Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
The story: Senior Interior Department officials rejected evidence supporting the cultural and economic value of the national monuments they proposed shrinking, reported Juliet Eilperin for The Washington Post July 23. Revelations about the strategy of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to dismiss justifications for keeping existing protections, and to strengthen the case for rolling them back, came in the form of thousands of pages of emails released by the department and then retracted the next day.
The big picture: For months, the U.S. administration has worked to scale back or eliminate protections for several of the country’s most iconic protected areas, a process called Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing and Degazettement, or PADDD. “PADDD is a worldwide phenomenon — but the recent actions by the government represent the largest rollbacks of these protections in U.S. history,” said Mike Mascia, senior vice president of Conservation International’s Moore Center for Science and the world’s foremost expert on PADDD. “These recent disclosures about the department’s internal deliberations raise questions about the justifications for decisions by the Administration, and underscore the importance of transparent, participatory processes governing legal changes to protected areas both in the U.S. and around the world.”
Read more here.
The story: The ancient cedar trees of Lebanon are adapting to climate change by migrating to higher altitudes for the cooler temperatures they need to survive, reported Anne Barnard for the New York Times July 18. If climate change continues at its current rate, by 2100 cedars could be wiped out in all but three areas in the northernmost part of the country.
The big picture: The Lebanon cedar is the focal point of the country’s flag, and carries deep cultural significance. Usually only found in Lebanon and Turkey, this species of cedar needs cold winters and snow to properly grow and to reproduce. If climate change pushes global temperatures higher, the trees simply won’t survive. “Climate change is a fact here,” said Nizar Hani, director of Lebanon’s largest protected area, the Shouf Biosphere Reserve. “There is less rain, higher temperatures, and more extreme temperatures.”
Read more here.
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The story: According to a new study, indigenous peoples make up five percent of the world’s population, but use or have the rights to manage more than a quarter of the globe’s surface, reported Jason Daley for Smithsonian. That is about 14.7 million square miles, or more than 38 million square kilometers, of land.
The big picture: The study’s authors estimate 40 percent of all conservation lands under government support are located on indigenous lands, reinforcing the critical need to partner with indigenous peoples on global conservation efforts. “Understanding the extent of lands over which Indigenous Peoples retain traditional connection is critical for several conservation and climate agreements,” said lead author Stephen Garnett, of Charles Darwin University in Australia. “Not until we pulled together the best available published information on Indigenous lands did we really appreciate the extraordinary scale of Indigenous Peoples’ ongoing influence.”
Read more here.
The story: The Trump administration announced last week a proposal to remove key provisions from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), reported Darryl Fears for The Washington Post July 19. For 45 years, the law has been in place to prevent animals and plant species with dwindling populations from going extinct.
The big picture: There are currently more than 1,300 endangered species in the United States. Removing key provisions from Endangered Species Act would weaken its effectiveness and increase the risk of extinction for numerous species. Among the provisions on the chopping block: One directing officials to put economic impacts aside when deciding how to protect wildlife, and another compelling federal agencies to consider input from scientists and wildlife agencies before okaying energy exploration and other activities.“These regulations are the heart of how the Endangered Species Act is implemented. Imperiled species depend on them for their very lives,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of the Defenders of Wildlife, and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Read more here.
Jessica Pink is an editorial intern for Conservation International.
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