China timber sector looks at tougher EU/US import rules


The China Timber and Wood Products Circulation Association (CTWPCA) is seeking to establish a body to help importers navigate new environmental regulations in the US and EU that restrict trade in illegally logged timber, reports the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

In a recent market report, ITTO said that Chinese importers fear failing to meet the new regulations that govern the sourcing of timber products.

The US’s Lacey Act and the EU’s FLEGT ruling put the burden of responsibility on importing companies, holding them to the environmental laws of producing countries.

Companies found to be sourcing illegally logged timber could be subject to fines or worse.

A company accused of using illicit rosewood from Madagascar, was the first company to be charged and investigated under the Lacey Act.

The legislation was amended in 2008 to include “anyone who imported, exported, transported, sold, received, acquired or purchased the wood products made from that illegal timber, who knew or should have known that the wood was illegal.” The firm’s case is pending.

According to ITTO, CTWPCA believes traders need “guidance and support” on the new international requirements.

The body would also set up a “responsible procurement system” for timber imports, seek to address corruption in the timber import and trade sector, and aim to help Chinese timber traders meet international standards.

China already has guidelines governing Chinese companies operating forest concessions overseas.

These compel companies to abide by local environmental laws and take measures to reduce pollution. However, some observers suggest that there is no indication that these mandatory rules are being enforced.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 02/09/2010

REDD+ could do more harm than good, forestry experts warn


As governments across Latin America prepare to implement a new financial mechanism aimed at mitigating climate change by curbing carbon emissions from the destruction of tropical forests, experts have warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Instead, they are calling for flexible, balanced solutions to the surrounding this new mechanism.

Among the experts’ main concerns are that the wealthy and powerful could capture many of the benefits, largely at the expense of rural communities, including indigenous groups.

Organised by Mexico’s National Forestry Commission and the Swiss government, with scientific support from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a recent conference’s findings and recommendations will be feed into a UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) meeting scheduled to take place in early 2011, marking the launch of the International Year of Forests.

The Mexico gathering brought together scientists, as well as representatives of governments and non-government organisations, for discussions on governance, decentralisation and REDD+ in Latin America.

Under REDD+ (for reducing deforestation and forest degradation), industrialised countries will provide developing nations with sizeable sums of money in exchange for verifiable storage of carbon in forests, in addition to the conservation and sustainable management of forests.

Forest destruction currently accounts for up to 18% of annual global carbon emissions. Several Latin American countries, including Mexico, have taken the lead in designing REDD+ schemes and stand to benefit significantly.

“Good forest governance – involving transparent and inclusive relationships between governments, forests and the people who depend on them – is fundamental for ensuring that REDD+ helps forest-dependent communities move out of poverty, instead of fueling corruption and funding entrenched bureaucracies,” said Elena Petkova, a CIFOR scientist.

“REDD+ schemes could either flounder on governance failures or flourish under successful governance.”

The central aim of the conference in Oaxaca was to provide science-based advice on the design and implementation of REDD+ schemes, so these schemes can capture carbon and reduce emissions effectively, while at the same time generate significant benefits from sustainable forest management that are equitably shared.

“About 40 years of public sector investment in curbing deforestation, while producing many local successes, has fallen far short of its goal,” said another CIFOR scientist, Andrew Wardell, who was also attending the conference.

“REDD+ might be our last chance to save the world’s tropical forests. So, it’s extremely important to get it right in Latin America and elsewhere.

“This region holds nearly a quarter of the world’s forests, upon which millions of people depend, and over the last five years, it has accounted for 65% percent of global net forest loss.”

Source: CIFOR press release

Date: 03/09/2010

US wolf re-introduction still leaves aspens quaking


The re-introduction of wolves in a US National Park in the mid-1990s is not helping quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) to become re-established, as many researchers hoped.

In a study published in the journal Ecology showed that the population of wolves in Yellowstone Park was not deterring elks from eating young trees and saplings.

It was assumed that the presence of wolves would create a “landscape of fear”, resulting in no-go areas for elks.

Researchers writing in the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) journal said that the aspens were not regenerating well in the park as a result of the elk eating the young trees.

However, they added that the conventional wisdom suggested that as the wolves were predators of the elk, it was thought that the elk would eventually learn to avoid high-risk areas in which the wolves were found.

This would then allow plants in those areas – such as aspen – to grow big enough without being eaten and killed by the elk. And in the long-term, the thinking went, the habitat would be restored.

In this latest study, lead author Matthew Kauffman – a US Geological Survey scientist – suggested the findings showed that claims of an ecosystem-wide recovery of aspen were premature.

“This study not only confirms that elk are responsible for the decline of aspen in Yellowstone beginning in the 1890s, but also that none of the aspen groves studied after wolf restoration appear to be regenerating, even in areas risky to elk,” Dr Kauffman explained.

Because the “landscape of fear” idea did not appear to be benefiting aspen, the team concluded that if the Northern Range elk population did not continue to decline (their numbers are 40% of what they were before wolves), many of Yellowstone’s aspen stands were unlikely to recover.

“A landscape-level aspen recovery is likely only to occur if wolves, in combination with other predators and climate factors, further reduce the elk population,” observed Dr Kauffman.

The paper, Are wolves saving Yellowstone’s aspen? A landscape-level test of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade, has been published online in Ecology. The authors of the paper are: Matthew Kauffman (USGS), Jedediah Brodie (University of Montana) and Erik Jules (Humboldt State University).

Source: ESA press release

Date: 01/09/2010

North Korea begins agroforestry scheme to halt degradation


A “pioneering agroforestry project” in North Korea is restoring heavily degraded landscapes and providing much-needed food for communities, says the World Agroforestry Centre.

Jianchu Xu, the Centre’s East-Asia co-ordinator,  said agroforestry – in this case the growing of trees on sloping land – was uniquely suited to DPR Korea for addressing food security and protecting the environment.

“What we have managed to achieve so far has had a dramatic impact on people’s lives and the local environment,” he explained.

“Previously malnourished communities are now producing their own trees and growing chestnut, walnut, peaches, pears and other fruits and berries as well as medicinal bushes.”

Following the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 and a lack of subsidies for agriculture in DPR Korea, famine and malnutrition became widespread in rural areas.

DPR Korea is a harsh mountainous country where only 16% of the land area is suitable for cultivation, data from the Centre suggests.

It addded that out of  desperation in the 1990s, people turned to the marginal sloping lands but this had a price: deforestation for cropping land and fuelwood left entire landscapes denuded and depleted of nutrients.

In an attempt to reverse the situation, an innovative project began in 2002 involving the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Korea’s Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection. The World Agroforestry Centre was later brought in to provide technical advice.

A system of establishing user groups with one representative from each family enabled demonstration plots to be set up and a large number of households have benefited from knowledge about growing multi-purpose trees.

Using these types of trees have helped  improve and stabilise soils, as well as provide fertilizer, fodder or fruits.

To further support the development of appopriate skills in North Korea, the World Agroforestry Centre has announced plans to publish an agroforestry manual.

The Centre added that work was also underway to develop an agroforestry policy for sloping lands management, as well as establishing an agroforestry inventory.

Source: World Agroforestry Centre press release

Date: 27/08/2010

Trying to curb the appetite of tree-hungry chopsticks


For the humble chopstick, life is predictable, reports Alice-Azania Jarvis in the Independent newspaper.

Start off as a tree, one of the 25 million felled each year for the purpose. Spend a brief few weeks, newly-whittled, encased in paper. Then wind up on someone’s plate, where you are expertly used to shovel noodles, or rice, or meat into a mouth.

Then that’s it. It’s time to face the great landfill in the sky. Millions of chopsticks meet their end like this. In fact, billions – 45 billion a year in China alone, taking with them some 100 acres of birch, poplar and bamboo forest a day.

It is one reason why attempts are under way to turn the Chinese off their disposable cutlery and on to the longer-lasting kind.

In 2006, the Government introduced a 5% tax on all disposable wooden chopsticks following petitions from schoolchildren and citizens’ group.

Since then, efforts to curb the wooden sticks’ use have increased. A BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) movement has been actively petitioning for sustainable options for some time.

Described by the China Post as a collection of “young yuppies”, they carry around their own implements when dining out. Occasionally, claims the Post, restaurant owners take it upon themselves to reward the yuppies’ efforts with a complimentary bowl of soup.

Greenpeace launched a campaign with the slogan “say no to disposable chopsticks.” In 2008, activists dressed as orang-utans invaded corporate cafeterias – Microsoft, Intel and IBM among them – to discourage diners from going disposable.

Then, earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce joined with five other government departments to warn that companies using disposables could soon face legal restrictions. They claimed to “aim at decreasing the use of the throwaway utensil”.

“Production, circulation and recycling of disposable chopsticks should be more strictly supervised,” they explained.

It’s a stark about-face for the Chinese government. Prior to the measure, they had actively encouraged disposables’ use. They were, reasoned authorities, more hygienic that their reusable cousins.

The debate over throwaway instruments, while raging in China, is by no means limited to chopsticks.

In the UK, disposable cutlery is thought to be used for an average of three minutes before being discarded.

Plastics – including convenience cutlery, crockery and cups – account for 7% of office waste. That’s before the countless millions of knives, forks and spoons churned out by fast food restaurants, cafes and supermarkets are taken into account.

Recent years have seen the rise of the Carry Your Own Cutlery (CYOC) movement, while websites such as recyclethis.co.uk offer readers advice on how to reuse their plastic implements.

Increasingly, retailers are under pressure to offer – if not reusable – then at least recyclable options.

Starbucks recently pledged to introduce renewable materials during its next round of store upgrades and has committed to using entirely recyclable cups by 2015. Pret-a-Manger, meanwhile, has pledged to go “landfill-free” by 2012.

Not everyone has been so quick to change. McDonald’s, while using recycled paper in much of its packaging, defends its choice of plastic cutlery on the grounds that washing up would waste energy.

How effective China’s measures will be remains to be seen. The BYOC has been slow in picking up active support, and the government’s waste warning, while a step in an environmentally-friendly direction, is more bark than bite.

Legislation is looming, though as yet there are few concrete incentives for diners to trade in their disposables. Wooden chopsticks cost restaurant owners a fraction of what the more durable alternatives do, since the cost of sterilisation is high.

What’s more, the alternative melamine-resin chopsticks have a notoriously high formaldehyde content, which is neither great news for the environment nor diners’ health.

Polls by news outlets have found broad support for reusable items. Some 84.2% of participants told a recent Sina.com poll that they would swap for more durable options.

Still, analysts point out that the authorities’ interest is divided: environmentally, cutting down on chopsticks makes sense; economically – in the short term at least – it doesn’t.

More than 300,000 people are employed by the wooden chopstick industry, across 300 factories. Exports of their wares bring in $200m a year.

In 2009, it was claimed that 300 restaurants in Beijing had ceased to provide disposable chopsticks. In a country of some 1.3 billion diners, there’s a long way left to go.

Source: Independent

Date: 31/08/2010

Model shows ‘waves of forest degradation’


An international team of researchers has developed a model that suggests degradation of tropical forests occurs in a series of “waves”, reports the BBC News website’s Mark Kinver.

High-value trees were felled in the first “wave”, followed by a wave that removed mid-value timber before the remaining wood was felled for charcoal.

The team hopes the model will help manage forests as vital carbon sinks and limit the loss of biodiversity.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said an economic theory was used to provide a general model to predict patterns of tree loss.

This translates to a prediction that waves of forest degradation will emanate from major demand centres and expand into nearby forested areas, targeting resources in sequence, starting with those of highest value,” they wrote in their PNAS paper.

“Such a sequence of demand, linked to resource utilisation, has been demonstrated for unmanaged fisheries… but has not been shown for the exploitation of differently valued tropical forest products.”

The team used data collected in the area surrounding Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, to see how far the degradation “waves” had travelled between 1991 and 2005.

“The first wave that emanates is high-value timber, and that is mostly used for export,” explained co-author Antje Ahrends, an ecologist at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.

“There has been a massive demand for this in China, and this is where most of the timber ends up.”

Dr Ahrends said the first wave moved out from Dar es Salaam rapidly, averaging about nine kilometres each year, because the “timber companies had lorries and loads of people working for them”.

“For the firms, it is only worthwhile to stay in a forest when timber can be accessed relatively easily,” she told BBC News.

“So once it becomes not so easy to get hold of the rest, the companies generally move on.”

The first wave had already moved outside of the team’s study area, and Dr Ahrends estimated that it was already more than 200km from Dar es Salaam.

The second wave saw trees being felled for medium-valued timber, which was generally used in the city for construction and furniture.

“This is expanding very rapidly, in line with urban migration,” she explained. “The town has an average growth rate of about 7% each year, so there is – again – a rapidly growing demand for this material.”

The timber is harvested by local companies, again with lorries, allowing large volumes to be collected in a relatively short space of time. This resulted in this degradation wave to also cover about nine kilometres each year.

The third and final wave involved local people collecting wood to make charcoal for cooking.

“It’s the most destructive of all of the waves because charcoal burners would collect everything,” observed Dr Ahrends, who was based at the York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics when she carried out this research.

“It is only worthwhile moving on once there are no sizeable trees left in the forest.”

As a result, the charcoal wave had moved relatively slowly – from 20km outside Dar es Salaam in 1991 to 50km away in 2005.

“It is the most difficult of the waves to tackle because it is very poor people who burn charcoal and their livelihoods depend upon it.”

“Targeting that wave would mean trying to provide alternative resources for cooking, and alternative incomes for people who burn charcoal.

Species loss

The team also developed their model to gauge what impact forest degradation had on “public good” services, such as carbon storage and biodiversity.

They did this by recording what species of trees were in a particular area of the study, and what size the individual trees were.

“This later enabled us to calculate species richness and also the amount of carbon those trees were storing,” Dr Ahrends said.

“We found that there was a very strong linear impacts; for example, tree species richness dropped to only 14 species-per-sample-unit close to Dar es Salaam, whereas it is more than 40 species in areas 200km away.”

Dr Ahrends suggested that the model could be used to understand the impact of forest degradation in other sub-Sarahan nations in Africa.

“This is because conditions are very similar: high levels of corruption, weak law enforcement and very rapid rates of urbanisation.”

She added that the team’s model could help policymakers who were looking at ways to limit deforestation rates.

“What is really important is to understand the pattern of degradation and the way it spreads,” she suggested.

“While we have a good understanding of deforestation – which is the complete clearance of a forest – it is much more difficult to measure degradation.

“So if you have this simple model, then you have a basic understanding of how degradation might spread… which may help you develop some prediction of where it might spread from and how far it might spread.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/08/2010

Anne Frank’s tree of hope toppled by storm


Sad news, the 150-year-old horse chestnut that brought comfort to Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazis in World War Two has toppled in high winds and heavy rain.

The tree, whose trunk was diseased and rotten, snapped a metre (3ft) above the ground, and crashed into neighbouring gardens in Amsterdam at 13.30 local time,  it is reported.

It smashed into a brick wall and sheds, but nobody was  injured.

The Anne Frank House museum, which has a million visitors a year, escaped unscathed during Monday’s poor weather.

“Someone yelled: ‘It’s falling. The tree is falling,’ and then you heard it go down,” museum spokeswoman Maatje Mostart told the Associated Press. “Luckily no one was hurt.”

‘Unpleasantly surprised’

A global campaign to save “the Anne Frank tree” was launched in 2007 after Dutch officials and conservationists declared it a safety hazard and ordered it felled. They feared it could topple and crash into the museum.

But the Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation won a court injunction in November that year, stopping the city authorities from chopping it down. Neighbours and campaigners argued that, as a symbol of freedom, the tree was worth making extraordinary efforts to preserve.

But it was blighted with fungus and moths, and two years ago conservationists encased the trunk in steel girders to prop it up.

The Netherlands’ Trees Institute, a leading supporter of the project to save the tree, said it was “unpleasantly surprised” to hear it had fallen.

“On the advice of experts in tree care, it had been calculated that the tree could live several more decades” the institute said in a statement. “Alas, in the event it seems that nature is stronger.”

The Jewish teenager referred several times to the tree in the diary that she kept during the 25 months she remained in hiding.

Anne Frank wrote on 23 February 1944: “From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.”

She died, aged 15, the following year in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Source: Anne Frank Museum

Date: 23/08/2010

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