Best of our wild blogs: 17 Dec 14

Birdwatching in Bidadari - Local residents ( December 2014)
from Rojak Librarian

Pollination of Golden Penda flowers by insects
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Hunting is a greater threat than logging for most wildlife in Borneo
from news by Brittany Stewart

Read more!

Malaysia: 20 more protected areas in the works, says Adenan

YU JI The Star 17 Dec 14;

KUCHING: Another 20 protected areas will be created here in a bid to reverse habitat degradation, and the state is mulling over a proposal to arm more environmental agencies.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem said he planned to increase the number of national parks, nature reserves and animal sanctuaries in the state.

“We must remember that while Sarawak belongs to us, it also belongs to the monkeys, the rusa (deer)... they have been here much longer than we have,” he said.

“They have no members in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly. They can’t speak for themselves, so human beings must speak for them, okay?”

The authorities had in the past underestimated the scale of illegal logging, he said at the sixth biennial Chief Minister’s Environmental Award ceremony here on Monday.

The state currently has 30 national parks, six wildlife sanctuaries and eight nature reserves, according to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

These encompass about 593,000ha of land (not including 206,000ha of protected bodies of water) in a state that is 12.4 million hectares in size.

It is possible that some of the new areas to be protected will be extensions to existing ones such as the Kubah National Park, where an adjoining section was damaged by illegal logging recently.

The last time a national park was extended was in May last year at Pulong Tau, near Miri, while the latest national park was Sampadi, gazetted in December 2010.

Adenan said the state government was also considering a proposal by the Natural Resources and Environment Board to provide its personnel with firearms.

Sarawak recently approved the arming of 50 Forest Department officers.

“If it is effective, why not so that we can have better enforcement?” he said.

He said Malaysians had seen more than enough environmental destruction to know that the country had a poor reputation for protecting its natural habitats.

He cited last month’s deadly Cameron Highlands landslide and 2010’s Rejang River logjam as some examples.

He said the youth tend to care more about the environment but often feel powerless to effect change.

“Some might say, what can I do? I can only do small things. Well, we can do our own little bit, start our own small ripple, and then this will turn into a wave,” he said.

Read more!

Indonesia lax when illegal loggers clear forests for palm plantations

Chris Arsenault PlanetArk 17 Dec 14;

A drop in world palm oil prices is not expected to slow illegal logging in Indonesia's rainforests as companies continue to expand plantations, according to a new report.

Between 1990 and 2010, Indonesia's palm oil plantations grew more than seven-fold to 7.8 million hectares, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said in the report released on Tuesday.

About half the new plantations used land once occupied by natural forests, making the palm oil industry the leading driver of deforestation in recent years.

Much of the land is cleared without the proper permits, and local authorities have failed to enforce laws protecting forests from clear-cutting for plantations, the report said.

"The most depressing thing is the degree to which the government allows these crimes to go unpunished," Jago Wadley, the EIA's senior forest campaigner, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Indonesia is the world's largest palm oil producer.

Many of the archipelago's plantations are evading Indonesia's Timber Legality Verification System, legislation enacted in 2010 to stop the flow of illegal timber, the report said.

Indonesia's government aims eventually to expand palm oil production to cover 20 million hectares, so the problem of illegal logging to clear land could intensify.

The government acknowledges the problem of widespread illegal logging.

Last month newly inaugurated President Joko Widodo said: "It (illegal logging) must be stopped. We mustn't allow our tropical rainforest to disappear because of monoculture plantations like oil palm."

Corruption among local police helps drive environmental impunity, according to the report.

More than 1,000 land-related conflicts are under way across Indonesia, Wadley said, with rainforest residents often squaring off against palm oil plantation operators or illegal loggers.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

Read more!

Back to the future: Scientists want 'rewilded' crops to boost agriculture

Chris Arsenault, Reuters Yahoo News 16 Dec 14;

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Scientists should "re-wild" food crops by inserting lost genetic properties of ancient, edible plants in order to boost agricultural output for a growing population, a new study said.

Important properties of wild plants, including varieties of wheat and rice, have been unintentionally lost during thousands of years of breeding.

When humans first domesticated wheat around 7500 BC, farmers chose to use seeds based on a few selected traits, particularly their yields.

But such decisions, made by generations of farmers, could have weakened the resilience of crops in the face new challenges such as global warming, according to the study published on Tuesday in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

"We estimate that all crops would benefit from re-wilding," Michael Broberg Palmgren, a scientist at the University of Copenhagen and one of the study's authors, wrote in an email.

Re-wilded crops could become more drought tolerant, more resistant to cold, diseases and pests and more efficient in accessing soil nutrients, Palmgren wrote.

The scientists suggest using biotechnology to re-insert desired genes from wild varieties of popular crops into widely consumed strains in order to improve food security.

The plan is less controversial than other Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as it does not involve the transfer of genes between unrelated organisms, Palmgren said.

Scientists are unsure how much more food could be produced if farmers follows their advice.

But they say that current problems such as climate change, population growth and soil degradation add to the urgency of harnessing the potential of ancient genetic material.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Ros Russell)

Read more!

Parts of Pacific Ocean close to El Nino thresholds: Australia weather bureau

Colin Packham PlanetArk 17 Dec 14;

Surface temperatures of the equatorial Pacific Ocean have exceeded El Nino thresholds for several weeks and there is a greater than 70 percent chance of the weather pattern emerging, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said on Tuesday.

The BOM had earlier projected at least a 70 percent chance of El Nino arriving by February 2015. The weather event occurs every four to 12 years and can trigger drought in some parts of the world while causing flooding in others.

"Typically, after the ocean has exceeded thresholds for an extended period, an El Nino is considered to be underway," the BOM said in a statement.

However, the BOM said trade winds, cloudiness and tropical rainfall, have not shown sustained and widespread patterns consistent with the weather event linked to hot, dry weather.

Japan last week declared an El Nino, marking the first declaration by a major meteorological bureau of the much-feared weather phenomenon, which had been widely expected to emerge this year.

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Read more!