Cities can be part of the solution in sustaining species

Read the full story from Yale University.

Researchers found that a projected urban expansion of up to 1.53 million square kilometers over the next three decades threatens the survival of more than 800 species — but also that a focus on urban planning that protects habitats can mitigate the impact.

Healthy forests, healthy communities

Read the full story at JSTOR Daily.

Deforestation in areas where residents hunt and gather food can lead to malnutrition, food insecurity, and greater forest loss.

UNEP launching new sustainable land use finance impact directory

Read the full story from UNEP.

Financial institutions around the world can now measure the positive impact of their investments into biodiversity conservation, adaptation, mitigation, forest protection and sustainable livelihoods with the help of a new indicator directory and resources platform, launched today.

The Land Use Finance Impact Hub and its Positive Impact Indicators Directory – launched today by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Climate Finance Unit and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) – has been developed with and for impact funds and sustainably focused financial institutions, and aims to support the rollout of effective industry frameworks to track the environmental and social impacts of land-use investments.

The 25 happiest U.S. city park systems, ranked by scientists

Photo by Harry Gillen on Unsplash

Read the full story from the University of Vermont.

Feeling unhappy? Go find a city park—the bigger the better—and try taking a walk outdoors. 

That’s the upshot of a major new study that measures the happiness effects of city parks in the 25 largest U.S. cities, from New York City and Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. 

Unnatural barriers: How the boom in fences is harming wildlife

Read the full story from e360.

From the U.S. West to Mongolia, fences are going up rapidly as border barriers and livestock farming increase. Now, a growing number of studies are showing the impact of these fences, from impeding wildlife migrations to increasing the genetic isolation of threatened species.

How the current siting regime stifles renewable energy

Read the full story from The Regulatory Review.

As the United States enters a “critical decade” in the fight against climate change, the need for rapid renewable energy deployment requires reassessing existing laws governing electricity generation and transmission projects, argues Uma Outka in a recent article. Siting laws and regulations govern where energy infrastructure can be located. Outka, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, contends that siting failures, such as the Maine transmission line, show the need for reforms that “anticipate the challenges” in siting renewable energy projects.

The largest remaining tall-grass prairie in Texas is getting solar panels. Environmentalists can’t stop it.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

A solar facility on a 3,594-acre tract of land has environmental groups searching for a way to save what they consider a living museum.

Climate mitigation measures could impact food security, study finds

Read the full story from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Many countries have set carbon neutrality as a policy goal, but according to a new study, there are various risks associated with the reduction of greenhouse gases, especially in the agriculture, forestry, and land use sectors, that need to be considered when formulating mitigation strategies.

The great Amazon land grab – how Brazil’s government is clearing the way for deforestation

A satellite captured large and small deforestation patches in Amazonas State in 2015. The forest loss has escalated since then. USGS/NASA Landsat data/Orbital Horizon/Gallo Images/Getty Images

by Gabriel Cardoso Carrero, University of Florida; Cynthia S. Simmons, University of Florida, and Robert T. Walker, University of Florida

Imagine that a group of politicians decide that Yellowstone National Park is too big, so they downsize the park by a million acres, then sell that land in a private auction.

Outrageous? Yes. Unheard of? No. It’s happening with increasing frequency in the Brazilian Amazon.

The most widely publicized threat to the Amazonian rainforest is deforestation. A new study by European scientists released March 7, 2022, finds that tree clearing and less rainfall over the past 20 years have left over 75% of the region increasingly less resilient to disturbances, suggesting the rainforest may be nearing a tipping point for dieback. Fewer trees mean less moisture evaporating into the atmosphere to fall again as rain.

We have studied the Amazon’s changing hydroclimate, the role of deforestation and evidence that the Amazon is being pushed toward a tipping point – as well as what that means for different regions, biodiversity and climate change.

While the rise in deforestation is clear, less well understood are the sources driving it – particularly the way public lands are being converted to private holdings in a land grab we’ve been studying for the past decade.

Much of this land is cleared for cattle ranches and soybean farms, threatening biodiversity and the Earth’s climate. Prior research has quantified how much public land has been grabbed, but only for one type of public land called “undesignated public forests.” Our research provides a complete account across all classes of public land.

We looked at Amazonia’s most active deforestation frontier, southern Amazonas State, starting in 2012 as rates of deforestation began to increase because of loosened regulatory oversight. Our research shows how land grabs are tied to accelerating deforestation spearheaded by wealthy interests, and how Brazil’s National Congress, by changing laws, is legitimizing these land grabs.

A section of forest showing different stages of deforestation.
Three stages of deforestation: cleared land where the forest has recently been burned to create pasture; pastureland; and forest being burned. Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images

How the Amazon land grab began

Brazil’s modern land grab started in the 1970s, when the military government began offering free land to encourage mining industries and farmers to move in, arguing that national security depended on developing the region. It took lands that had been under state jurisdictions since colonial times and allocated them to rural settlement, granting 150- to 250-acre holdings to poor farmers.

Federal and state governments ultimately designated over 65% of Amazonia to several public interests, including rural settlement. For biodiversity, they created conservation units, some allowing traditional resource use and subsistence agriculture. Leftover government lands are generally referred to as “vacant or undesignated public lands.”

Tracking the land grab

Studies have estimated that by 2020, 32% of “undesignated public forests” had been grabbed for private use. But this is only part of the story, because land grabbing is now affecting many types of public land.

Importantly, land grabs now impact conservation areas and indigenous territories, where private holdings are forbidden.

A herd of cattle on grass with thick forest behind them.
Cattle on land cleared in the Jamanxim National Forest in 2020. Marco Antonio Rezende/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images

We compared the boundaries of self-declared private holdings in the government’s Rural Environmental Registry database, known as CAR, with the boundaries of all public lands in southern Amazonas State. The region has 50,309 square miles in conservation units. Of these, we found that 10,425 square miles, 21%, have been “grabbed,” or declared in the CAR register as private between 2014 and 2020.

In the United States, this would be like having 21% of the national parks disappear into private property.

Our measurement is probably an underestimate, given that not all grabbed lands are registered. Some land grabbers now use CAR to establish claims that could become legal with changes in the law.

A map of the region showing deforestation and public lands. Gabriel Cardoso Carrero, CC BY-ND

Land grabs put the rainforest at risk by increasing deforestation. In southern Amazonas, our research reveals that twice as much deforestation occurred on illegal as opposed to legal CAR holdings between 2008 and 2021, a relative magnitude that is growing.

Large deforestation patches point to wealth

So who are these land grabbers?

In Pará State, Amazonas State’s neighbor, deforestation in the 1990s was dominated by poor family farms in rural settlements. On average, these households accumulated 120 acres of farmland after several decades by opening 4-6 acres of forest every few years in clearings visible on satellite images as deforestation patches.

Since then, patch sizes have grown dramatically in the region, with most deforestation occurring on illicit holdings whose patches are much larger than on legal holdings.

Large deforestation patches indicate the presence of wealthy grabbers, given the cost of clearing land.

Land grabbers benefit by selling the on-site timber and by subdividing what they’ve grabbed for sale in small parcels. Arrest records and research by groups such as Transparency International Brasil show that many of them are involved in criminal enterprises that use the land for money laundering, tax evasion and illegal mining and logging.

In the 10-year period before President Jair Bolsonaro took office, satellite data showed two deforestation patches exceeding 3,707 acres in Southern Amazonas. Since his election in 2019, we can identify nine massive clearings with an average size of 5,105 acres. The clearance and preparation cost for each Bolsonaro-era deforestation patch, legal or illicit, would be about US$353,000.

Legitimizing land grabbing

Brazil’s National Congress has been making it easier to grab public land.

A 2017 change in the law expanded the legally allowed size of private holdings in undesignated public lands and in rural settlements. This has reclassified over 1,000 square miles of land that had been considered illegal in 2014 as legal in southern Amazonas. Of all illegal CAR claims in undesignated public lands and rural settlements in 2014, we found that 94% became legal in 2017.

Congress is now considering two additional pieces of legislation. One would legitimize land grabs up to 6,180 acres, about 9.5 square miles, in all undesignated public forests – an amount already allowed by law in other types of undesignated public lands. The second would legitimize large holdings on about 80,000 square miles of land once meant for the poor.

Our research also shows that the federal government increased the amount of public land up for grabs in southern Amazonas by shrinking rural settlements by 16%, just over 2,000 square miles, between 2015 and 2020. Large ranches are now absorbing that land. Similar downsizing of public land has affected Amazonia’s national parks.

Satellite images over time show how deforestation spread in the Amazon.

What can turn this around?

Because of policy interventions and the greening of agricultural supply chains, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell after 2005, reaching a low point in 2012, when it began trending up again because of weakening environmental governance and reduced surveillance.

Other countries have helped Brazil with billions of dollars to protect the Amazon for the good of the climate, but in the end, the land belongs to Brazil. Outsiders have limited power to influence its use.

At the U.N. climate summit in 2021, 141 countries – including Brazil – signed a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. This pledge holds potential because, unlike past ones, the private sector has committed $7.2 billion to reduce agriculture’s impact on the forest. In our view, the global community can help by insisting that supply chains for Amazonian beef and soybean products originate on lands deforested long ago and whose legality is longstanding.

This article was updated March 7, 2022, with new research suggesting the Amazon is nearing a tipping point.

Gabriel Cardoso Carrero, Graduate Student Fellow and PhD Candidate in Geography, University of Florida; Cynthia S. Simmons, Professor of Geography, University of Florida, and Robert T. Walker, Professor of Latin American Studies and Geography, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Creeks, once overlooked, are now seen as assets for urban renewal

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Developers have recently realized the value of even the most minor waterways for commerce, but experts advise caution because of flooding risks.