GFW News Roundup: Forest stories from around the world that demonstrate the power of spatial analysis and open data in improving management of forest landscapes

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Top Reads of the Week

Land use planning underpins deforestation in Peru. Peru’s forests are increasingly under threat from logging and mining in the face of weak governance and competing land use priorities, according to researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Slow decentralization has limited the role of local and regional governments in land use planning, and overlapping ministerial jurisdictions at the national level are undermining sustainable management. Meanwhile, a recent economic stimulus package has relaxed key environmental regulations while promoting ‘fast-track licensing’ for land concessions. (Trust.org via CIFOR)

Development threatens Brazil’s protected areas. A proposal under debate in the Brazilian Congress is calling for ten percent of the country’s protected areas to be developed for mining and hydroelectric dams. The vast potential environmental damage of this development (affecting an area the size of Switzerland) is not being fully considered, argues a new paper in Science. These infrastructure projects are “a recipe for the emergence of new deforestation frontiers”, according to one of the coauthors. (Via Mongabay)

Australia bids to strip Tasmania forest of World Heritage protection. A UNESCO committee rejected the Australian government’s bid to strip 74,000 ha of carbon-dense forest in Tasmania of its World Heritage status after only 9 minutes of debate, but the effort to delist the area was called “a disappointment” by the head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This bid follows other efforts to roll back the conservation of Tasmania’s forests. On September 2, Tasmania’s government reversed a forest protection deal that took three years to negotiate, and removed the protected status of 400,000 hectares of native forest, calling for a “renaissance of forestry in Tasmania.” (via The Guardian)

Land-use change and deforestation

Palm oil, logging and malaria. Plasmodium knowlesi (a microscopic parasite responsible for malaria) was once uncommon, but now accounts for two thirds of hospitalized malaria cases in Malaysian Borneo. A study suggests that this uptick in cases is due to the deforestation of native forests for logging and oil palm, putting humans into more frequent contact with macaque monkeys and allowing the parasite to jump from animal to human host. (via Science Magazine)

Preserving the American West. The Nature Conservancy announced that it has purchased over 165,000 acres of forest for protection in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and the Blackfoot River Valley of Montana. These acquisitions are the newest additions to TNC’s Great Western Checkerboard Project, which aims to conserve and restore land parceled out to developers in a checkerboard pattern along potential railroad lines in the American West in the 1860’s. (via the Nature Conservancy)

The true cost of war. A commentary in the Guardian highlights the devastating impacts of violent conflict on the environment- and especially on forests. During the Rwandan civil war, nearly 1000 tonnes of wood was removed from Virunga National Park each day for shelter and charcoal, resulting in the deforestation of 35 square kilometers and degradation of another 105 square kilometers. Similarly, one third of Afghanistan’s forests were lost between 1990 and 2007. (via The Guardian)

Land tenure and indigenous rights

Monitoring isolated villages without intrusions. A team of anthropologists is using remote sensing to monitor isolated indigenous villages in the Amazon on the Peru-Brazil border to minimize contact and aerial flyovers. Using imaging from Google Earth and Digital Globe, the researchers aim to understand the growth and movement of these communities, especially in response to outside threats such as logging or mining. (via International Business Times)

Industry and forests

Closing tax loopholes in the Amazon. A new study from Imazon on the Brazilian state of Pará finds that rampant tax evasion in the Amazon, amounting to nearly amounts to nearly $108 million (USD) each year in the province, is contributing to deforestation and the underutilization of cleared land. Closing tax loopholes and updating rules governing “productive use” of land for cattle pastures would mitigate incentives for clearing forest. (via Mongabay)

More palm oil commitments. A group of major Norwegian food companies has committed to only sourcing palm oil certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) by the end of 2015. The group of companies also committed to either phasing out palm oil or moving to segregated certified sustainable palm oil by 2018. (via the RSPO)

REDD+, forests and climate change

Challenges hampered formation of Indonesia’s REDD+ Agency.  Heru Prasetyo, the head of the Indonesian agency responsible for the administration of over $1 billion in REDD+ funding, criticized former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for inaction that slowed the establishment of the REDD+ agency.  In an interview with the Jakarta Globe, Prasetyo said that delays from Yudhoyono, conflicting bureaucracies, and a lack of knowledge of conditions in the field have slowed Indonesia’s progress on REDD+ to date. However, he is cautiously optimistic that Indonesia will champion environmental responsibility under the leadership of Joko Widodo. (via the Jakarta Globe)

Remote sensing for the environment

Mapping Peru’s carbon. A new high-resolution carbon stock mapping technique has produced a comprehensive map of Peru’s terrestrial carbon, revealing new opportunities for forest conservation. The research team, led by Carnegie’s Greg Asner, combined three-dimensional aerial data from the Carnegie Aerial Observatory with satellite imagery to produce the maps at a resolution of one hectare. This relatively low-cost approach can be easily scaled up across the tropics, according to the authors. (via Phys.org)

Milestone for crowdsourcing site. iNaturalist, a platform for citizen scientists to record their observations about the natural world, surpassed one million posts last week. Nearly half the posts on the crowdsourcing site are “research-grade”, allowing their use in scientific research. (via Mongabay)