Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

How the Atlantic Forest in Brazil Slipped Away From Us

Photo by kyle hargus. Some rights reserved.

Two weeks ago to this very day I arrived in Foz do Iguaçu, a small city in the Paraná state of southern Brazil. The purpose of my trip? To visit the nearby Iguazu Falls, a jaw-dropping natural wonder on the Western side of the Atlantic Forest, on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The falls divide the Iguazu River (which flows from further north in the Atlantic Forest) into its upper and lower counterparts, by way of a breathtaking chasm of waterfalls (272 separate waterfalls in total) that stretch out across 2.5 miles of sparkling emerald jungle. I’ve been telling people I’ve spoken to since getting back to the states that it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s no exaggeration. Here’s another photo from my trip for emphasis:

Photo by kyle hargus. Some rights reserved.

As I witnessed them, the falls were extremely well preserved, thanks to the conservation work of the Brazilian and Argentinean governments. Both sides of the falls have been turned into national parks by their respective governments, and while they both fall victim to some of the trappings of tourist culture, their obstruction of the falls themselves is minimal, and their efforts to reduce waste and ecological footprint in these parks is admirable. However, the falls themselves have only been so fortunate as to be so well preserved because there is an obvious financial motivation to keep them pristine – the surrounding rivers and forest patches of the Atlantic Forest region have not historically been so lucky. Tropical deforestation and fragmentation in this region has destroyed a huge amount of rainforest. While the Atlantic Forest once covered over half a million square miles of Brazil’s eastern coast, almost 90% of it has been destroyed irreparably by agricultural growth and construction of roads and cities. What’s left is a sad, scattered patchwork of forest fractions, little isolated pockets of forest that house near-extinct species (such as tapirs, giant anteaters, jaguars, and white-lipped peccaries) and require protective care now more than ever.
A new study released this week by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal documents this natural catastrophe and projects models (species-area relationship models) that shows a grim future of the biodiversity of this region based on the limitations of these forest patch regions, showing that only 22 percent of the animals that originally inhabited the Atlantic Forest are still present in the patches that are left.
There have been conservation efforts underway in the Atlantic Forest region in the recent past, but researchers are unsure how much of the damage can actually be undone. In 2009, Argentina and Paraguay made a pledge at the XIIIth World Forestry Congress to work towards a zero net sum of deforestation and to put measures into effect to enforce commitments made to protect the region, which having seen bits of it myself, certainly seems more than worth protecting.

Friends of Animals Don’t Want Deer Shot; Want Deer Eaten by Coyotes

Photo by angies. Some rights reserved.

White-tailed deer density in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park has increased an estimated 600% in the past two and a half decades, grazing on more than their share of a variety of undergrowth and leaving the forest without the necessary diversity of seedlings and saplings that keeps it healthy.

What to do about the deer?

About five years ago, the National Parks Service (NPS) notified the public of their intent to prepare a deer management plan. Many meetings, public comments, a draft EIS, more meetings, and many more public comments later, NPS published the Final White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.

Based on the final EIS, NPS prepared a Record of Decision cementing their plan to move forward with Alternative D, as laid out in the final EIS. Alternative D (“Combined Lethal and Nonlethal Actions”) called for a mix of chemical reproductive control and spy-thriller-worthy sharpshooting “by specially trained professionals.” The reproductive control, however, would only be used “when an effective chemical agent [becomes] available on the market.” The alternatives laid out in the EIS were largely based on a study concluding that the reintroduction of predators such as Coyotes has “been shown not to exert effective control on white-tailed deer populations.” Predator reintroduction didn’t even make the cut.

So sharpshooting* it is!

Or…not so fast. Shortly after the Record of Decision was published, animal-friendly Friends of Animals (FOA) filed a complaint in a district court, arguing that “NPS failed to adequately consider the reasonable alternative of increasing the local coyote population,” among other things. The court sided with NPS. FOA followed up with an appeal to the Third Circuit, and on June 20, 2011, the Third Circuit affirmed the decision.

During all this back and forth (minus a short stay after the initial complaint), the National Park Service was moving forward with the lethal part of their plan. According to a deer FAQ on the NPS website, more than 600 deer were “removed” from Valley Forge between November 2010 and March 2011. But the best part? More than 18,000 pounds of venison were donated to food pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations across Pennsylvania.

 * * *

* Lest you worry that humans be sharpshot, check out this excerpt from the EIS:

Sharpshooting would primarily occur at night (between dusk and dawn) during late fall
and winter months when deer are more visible and few visitors are in the park. In some
restricted areas, sharpshooting may be done during the day if needed, which could
maximize effectiveness and minimize overall time of restrictions. In this case, the areas
would be closed to park visitors. In both cases, qualified federal employees or
contractors would be located in elevated positions (e.g., tree stands) or in clearly marked,
high clearance government vehicles on park-owned roadways or trails as appropriate.
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