Category Archives: NGOs

Devolution and Conservation: Revitalizing Community Forest Associations in Kenya

The promulgation of the new constitution in 2010, heralded a new dawn for Kenyans. The hallmark of this new dispensation was devolution. The constitution professed the principle of self-governance and enhanced participation in decision making. This was to be facilitated by a two-tier government system (national and county governments) and a bicameral parliament. The transition to a new system of governance meant management and conservation of natural resources had to change as well. However, that was easier said than done. This is because the transition period witnessed major power battles between various arms of government. For instance, confusion arose in the county governments as to what had been devolved and what hadn’t. It was during this tumultuous period (2014-2015) that I got engaged in a project being executed by a conservation organization-A Rocha Kenya, geared towards building capacities of Community Forest Associations (CFAs). This was to enable them to substantively engage with the new governance structures.

The project targeted three forests associated with five CFAs. The forests included Arabuko Sokoke Forest (public forest) associated with Jilore, Gede and Sokoke CFAs; Dakatcha Woodland (community forest) associated with Dakatcha CFA; and Ngong Hills Forest (public forest) associated with Ngong Metro CFA. The first and second forests were located in Kilifi County in coastal Kenya. The third forest was located in Kajiado County, west of the national capital, Nairobi. The implementation of the project involved beginning with a baseline survey aimed to establish the status of the CFAs in terms of knowledge and resources required to execute their mandate. The results of the survey indicated the existence of low capacity in prerequisite knowledge in conservation and management of forests plus inadequate financial resources.

Figure 1. A section of Arabuko Sokoke Forest and the associated endemic species (from the top) Golden rumped sengi, Ader’s duiker and Sokoke scops owl (c) A Rocha Kenya

The outcomes of the survey prompted the necessity of training the CFAs in various aspects. This was to enable them to be interpellated, to effectively engage with the county governments. The pieces of training involved the topics: environmental crisis and climate change; group dynamics, governance and leadership; laws and policies governing natural resource management in Kenya; and resource mobilization and advocacy. A total of 150 community members from the 5 CFAs participated in the pieces of training.

To foster the critical role exposure plays in reinforcing what is learned in theory, experience sharing forums were organized. This involved the Ngong Metro CFA visiting the coastal-based Sokoke, Gede, Jilore and Dakatcha CFAs. The four coastal based CFAs in return visited the Ngong Metro CFA. During the forums, it became apparent to them how the two ecosystems (the one down at the coast and the one at Ngong Hills Forest) were intricately interdependent. Thus, collective efforts were needed to realize the conservation of the two ecosystems

After the pieces of training and experience sharing forums, the CFAs started engaging their respective county governments. For instance, in Kajiado county, the Ngong Metro CFA held demonstrations as well as conducted meetings with county government officials. These actions were prompted by quarrying taking place in Ololua forest block.  Due to the demonstrations and the meetings with the county government the license of the company contracted to quarry was canceled. In addition, Ngong Metro CFA and the county government ensured a power generating company that had installed wind power turbines on Ngong Hills Forest had addressed the environmental impacts associated with the exercise. However, the CFA was stilling facing herculean tasks ahead of them. A nuclear waste plant was being set up in Ololua forest block. The construction of the plant allegedly commenced without any public participation exercise (involving the CFA) being conducted as mandated by law. To add insult to injury, there was massive garbage dumping in the forest that needed to be addressed.

Figure 2. One of the quarrying pit in Ololua forest (left) and the site of the plant in the same forest (c) A Rocha Kenya

In Kilifi County, the county government purchased thousands of tree seedlings raised by the 4 CFAs (Gede, Jilore, Sokoke, and Dakatcha) and planted them in various schools’ around the county. Second, they distributed goats to be raised by the CFAs then later locally sold to earn the groups income instead of collecting fuelwood beyond the legal load from the forest for sale. Third, they issued them with brick making machines to reduce overreliance on forest resources for building and construction purposes. Fourth, a county forest officer was employed to oversee management and conservation of Dakatcha Woodland.


Figure 3. Some of the CFA members receiving goats distributed to them (c) A Rocha Kenya

Despite the progress witnessed, Dakatcha CFA needed to engage with Kilifi County government even further to address the charcoal burning menace in the woodland. Plus, they were required to prepare a Participatory Forest Management Plan. On the other hand, the Arabuko Sokoke Forest CFAs were pushing forest officials to strictly enforce the law. This was geared towards curbing increased illegal logging, charcoal burning, and bushmeat hunting.


Figure 4. A section of Dakatcha woodland cleared for charcoal production (c) A Rocha Kenya

The success witnessed in terms of the CFAs engaging with the county governments can be attributed to the pieces of training enabling CFA members to understand what their roles entailed. Also, they were able to better understand forest legislation thus knew the procedures to follow, when it came to engaging the county government. Furthermore, the training sessions and experience sharing forums gave the groups plenty of time to network, know each better and highlight problems facing their forests. This also enabled them to discuss ways to address them. The discussions played a critical role in the success of the CFAs engaging the county governments because prior to the pieces of training they hardly had met for any forms of meetings or deliberations. On the other hand, due to their proactiveness in approaching the county governments, the county governments became more aware of what the CFAs were doing and were able to accord them the necessary support.

The lack of resources due to the project not being considered for another funding cycle led to the momentum gathered by the CFA not being supported further. This is arguably the fate most CFAs face in Kenya, where they are occasionally supported for two or three years and then left on their own. This then begs the question: aren’t we jeopardizing the management and conservation efforts of these forests? Since, the country has a forest governance system that professes joint forest management of these forests but the CFAs meant to facilitate this mode of governance are not adequately being supported in terms of resources or when they are supported it’s only within a short period of time that’s arguably not enough to facilitate their transition to being more self-sufficient.

It would be worth the effort of any organization or the government, to get to work and support the five CFAs for a more longer period such as four or five consecutive years. In addition, these efforts would be greatly boosted if the new framework– Community Forest Association Development and Financing Cycle aimed at guiding CFAs to mobilize resources is actualized.  Also, the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 has the provisions for benefit sharing mechanisms being established that should be put into action as it would go a long way to provide the financial resources the CFAs need.

Being part of this project brought to the fore, the reality of an empowered community who can potentially do more and certainly who I would love to work with again. A community ready to embrace the spirit of the new dispensation despite its shortcomings. A dispensation that professes sovereign power belongs to the people. People who can now directly influence local change in management and conservation of their natural resources unlike in the past where change had to be effected from a centralized, hierarchical system.


A Rocha Kenya 2015. Advocacy and Community Empowerment.  URL  (accessed 09.2.18)

Government of Kenya, 2016. Forest Conservation and Management Act.

Government of Kenya, 2010. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010: Nairobi, 27th August 2010, Kenya Gazette Supplement. Government Printer, Kenya.

Muratha, M., 2017. Kenya Forest Service – Community Forest Association Development & Financing Cycle Framework Launched [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 12.1.17).

Ruuska, E., 2013. Unsustainable charcoal production as a contributing factor to woodland fragmentation in southeast Kenya.

Allan Majalia is a graduate student at the School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford undertaking an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. He has worked with communities in a number of community conservation projects in coastal Kenya. He has an interest in forest governance, especially how local communities can be included in conservation and management of forests. Check him out on Facebook as Allan Mjomba Majalia Twitter @MjombaB

Lessons for Rewilding: Condors, Partnerships and a Bunch of Dead Cows

The California coast attracts visitors not only for the aesthetically pleasing ocean views, but also for the glimpse of a bird that puts vultures to shame: the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus). Although spotting North America’s largest land bird is still a rare occurrence, the chances of seeing this critically endangered bird today are much greater than they were 30 years ago. Policy and education play a role, but a series of unusual partnerships may be to thank for the miraculous recovery of a species that has gained conservation fame. The successful reintroduction of the bird with a three metre wingspan can serve as a lesson for the future of rewilding in Europe.


California Condors once spread their wings across much of North America. Their notable population plummet landed them on the first ever United States Federal Endangered Species List in 19671, but the population continued to drop and the remaining 22 individuals were removed from the wild in 19822. Recovery is a slow and arduous process, but thanks to captive breeding programs and reintroduction efforts, the population has risen to just under 450 individuals, with about 60 percent of the population flying free in Mexico, California, the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. Despite lead poisoning from bullets still challenging recovery today, 2015 is viewed as a milestone in the condor community; it was the first year since reintroductions began that more wild California Condors hatched than died.


The success of the condor recovery program is primarily due to a number of strong, yet unusual, friendships. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service partnered with a group of NGOs and multiple zoos in the Western US to help rebuild the population. The union of zoos, NGOs, and the government seems standard, but the backing of some generous local citizens might come as a surprise. The Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) was one such NGO that took on the challenge of reintroductions along the central California coast. Sal Lucido, a founding member of VWS, donated prime ocean view real estate to the cause. Now retired, Sal receives no income from transforming his property into a condor haven. Perhaps inspired by Sal’s generosity, another donor, who wishes to stay anonymous, gave a substantial amount of private land to extend the central coastal range towards Los Angeles. The nameless benefactor not only contributed prime condor habitat but also internship stipends, a cabin to house said interns, and financed the technological upgrade of condor monitoring by purchasing GPS transmitters for each condor released on their property. What motivated Sal and the secretive donor? Perhaps a love for the return of the colossal condor to the California skies outweighs the economic incentive of using their land for the hottest Airbnb. Whatever the reason, the condor recovery team would struggle without their generosity.


Even more unexpected than the relationship with local citizens is the partnership with the cattle industry. Excusing the ill-timed idiom, partnering with some of the many dairy farms in California kills two birds with one stone. US cattle farms experience a 6-8 percent calf mortality rate3, meaning central California has an abundance of dead cows. Removing the dead requires time and money, creating an incentive for farmers to seek an alternate removal method. This is where the condor steps in. Because condors struggle finding enough dead elephant seals to sustain the population and lead bullet fragments easily find their way into the condor’s diet of rodents shot by farmers and dead deer unclaimed by hunters, biologists need to provide condors with a safe food source to aid population recovery. The many dairy and cattle farmers in California are key to a win-win solution. Wildlife biologists remove deceased calves at no cost to the farmers and the condors are provided with a constant, safe food source. There are so many hapless calves that much of an internship with condor conservation entails the transportation of dead cows from farms to storage freezers to condor feeding sites. Tourists hoping to see a condor along California’s Highway One may just be lucky enough to spot interns on their way to deliver a tasty meal.

Partnerships, no matter how unanticipated, are key to species recovery. Proponents of rewilding Europe should draw from the condor experience by thinking outside of the box to make financial sense of this contemporary conservation strategy. Sir Charles Burrell, of Knepp Castle Estate, is just one instance of a prominent citizen becoming involved in this conservation movement. More Europeans should draw on the condor example to see what can occur when capital is donated: once locally extinct birds flying free in their backyards.


Rewilding Europe could mean Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) once again populating the skies of Western Europe. Rewilding NGOs could take inspiration from the California Condor’s unusual partnerships and turn to local cattle ranchers and dairy farmers to provide a cheap food source to sustain the reintroduced scavengers. Vulture rewilding programs might even consider the Tauros, a new breed of cow that aims to revive the extinct Auroch, as an unexpected project partner. Despite the genetic engineering, the Tauros is still considered a cow, meaning disposal of the dead must follow Health and Safety rules. Instead of spending those hard-earned rewilding funds on abiding by regulation, why not follow the condor example and put those carcasses to good use? This potential partnership would save both Tauros and vulture management groups money. Perhaps one day, with a harmonious string of partnerships inspired by the California Condor, Europe will once again become wild.


  1. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1984. Revised California condor recovery plan. US Department of Interior, Portland OR.
  2. Bakker, V.J., Smith, D.R., Copeland, H., Brandt, J., Wolstenholme, R., Burnett, J., Kirkland, S. and Finkelstein, M.E., 2017. Effects of Lead Exposure, Flock Behavior, and Management Actions on the Survival of California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus). EcoHealth, 14(1), pp.92-105.
  3. Jorgensen, M.W., Adams-Progar, A., de Passillé, A.M., Rushen, J., Salfer, J.A. and Endres, M.I., 2017. Mortality and health treatment rates of dairy calves in automated milk feeding systems in the Upper Midwest of the United States. Journal of Dairy Science, 100(11), pp.9186-9193.

Seal or Salmon? Sustainable meat with an adorable face

Winner of the 2017/2018 BCM popular science writing prize.

2017/2018 BCM Student Cathy Clegg
Twitter: @cathyfclegg

St. John’s, Newfoundland: where kissing a cod and eating seal are normal, b’y.  Source:

Let’s take a journey together to the frozen north-eastern coastline of Canada.
Newfoundland is surrounded by the vast and foreboding Atlantic ocean.
On shore are the welcoming and uniquely coloured houses – often with traditional Canadian music (yes, we do have traditional music) pouring out the windows and doors.  What you’re also likely to see are seals warming themselves on the shore.  What you are less likely to see, other than perhaps in a restaurant, are the salmon that live under the water.  This may come as sort of a weird question but, which one, the seal or the fish, would you like to eat?

No, this isn’t some weird blog version of “Would you rather…”. This is a legitimate question that Canadians must ask themselves.  While seal has been eaten by people in Newfoundland and Labrador for centuries, it is also an option in Canada’s largest city. Kū-kŭm Kitchen in Toronto has caused a really interesting stir (kitchen pun absolutely intended) by offering seal meat on their menu.  If you are cringing, you are not alone.  This has received a dizzying amount of negative international attention, not only from potential consumers but also from activist groups like PETA and IFAW.

Kū-kŭm Kitchen (and other seal hunting proponents) have fallen victim to the “cute and fuzzy factor”.  This trend is described as individuals, and more worryingly, conservation groups which give disproportionate attention to the animals that are cuter, cuddlier and who give great attention to their young.  In particular, this trend suggests that cuter creatures are put at the forefront of conservation efforts.

Shocked seal gif
Some seal populations have been reported to be close to 10 million individuals in Canadian waters alone.  Source:

This is often to the ultimate detriment of the uglier, less desirable creatures who may need more help from conservation groups.  This term is so perfectly epitomized by the seal issue in Canada; seal numbers are in the millions.  Many of the seal species are listed as abundant or of least concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)

Let’s consider the other option: fish.  Newfoundland has been defined by its fishing culture and economy.  So strong is this culture that it is hard to imagine a trip to Newfoundland without some sort of a fruit of the sea.  But perhaps it is time for us to consider this choice more critically.  Not only was there a completely devastating collapse in cod fisheries in the early 1990s, there is now a huge problem surrounding Atlantic salmon.  While the cod have begun to make a comeback, the salmon are less likely to do so.  Many populations of wild Atlantic salmon or Salmo salar have been deemed endangered by COSEWIC.  More worrying is the fact that many of these populations have little or no chance of rescue.

Habitat destruction and changes to ocean ecosystems (eg. warming waters) threaten wild populations.  More interestingly, many of the wild populations have also been interbreeding with farmed Atlantic salmon that have escaped from their nets.  One could imagine that this interbreeding may not be bad especially
if they are the same species.

Salmon gif
It seems unlikely that Baz Luhrmann will do a modern adaptation of this Romeo and Juliet.  Source:

In fact, one might even personify the salmon as Romeo and Juliet – two star-cross’d lovers who have struggled against confines of net and ocean currents to briefly love and then die together.  The reality, while equally as tragic, is far less romantic.  The interbreeding of these two groups decreases the proportion of wild DNA, making these salmon genetically endangered.  Without going too far into the molecular biology, this endangerment can lead to the extinction of the wild genetic line.

Unlike the seals, Atlantic salmon have received less NGO or public attention – far fewer people want to donate money to save a stinky fish, instead believing they could save an adorably fluffy baby seal.  All is not lost for the salmon.  There are organizations like The Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation that are supporting projects to not only promote wild populations but also limit the amount of damage from farmed populations.  Additionally, consumers such as yourself can make more sustainable selections in restaurants or the grocery store.  So, if you are lucky enough to find yourself surrounded by the brightly coloured homes of Newfie fishermen listening to the music pouring out of kitchens, and you find yourself at a restaurant that serves both Atlantic salmon and seal, which choice will you make?

Saving the Chiquibul: What Will It Take?

Unless delimited by a river or mountain range, human boundaries rarely map to the habitats of non-human species. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face today in the field of conservation. For every political space entails its own unique set of policies, or lack thereof, that concern the management of ecological terrains vital to both human and non-human populations living in their precincts. And sometimes policy conditions of adjacent jurisdictions deeply conflict. Take, for instance, starkly diverging land management regimes of Belize and Guatemala.

In the Google Earth image below, one sees that the Chiquibul forest of Belize (on the right) remains largely intact. Conversely, neighboring lands on the Guatemalan side have been swallowed up by massive cattle ranches and expanding settlement—land-use inequities resulting from decades of state-sponsored genocide and social disarray. Thousands of local farmers have since been displaced from their lands and forced into Belize. While it would appear that the border follows the tree line visible from aerial view; it in fact lies a few kilometers to the west. Agricultural incursions have since moved across binational lines, posing a serious question for Belize: how is the country to keep Guatemalans from consuming its national forests?


This question has taken up much of my thinking over the last two years. For I believe it gets to the heart of contemporary studies in politics and social theory on the environment. In context of Belize, one finds that the crux of the issue currently lies in a historic dispute over the legitimacy of the border itself. To this day, Belizeans are enraged by their neighbor’s claim over the southern half of their national territory. And the growing frequency of incursions into Belize’s forests only seems to suggest the onset of a surreptitious takeover. The political nature of these forests in turn have politicized nature conservation on the ground. Consequently, millions in public funds have been funneled to local NGOs working to curb encroachment.  

In a peculiar way, nationalist fervor kept alive by territorial anxiety thus directly benefits biodiversity on the ground. The scenario, however, is not merely one in which Belizean eco-nationalists link arms in opposition to a Guatemalan threat that looms from the west. Such could perhaps be said of the Belizean Territorial Volunteers, a group well known for their confrontational border protests and conservation background. But for other organizations such as Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), while territorial concerns have indeed helped it to raise programme funding—the disputed border serves less as a rallying point than as a roadblock to progress.


While the BTV conduct protests provoking Guatemalan military forces, FCD forms allegiances with Guatemalan counterparts to target the ecological crisis at its root. From the perspective of FCD—whose mestizo heritage was forged at a time when Spanish-speaking peoples of Belize and Petén mingled while working in colonial forest product industries—ecological concerns in Belize are seen as directly linked to a growing insecurity of livelihoods across the border. And unsettled tensions at higher diplomatic levels only serve to disrupt the confidence it needs to work cooperatively with NGO and community partners in Petén essential to addressing this social crisis.

Is the poor Guatemalan campesino to be lumped into the same political category as a distant state aggressor? How is this complex demographic to navigate the double bind in which conditions of poverty due to landlessness compel involvement in more criminal avenues such as the illicit extraction of xate palm, gold, timber and scarlet macaw from Belizean forests? And how are conservation groups such as FCD to effectively address the transboundary effects of social inequity in Petén when the neighboring government has no legal incentive to take up the issue? 

Grappling with these questions exposes the challenges that Belizean conservationists must face while working to protect their western forests. Of course, there are no ready-made, clear-cut solutions. But there are certain policy pathways that perhaps bear greater long-term benefits than others. In this case, it would appear that the transcendence of historical divisions at the border affords greater comprehension of a truly multifaceted problem, and likely a more balanced approach to tackling it. Meanwhile, the macaws, jaguars and collared peccaries await patiently for what lies in store for the deeply troubled binational political ecology that confines them.

Will Evans is currently a postgraduate student in the School of Geography and the Environment.

Embracing Change

I was fortunate to know from a relatively early age where I wanted my life to go. I had a vision and crafted a path to get there and all in all (and after a lot of work!) things came together rather well. Of course through the years as I learned more the vision matured and developed but it always existed in the realm of wildlife conservation. Immediately after graduating with my undergraduate degree, I moved my life to Namibia to start my ‘dream’ job.


Working on the ground in ‘front-line’ conservation for a very well respected organisation was everything I had hoped… and more. The once-in-a-lifetime experiences, professional (and personal) skills gained, and knowledge acquired were so worth the years of work invested to get to this point.

Zinzi Darting
Photo: Bobby Bradley


I was working first-hand with my favourite species in one of the most beautiful places on Earth doing things that very few people in this world have ever done. So, I get the question all the time ‘Why did you leave?’, and its answer is something I have to remind myself of frequently.


Planet Earth is the most unique and precious thing that exists in our wide wide universe (if you haven’t seen BBCs ‘Planet Earth II’ do yourself a favour and go check it out), but everything that makes it such an incredible place to call home is under immense threat. AND, as ironic as it would seem, we humans are to blame. There are those who have committed themselves to fighting these threats, and victories have been won here and there. My organisation for example had done an incredible job at addressing the threats to this species in Namibia, and is currently working very hard at expanding its programmes throughout Africa. However, on a global scale we are failing.

This being said, we gain more and more ground every year and I know that we can win this fight if enough of us are (actually) willing to get up and do something about it; I can’t let myself believe anything else. I loved my job and loved the work I was doing, but I felt that there was so much more that I could do (and needed to do) and that is why I left to continue with my studies.


This is not at all to say that what I was doing before was not meaningful, or that the work of my organisation was not good enough. It’s just that I felt for me there was more to do and I knew I needed to go and find what that was. Though life in Oxford is not particularly for me, I’ve joined a community of people committed to the same goal (or set of goals at least – check out the other awesome entries on the blog!) and though I’d probably rather be back in the bush, I know that this experience is a necessary step to achieve my vision.

That childhood vision is alive and well, but I now realize that there is not necessarily one place it leads to. Just like in conservation science, as I continue to learn and experience more in this messy world, my vision for the future will continue to shift and grow… I (and we) just have to be willing to embrace whatever change that may bring to our thinking and our reality.

all photos by Eli Walker unless stated otherwise


Can One Bad Apple Rot Canada’s Sustainable Forest Management Reputation?

Canada is known for having some of the most rigorous sustainable forestry regulation and enforcement in the world. Holding 10% of the world’s forests including 552 million hectares or nearly 30% of the world’s Boreal forests and as a leader in the forestry industry, Canada’s sustainable forestry management has global implications, setting standards both environmentally and economically.


75% of Canada’s forests are Boreal. 3.7 million people live within the area including 70% of Canada’s Aboriginal People. This area is also a major carbon sink, a source of freshwater storage and home to high levels of biodiversity.

Complementing the management process are three voluntary third party sustainability certifications that “provide a stamp of approval that shows consumers they are buying products from forests managed to comprehensive environmental, social and economic standards”. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a global NGO initiated non-state market mechanism, and is considered the “gold standard for well managed forests”. The other third-party certification schemes, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA), are both industry-initiated under the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) international umbrella organization.

Resolute Forest Products, a global forestry force based in Montreal Canada holding logging rights on 22 million ha of mostly public land, has 100% sustainable timberland certification by third-party Forest Management Standards and is a signed member of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Resolute company values include be accountable, ensure sustainability and work together.

Corporate responsibility is clearly fundamental to Resolute, their management, brand value and reputation, so what is the problem?

It seems they will go to any lengths, including violating sustainable certification principles, disregarding indigenous rights, suing governments and suppressing environmental organization freedom of speech to assume this farce.

From an ecological standpoint, Resolute’s “sustainable”, “eco” and “recycled products” have in fact come from clear cutting three endangered forest areas; Ontario’s Caribou Forest and Quebec’s Montagnes Blaches and Broadback Valley. These areas are home to 150 birds, the highest densities of threatened woodland caribou and many Cree First Nations communities. Woodland caribou are considered an “indicator species”; sensitive to disturbance, and an “umbrella species”; their protection could ensure the survival of other species in the same habitat. The Grand Council of the Cree have challenged Resolute’s logging practices stating they are detrimental to their trapping lifestyle and the ecosystem balance throughout the area.


Woodland Caribou have already been pushed north of their historic range. Unfortunately logging industries are also being pushed north and since protected areas don’t sufficiently cover their habitat meaning the caribou must rely on sustainable forest management for security. (Info-Map from Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society)

In what way can they continue to state claims of sustainability and certification?

Many major US and global brands have moved away from SFI citing “the logging industry-run program misleads consumers and allows massive clear cuts, other destructive logging and human rights abuse”. Resolute instead is moving towards them. Their FSC certified lands have dropped by 50% since 2010 because of non-compliance and non-renewal. By switching to SFI, Resolute improved their sustainability certification cover to 100% without environment practice or management changes

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forest Initiative offer competing sustainability certifications. While all non-state market driven certification schemes have implementation, management and accountability issues to contend with, FSC is considered more non-discretionary and broad based in their policy. 

But how is Resolute getting away with this?

Resolute, aware that its reputation is at stake, has used its corporate weight and legal prowess to squash critics and competitors with SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation).

Following a failed audit in 2014 for “not complying with good environmental standards”, Resolute sued Rainforest Alliance, the FSC certified auditor. Bypassing the normal FSC dispute resolution, the case was settled and the report sealed. In 2015 Resolute filed a $70+million suit against the Canadian Government because the Nova Scotia Provincial government provided a subsidy to their local mill creating competition, which Resolute says caused their Quebec mill to go under. Resolute is in court with Greenpeace over a $7 million defamation suit for a report Greenpeace published in 2013, which critiqued the logging companies environmental and social conduct. While this case is still in progress, the Ontario Superior Court has dismissed broadening the case stating Resolute’s allegations of Greenpeace are “irrelevant”, “scandalous and vexatious”. They have now brought the case against Greenpeace to the US under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) with goals to silence Greenpeace’s freedom of speech.

Well, what are the implications of Resolute’s actions? It’s only one company right?

Public interest groups are worried over extrapolated implications of using the RICO lawsuit against freedom of the press/speech. The RICO law originated to combat the mafia, but it’s use “as a club to silence Greenpeace from using non-violent means to mobilize the public, raise awareness alongside the necessary funds to operate, and seek to bring about change in respect of environmental practices it opposes would chill the exercise of First Amendment rights not only by Greenpeace but by other groups, by Amici. It would endanger the ability of non profits to operate and set a dangerous precedent,” says the Sierra Club. Resolute’s lawsuits against NGO’s, governments and auditors can threaten not only the viability of non-state market drivers of forest governance, but traditional governance and advocacy roles.

freedom of speech Resolute .png

80  public interest organizations have come together to “condemn Resolute’s intimidation lawsuit and call on the company to respect the US Constitution – and our planet” via an advertisement in the New York Times earlier this month.(New York Times)

Sustainable forestry certifications are growing in supply and demand without a price premium attached or new markets opening up. Consumers aren’t willing to pay more yet they appear to expect these certifications as a minimum standard for forest products. Resolute feels their; “adherence to third party verified forest certification standards gives [them] an important competitive edge. It provides our customers with the assurance that our forests are managed responsibly according to rigorous standards”. With Resolute’s reputation benefiting from eco-certification where does that leave other logging companies particularly smaller ones. Forest managers must absorb the costs to gain and comply with certification schemes. Without significant product pricing benefits, where is the incentive to comply with stricter FSC protocol? This leaves the door open for industry-wide environmental degradation and unsustainable forestry practices.

Resolute has failed to adhere to not only it’s sustainable certifications, but it’s own corporate values of being accountable, ensuring sustainability and working together without any consequences. As indigenous groups are undermined, protected areas harvested and species threatened, Canadian Sustainable Forest Management practices are fundamentally destabilized. What does this mean for the legitimacy of Canadian Sustainable Forestry Management and third party sustainable forestry certification schemes? Can they continue to function as global environmental and social responsibility standards? How can the system be revised so the Boreal Forest, it’s residents both human and non human and it’s consumers aren’t left vulnerable to corporate greed?

The author will continue to look at these questions over the next month while writing a paper on Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada’s Forestry Industry. If you are interested in learning more or have insight, critiques or ideas please feel free to leave a comment or contact the author.

Natalie Knowles is an MSc student from Toronto, Canada. Her research interests include forest protected areas, ecosystem function and indigenous roles in conservation.


The Cow Conundrum

In a country where the cow is ubiquitous, either deified and included in the household as part of tradition by many, bred and consumed for subsistence by others, or just left to live off trash and roam the dusty city roads by the ignoramus, the relationship between man and cow is culturally multidimensional. Although the beef ban in many parts of India has raised questions on the existence and functioning of a secular state, the bovine ballad that shall unfold isn’t on consumption.

As the rising sun ignites the first dawn of the Tamil month of Tai on the 14th of January 2017 in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where farmers – landowners and agricultural labourers – celebrate the start of the harvest season through the festival of Pongal, a lacklustre display of colour and joy would result due to the enforcement of (yet another) ban on a sport of taming bulls: Jallikattu, also known as Eruthazhuvuthal or ‘Embracing a Bull’. In fact, it is the corruption of culture over time, written – or worse, rewritten – to the whims and fancies of a majoritarian many that has led to its acknowledgement as a “sport”, as the initial practice of the ritual was in consideration of taming aggressive humped Bos indicus oxen (that animatedly conjure the image of flaring nostrils) as suitable, dominant males for breeding a healthy population of cows. The ritual, much like many others with humble origins in indigenous settings, gained cult status over the course of history, from periodically being mentioned in accounts and inscribed in sculptures, and tactfully survived the 200 years of colonial chastisement in the subcontinent, much to the surprise of contemporary thinkers.

There is a supposed showcase of virility by man and bull during the ritual. The tamer is seen embracing the hump of the latter in the picture.

The controversial ban on this “cruel male entertainment” was enforced on ethical grounds by the Supreme Court of India in a landmark verdict, through a lobby of animal welfare activists, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and spearheaded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)-India through an intensive campaign and investigation, citing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The revocation of the ban due to colossal resistance by pastoralists and activists of traditional practices in view of the anticipated damages in the agrarian economy, the loss of traditional cattle breeds has produced a conundrum in the dialogue between various actors, and extended to pugnacious debates between non-governmental organisations, local-governance bodies, the State government and New Delhi.

In many parts of Tamil Nadu, bulls continue to be used for ploughing the land, although tractors have been included extensively. The gap between the economically sound and backward farmers is stark.

It is unfair, as a rational student of conservation science, to display a bias to gain resolution. What first holds the mind aghast is the perceived danger of activists pitted against the other, in a classic case of one-upmanship, where activists are somehow “superior people”, as noted by Magsaysay awardee TM Krishna, a renowned musician and musicologist from Tamil Nadu in a 2015 news article. Secondly, the arguments made in favour or against the ban are equally legitimate, giving both parties their fair share of voice and free thought, but share striking commonalities – they are rooted in the conscience of thinkers, in the support of people, in the cultural fabric of society, and most importantly, in the interest of the animal itself. Herein comes to the fore, the need for regulation – not prevention – and thence mutual cooperation for shared “benefits” in this dialogue, necessitating the horizontal division of conservation governance in India, for the inclusion of well-supported reason. The ideologues of animal ethics essay their role well in arguing against the “torture” of bulls for the sake of tradition, in support of the greater good, accommodating, and involuntarily adding this topic into the kettle of ethics-related (vegan) soup. The other school of support in favour of this form of traditional ecological knowledge seemingly argues for pastoralists who have tamed (or embraced, as the transliteration dictates) and hence bred cows through the practice, preventing the loss of native breeds like the Kangeyam, Pulikulam, Umbalachery and Malai Maadu in Tamil Nadu – the traditional keepers of livestock have evidently engaged in this form of conservation and allegedly resisting depredation of Indian cattle by the western dairy industry. The earlier utterance of corruption is certainly the point that weakens the case – the practice at large has lost its rubric as an intimate affair, shifting from craft to consumerism, with sole purpose of taming giving way to a messy affair of (reported) torture and cruelty, thus paving way for PETA & Co. Also in question is that artificial insemination and breeding technologies – which are in use amongst well-heeled agriculturalists – could be further popularised  to kindle the sake of attachment to breed. However, India (and recently, the UK and USA) knows the ramifications of emotional attachment to what is perceived as “culture” and “belonging”: the dangers of the currently trending rhetoric, ‘give my country(side) back’.

Throughout the history of indigenous people and local communities, the enforcement or mere presence of Western thought is regarded as neo-colonialism – in most cases, according to Thomas Thornton in Being and Place Among the Tlingit, it is blamed for deeming tradition with “mechanistic or estranged” views, disparaging the “intimate, enchanted union with the landscape”. Whilst the animal rights activists sympathise with cows and advocate ethics, in sync with the tone of ahimsa or non-violence that gripped the nation during its struggle for freedom, hasn’t folklore from the native Sangam literature indicated the presence of the system percolating from the Mullai tribes that embraced man-animal interaction for the “management” and “survival” of these species – terms that are commonplace in modern conservation policy? Sustainability should be tested through healthy skepticism, as many yesteryear practices were regressive. As for Pongal in 2017, there is bound to be ‘a countenance more in sorrow than anger’.

Dhruv Gangadharan Arvind is from Chennai, India and aspires to be a columnist. He occasionally writes on the interface between nature, culture and society in his blog, Veritable Verses, and is the co-author of Airflow, Comfort and Habitability of Game Reserves.


The weekend when The Jury’s Inn filled up with Herpetofauna workers

48 hours of fascinating talks, workshops and exciting chats with interesting people. This is what went on in Oxford last weekend, 7th-8th of February: Herpetofauna Workers Meeting 2016 (HWM). I was lucky enough to be able to attend this amazing yearly event, where I was surrounded by really inspiring people.

Thanks to the cake and coffee reception first thing in the morning on Saturday, everyone forgot about the horrible weather encountered on the way and started chatting and pouring copious amounts of coffee in their cups. At reception, I received a name tag and the programme, which featured several talks and one workshop per day. After a few croissants and handshakes, the other delegates and I made our way to the main hall for the morning session of talks.

The welcome pack

Kicking off was Mr Ben Tapley, from the ZSL, presenting his and his team’s current work in China with the Critically Endangered Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus). Chinese Giant Salamanders have been experiencing extreme declines mainly due to overexploitation: they are often consumed as a delicacy, and this has caused both their disappearance in the wild and the expansion of their farming industry. Therefore, survey work is carried out to discover more about the remaining population abundance, distribution and threats, and to set a long-term monitoring programme. But social work is also sorely needed, as farms are often in bad conditions, and the local perception of this animal usually is negative: they are commonly thought of as scary and ugly. By partnering with local organisations, this project is hopefully going to change the perception of Chinese Giant Salamanders to amazing animals which deserve protection.

Following Ben, Mr John Baker made our wandering imaginations return to the UK, where he has been monitoring adders in Norfolk for more than 10 years. Local habitat restoration impacted the adders, as they were not taken into account during the plans: however thanks to John’s data hopefully in the future management will consider protecting adder hibernation sites and areas around these during major habitat restorations.

Finally, right before the first workshop, Mr Paul Edgar and Mr Rob Cameron updated us on the recent changes in Natural England’s (NE) views, structure and projects, underlining NE’s major interest for new achievements on the ground. It is a time of great change due to an increase of licences granted, the feedback that the UK received on the British EPS, and other major changes within the Government. NE intends to have a greater focus on habitat provision (such as securing habitat for great crested newts), grant advice at earlier stages of developments, as well as targeting the efforts to where the risks are greatest. I was able to participate to their workshop which followed right after, where we discussed four main proposed licensing policy changes. These, if approved, could majourly influence surveying efforts needed, exclusion-trapping-relocating requirements as well as habitat compensation requirements.

Mr Paul Edgar talking about mitigation guidelines

After a tasty and well-needed lunch, another set of presentations got us back in the mood for more herpetofauna talk. From grass snakes monitoring, to toad night patrols in Kent, and a very thorough presentation on the aquatic invertebrates a pond surveyor is most likely to find, everyone’s eyes and ears remained fixed on the presenters all afternoon. Rob Gandola, from the Herpetological Society of Ireland, closed this last session with a witty talk about the recent, amazing work carried out by the Society and some students on North Bull Island, the heart of the newly designated Dublin Bay UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Their citizen-science led monitoring project was able to identify the presence of both frogs and lizards on the island, and discover that their populations are healthy and breeding.  Some funny anecdotes, such as confused frogs hopping into the surf at night, made everyone leave the hall with a smile.

However, the first day of the HWM did certainly not end here. In the evening everyone gathered again for informal drinks, before suiting up (or not) and heading back to the main hall – which was in the meanwhile turned into a fancy dining hall. A three course meal (featuring my first sticky toffee pudding ever!), accompanied with great chats and banter really livened up the night. After an exhilarating herpetofauna-based (obviously) quiz, which included a hilarious masquerade round, a few more drinks and jokes, everything turned into a great party.

The masquerade round

The great party meant that Sunday morning was a bit of a rough start, but equally extremely interesting. The day started with the second workshop – which for me was on Reptile Surveying Guidelines. There were many consultants and experts in the workshop, which made it really valuable for me since I have very little experience in the field. We discussed pros and cons of different existing guidelines, as well as proposing our own ideas on what guidelines should include. After a second round of coffee and chocolate biscuits, we had two sessions of talks. In my opinion, the most interesting talk was Dr Jeremy Biggs‘ from the Freshwater Habitats Trust, which was on the use of eDNA analysis for detecting great crested newts. Last year the first successful national survey of these newts was completed succesfully. This methodology revealed itself to be very inexpensive and easy to use for volunteers as part of the PondNet project, through which almost 350 ponds were analysed – 25% of whuch were found hosting great crested newts. eDNA stands for “environmental DNA”, which is DNA that is released into the water by organisms from their skin, eggs and other means, and can be analysed to find out what organisms live in the body of water sampled. Volunteers are given a simple eDNA kit to collect water samples, which can then be sent to a lab for analysis. To date, eDNA cannot be used to evaluate abundance of organisms yet, but research in the topic is advancing quickly. The PondNet project is picking up again this year, and hopefully 2017, which will provide national trends as a basis for long term monitoring.

Other great talks and discussions continued for the rest of the day, until about 4PM, when we sadly had to start to pack up. It was such a wonderful and inspiring weekend! I particularly appreciated the diversity of people present, with the most varied backgrounds but unified by a common passion. Many thanks to ARG UK and ARC Trust and all the organisers of this amazing meeting, I definitely hope to be able to participate next year!

Saving elephants with creative conservation

The fight to save Africa’s elephants is at a crossroads.

There are approximately 400,000-700,000 elephants in Africa, which sounds like a lot until you realize their population is plummeting: 100,000 were slaughtered in just the last three years. These gentle giants—the largest living land mammal on Earth—could be extinct in our lifetimes.

So what do we do about it? Continue reading Saving elephants with creative conservation