more independent and resilient than previously thought.

New research shows that an isolated reef off the northwest coast of Australia that was severely damaged by a period of warming in 1998 has regenerated in a very short time to become nearly as healthy as it was before. What surprises scientists, though, is that the reef regenerated by itself, found a study published today (April 4) in the journal Science.

Until now, scientists have thought that damaged reefs depend on new recruits from nearby reefs to quickly heal themselves, said study author James Gilmour, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. But this study found that may not always be the case ? at least with reefs like this one, which has good water quality and isn't heavily impacted by humans, Gilmour told OurAmazingPlanet in an email.

Hot water

In 1998, unusually warm weather heated up waters off the northwest coast of Australia by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above average. These temperatures persisted for several weeks.

The heat led to the bleaching of the corals, in which corals kick out the tiny symbiotic algae housed within them that provide corals food. If the water's temperature quickly returns to normal, the coral can recover. But often, it dies, becoming a white skeleton of its former self.

The 1998 event killed 70 percent to 90 percent of corals in various parts of the reef, and the number of coral embryos collected by researchers monitoring the reef dropped to almost zero. Gilmour said this shows that the remaining corals weren't reproducing and that there weren't any coral embryos washing in from surrounding reefs. Recovery was expected to take many decades, Gilmour said. [Stressed Coral: Photos of Great Barrier Reef]


At first, the reef grew slowly, mostly through the enlargement of existing coral colonies. But to really recover, the coral needs to sexually reproduce, creating sperm and egg that form embryos that then land on the ocean floor and grow into adult corals ? if all goes well. These larvae can survive for hundreds of miles, swept along by ocean currents, and colonize new areas under the right circumstances.

Larvae floating in from other reefs could have helped the reef, had it not been so isolated.

But amazingly, after about six years, the surviving corals matured and began to reproduce, creating even more new colonies than before the bleaching. "They recovered, and the larvae they produced settled and survived, at much higher rates than is often reported," Gilmour said. By 2012, the reef was basically back to its old self.

The study suggests that, when it comes to reefs, being isolated from human activity may trump being connected to other reefs. Why? Human activities can hurt reefs in a number of ways. Overfishing, for example, removes fish that keep algae from choking out and outcompeting corals, and sediment and pathogens in runoff water can lead to coral diseases and death.

But the results also mean that local decisions about fishing and other issues can help preserve reefs, which are threatened by global warming. "Managing local conditions is a tangible way to maximize the resilience of coral reefs while the more difficult problem of addressing the causes of climate change are resolved," Gilmour said.

Isolated Australian reef recovers from bleaching
AAP Perth Now 5 Apr 13;

But it's made a quick recovery, suggesting new corals can be recruited from local sources when fish are plentiful and reefs are not disturbed.

Coral bleaching is a stress condition in reef corals.

It's usually caused by higher water temperatures that break down the coral's symbiotic relationship with algae that provide food for coral growth.

Scientists led by James Gilmour of the Australian Institute of Marine Science looked at the recovery of Scott Reef after extreme water temperatures struck in 1998 and up to 90 per cent of its corals were lost to bleaching.

Because the reef is more than 250km from Western Australia, recovery was expected to be slow as there were no nearby reef systems to supply coral larvae.

But coral cover still increased from nine per cent to 44 per cent across the entire system in 12 years.

Gilmour and colleagues suggest that's because herbivorous fish remained abundant in the Scott system, even after the bleaching.

They believe the fish kept microalgae in check and allowed coralline algae to thrive.

Their study, published in Science magazine, suggests that reef systems can recruit corals from local sources, especially when fish are plentiful and human disturbances are limited.

There's little fishing at Scott Reef, apart from the harvesting of sea cucumber, trochus and shark fin by Indonesian islanders using traditional fishing methods.

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Foreign demand for beef, soybeans adds pressure on Amazon forest

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 5 Apr 13;

Rising foreign demand for beef and soybeans will tempt Brazil to clear more of the Amazon rainforest, in a reversal of recent success in slowing forest losses, a study said on Thursday.

About 30 percent of deforestation in Brazil in the decade to 2010 was due to farmers and ranchers seeking land to expand export production of beef and soybeans, against about 20 percent in the 1990s, the report said.

"Trade is emerging as a key driver of deforestation in Brazil," according to experts at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo (Cicero).

"This may indirectly contribute to loss of the forests that industrialized countries are seeking to protect through international agreements," they wrote in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Exports of beef and soybeans accounted for 2.7 billion metric tons (1 metric ton = 1.102 tons) of carbon emissions caused by Brazil's deforestation in the decade to 2010, the report said. That exceeds greenhouse gas emissions of a nation such as Egypt over the same period.

Deforestation of Brazil's Amazon region fell 27 percent to 1,798 square miles between August 2011 and July 2012 from the same period a year earlier, the Brazilian Environment Ministry said in November.

That was the lowest since monitoring began in 1988. Brazil's so-called Legal Amazon covers 5.2 million square kilometers.

But growing foreign demand and the Brazilian government's eagerness for economic growth meant continued falls in the rate of forest loss were unlikely without new measures to safeguard forests, the report said.

Worldwide, deforestation accounts for up to a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions from human sources, according to U.N. estimates. Trees soak up carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot.

Under U.N. climate change rules, greenhouse gas emissions count as those within national boundaries. Suggestions of shifting responsibility to consumers, for instance foreign buyers of Brazil's beef, are often dismissed as too complicated.

"It's been a bugbear in the forest sector," said Duncan Macqueen, a forest researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in Edinburgh. "Consumers ask 'why should we suffer the cost of reforming the system?'" he said.

Some schemes seek to certify forest production as coming from a source that does not involve illegal logging. But these have drawbacks since the costs of audits can be prohibitive for small producers, he said.

The Cicero study suggested better labeling or information about imports to guide consumers.

The study did not try to compare the environmental impact of Brazil's beef or soybean production with that other nations to see where production was least damaging. "Similar analyses still have to be done," lead author Jonas Karstensen told Reuters.

(Editing by Jason Webb)

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Climate change making extreme events worse in Australia – report

Country faces more frequent and more severe weather events if it fails to make deep and swift cuts to carbon emissions
Damian Carrington 2 Apr 13;

The extreme heatwaves, flooding and bush fires striking Australia have already been intensified by climate change and are set to get even worse in future, according to a new report. Only fast and deep cuts to carbon emissions can start to reverse the trend, say scientists from the Climate Commission, an independent advisory group set up by the Australian government.

"Climate change is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment," said climate commissioner professor Will Steffen. "We are very concerned that the risk of more frequent and more severe extreme weather events is increasing as we continue to emit more and more greenhouse gases."

Chief commissioner, Tim Flannery, said: "Records are broken from time to time, but record-breaking weather is becoming more common as the climate shifts. Only strong preventative action, with deep and swift cuts in emissions this decade, can stabilise the climate and halt the trend towards more intense extreme weather."

The report states that the number of record hot days in Australia has doubled since the 1960s, with the summer of 2012/2013 including the hottest summer, hottest month and hottest day on record. In a previous heatwave in southeastern Australia in 2009, Melbourne experienced three consecutive days at or above 43°C in late January, the report notes, leading to 980 heat-related deaths, three times the average mortality. Hot records are now being broken three times more often than cold records, the report found.

"There is little doubt that over the next few decades changes in extreme events will increase the risks of adverse consequences to human health, agriculture, infrastructure and the environment," in Australia, the report found. Key food-growing regions across the southeast and the southwest are likely to experience more droughts in the future, with part of western Australia having already experienced a 15% drop in rainfall since the mid-1970s.

Beyond the risk to human life, the report also highlights the great economic costs extreme weather can cause. The cost of the 2009 'Black Saturday' bushfires in Victoria was estimated at A$4.4bn (£3bn), while the the Queensland floods of 2010/2011 cost over A$5bn, the report said.

Global warming has already caused global sea level to rise 20cm, the report wrote, meaning storm surges ride towards the coast from a level higher than a century ago, significantly increasing the risk of flooding along Australia's socially, economically and environmentally important coastlines. The report cites the example of Fremantle, which since 1950 has experienced a tripling in flooding.

The underlying cause, the report concludes, is that climate change means the atmosphere is warmer, wetter and more energetic than 50 years ago, loading the dice towards more frequent and more severe extreme weather events.

In 2011, a report by 220 scientists concluded that extreme weather was increasing, with heatwaves near certain to become more damaging and intense rainfall likely to rise.

In Australia, the emergency services are already noting the need to prepare for a more extreme climate, with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council stating: "Fire and emergency service agencies need to plan strategically to identify how they would cope with the projected increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather."

The Climate Commission based its report on the latest research and observations from Australian bodies including the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and leading universities and their international counterparts.

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