Best of our wild blogs: 13 Apr 13

Pulau Ubin: Explanation, and Final Remarks
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Is the Sexy Island Wild? Let Neil Humphreys convince you, Channel News Asia, 8.30pm tonight! from Habitatnews

Random Gallery - Leopard Lacewing
from Butterflies of Singapore

Fri 19 Apr 2013: 4.00pm – Dr Benito Tan on “Nomenclature and Plant Taxonomy: a challenging and interesting experience” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Will Indonesia renew its moratorium on new forest conversion licenses? from news by Rhett Butler

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Pulau Ubin residents will not be evicted: MND and SLA

Feng Zengkun Straits Times Breaking News 13 Apr 13;

Residents on Pulau Ubin will not be evicted and there are no plans to develop a new adventure park on the island, the Ministry of National Development and the Singapore Land Authority said on Friday in a joint statement.

However, if affected residents do decide to stay in their homes, they will have to pay rent from now on because they are staying on state land.

The agencies clarified that the notices given to 22 households in March - widely thought to be eviction notices - were a follow-up from a previous exercise.

Since 1993, the households had been informed that they would be affected by public development, which included a new recreation park, and were entitled to resettlement benefits.

Facilties for the park, which included cycling and hiking trails and campsites, were subsequently completed between 1994 and 2005.

During a recent SLA review, the agency noted that not all 22 households had claimed their resettlement benefits. The SLA then employed the Housing and Development Board to conduct a census survey in March to find out whether the households were still eligible for the resettlement benefits and whether they wanted to stay or relocate.

"These households are currently residing on state land without a temporary occupation license," the agencies said in the statement. "They can continue to stay on state land if they obtain (the license) from SLA and pay a fee for the use of the land, similar to any other use of state land."

The agencies said the rents will be pegged at the market rate, but would be phased in stages so households will only pay the full market rate in six years.

"The Government will also render other forms of assistance as may be necessary to households who require and qualify for such assistance," they said, adding that each case would be reviewed separately.

"The planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans. Given this, there is no need for the residents to move out."

Ubin kampung residents won't be evicted
But the 22 households who received HDB notices will have to start paying rent or relocate
Poon Chian Hui And Feng Zengkun Straits Times 13 Apr 13;

Mr Lim Chu Zi, 82, the village representative, said many residents have never paid property tax. -- ST PHOTOS: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Ms Jariah Garib (right), 76, and her daughter Hamidah Awang, 48, live in a house which they say has been handed down for generations, but are unsure if they qualify for benefits. -- ST PHOTOS: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

KAMPUNG residents of Pulau Ubin who recently received notices from the Housing Board (HDB) that their homes were to be cleared will not be evicted, as they feared.

But the catch is, the 22 households, which are in different parts of the island, will have to start paying rent to continue living where they are.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) yesterday addressed rumours that some residents on the 1,020ha island are being forced to move out to make way for an adventure park.

Such a new facility is not on the cards, they said in a joint statement last night.

"The planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible, as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans," the statement said.

The current situation goes back to 1993 when plans were made to develop a "recreation park" on the island.

The Government said then that it would acquire 254ha of private land partly for this purpose.

From 1994 to 2005, cycling and hiking trails, campsites, shelters and toilets were built to cater to visitors. The Ketam Mountain Bike Park, which opened in 2008, was also part of this plan.

The acquisition exercise entitled legal property owners to resettlement benefits, whether or not they moved.

But as the affected residents were now living on state-owned land, they had to apply for a temporary occupation licence (TOL) to continue living in their homes, the authorities said in the statement.

A recent SLA review found the 22 households have done neither and thus were issued notices on March 12.

The HDB document said these homes are slated for "clearance", and that officers will visit the premises to conduct a "census survey" and determine their "eligibility of resettlement benefits".

Only those who have documents to prove that they own the house will be entitled to the money.

The survey, to end in June, will also ascertain if the households intend to relocate or stay.

Those who choose to stay will have to apply for a TOL and pay rent, which will be increased gradually so that residents pay the full market rate from the sixth year onwards.

Rents will depend on the site and gross floor areas and usage, to be determined from the survey.

Assistance will be given to those who require and qualify for it, said the SLA-MND statement.

Even so, Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, is worried that she cannot afford to pay the rent.

Her taxi driver husband has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and is undergoing treatment, she said.

She has been told by the authorities that she may receive $10,000 as resettlement benefits, which is "too little", she said.

Madam Kamariah does not know the size of her home, but said she had documents of ownership.

"I don't understand why they want to give us money, then take it back through rent," she said.

Former pig farmer Lim Chu Zi, 82, the son of the late village chief there who is the representative for the village, said many residents have never paid property tax.

His own home is not affected, but others have moved out ahead of this episode, he said. About 10 families are left in one affected area, known as Kampung Melayu, in the middle of the island.

About 100 people are estimated to live on Pulau Ubin.

When asked if she had ownership documents, one resident, Ms Jariah Garib, 76, would only say that her house had been handed down for generations. An officer had inspected her place, but it is unclear whether she qualifies for any benefits.

"I was born here and have lived here all my life. If I have to leave, I'll have to move in with my daughter in Singapore," she said.

She lives on the island with another daughter.


The planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible, as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans.

- The Singapore Land Authority and the Ministry of National Development, in a joint statement

Authorities say no plans to evict households residing on Pulau Ubin
Teo Chia Leen Channel NewsAsia 12 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: The authorities say there are no plans to evict the households currently residing on Pulau Ubin or develop an Adventure Park on the island.

A joint statement by the Ministry of National Development and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said the planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans.

It added that the Housing and Development Board had conducted a census survey on 22 households in Pulau Ubin last month.

These households were previously informed, as early as in 1993, that they would be affected by a public development project, which included the development of a recreation park.

To align with the rustic nature of Pulau Ubin and its planning intention, outdoor adventure elements were included in the recreation park, for example, trails for cycling and hiking, campsites and amenities like shelters and toilets.

These facilities were completed in phases between 1994 and 2005, and allowed more people to explore the island and enjoy its natural landscape.

The Ketam Mountain Bike Park was subsequently launched in 2008. During a recent review, it was noted that not all 22 households had claimed the resettlement benefits they were entitled to.

The census survey, which commenced on 3 April 2013 and will complete by June this year, thus sought to re-establish the eligibility of households for the resettlement benefits and ascertain whether these households had the intention to remain or relocate.

HDB's role in this exercise is to help SLA determine the residents' eligibility to receive resettlement benefits, and compute the resettlement benefit due to each resident.

Owners will be paid the resettlement benefits if they are able to produce documentary proof of ownership.

These households are currently residing on State land without a Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL). They can continue to stay on State land if they obtain a TOL from SLA, and pay a fee for the use of the land, similar to any other use of State land.

The authorities met them last month to explain, and to emphasise that they were not being evicted.

The residents were also informed of the assistance which the government would render, if necessary, and the steps the residents should take if they wished to continue staying in Pulau Ubin.

- CNA/de

No plans to evict Pulau Ubin residents, authorities say
Today Online 12 Apr 13;

Amidah Binte Awang (right) and her mother Jariah Binte Garib (left), were two of the residents whose homes in Kampung Melayu on Pulau Ubin were served a notice of census survey. Photo by OOI BOON KEONG

Text that followed identical to Channel NewsAsia report.

No plans to evict Pulau Ubin residents
But households will have to pay rent and obtain a Temporary Occupation Licence to stay on
Eugene Neubronner Today Online 13 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — Contrary to online speculation and some media reports, the authorities yesterday clarified that “there are no plans to evict the households currently residing on Pulau Ubin or develop an Adventure Park on the island”.

Issuing a joint statement, the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) reiterated: “The planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans. Given this, there is no need for the residents to move out.”

The speculation started after some residents on the island received a notice signed off by an official with the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) Land Clearance Section, which carried the header “Clearance scheme: Clearance of structures previously acquired for development of Adventure Park on Pulau Ubin”.

The authorities clarified that on March 12, the HDB, acting on behalf of the SLA, informed the residents of a census survey in Pulau Ubin. They added that these households had been informed as far back as 1993 that they would be affected by a public development project, which included the development of a recreation park.

“To align with the rustic nature of Pulau Ubin and its planning intention, outdoor adventure elements were included in the recreation park, for example, trails for cycling and hiking, campsites and amenities like shelters and toilets,” the MND and the SLA said.

These facilities were completed in phases between 1994 and 2005.

In a review, the SLA had found that not all 22 households had claimed the resettlement benefits they were entitled to. Hence, the census survey was meant to “re-establish whether these residents were eligible for resettlement benefits and ascertain whether they had the intention to remain or relocate”.

The survey started on April 3 and will be completed by June.

The MND and the SLA said that the affected houses sit on what is now state land, and the households were now residing on state land without the required Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL). If they wish to stay on, they would need to obtain a TOL and pay rent — generally pegged at market rate — to the SLA.

“However, we recognise that some households could face financial hardship if their rent were to be revised immediately to full market rate. Hence, SLA will phase in the rent such that households will only pay full market rate from the sixth year onwards,” the MND and the SLA said.

The MND and the SLA also said they had “met with (the households) on March 23 to explain … the purpose of the exercise and to emphasise that they were not being evicted”.

They were also informed of the available Government assistance and what they needed to do to continue living there.

They added that most of the affected households have contacted the HDB for a site appointment, and the authorities would be in touch with them to see if they require additional assistance.

When TODAY visited some of the affected households at the Malay kampung yesterday, most residents were not at home. The two residents TODAY spoke to said they were unclear about what was going on, and had thought the letter — pasted on the wall outside their homes — was an eviction notice.

Mrs Jariah Binte Garib, 75, said in Malay that she could not understand the notice, which was in English. She added that she has not been approached by any Government official. She also said she believed the land belonged to her, as it was her parents’ home, and added that the HDB had not asked her for the deed yet.


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'Hackathon' to help keep Singapore clean and green

NEA brainstorming session to seek ideas from wide range of people
David Ee Straits Times 13 Apr 13;

THEY are normally the preserve of computer programmers and Mark Zuckerberg geek-types, who gather en masse to create exciting new software.

But now the National Environment Agency (NEA) is getting in on the act by holding its own "hackathon" from April 26 to 28.

Its brainstorming session, dubbed The Clean and Green Hackathon, will involve participants trying to come up with environmental solutions for Singapore - rather than having them come directly from the authorities.

They will pitch their ideas and form teams, before hunkering down for up to 12 hours each day over the weekend. Winners will be announced on the final day of the event.

Billed by the NEA as "a celebration of collaboration and innovation", the free event at the National University of Singapore aims to attract not only scientists and environmentalists, but also architects, web developers, programmers and other citizens.

An NEA spokesman said that the agency intends to "solicit good ideas for apps that can help track, monitor and protect the environment" through the event.

It already utilises them, such as its myENV app, which gives real-time information on rainfall and air quality.

The Government appears to be recognising the benefit that such consultations can bring to policymaking.

Last June, the Economic Development Board supported a hackathon that explored ideas ranging from how to save water to how to reduce stress.

Some 250 people attended.

Earlier this month, the Environment and Water Resources Ministry organised a Partners' Forum to hear views on issues from saving the hawker trade to how to curb dengue.

Clean & Green participants will be asked to consider whether technologies such as mobile apps, social media and smart devices can help people change their mindsets and embrace greener living.

And if they cannot, how else Singaporeans can be inspired to "commit to better (green) habits".

Other topics include urban issues such as waste management, energy usage and air quality. The NEA will provide participants with data on each of these.

Information architect Debbie Ding, 28, who has attended hackathons before, said that for them to be effective, they have to have focused themes, detailed data and the "right mix" of people interested in sharing ideas.

"A hackathon is limited by the datasets it receives," she said.

Sustainability consultant Eugene Tay, 35, said that putting programmers and environmentalists in the same room could help lead to new mobile apps, for example, one to help people locate recycling bins in malls and along shopping streets.

He expressed doubts whether people would give up their weekend to take part but said that the Government should continue its recent trend of discussing policymaking with citizens.

Said bookstore owner Kenny Leck, 35: "It has to be an ongoing conversation, part and parcel of what they do, 365 days a year."

For more information, visit

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$17m set aside for green transport drive

So far, $4.6m has been spent on four projects, including emission test lab
Christopher Tan Straits Times 13 Apr 13;

THE Government has set aside $17 million for green initiatives in the transport sector.

So far, $4.6 million has been spent on four projects, two of which have already been found to be not feasible.

In responding to queries from The Straits Times on the $17 million sum, which was stated in this year's Budget, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the money is for supporting "ongoing and possible future initiatives and research towards improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions in land transport". Projects completed or under way include a $500,000 trial on the feasibility of retrofitting older diesel vehicles with particulate filters, which would cut the amount of black soot emitted.

The year-long trial, involving 38 vehicles, ended last January. It found that such filters would result in a 99 per cent reduction in soot emission, but the high cost of installation (about $17,000 per vehicle) and maintenance (about $2,400 yearly) were deterrents. Also, the majority of such vehicles could not be retrofitted.

Another expenditure, of $664,050, was for a feasibility study of diesel-hybrid buses. The trial involved two SBS Transit buses. Findings revealed a 25 per cent fuel saving, which the LTA deemed "not sufficient to offset the cost of such buses", which were more expensive than conventional ones.

One big-ticket item was the co-funding of an emission test laboratory which public-listed vehicle inspection company Vicom installed.

The cost of the lab was $5.8 million, of which the Government funded $2.9 million. The only one of its kind in South-east Asia, it opened in 2009 and has tested about 150 vehicles so far.

Another ongoing project is the electric vehicle (EV) test bed, which is costing the LTA $522,500. The money is used for building charging stations, and is part of a $20 million test-bedding exercise led by the Energy Market Authority. Close to 50 charging stations have been erected since the EV trial started over two years ago. They are used by more than 70 trial vehicles here.

The cost for the four projects comes to about $4.6 million.

The LTA would not elaborate on what the remaining $12.4 million will be used for, except to say that the EV test bed is likely to have a second phase.

Commenting on the green transport initiatives, Asian Clean Fuels Association executive director Clarence Woo said the retrofitting of diesel particulate filters should be reconsidered.

He said: "There have been international studies on the health impact of diesel particulates. The US and also China are putting a lot of effort into retrofitting of diesel particulate filters."

About 70 per cent of Singapore's 178,000 goods vehicles and buses do not meet the Euro 4 emission standard, which was implemented here in 2006. Of that, about half do not even meet the ancient Euro 2 standard.

Meanwhile, the Government is also tackling another type of pollution: noise.

It is spending $8.2 million to erect MRT noise barriers along tracks that run close to residential blocks in Tampines, Jurong East, Bishan and Toh Guan.

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Australia to face Japan over whaling in UN court

BBC 12 Apr 13;

The hearings will start in June in The Hague, in the Netherlands, the court said in a statement on Thursday.

Australia took legal action against Japan over whaling in 2010.

There has been a ban on commercial whaling for 25 years, but Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year for what it calls research.

But critics say it is commercial whaling in another guise.

Australia is requesting the UN court to halt a Japanese whale research programme, which includes hunting in Antarctica using a special permit.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments from representatives of both countries from 26 June to 16 July.

New Zealand, supporting Australia, is also expected to make submissions to the court.

"Australia will now have its day in court to establish, once and for all, that Japan's whaling hunt is not for scientific purposes and is against international law," Australia's attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, said.

"Australia wants this slaughter to end."

Japan for its part said it would argue that its whaling activity was legal.

"Japan will defend its whale hunt as it is within the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling rules, which is the founding document of the IWC [International Whaling Commission]," a Japanese official told the AFP news agency.

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Pesticide Suspected in Bee Die-Offs Could Also Kill Birds

Brandon Keim Wired Science 12 Apr 13;

Controversial pesticides linked to catastrophic honeybee declines in North America and Europe may also kill other creatures, posing ecological threats even graver than feared, say some scientists.

According to a report by the American Bird Conservancy, the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides to birds, and also to stream- and soil-dwelling insects accidentally exposed to the chemicals, have been underestimated by regulators and downplayed by industry.

“The environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates raise environmental concerns that go well beyond bees,” stated the report, which was co-authored by pesticide policy expert Cynthia Palmer and pesticide toxicologist Pierre Mineau, both from the American Bird Conservancy.

Chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer, a major neonicotinoid manufacturer, said the criticisms lack solid evidence. “This report relies on theoretical calculations and exposure estimates that differ from accepted risk assessment methodologies, while disregarding relevant data that are at odds with its claims,” the company said in a statement.
The Bees

Neonicotinoids became popular in the late 1990s, largely replacing earlier insecticides that posed blatant health and environmental risks. Derived from nicotine, which short-circuits the nervous systems of insects that try to eat tobacco plants, neonicotinoids at first seemed both effective and safe.

They now account for some one-quarter of global insecticide sales, used on hundreds of crops and also in gardens and cities. In the last several years, though, it’s become evident that regulators, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, overlooked the extreme toxicity of neonicotinoids to honeybees and other pollinators. Regulatory approvals were partly based on industry studies now considered unreliable, and sometimes despite the concerns of the EPA’s own scientists.

Neonicotinoids subsequently emerged as a prime suspect in colony collapse disorder, the unexplained malady that since 2005 has annually killed about one-third of the nation’s commercial honeybees, and may also affect bumblebee populations. The pesticides are blamed for triggering collapses outright or making bees vulnerable to to diseases and parasites.

A group of beekeepers and environmental groups have sued the EPA, which now plans to review evidence of neonicotinoid harms. Yet amidst the honeybee furor, far less attention has been paid to what the pesticides may do to other creatures.

Early toxicity studies suggested the risks were relatively small: Vertebrates don’t have precisely the same receptors to which neonicotinoids bind so tightly in insects, so higher doses are needed to cause harm.

It was also assumed that neonicotinoids wouldn’t accumulate in the environment at levels capable of harming either vertebrates or non-pest, non-pollinator invertebrates — the countless insect species that are the foundation of terrestrial and aquatic food webs.

Since then, however, researchers have found widespread evidence of neonicotinoids spreading beyond their crop targets, and the methodologies used to establish neonicotinoid safety have come under question.

“The more studies I see, the more I think the preponderance of evidence is leaning towards neonicotinoids being tremendously bad for lower animals in the food chain, especially all the invertebrates,” said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group.
The Birds

Seeds used to grow crops like corn, sunflowers and canola are routinely coated in neonicotinoids, which then spread through plants as they grow. Many species of birds eat seeds. In the absence to date of studies directly observing farmland birds and their day-by-day fates, the question of whether neonicotinoids harm them quickly becomes an argument over methods used to set toxicological guidelines.

In the American Bird Conservancy report, Mineau and Palmer note that the EPA typically sets guidelines for bird exposures using laboratory tests on just two species, mallard ducks and bobwhite quail. Their results become the basis of standards for other birds, but this elides widely varying sensitivities among hundreds of species.

For example, the LD50 — a standard toxicological measure for a dose that kills half of exposed animals — for bobwhite and mallards consuming imidacloprid, the most common neonicotinoid formulation, are 152 and 283 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For canaries, that number drops to about 35 mg/kg, and for gray partridge it’s just 15 mg/kg.

Were the guidelines calculated more carefully, say Mineau and Palmer, drawing broadly on peer-reviewed literature and accounting for heightened sensitivity in certain species, they’d be very different. What are now considered safe exposure levels would be recognized as poisonous — and many birds could reach them by eating just a few seeds.

Asked for comment, the Environmental Protection Agency said the report “uses a method to compare risks across chemicals that differs from the long-standing peer-reviewed approach EPA uses. The agency will carefully consider the report’s studies, analytic methods and conclusions.”

David Fischer, director of environmental toxicology and risk assessment in Bayer’s CropScience division, said the report misrepresented industry testing. “We tested a lot of species. We did tests beyond what was required by the EPA,” Fischer said. If neonicotinoids really were killing birds, said Fischer, it would already have been reported, as were die-offs from the earlier, more-toxic chemicals that neonicotinoids largely replaced.

“There have been few instances of mortality in the field. They’re extremely rare,” Fischer said. “I don’t know of any incidents in North America.” Mineau responded that, even with earlier chemicals, researchers didn’t find evidence of bird deaths until they actively looked for them. That hasn’t yet happened with neonicotinoids, he said, and poisoned birds don’t immediately and visibly drop dead on fields. They may die hours or days later in a tree or bush, making it unlikely that anyone will even notice.

The report also notes that chronic toxicity — effects that don’t kill animals outright, but over time cause health, reproductive and behavioral problems — has largely been overlooked. Preliminary studies suggest a potential for embryo development disorders and decreased immune responses, but guidelines were again set by reference to bobwhite and mallards. Tests only measured obvious birth defects, ignoring the many other ways that animals can be impaired.

Mineau thinks neonicotinoids are at least playing a role in the precipitous decline of birds that live in or migrate through agricultural areas. “I believe this is happening right now,” he said. Yet that, said Mineau, may be just a prelude to other problems. “I think the aquatic and soil impacts are even greater,” he said. “We’re going to see profound changes in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.”

Soil and Streams

Neonicotinoids are what’s known as “systemic” pesticides, which spread through plant tissue, suffusing it from root to tip. For any given dose, a large proportion of any dose ends up in soil, carried there by roots or plant debris. Depending on conditions, neonicotinoids can remain active for weeks or even months.

What this does to soil-dwelling insects, which would generally be extremely sensitive to exposure, is uncertain. Fischer said neonicotinoids bind to particles of clay, effectively removing them from circulation and making keeping them from being absorbed by other insects. Black said some invertebrates, such as earthworms, do pick up neonicotinoids, and that the pesticides are re-absorbed by subsequent generations of plants, creating new and unintentional exposures.

Soil-bound neonicotinoids also leach into groundwater, ending up in streams and waterways. The danger to fish appears low, if not negligible, but is much higher for aquatic invertebrates. Not only are they neurologically vulnerable to neonicotinoids, said environmental scientist Jeroen van der Sluijs of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, but each exposure builds on the last. Damage caused by neonicotinoids their nervous systems is irreversible, producing compounded effects from multiple exposures.

The EPA’s own reviews state that imidacloprid is “acutely very highly toxic” to aquatic invertebrates, with lethality to common creatures seen at concentrations of .05 parts per million, and chronic damage at even lower concentrations. In the United States, where just one-fifth of all streams are considered healthy, systematic watershed testing for neonicotinoids hasn’t been conducted, but concentrations well above those levels have been measured in multiple locations.

Over a six-month period at waterways near Marietta and Whitesburg, Georgia, for example, imidacloprid levels averaged 7.13ppm, or some 142 times higher than what the EPA had considered highly toxic. Neonicotinoids have also been detected in water in California, Wisconsin, New York and Quebec.

According to Bayer, their own laboratory tests show that, even at the reported concentrations, effects are not significant. “We’ve tested entire aquatic communities, in microcosm tests,” with no decline in biomass until well beyond routinely measured concentrations, said Fischer.

Yet van der Sluijs argues that real-world effects are visible. Large-scale neonicotinoid in the Netherlands started around 2004, and preliminary research from his own laboratory has correlated neonicotinoid levels in Dutch waterways with large drops in insect populations. “This will likely have an impact on insect-feeding birds,” said van der Sluijs.

Insect-eating birds are indeed declining in the Netherlands and elsewhere, a trend that dates to the 1960s and is blamed on a variety of factors, including earlier generations of pesticides, habitat alteration and climate change. Neonicotinoids represent a fairly new threat, but van der Sluijs is not alone in his concerns.

Ecotoxicologist Christy Morrissey of the University of Saskatchewan said there is “considerable circumstantial evidence that these chemicals are causing large-scale reductions in insect abundance. At the same time, we are observing serious declines in many species of birds in Canada, particularly aerial insectivores, swifts and swallows for example, that are highly dependent on insects to raise their young.”

Like the EPA, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is also reviewing neonicotinoids. Morrissey’s research is still preliminary, but in most of the wetlands she’s sampled, she’s found neonicotinoids. “It is moving off the seeds in the fields and into the water,” Morrissey said. There appear to be fewer insects in heavily agricultural sites than elsewhere, she said, and birds nesting nearby have lower body weights.
The Future

Concerning as these observations may be, correlations are not proof of causation. Still, the American Bird Conservancy and Xerces Society think there’s concern enough for the EPA to accelerate their neonicotinoid review, which is expected to finish in 2018, and consider limiting some uses of the pesticides immediately.

Though prompted by concerns over pollinators, the EPA’s review “is not limited to evaluating potential impacts on bees,” but will include comprehensive ecological assessments, said the agency. Companies will be required to monitor the environmental presence of neonicotinoids.

Bayer argues that neonicotinoids have become invaluable to farming, and trying to replace them could backfire. “Without these products, an additional three million acres of corn would need to be planted to compensate for the lost productivity,” the company said in the statement. “There would be pressure to convert land currently set aside for nature to farmland.”

Black said that integrated pest management, or IPM, which combines precisely targeted chemical use with other, non-chemical means of pest control, can deliver industrial-scale yields in an environmentally sustainable way. “We’ve moved away from IPM, from scouting your farm, putting in habitat for beneficial insects, and spraying only if there’s damage,” he said. “With neonicotinoids, you don’t do that any more.”

In coming months, more studies are expected to be published on the ecological effects of neonicotinoids. These may provide a more conclusive diagnosis of what’s happening. For Black, the situation resembles what happened with the pesticide classes they replaced, which were rushed to market to replace environmentally toxic DDT. Only later were their dangers recognized. “We’ve gone full circle here,” he said. “We seem to approve these products before we have all the information.”

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Participants at UN forum call for sustainable management of dry forests

UN News Centre 12 Apr 13;

Tehuacán-Cuicatlán has one of Mexico’s highest rates of biodiversity and endemic species. Photo: Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Reserva de la Biósfera

12 April 2013 – Forest landscapes in drylands – known as dry forests – play a crucial role in tackling global challenges such as poverty and climate change and must by properly managed, participants at the United Nations Forum on Forests underscored today.

Dry forests cover about 40 per cent of the Earth’s surface. They are important biodiversity sanctuaries; provide ecosystem goods such as fuel, wood for construction, medicines and herbs; and act as a buffer against drought and desertification.

“I think you cannot overestimate the critical social, environmental and economic services provided by these dry forests,” said Alexander Buck, Executive Director of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

The group – a network for forest science cooperation that unites more than 15,000 scientists in almost 700 member organizations in over 110 countries – is one of many taking part in the Forum’s tenth session (UNFF10), which opened on Monday in Istanbul.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), forests and trees in drylands – if managed properly – can not only combat desertification, but also help alleviate poverty, provide options for adapting to climate change and limit erosion.

“By supporting the millions of people who live in the world’s dry areas, forests and trees in drylands can contribute to the FAO mandate of achieving food security,” stated the agency.

At the same time, it pointed out that dryland forests are subject to a host of challenges, including deforestation, degradation and desertification, driven by adverse land-use policies and subsidies, poor governance and a lack of investment in their sustainable management and restoration.

FAO has developed a set of global guidelines for restoring the resilience of forest landscapes in drylands which is currently under review. The guidelines – which seek to help achieve the global target to restore 150 million hectares of degraded lands worldwide by 2020 – will be launched at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in September this year.

“Millions of hectares of drylands forest landscapes need to be restored to help tackle global challenges, including critical issues of water scarcity, deforestation and degradation, and climate change,” said Ekrem Yazici, FAO Forestry Officer based in Ankara, Turkey.

“Forests keep drylands working” was the UNCCD slogan for 2011, which was the International Year of Forests. Forests are critical to the eradication of poverty in the drylands, according to the Convention’s Secretariat. They are also the first step towards healing the drylands and protecting them from desertification and drought. Forests and tree cover prevent land degradation and desertification by stabilizing soils, reducing water and wind erosion, and maintaining water and nutrient cycling in soils.

The Secretariat points out that more than two billion hectares of land worldwide are suitable for rehabilitation through forest and landscape restoration. Out of this, 75 per cent is best suited for mosaic restoration, where forests and trees can be combined with other land uses, including agroforestry.

During this year’s celebration of the first International Day of Forests, 21 March, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja stated that forests hold the key to global food security.

“They are the backbone of the dryland ecosystems that make up 44 percent of all cultivated systems and support half of the global livestock,” he said. “In contrast to their value, dry forests receive little attention from conservationists, policy-makers, the business community and the general public.”

Outlining the challenges in managing dry forests in Africa, Godwin Kowero, Executive Secretary of the African Forest Forum, noted the scant availability of information as well as increasing pressure on forests for food and fuel and for economic development.

“It would appear as if there are a lot of problems in these forest areas,” he told the Forum’s side event on dry forests. However, “these forests resources are the key to unlocking the potential for economic development in the continent.”

The dry forests and woodlands of Africa cover 54 per cent of the continent and support some 64 per cent of its population through the provision of a wide range of environmental goods and services, according to the non-governmental Center for International Forestry Research, another participant at the Forum.

Mr. Kowero stressed the need to devote more attention and resources to addressing dry forests. “The African forest landscape is changing. Our challenge is how to manage these changes.”

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