Green Deceit: Forest Management, EVs, and Manufactured Consent

Green Deceit: Forest Management, EVs, and Manufactured Consent

Editor’s Note: Taking the context of Maryland’s forests, the following piece analyses how the mainstream environmental movement and pro-industry management actors have used deliberately misinterpreting to outright creation of information to justify commercial activities at the expense of forests. Industrial deforestation is harmful for the forests and the planet. The fact that this obvious piece of information should even be stated to educated adults affirms the successful (and deceitful) framing of biomass as an environmentally friendly way out of climate crisis. The same goes for deep sea mining.

By Austin

Most would agree that we live in an age of multiple compounding catastrophes, planetary in scale. There is controversy, however, regarding their interrelationships as well as their causes. That controversy is largely manufactured. In the following pages I will describe the state of “forestry” in the state of Maryland, USA, and connect that to regional, national, and international stirrings of which we should all be aware. I will continue to examine connections between international conservation organizations, the co-optation of the environmental movement, the youth climate movement, and the financialization of nature. Full disclosure. I am writing this to human beings on behalf of all the non-human beings and those yet unborn who are recognized as objects to be converted to capital or otherwise used by the dominant culture. I am not a capitalist. I am a human being. I occupy unceded land of unrecognized peoples which is characterized by poisoned air, water and soil, devastated forest ecosystems, decapitated mountains, and collapsing biodiversity. I am of this earth. It is to the land, water and all of life that I direct my affection and gratitude as well as my loyalty.

Last winter, amid deep concerns about the present mass extinction and an unshakeable feeling of helplessness, I began to search for answers and ecological allies. I compiled a running list of local, regional, national, and international organizations that seemed to have at least some interest in the environment. The list quickly swelled to hundreds of entries. I attempted to assess the organizations based upon their mission, values, goals, publications and other such things. I hoped that the best of the best of these groups could be brought together around ecological restoration and the long-term benefits of clean air, water, healthy soil supporting vigorous growth of food and medicine, and rebounding biodiversity throughout our Appalachian homeland. Progress was and continues to be slow. Along the way, I encountered an open stakeholder consultation (survey) regarding a risk assessment of Maryland’s forests. As an ethnobotanist with special interests in forest ecology and stewardship, Indigenous societies and their traditional ecological knowledge, symbiotic relationships, and intergenerational sustainability, I realize that my unique perspectives could be helpful to the team conducting the assessment. I proceeded to submit thought provoking responses to each question. Because the consultation period was exceedingly brief and outreach to stakeholders was weak at best, and because the wording of the questions felt out of alignment with the purported purpose of the survey, I sensed that something was awry. So I saved my answers and resolved to stay abreast of developments.

Summer came around, I became busy, and the risk assessment survey faded from my mind until a friend recently emailed me a draft of the document along with notice of a second stakeholder consultation and the question: should we respond? This friend happens to own land registered in the Maryland Tree Farm Program. The selective outreach to forest landowners with large acreage was an indication as to who is and who is not considered a “stakeholder” by the committee.

After reviewing the Consultation Draft: A Sustainability Risk Assessment of Maryland’s Forests I felt sick. Low to Negligible was the risk assignment for every single criteria. I re-read the document – section by section – noting the ambiguity, legalese and industry jargon, lack of definitions, contradictory statements, false claims, poorly referenced and questionable sources, and more. Have you heard of greenwashing? Every tactic was represented in the 82 page document. Naturally, then, I tracked down and reviewed many of the referenced materials and I then investigated the contributors and funders of the report.

To understand the Sustainability Risk Assessment of Maryland’s Forests, one must also review the <a href=” Forestry Economic Adjustment Strategy, part one and two of Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Action Plan, and Seneca Creek Associates, LLC’s Assessment of Lawful Sourcing and Sustainability: US Hardwood Exports, and of course American Forests Foundation’s Final Report to the Dutch Biomass Certification Foundation (DBC) for Implementation of the AFF’s 2018 DBC Stimulation Program in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana. Additionally, it is helpful to note that the project development lead and essential supporters each operate independent consultancies that: offer “technical and strategic support in navigating complex forest sustainability and climate issues,” “provide(s) services in natural resource economics and international trade,” and “produced a comprehensive data research study for the Dutch Biomass Certification Foundation on the North American forest sector,” according to their websites.

Noting, furthemore, that on the Advisory Committee sits a member of the Maryland Forests Association (MFA). On their website they state: “We are proud to represent forest product businesses, forest landowners, loggers and anyone with an interest in Maryland’s forests…” They also state: “Currently, Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard uses a limiting definition of qualifying biomass that makes it difficult for wood to compete against other forms of renewable energy,” oh yes, and this extraordinarily deceptive bit from a recent publication, There’s More to our Forests than Trees:

When the tree dies, it decays and releases carbon dioxide and methane back into the atmosphere. However, we can postpone this process and extend the duration of carbon storage. If we harvest the tree and build a house or even make a chair with the wood, the carbon remains stored in these products for far longer than the life of the tree itself! This has tremendous implications for addressing the growing levels of carbon dioxide, which lead to increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere. It means harvesting trees for long-term uses helps mitigate climate change. We can even take advantage of the fact that trees sequester carbon at different rates throughout their lifespan to maximize the carbon storage potential. Trees are more active in sequestering carbon when they are younger. As forests age, growth slows down and so does their ability to store carbon. At some point, a stand of trees reaches an equilibrium where the growth and carbon-storing ability equals the trees that die and release carbon each year. Thus, a younger, more vigorous stand of trees stores carbon at a much higher rate than an older one.

Just in case you were convinced by that last bit, my studies in botany and forest ecology support the following finding:

“In 2014, a study published in Nature by an international team of researchers led by Nathan Stephenson, a forest ecologist with the United States Geographical Survey, found that a typical tree’s growth continues to accelerate (emphasis mine) throughout its lifetime, which in the coastal temperate rainforest can be 800 years or more.

Stephenson and his team compiled growth measurements of 673,046 trees belonging to 403 tree species from tropical, subtropical and temperate regions across six continents. They found that the growth rate for most species “increased continuously” as they aged.

“This finding contradicts the usual assumption that tree growth eventually declines as trees get older and bigger,” Stephenson says. “It also means that big, old trees are better at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than has been commonly assumed.” (Tall and old or dense and young: Which kind of forest is better for the climate?).

Al Goertzl, president of Seneca Creek (a shadowy corporation with a benign name that has no website and pumps out reports justifying the exploitation of forests) who is featured in MFA’s Faces of Forestry, wouldn’t know the difference, he identifies as a forest economist. In another publication marketing North American Forests he is credited with the statements: “There exists a low risk that U.S. hardwoods are produced from controversial sources as defined in the Chain of Custody standard of the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).” and “The U.S. hardwood-producing region can be considered low risk for illegal and non-sustainable hardwood sourcing as a result of public and private regulatory and non-regulatory programs.” The report then closes with this shocker: “SUSTAINABILITY MEANS USING NORTH AMERICAN HARDWOODS.”

Why are forest-pimps conducting the risk assessment upon which future decisions critical to the long-term survival of our native ecosystem will be based? What is really going on here?

A noteworthy find from Forest2Market helps to clarify things:

“Europe’s largest single source of renewable energy is sustainable biomass, which is a cornerstone of the EU’s low-carbon energy transition […] For the last decade, forest resources in the US South have helped to meet these goals—as they will in the future. This heavily forested region exported over <7 million metric tons of sustainable wood pellets in 2021­ – primarily to the EU and UK – and is on pace to exceed that number in 2022 (emphasis mine) due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has pinched trade flows of industrial wood pellets from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.”

Sustainability means using North American hardwoods.

If it has not yet become clear, the stakeholder consultation for the forest sustainability risk assessment document which inspired this piece was but a small, local, component of an elaborate sham enabling the world to burn and otherwise consume the forests of entire continents – in comfort and with the guilt-neutralizing reassurance that: carbon is captured, rivers are purified, forests are healthy and expanding, biodiversity is thriving and protected, and “the rights of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples are upheld” as a result of our consumption. (FSC-NRA-USA, p71) That is the first phase of the plan – manufacturing / feigning consent. Next the regulatory hurdles must be eliminated or circumvented. Cue the Landscape Management Plan (LMP).

“Taken together, the actions taken by AFF [American Forest Foundation] over the implementation period have effectively set the stage for the implementation of a future DBC project to promote and expand SDE+1 qualifying certification systems for family landowners in the Southeast US and North America, generally.”

“As outlined in our proposal, research by AFF and others has demonstrated that the chief barrier for most landowners to participating in forest certification is the requirement to have a forest management plan. To address this significant challenge, AFF has developed an innovative tool, the Landscape Management Plan (LMP). An LMP is a document produced through a multi-stakeholder process that identifies, based on an analysis of geospatial data and existing regional conservation plans, forest conservation priorities at a landscape scale and management actions that can be applied at a parcel scale. This approach also utilizes publicly available datasets on a range of forest resources, including forest types, soils, threatened and endangered species, cultural resources and others, as well as social data regarding landowner motivations and practices. As a document, it meets all of the requirements for ATFS certification and is fully supported by PEFC and could be used in support of other programs such as other certification systems, alongside ATFS. Once an LMP has been developed for a region, and once foresters are trained in its use, the LMP allows landowners to use the landscape plan and derive a customized set of conservation practices to implement on their properties. This eliminates the need for a forester to write a complete individualized plan, saving the forester time and the landowner money. The forester is able to devote the time he or she would have spent writing the plan interacting with the landowner and making specific management recommendations, and / or visiting additional landowners.

With DBC support, AFF sought to leverage two existing LMPs in Alabama and Florida and successfully expanded certification in those states. In addition, AFF combined DBC funds with pre-existing commitments to contract with forestry consultants to design new LMPs in Arkansas and Louisiana. DBC grant funds were used to cover LMP activities between July 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018 for these states, namely stakeholder engagement, two stakeholder workshops (one in each state Arkansas and Louisiana) and staffing.” (American Forest Foundation, 2, 7).

It is clear that global interests / morally bankrupt humans have been busy ignoring the advice of scientists, altering definitions, removing barriers to standardization / certification, and manufacturing consent; thus enabling the widespread burning of wood / biomass (read: earth’s remaining forests) to be recognized as renewable, clean, green-energy. Imagine: mining forests as the solution to deforestation, biodiversity loss, pollution, climate change, and economic stagnation. Meanwhile, mountains are scalped, rivers are poisoned, forests are gutted, biological diversity is annihilated, and the future of all life on earth is sold under the guise of sustainability.

Sustainability means USING North American hardwoods!

The perpetual mining of forests is merely one “natural climate solution” promising diminishing returns for Life on earth. While the rush is on to secure the necessary public consent (but not of the free, prior, and informed variety) to convert the forests of the world into clean energy (sawdust pellets) and novel materials, halfway around the planet and 5 kilometers below the surface of the Pacific another “nature based solution” that will utterly devastate marine ecosystems and further endanger life on earth – deep sea mining (DSM) – is employing the same strategy. Like the numerous other institutions that are formally entrusted with the protection of forests, water, air, biodiversity, and human rights, deep sea mining is overseen by an institution which has contradictory directives – to protect and to exploit. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has already issued 17 exploration contracts and will begin issuing 30-year exploitation contracts across the 1.7 million square mile Clarion-Clipperton zone by 2024 – despite widespread calls for a ban / moratorium and fears of apocalyptic planetary repercussions. After decades of environmental protection measures enacted by thousands of agencies and institutions throwing countless billions at the “problems,” every indicator of planetary health that I am aware of has declined. It follows, then, that these institutions are incapable of exercising caution, acting ethically, protecting ecosystems, biodiversity or indigenous peoples, holding thieves, murderers and polluters accountable, or even respecting their own regulatory processes. Haeckel sums up industry regulation nicely in a recent nature article regarding the nascent DSM industry:

“…Amid this dearth of data, the ISA is pushing to finish its regulations next year. Its council met this month in Kingston, Jamaica, to work through a draft of the mining code, which covers all aspects — environmental, administrative and financial — of how the industry will operate. The ISA says that it is listening to scientists and incorporating their advice as it develops the regulations. “This is the most preparation that we’ve ever done for any industrial activity,” says Michael Lodge, the ISA’s secretary-general, who sees the mining code as giving general guidance, with room to develop more progressive standards over time.

And many scientists agree. “This is much better than we have acted in the past on oil and gas production, deforestation or disposal of nuclear waste,” says Matthias Haeckel, a biogeochemist at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany.” (Seabed Mining Is Coming — Bringing Mineral Riches and Fears of Epic Extinctions).

Of course, this “New Deal for Nature” requires “decarbonization” while producing billions of new electric cars, solar panels, wind mills, and hydroelectric dams. The metals for all the new batteries and techno-solutions have to come from somewhere, right? According to Global Sea Mineral Resources:

“Sustainable development, the growth of urban infrastructure and clean energy transition are combining to put enormous pressure on metal supplies.

Over the next 30 years the global population is set to expand by two billion people. That’s double the current populations of North, Central and South America combined. By 2050, 66 percent of us will live in cities. To support this swelling urban population, a city the size of Dubai will need to be built every month until the end of the century. This is a staggering statistic. At the same time, there is the urgent need to decarbonise the planet’s energy and transport systems. To achieve this, the world needs millions more wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle batteries.

Urban infrastructure and clean energy technologies are extremely metal intensive and extracting metal from our planet comes at a cost. Often rainforests have to be cleared, mountains flattened, communities displaced and huge amounts of waste – much of it toxic – generated.

That is why we are looking at the deep sea as a potential alternative source of metals.”

(DSM-Facts, 2022).

Did you notice how there is scarcely room to imagine other possibilities (such as reducing our material and energy consumption, reorganizing our societies within the context of our ecosystems, voluntarily decreasing our reproductive rate, and sharing resources) within that narrative?

Do you still wonder why the processes of approving seabed mining in international waters and certifying an entire continent’s forests industry to be sustainable seem so similar? They are elements of the same scheme: a strategy to accumulate record profits through the valuation and exploitation of nature – aided and abetted by the non-profit industrial complex.

“The non-profit industrial complex (or the NPIC) is a system of relationships between: the State (or local and federal governments), the owning classes, foundations, and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements.

The state uses non-profits to: monitor and control social justice movements; divert public monies into private hands through foundations; manage and control dissent in order to make the world safe for capitalism; redirect activist energies into career-based modes of organizing instead of mass-based organizing capable of actually transforming society; allow corporations to mask their exploitative and colonial work practices through “philanthropic” work; and encourage social movements to model themselves after capitalist structures rather than to challenge them.” (Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex | INCITE!).

The emergence of the NPIC has profoundly influenced the trajectory of global capitalism largely by inventing new conservation and the youth climate movement –

The “movement” that evades all systemic drivers of climate change and ecological devastation (militarism, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, etc.). […] The very same NGOs which set the Natural Capital agenda and protocols (via the Natural Capital Coalition, which has absorbed TEEB2) – with the Nature Conservancy and We Mean Business at the helm, are also the architects of the term “natural climate solutions”. (THE MANUFACTURING OF GRETA THUNBERG – FOR CONSENT: NATURAL CLIMATE MANIPULATIONS [VOLUME II, ACT VI]).

In the words of artist Hiroyuki Hamada:

“What’s infuriating about manipulations by the Non Profit Industrial Complex is that they harvest the goodwill of the people, especially young people. They target those who were not given the skills and knowledge to truly think for themselves by institutions which are designed to serve the ruling class. Capitalism operates systematically and structurally like a cage to raise domesticated animals. Those organizations and their projects which operate under false slogans of humanity in order to prop up the hierarchy of money and violence are fast becoming some of the most crucial elements of the invisible cage of corporatism, colonialism and militarism.” (THE MANUFACTURING OF GRETA THUNBERG – FOR CONSENT: THE GREEN NEW DEAL IS THE TROJAN HORSE FOR THE FINANCIALIZATION OF NATURE [ACT V]).
We must understand that the false solutions proposed by these institutions will suck the remaining life out of this planet before you can say fourth industrial revolution.

“That is, the privatization, commodification, and objectification of nature, global in scale. That is, emerging markets and land acquisitions. That is, “payments for ecosystem services”. That is the financialization of nature, the corporate coup d’état of the commons that has finally come to wait on our doorstep.” (THE MANUFACTURING OF GRETA THUNBERG – FOR CONSENT: NATURAL CLIMATE MANIPULATIONS [VOLUME II, ACT VI].

An important point must never get lost amongst the swirling jargon, human-supremacy and unbridled greed: If we do not drastically reduce our material and energy consumption – rapidly – then We (that is, all living beings on the planet including humans) have no future.

In summary, decades of social engineering have set the stage for the blitzkrieg underway against our life-giving and sustaining mother planet in the name of sustainability industrial civilization. The success of the present assault requires the systematic division, distraction, discouragement, detention, and demonization (reinforced by powerful disinformation) and ultimately the destruction of all those who would resist. Remember also: capital, religion, race, gender, class, ideology, occupation, private property, and so forth, these are weapons of oppression wielded against us by the dominant patriarchal, colonizing, ecocidal, empire. That is not who We are. Our causes, our struggles, and our futures are one. Unless we refuse to play by their rules and coordinate our efforts, We will soon lose all that can be lost.

Learn more about deep sea mining (here); sign the Blue Planet Society petition (here) and the Pacific Blue Line statement (here). Tell the forest products industry that they do not have our consent and that you and hundreds of scientists see through their lies (here); divest from all extractive industry, and invest in its resistance instead (here). Inform yourself, talk to your loved-ones and community members and ask yourselves: what can we do to stop the destruction?

All flourishing is mutual. The inverse is also true.
“…future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts […] this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public.” – Top Scientists: We Face “A Ghastly Future”

—Austin is an ecocentric Appalachian ethnobotanist, gardener, forager, and seed saver. He acknowledges kinship with and responsibility to protect all life, land, water, and future generations—

1 (SDE++): Sustainable Energy Transition Subsidy

2 The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Banner photo by Rachel Wente-Chaney on Creative Commons

Global Resistance to Extractive Industries

Global Resistance to Extractive Industries

Editor’s note: This piece draws links between struggles against extraction projects and other land destruction related to fossil fuels, nuclear power, and renewable energy technologies alike. Around the world, people are struggling to protect the land and water in global resistance to extractive industries. We encourage our readers to join these struggles—or to begin a new campaign if one is not already happening.


People the world over are opposing fossil fuel extraction in an incalculable number of ways.  It is now clear that burning fossil fuels threatens millions of Life forms and could be laying the foundation for the extermination of Humanity.  But what about “alternative” energy?  As progressives stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those rejecting fossil fuels and nuclear power, should we despise, ignore, or commend those who challenge the menace to their homes and their communities from solar, wind and hydro-power (dams)?  The Green Party of St. Louis/Gateway Green Alliance gave its answer with unanimous approval of a version of the statement below in May, 2021.

Global Conflicts Over Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Alternative Energy

The monumental increase in the use of energy is provoking conflicts across the Earth.  We express our solidarity with those struggling against extraction, including these examples.

Standing Rock, North Dakota

We stand in solidarity with the on-going Native American protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota protesting environmentally irresponsible and culturally damaging pipelines that transport crude oil extracted from tar sand, destroying their ancestral lands. So-called “clean” and “renewable” energies depend on the climate killer oil for their production.

Ogoni People vs. Shell

We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People against Shell. The Niger-Delta was devastated and traditional culture weakened by soil, surface and groundwater contamination that makes farming and fishing impossible.  Local communities still seek to receive denied compensation, clean-up, a share of the profits and a say in decision-making.

Coal extraction in India

We stand in solidarity with the Centre for Policy Research in India as it opposes efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open 41 new coal mines because burning coal is a major factor in climate change, leads to asthma, premature births, and spreads toxins (including mercury) by air, water and land.

Fracking in Pennsylvania

We stand in solidarity with the Green Party of Pennsylvania which has opposed fracking since 2008 when it realized that use of volatile chemicals could harm local communities and waterways and contribute to climate instability. Local residents have become ill and major waterways and delicate ecosystems have been damaged.

Nuclear power and Olympic Games

nuclear power meltdowns deep green resistance(1)We stand in solidarity with the No Nukes Action Committee of the Bay Area who are demonstrating against the Olympic Games slated for Tokyo in order to raise awareness of the ongoing disaster of Fukushima nuclear power since nuclear power is deadly and intimately connected with the potential for nuclear war.

Uranium Mining in Africa

We stand in solidarity with “Solidarity Action for the 21 Villages” in Faléa, Maliagainst the French multinational COGEMA/Orano. After years of struggle, this NGO defeated a uranium mine through community mobilizing.  Aware of the detrimental effects on health, environment, agricultural land, water sources and cultural heritage, they are still fighting to undo already done infrastructural damage.

Solar arrays in Washington State

We stand in solidarity with rural Klickitat County, WA residents who are being invaded by industrial solar facilities which would exceed 12,000 acres and undermine wildlife/habitat, ecosystems, ground/water, and food production because solar panels and lithium ion batteries contain carcinogens with no method of disposal or re-cycling and could contribute to wildfires from electrical shorts.

Wind turbines in Broome County NY

We stand in solidarity with the Broome Tioga Green Party’s fight against industrial wind turbine projects that would increase drilling and mining, dynamite 26 pristine mountain tops, and destroy 120,000 trees while requiring precious minerals and lithium for batteries and being dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, maintenance and operation.

Hydro-power in Honduras

We stand in solidarity with the indigenous Lenca people opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River in Honduras whose leader Berta Cáceres was murdered for uniting different movements to expose how dams destroy farmland, leave forests bare, disturb ancestral burial sites, and deprive communities of water for crops and livestock.

Lithium mining in Thacker Pass

We stand in solidarity with activists aiming to stop Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass open-pit mine (Nevada).  Essential for electronic devices including electric cars, the mine would destroy rare old-growth big sagebrush, harm wildlife including many endangered species and lower the water table. Its operation would require massive fossil fuel use and toxic waste ponds.

Cobalt Extraction in DR Congo

We stand in solidarity with the child laborers slaving and dying in Democratic Republic of Congo cobalt mines.  Cobalt is an essential ingredient for some of the world’s fastest-growing industries—electric cars and electronic devices. It co-occurs with copper mining, used in construction, machinery, transportation and war technology worldwide.

Most of all, we stand in solidarity with thousands upon thousands of communities across the Earth opposing every form of extraction or transmission for energy which seeks to cover up human health and environmental dangers.

If you would like to join those spreading the word regarding the need to challenge all forms of energy extraction because we can provide better lives for every society on Earth by reducing the global production of energy, please contact the author at the email below.

Don Fitz is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought   He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor.  His book on Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution has been available since June 2020. He can be reached at: 

This article was first published Green Social Thought. The version adopted by the Gateway Green Alliance differs only by referring to its organizational name in the text.

Planned dam in Philippine national park catches flak from activists, officials

Planned dam in Philippine national park catches flak from activists, officials

  • A subsidiary of the San Miguel Corporation, one of the largest companies in the Philippines, has proposed a $500 million hydroelectric project that will overlap with a national park on Panay Island.
  • Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park holds some of the central Philippines’ last stands of intact lowland rainforest, is home to endangered species including hornbills and the Visayan warty pig, and is a vital watershed for Panay and neighboring islands.
  • The project is still not approved, and a growing coalition of activists and local governments opposes the plan.

Update: On Aug. 10, the village governments of Naboay and Malay publicly released resolutions opposing the hydroelectric project, citing concerns about the project’s potential impacts on the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, municipal and agricultural water supplies, and the area’s indigenous Ati communities.

This article originally appeared in Mongabay. Featured image: Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) at a wallow in the Philippines. Image by Shukran888 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).


AKLAN, Philippines — Activists and local government officials in the central Philippines have lashed out at a recently announced plan to build a hydroelectric plant overlapping with a national park that’s home to rare and threatened species.

Strategic Power Development Corporation (SPDC), a subsidiary of Philippine mega conglomerate San Miguel Corporation, announced on July 13 its intention to build the $500 million, 300-megawatt pump-storage hydro facility in Malay municipality on the island of Panay. The project would include the construction of two dams and reservoirs, 9.6 kilometers (6 miles) of new roads, and the upgrade of 1.8 km (1.1 mi) of existing roads.

According to SPDC, the planned project near the confluence of the Nabaoy and Imbaroto rivers would consist of a 70-meter (230-foot) lower dam on the Naboay, with a 10.2-million-cubic-meter (2.7-billion-gallon) reservoir; and a 74 m (243 ft) upper dam with a 4.55-million-m3 (1.2-billion-gallon) reservoir extending to the Imbaroto. The company says the plant will provide energy to the regional grid to meet current and future peak demand, will support the local economy, and is part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2017-2040 Philippine Energy Plan.

Overall, the company says the complex would cover 122.7 hectares (303.2 acres), including 97.9 hectares (241.9 acres) of forest, of which 24.9 hectares (61.5 acres) are nominally protected land within Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park.

Significant biodiversity hotspot

Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, which spans 12,009 hectares (29,676 acres) in the provinces of Aklan and Antique, was established in 2002 via a presidential proclamation. Home to critically endangered Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) and writhed-billed hornbills (Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), as well as endangered Visayan hornbills (Penelopides panini), it has been locally recognized as a significant biodiversity hotspot since the 1990s.

The park holds some of the last remaining stands of primary lowland rainforest in the central Philippines, and serves as a key watershed providing potable water to Panay and neighboring islands.

Activists say the hydropower project puts water supplies for local communities at risk.

“The Nabaoy River is the lone source of potable water to nearby Boracay Island and to the residents of Malay,” said Ritchel Cahilig of the Aklan Trekkers Group. Boracay Island, separated from the park by a narrow strait, is a prime beach destination, recording 2 million tourist arrivals in 2019.

“I wonder how will they supply water to the residents especially during construction phase. During construction phase, for sure, large vehicles will be damaging the forest and the company seems do not have a clear alternative on how to restore what has been damaged,” Cahilig said.

The natural park is also home to a community of Indigenous Malay Ati people, who fish in the Nabaoy River and rely on the forests for sustenance.

Activists have also questioned the need for additional electrical capacity in the area. Citing reports from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, Melvin Purzuelo of the Green Forum-Western Visayas noted that from July 20-26, Panay Island’s average daily electricity consumption ranged from 345-364 MW, against existing capacity of 480 MW.

“It is clear now that a huge power supply is not needed at this time especially that the world is going through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Purzuelo said during a recent webinar.

Loss of local government support

SPDC’s proposal still requires approval from local governments and the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“The Malay [municipal government] have set a coordination meeting with the SPDC supposedly last August 2 to clarify issues involving the project but [the meeting] has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Purzuelo said.

Local officials have distanced themselves from endorsing the proposal. In a phone interview, acting Malay Mayor Floribar Bautista said the SPDC had not approached him to discuss the details of the project since he assumed his post in July 2018.

“What I know is the project was endorsed by the previous administration. When I checked the documents, it’s lacking. It seems the project may have [been] railroaded. I could not endorse the project at this time since I do not know how the project would affect our town. All they have to do is to convince me if the hydro dam project is worth it,” he said.

The village of Nabaoy is also reportedly set to cancel its previous endorsement of the project, activists say. No official cancellation had been issued as of the time this article was published; but just as in the case of the Malay municipal government, the previous leadership of Nabaoy village had endorsed the project in the early months of 2018.

Without approval from the current local governments, the project can only push through with special permission from the DENR.

New Discovery Gives World’s Most Endangered Turtle a Fighting Chance

New Discovery Gives World’s Most Endangered Turtle a Fighting Chance

A 500-year-old legend is key to the survival of a rare giant softshell turtle.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Featured image: The recently discovered female Rafetus swinhoei, caught and released in Viet Nam

By Hoang Bich Thuy and Nguyen Dinh Thang

Like many turtle species, Swinhoe’s softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) has for centuries held special cultural significance in Viet Nam. For the people of the country, the Hoan Kiem turtle, as it is known locally, is a symbol of Viet Nam’s independence and prosperity. According to the legend passed from one generation to the next, this giant golden turtle emerged from the Hoan Kiem Lake to reclaim a magic sword used by the Le Loi King to defeat Chinese Ming forces in the 15th century. The lake was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake or Lake of the Returned Sword based on this legend.

But despite the Rafetus swinhoei being revered, it is also extremely threatened. For two decades it has been listed as “Critically Endangered” on the Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Since 2013, the Rafetus swinhoei has also been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

When two of the last remaining Swinhoe’s softshell turtles died without producing any known offspring between 2016 and 2019, this species became the most endangered turtle in the world. In response, conservationists and veterinary experts from Viet Nam, along with global partners, made the recovery of this turtle one of their highest priorities. Swinhoe’s softshell turtles were also included in the five-year conservation plan of Ha Noi People’s Committee in 2018 and added to the committee’s 2030 vision plan.

Then, in October 2020, a female turtle was captured in Viet Nam and confirmed by veterinarians to be a female Rafetus swinhoei. With the leadership of the Ha Noi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with the Asian Turtle Program of Indo-Myanmar Conservation and our organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), this imperiled turtle species may now have a second chance at survival.

The confirmation of Swinhoe’s softshell turtle in Ha Noi’s Dong Mo Lake means there is now a female in addition to a male, who is at the Suzhou Zoo in China. Authorities believe there are at least one more of these turtles in Dong Mo Lake and another in nearby Xuan Khanh Lake. Conservationists hope to capture and determine the sex of the other turtles in the coming months.

Ultimately, conservationists aim to help at least one male and female to breed to ensure that this species can return from the brink of extinction. The race to save this flagship species in Ha Noi highlights the importance of working in partnership to mobilize resources and address issues like water pollution, safer habitat, and more sustainable resource management. It also helps to replicate that success to save other species.

Task forces have been established to provide both the daily monitoring of turtles and the capture and preparation of other Swinhoe’s softshell turtles for a captive breeding program. Local fishermen have been engaged to monitor and capture the turtles, and have played a significant role and made a key contribution to Rafetus swinhoei conservation work.

At the same time, scientists are working to better understand the ecological role of this species. Researchers like Jeffrey Lovich of the U.S. Geological Survey have highlighted their importance to the seafloor biosystem, where they contribute by enriching soil nutrients and facilitating seed dispersion. The way in which river turtles—and specifically the Rafetus swinhoei—add value to their own ecosystems is an area that needs further study.

As WCS has worked to locate more Rafetus swinhoei individuals in the wild, we have come to better understand the ways in which habitat destruction has helped to push this turtle species to the edge of extinction: from water pollution to riverbed abrasion, to overexploitation for food and illegal trade.

A communication task force is now working with local communities to transition from harmful hook and electrical shock fishing methods to safer practices, and to rethink the way in which trash and pesticides are disposed into the sewage system, which eventually empties into the Dong Mo Lake, to help improve the quality of the lake water—especially during the low rain season. More work must be done to curb pollution from dump sites and golf courses into local waterways.

In Viet Nam, with the leadership of the Ha Noi People’s Committee, we are determined to take responsibility to give this cultural icon another chance. While overhunting and habitat destruction have contributed to its demise, our work confirms that the Hoan Kiem turtle and the centuries-old legend lives on.

With bad news and sadness from COVID-19, we feel hope by giving this species another chance to survive and to pass the symbol of prosperity to future generations in Viet Nam and around the globe.

Hoang Bich Thuy is the country director of the Viet Nam Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Nguyen Dinh Thang is an information and design assistant at the Viet Nam Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Court Rules Marin County’s Protections for Endangered Coho Salmon Inadequate

Court Rules Marin County’s Protections for Endangered Coho Salmon Inadequate

SAN RAFAEL, Calif.— The Marin County Superior Court today ruled that the county in Northern California failed to adequately protect coho salmon and their habitat in the San Geronimo Valley.

Marin County originally planned to adopt a streamside conservation ordinance to preserve vegetation, maintain water quality and prevent erosion in 2007 when it last updated its countywide plan. But 12 years later, the measure has still not materialized, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The lawsuit was brought by the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (SPAWN) and Center for Biological Diversity.

“Salmon continue to disappear while the county fails to provide adequate protection, and 14 years later we are still begging for relief,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of SPAWN. “All we have asked is for Marin County to enact a commonsense, science-based streamside protection ordinance. Instead it has delayed, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay consultants to write additional studies and conduct listening sessions with stakeholders, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to try to defend its inaction in court. Once again, this strategy of delay has been ruled illegal by the courts.”

Coho salmon in the Central California Coast have declined more than 95% from historic population levels. The fish are protected as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the California Endangered Species Act.

The San Geronimo watershed includes 30% to 50% of the entire Lagunitas coho population, one of the largest remaining in the state. The county expects the number of developed parcels in the watershed to increase by 22% in the coming years. That will significantly degrade habitat along streams used by coho and steelhead for spawning and migrating to and from the Pacific Ocean.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has characterized the coho as in an “extinction vortex” and identified preserving streamside buffers — which filter runoff and remove sediment — as essential to curbing future threats to the coho.

“For years the county has blatantly ignored the need to protect salmon and steelhead habitat. The court’s ruling confirmed that officials have violated the law by failing to adopt measures to safeguard the San Geronimo watershed,” said Peter J. Broderick, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “These runs of coho and steelhead are going extinct before our very eyes. The county now has no excuse for not adopting long-overdue stream protections.”

After an earlier successful lawsuit by SPAWN the county was required to issue a supplemental environmental impact report that confirmed a streamside protection ordinance is necessary to mitigate future development to reduce impacts to coho. But officials have attempted to obtain one to five years or more to adopt one.

“All our clients have wanted is for the County of Marin to abide by California law and ensure that development in the San Geronimo Valley is done responsibly, not at the cost of extinction of endangered and threatened species,” said Maddie Coles, certified law student of the Stanford Law School Environmental Law Clinic. “Today the court recognized that responsibility.”

“We are ready to sit down with the county today and construct that commonsense ordinance,” Steiner said.

SPAWN and Center for Biological Diversity were represented by attorneys at the Stanford Law School Environmental Law Clinic and the Law Offices of Michael W. Graf.

“As a member of SPAWN and the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal team, and personally as a citizen of Marin, I am thrilled about today’s decision,” said Kate Gaumond, certified law student of the Stanford Law School Environmental Law Clinic. “Marin County’s natural resources are so unique, and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure those resources are protected for future generations as the county grows.”

The Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (SPAWN), is a program of national marine conservation nonprofit Turtle Island Restoration Network. SPAWN protects endangered, wild Coho salmon and the forests and watersheds they need to survive in West Marin County, California.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.