Saturday, December 24, 2016

163 new species discovered in in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam

Cool new species found. Klingon from the movie Star Trek is one of the 163 new species discovered recently in the Greater Mekong region, according to a report released today by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The report, Species Oddity, documents the work of hundreds of scientists who discovered nine amphibians, 11 fish, 14 reptiles, 126 plants and three mammals in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

A rainbow-headed snake resembling David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character, a dragon-like lizard and a newt that looks like a
The discoveries also include a rare banana species from Thailand, a tiny frog from Cambodia and a gecko with pale blue spotted skin and piercing dark eyes that was found hiding among the remote mountains of Laos. This brings the total new species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians discovered in the region to 2,409 since WWF began compiling new species reports in 1997.
“The Greater Mekong region is a magnet for the world’s conservation scientists because of the incredible diversity of species that continue to be discovered here,” said Jimmy Borah, Wildlife Programme Manager for WWF-Greater Mekong. “These scientists, the unsung heroes of conservation, know they are racing against time to ensure that these newly discovered species are protected.”
Highlights of the report include:
• A rainbow-headed snake, Parafimbrios lao, that has been likened to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character. It was found among steep karst cliffs in Northern Laos and while originally thought to exist in only one location, it has since been seen in a second one, increasing its chances of survival.
• The Phuket Horned Tree Agamid, Acanthosaura phuketensis, has a fearsome set of horns on its head and spine and was found among the few remaining forest patches on the popular Thai tourist island of Phuket. It is threatened by rapid habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.
• A rare banana species discovered in Northern Thailand, Musa nanensis, is already considered critically endangered due to increasing deforestation and the fact that only a handful of individual plants have been seen. However, the recent discovery of another small population has given researchers hope for the species.
• A new frog species from Cambodia and Vietnam, Leptolalax isos, has a name that is about as long as its body. At 3 cm, this diminutive amphibian is threatened by some major forces – logging, agricultural expansion and hydroelectric projects.
• A newt discovered in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, Tylototriton anguliceps, has stunning red and black markings that resemble a Klingon from the movie Star Trek. Its porous skin makes it especially sensitive to pesticides, the main threat alongside deforestation of its habitat.
• A gecko discovered in the remote karst mountains of Laos by a team of scientists who often had to rely on water dripping off stalactites in caves. Gekko bonkowski i is believed the discovery may hold the key to understanding lizard evolution in the Annamite Mountain Range.
• A plant from the Chin Hills of North-western Myanmar that has two petal coverings (sepals) resembling mouse ears. Discovered on Mount Victoria, Impatiens kingdon-wardii is a reminder that Myanmar’s rich biodiversity needs protection as the country rapidly opens up to development.
• A bat, Murina kontumensis, found in the Central Highlands of Vietnam with thick and woolly fur on its head and forearms.
The Greater Mekong region is under intense development pressure from mines to roads to dams, threatening the survival of the natural landscapes that make it so unique. Poaching for bushmeat or the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade puts additional pressure on the region’s wildlife, meaning many species could be lost before they are even discovered.
“Many collectors are willing to pay thousands of dollars or more for the rarest, most unique and most endangered species, often buying them at the region’s illegal wildlife markets, especially in the Golden Triangle region where China, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet,” Borah said. “To save them, it’s crucial that we improve enforcement against poaching and close illegal wildlife markets as well as the tiger and bear farms that openly flaunt wildlife laws.”
WWF recently launched an ambitious project to disrupt the trade by closing down the biggest markets in the Greater Mekong region. Working with partners and across borders, WWF will attempt to significantly reduce illegal trade in key threatened species such as elephants, tigers and rhinos by promoting species protection legislation, supporting effective transboundary cooperation and improving law enforcement effectiveness at key border crossings.
The full report can be seen at:

Friday, December 16, 2016

New job opportunities on public lands for young adults and veterns

Public-Private Funding Supports 21st Century Conservation Service Corps
 U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced more than $350,000 in funding to engage youth and veterans in hands-on conservation projects on public lands from Big Bend National Park in Texas to North Cascades National Park in Washington State. The grants are part of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC), an ongoing national effort to prepare the next generation of outdoor stewards by training and employing thousands of America’s young adults to protect, restore and enhance our nation’s public lands and waters.

Secretary Jewell’s visit to Austin is part of her nationwide tour to highlight progress the nation has made during the last eight years in protecting our nation’s lands, waters and wildlife, including engaging the next generation. [See 15 inspiring moments of how Interior is connecting kids to nature across the country.] Jewell joined youth conservation corps members at the American YouthWorks headquarters to make the announcement – which includes $39,000 for the Texas Conservation Corps – and to hear directly from corps members on how their service has benefited them.

Jewell also announced that travel company Expedia is donating $50,000 in 2017 to fund firefighting crews comprised of returning veterans. Launched during the Obama Administration, the 21CSC has raised more than $20 million in donations since 2013 from businesses, foundations and federal agencies. Expedia joins companies like American Express, REI, The North Face, Thule, American Eagle Outfitters, CamelBak, Coca-Cola, The Campion Foundation, Backwoods, the Albertson Family Foundation and Youth Outdoor Legacy Fund in a national movement to invest in and help prepare future conservation leaders by providing meaningful and lasting opportunities to play, learn, serve and work in the great outdoors.

“Public-private partnerships are essential for developing meaningful and effective strategies to engage youth in service on public lands, from local city parks to the crown jewels of America’s National Park System,” said Secretary Jewell. “By employing young people to restore trails, remove invasive species, rehabilitate historic structures and more, they form lifelong connections to nature and each other, while improving communities where they play, learn, serve and work. Thanks to our many partners for their generous support and for joining us in investing in the next generation of public land stewards.”

The $350,000 in funds announced today will support conservation corps to do work in the following areas:
  • American YouthWorks ($39,000): Texas Conservation Corps in Big Bend National Park
  • Student Conservation Association ($115,000): Five years of funding for youth corps in Virgin Islands National Park
  • Conservation Legacy ($39,500): Tribal youth corps in Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the border of Utah and Arizona
  • EarthCorps ($44,864): Stewardship & maintenance in North Cascades National Park in Washington state
  • Kupu ($70,000): Kahakai National Historic Trail, Kalaupapa National Historic Park and FWS National Wildlife Refuges in the Hawaii
  • Team Rubicon ($50,000): Veteran firefighting crews on public lands through 2017
Through the 21CSC, thousands of young adults and veterans work on projects across America’s public lands, including maintaining campgrounds, preserving historic sites, monitoring water quality, building trails and more. From Denali to the Everglades, youth conservation corps members are gaining work experience, helping improve the visitor experience and mobilizing entire communities in the stewardship of our parks, refuges, waters and heritage.

Investments in conservation corps programs will continue well beyond 2017. The Interior Department has worked closely with the Department of Commerce to secure $8 million for these types of programs through the RESTORE Council. To date, $500,000 has been awarded to five tribal communities (Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and Seminole Tribe of Florida) in the Gulf region. Over the past three years, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Park Foundation have helped raise private funding for 21CSC projects. More than 76,000 young people have participated in projects between 2014-2016.

Austin, along with San Antonio and Houston, are also among the 51 cities selected as part of the Interior Department’s leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Outside initiative connecting millions of young people to the outdoors. Local YMCAs are coordinating efforts in each city, and the YMCA of Austin will be receiving funding through 2017 to grow participation in conservation and recreation programs. Learn how some of the first cities are already making a difference in kids’ lives.

Let’s Move and the 21CSC are part an overall strategy by the Obama Administration to connect young people to the outdoors. Other efforts include theEvery Kid in A Park program to provide all fourth grade students and their families with free admission to national parks and other public lands and waters for a full year. Today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality alsoannounced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between all participating agencies to ensure this program will continue. These complement the National Park Service’s Find Your Park campaign celebrating this year’s centennial of the National Park System. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Climate change investigated as a human rights issue

First national human rights investigation into climate change impacts proceeds despite opposition from fossil fuel companies

Manila, 8 December 2016 – The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) today initiated the next steps in the world’s first-ever national investigation into human rights harms resulting from climate change (1), despite apparent opposition from some fossil fuel companies.

A legal petition submitted by 18 individuals and 14 organisations, including Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), (collectively known as the “petitioners”) triggered the national inquiry. The petition implicates 47 investor-owned carbon producers including Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, BHP Billiton, Suncor, and ConocoPhillips.

The CHR announced that it will start holding public hearings from April 2017, which will be webcast due to the global significance and relevance for other countries. Commissioner Cadiz, who is leading the national inquiry, acknowledged that some 20 companies have responded to the Petition. He also mentioned that independent expert submissions have been received by the Commission. The Petitioners will be submitting a consolidated reply on February 14, 2017.

Petitioners welcomed the CHR’s announcement as indicative of its continued commitment to proceed with the unprecedented investigation in a transparent and inclusive way despite surmountable challenges presented by some of the corporate respondents. The action paves the way toward finding and documenting facts, educating the community, fostering dialogue, allowing for the exchange of information, and enabling mutual understanding among all stakeholders.

“As petitioners, we will continue to advocate for our demands, including an authoritative finding by the CHR that fossil fuel companies must respect human rights and outline steps that would shift their existing business practices away from further contributions to climate change and prevent human rights impacts” said Rose Trajano, Secretary General of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, one of the petitioning organisations.

In July, the CHR requested oil, coal, mining and cement companies to comment on or answer the human rights allegations made in the petition (2). The independent non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the companies to share their responses. Only 11 companies volunteered their positions, with some challenging the investigation (3).

“As long as companies and governments fail to act on climate change, every day is human rights day. Today, we got much closer to our aspiration of holding those most responsible for the climate crisis accountable, in order to prevent further harm,” said Yeb Sano, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and also one of the Petitioners

“Our call has been heeded. The CHR has shown its resolve to pursue this inquiry, and it gives us great hope and inspiration. The journey is still a long way to go, but the wheels of justice are turning forward. The reality of climate change and how it affects human rights has been put on the spotlight, and ultimately, when people stand together and rise above adversity, justice will prevail.”

The national inquiry is one of the many people-powered legal actions related to climate change initiated around the globe, from Indigenous Peoples in Canada, grandmothers in Switzerland, farmers from Peru and Pakistan, to youth in the United States and Norway, and Dutch and Belgian citizens (4). In each of these cases, people are pushing back using the power of the law, because governments and fossil fuel companies are failing to protect and respect human rights.

Call for USFWS to Develop Updated Red Wolf Recovery Plan

No Recovery Plan Dooms Rare Red Wolf

Washington, DC— (December 8, 2016) — Seven animal protection and conservation organizations issued a petition today to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) urging them to fulfill their obligation to develop an updated recovery plan for the rapidly dwindling population of wild red wolves. The petitioners include the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Species Coalition, South Florida Wildlands Association, Wild Earth Guardians, and the Wolf Conservation Center.

The petition requests that the USFWS revise its red wolf recovery plan—unchanged since its creation in 1990—to ensure it utilizes the best available science and complies with the Endangered Species Act. While some of the analysis and many of the identified conservation actions in the original red wolf recovery plan remain relevant today, the petitioners argue that circumstances have changed and much has been learned in the intervening years.

“Experts in red wolf ecology, genetics, and biology have published significant scientific research since the plan was created over a quarter century ago,” stated Tara Zuardo, AWI wildlife attorney. “An amended recovery plan based on the best available science is vital to ensure that red wolves survive in the wild.”

The petition includes information about threats to the red wolf and strategies the USFWS could use to address those threats. The petitioners advocated that the revised plan should:

  • reduce lethal and nonlethal removals of wolves from the wild population;
  • resume the use of the “placeholder program” (which releases sterilized coyotes to hold territories until red wolves move into the territory or are reintroduced) to diminish coyote-wolf gene introgression;
  • resume the use of the cross-pup fostering program as a way to increase the genetic diversity of the species;
  • utilize additional reintroduction sites to increase population size and expand wolf range; and
  • use outreach and education to garner support for wolves and end killings of red wolves.

“The red wolf is teetering on the brink of extinction but it can be saved by implementing a revised recovery plan,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A new recovery plan would serve as a road map, outlining all the necessary steps to ensure that future generations have a chance to see these beautiful wolves in the wild.”

The petitioners request a prompt response confirming that the DOI and USFWS have begun work on an updated plan for the red wolf, a timeline for completing the recovery planning process, and implementation of recovery strategies necessary for the species.

This petition comes on the heels of a letter issued yesterday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, calling on her to override the USFWS’ recent decision to slash its recovery program for red wolves. The letter—issued by Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and eight other members of Congress—points out that the decision was made despite scientific consensus that red wolf recovery can succeed if the agency continues and amplifies its former efforts.

Beef and butterflies

Photo courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund Austin-area ranchers  and conservationists show beef and butterflies  can thrive...