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    Fish tales: Six amazing journeys to celebrate World Fish Migration Day

    Tomorrow, April 21, marks World Fish Migration Day. Many animal species make lengthy migrations as one-time or annual portions of their life cycle. Whereas journeys by birds between North and South America and large mammals across Africa’s Serengeti are highly visible, the migrations of countless fish, often over great distances and across disparate habitats, go on largely hidden from view. The impetuses for fish to swim long distances are manifold, among them, differences in food availability, water levels, temperatures, spawning habitat, and vulnerability of their young to predation. A noteworthy category of fish migration is diadromy, the movement between fresh and salt waters. Anadromous fish spawn in freshwaters and go to sea, whereas catadromous species spawn in the sea but live most of their lives in fresh waters. Most anadromous species “home” to the rivers they were born in to mate; catadromous species reproduce in the same general marine waters where they originated. But many other fish make long excursions within either fresh or salt waters: along vast reaches of the Amazon and other large rivers, or across immense swaths of ocean. Healthy fish stocks with unimpeded migrations are essential to feeding humankind and maintaining the ecological equilibrium of the world’s waters. But fish migrations are being increasingly stressed by a worldwide boom in the building of dams that block their essential riverine passage, pollution, overfishing, lowering of water levels for agriculture and drinking water, and climate change. This year marks the third World Fish Migration Day, a biennial happening…

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    Save intact forests for humanity’s sake, urge experts

    The world’s largest forests can help solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, but only if we move to safeguard them, argue two experts in a New York Times op-ed published ahead of Earth Day. Tom Lovejoy, a distinguished Amazon rainforest researcher who serves as Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation, and John Reid, an economist who applies economic modeling in service of forests and wildlands, make a case for protecting the planet’s last “intact forest landscapes” — areas of at least 500 square kilometers of unbroken natural tree cover — for the role they can play in reversing three critical challenges: “climate change, the sixth great extinction crisis and the loss of human cultures.” Tropical rainforest in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler Climate change mitigation and other ecosystem services Intact forests have a disproportionate importance when it comes to sequestering carbon with intact forests in the tropics storing 40 percent of above-ground carbon despite representing only 20 percent of tropical forest cover, note Lovejoy and Reid. That means conservation of intact forests is one of the most cost-effective climate change mitigation mechanisms. And beyond sequestering carbon, intact forests afford other ecological benefits, including stabilizing precipitation patterns and temperatures locally and regionally. In fact there are fears that continuing deforestation, fragmentation, and degradation of the tropics’ largest intact forest landscape, the Amazon, could trigger water shortages in South America’s agricultural heartland and megacities. Andean cock-of-the-rock from the Western Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler Biodiversity Intact forests…

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    Open destruction in the Colombian Amazon after FARC’s exit

    CAQUETÁ DEPARTMENT, Colombia — The Amazon is one of the first victims of peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). As predicted, the process of disarmament has caused the disappearance of hundreds of hectares of forest in the area where the anti-government guerrilla group historically practiced environmental “authority.” In La Novia, a town in the San Vicente del Caguán area, residents know very well what that entails. Jorge Suárez*, a farm manager from the region who is accustomed to passing through the area, estimates that at least 4,000 hectares of primary forest have been cut down since last October. “The system that they have is simple: the people enter, mark out a plot of 200 hectares, and start to knock down [trees]. There are people who have gone into the jungle six hours past the limit they’ve established in order to open up new lands,” says Suárez. Jorge Suárez, a farm manager from the area, estimates that between November and January at least 4,000 hectares of forest have been cut down. The army, however, says that the number is 1,200. In April, the official numbers will be known. Photo by Jorge Suárez. La Novia belongs to the municipality of Campohermoso, a vast jungle located in the eastern side of San Vicente del Caguán, which serves as a buffer zone and an entrance point into Chiribiquete National Natural Park, Colombia’s conservation “gem” that it can show off to the world. In January 2017, the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and…

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    Comey memos follow tradition of J. Edgar Hoover keeping notes on presidents

    Copies of the memos written by former FBI Director James Comey. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

    President Donald Trump allegedly asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn.

    President Franklin Roosevelt asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to collect information on Americans who had committed no crimes.

    President Richard Nixon asked Hoover to provide the White House a list of reporters the FBI knew were homosexual.

    How do we know? FBI director memos.

    As an FBI historian, I was not surprised to learn that Comey kept memos when news of them first broke in May 2017. Now that they’ve been released and made public, additional questions are being raised about Comey’s motives for writing them. The FBI’s history shows such documentation can be essential to how FBI directors operate, and how they can insulate or protect the FBI’s integrity.

    Intelligence on noncriminal activity

    In the summer of 1936, Roosevelt met the FBI director in the White House to discuss, according to Hoover’s memo, “subversive activities in the United States, particularly Fascism and Communism.” Hoover wrote that FDR was interested in getting from the FBI “a broad picture of the general movement and its activities as may effect the economic and political life of the country as a whole.” Hoover replied that “no governmental organization” collected that kind of information.

    Nobody collected that information because of FBI improprieties dating to World War I and the Red Scare of 1919 to 1920. During that period, the FBI had collected political intelligence on prominent politicians, social justice advocates and others it perceived as dangerous. In response, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone publicly issued investigative guidelines that banned FBI agents from collecting intelligence related to noncriminal activity.

    Notwithstanding these restrictions, FBI Director Hoover informed the president that a statute from 1916 allowed the FBI to investigate “any matters referred to it by the Department of State.” Roosevelt, though, was “reluctant” to formally ask the State Department for this request because information was constantly leaked from the department.

    Instead, he asked Hoover to return to the White House the following day with Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

    The next day, FDR explained to Hull and Hoover that he wanted a “survey” of Communist and Fascist activity in the country. Hull asked if he wanted the State Department to make a written request of the FBI. Roosevelt declined, saying he wanted “the matter to be handled quite confidentially.”

    The president promised Hoover he would write his own memo about his request and place it in his White House safe, but such a document has never been located in FDR’s presidential papers. Hoover’s memo about the meeting remains our only historical source about it. The presidential directive to the FBI then remained a verbal one, albeit secretly documented by Hoover, with no White House-generated paper trail.

    The meeting and memo were significant because they marked a shift for the FBI. Because of the president’s request and Hoover’s own interests, the FBI began prioritizing noncriminal intelligence investigations over criminal ones. This is the point where the FBI became, primarily, an intelligence agency. Hoover would thereafter collect massive amounts of noncriminal-related intelligence on Americans both prominent and common.

    Homosexual reporters

    A second example of the FBI director generating a memo about a sensitive presidential request dates to Nixon in 1970, during Hoover’s final years as FBI director. At that time, Nixon was obsessed with the constant stream of leaks from his administration and in discrediting the leakers.

    J. Edgar Hoover memo from 1970.

    Nixon had his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman call Hoover to request “a run down on the homosexuals known and suspected in the Washington press corps.” Haldeman said the president thought the request would be easy because he assumed Hoover “would have it pretty much at hand.”

    Hoover said he “thought we have some of that material.” To that, the chief of staff offered a couple of names of suspected gay journalists and added the president “has an interest in what, if anything else, we know.” Hoover told him the FBI “would get after that right away.”

    In 1970, Hoover had passed what was then the mandatory retirement age of 70. He remained FBI director only because President Lyndon Johnson had issued an executive order exempting Hoover. Nixon could revoke that order at any time. With his job vulnerable, Hoover willingly complied with Nixon’s request. Hoover’s FBI also actively collected and disseminated information about gays, and Nixon knew this.

    Handwritten notes on Hoover’s memo – the only record of the request, sent to Hoover’s top FBI officials – indicate that the FBI compiled the requested information and sent it to the White House in letter format, dated Nov. 27, 1970. To date, this letter has not surfaced either at the FBI or among the Nixon papers. Because we don’t have the letter, we also do not know the exact content of the information Hoover shared, or whether and how Nixon might have used it against reporters.

    Hoover was an astute bureaucrat who had a history of dealing with sensitive or controversial presidential requests. He fully realized, like Comey, the value of documenting his interactions with presidents. Hoover knew that if need be, he could produce the memo as proof he was ordered to do something that, if undocumented, might jeopardize his position as FBI director or lead him to legal trouble. In other words, the memo was a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    It seems a somewhat similar but unique situation may have unfolded with Comey. Comey was disturbed by President Trump’s repeated entreaties with him, so he decided to document them in memos. According to Comey, he had never done this with a previous president. But because Trump’s repeated intercessions with Comey “involved the FBI’s responsibilities and the president personally,” and because Comey had come to question Trump’s integrity and his propensity to lie, he felt a need to protect himself and the FBI as an institution.

    The Comey memos and the FBI’s history shows how a careful bureaucrat in charge of a powerful agency can not only deftly protect himself, but the integrity of a democratic institution.

    The Conversation

    Douglas M. Charles does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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    Bid to protect indigenous Indonesians hit by ministry’s doubts over rights bill

    JAKARTA — The Indonesian government looks poised to derail a long-awaited bill on the rights of the country’s indigenous groups, calling it “not a necessity” and saying it will only trigger new problems. The bill, a perennial priority for legislation for several years, is meant to be the follow-up to a landmark constitutional ruling in 2013 that rescinded state control over indigenous lands and gave it back to Indonesia’s indigenous peoples. Since then, various laws and regulations have been issued that touch on the issue of indigenous rights to some degree, but the central bill that would tie them all together remains locked in legislative limbo. And that state of uncertainty looks set to prevail, as a letter from the Home Affairs Ministry, dated April 11 and seen by Mongabay, sets out the ministry’s objections to the current draft of the indigenous rights bill. It argues, among other points, that the bill is not needed, citing the 16 other laws and regulations that address indigenous issues, such as the 2014 Villages Law. The ministry also says the bill will create problems in the future, such as putting unnecessary pressure on the state budget, triggering new conflicts, and reviving indigenous beliefs that are not regulated by the state. (Indonesia, though nominally secular, grants official recognition to just six faiths, not including the myriad indigenous or animist faiths practiced by groups across the country.) “Therefore, the passing of the bill on indigenous peoples is not yet a concrete necessity, and there are…

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    Scientists discover carbon ‘fingerprint’ in tree rings

    As they grow, trees and other plants take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and, through photosynthesis, use it to build their tissues by converting it to a type of sugar called glucose. This process plays a critical role in our planet’s food systems and, increasingly, in international plans to stymie climate change such as the Paris Agreement. In part by planting more forests, governments hope to take enough excess CO2 out of the atmosphere to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius in the coming century and thereby stave off its worst repercussions. Yet, exactly how much carbon a tree is capable of sequestering has remained something of a mystery. Until now, that is. A study published recently in Nature’s open-access journal Scientific Reports describes a way to measure CO2 uptake of trees over their entire lifetimes. This, its authors say, could help shed light on how forest carbon uptake may respond to a changing climate and help decision-makers more effectively plan for it. Researchers at institutions in Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to measure the proportions of different types of carbon atoms called isotopes at different locations in the glucose molecules that make up cellulose – which is the technical name for the woody pulp in a tree’s trunk. When they used this technique to examine the cellulose of specific rings in trunk cross-sections, they discovered several distinct “signals” of specific carbon 12 (C12) and carbon 13 (C13) isotopes at certain points…

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    What Greek tragedy illuminates about James Comey

    James Comey in 2017 AP Photo/Cliff Owen

    Once upon a time, there was a prominent, powerful man in government who cared deeply about integrity and following the rules.

    He said, “You cannot know a man completely, his character, his principles, sense of judgment, not till he’s shown his colors … Experience, there’s the test.”

    Leaders have a sacred obligation to those they rule, he said.

    “As I see it, whoever … refuses to adopt the soundest policies but fearing someone, keeps his lips locked tight, he’s utterly worthless.”

    The responsibility to act with integrity extended to others in leadership, he believed. He could never “stand by silent … nor could I ever make that man a friend of mine who menaces our country … Such are my standards.”

    You can imagine reading these sentiments in James Comey’s new memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” a book that is provoking a spectrum of responses.

    But these words are actually excerpts from a translation of Creon’s first speech in Sophocles’s “Antigone,” written almost 2,500 years ago.

    I am a professor of classics who studies the literature of the ancient Mediterranean world. In the wake of the publication of Comey’s memoir – and under the current president in general – I believe there is a case to be made for reading the ancient Greek tragedies: not just because they shed light into some of human nature’s darker corners, but because the practice may even help us find common ground in our fractured political climate.

    Creon’s terrible lesson

    For some, Comey’s book only pours salt in the wounds of the so-called October surprise. That’s when Comey, then the director of the FBI, announced that the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails was reopened. Comey insists that in his position, he had the awesome task of adopting the soundest policies without fear of retribution; for the sake of the country, he could not stand by or keep silent.

    For others, the memoir provides ample evidence that Trump is “morally unfit to be president.” Comey is no friend of a president who menaces our country, echoing Creon’s “Such are my standards.”

    Creon’s tragic story begins after the downfall of King Oedipus, when the rule of Oedipus’s city Thebes fell to his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, who were supposed to hold joint command.

    Eteocles, however, refused to share the ruling of Thebes with his brother. So Polynices gathered an army of allies and attacked the city in an aggressive act of civil war and fratricide.

    Both brothers were killed, leaving their uncle, Creon, to inherit the troubled kingship.

    Creon issued an edict that only Eteocles should receive an honorable burial; the body of the aggressor Polynices should be left to rot. Antigone, sister of both dead men, defied the edict and paid minimal funeral rites to her brother Polynices because she believed that the laws of the gods outweighed all human laws.

    The Theatre of Dionysus, built at the foot of the Athenian Acropolis.
    Flickr/NRARES, CC BY

    For her disobedience, Creon, who lived by rigid rules, condemned her to death. He is ultimately convinced to change his mind, but not before Antigone commits suicide along with her fiancé Haemon – Creon’s son – and Haemon’s mother – Creon’s wife.

    Creon learned his lesson too late.

    Principles above all else

    In spite of the obvious differences between Creon and Comey, I believe the comparison with Greek tragedy, while not exact, is illuminating.

    Both men appear to share the same tragic flaw: an unbending adherence to principles. Both men believe they are acting in the best interest of their community. Both men align their words and deeds, and in their actions they reveal their character.

    And the actions of both men have unintended consequences.

    Both men can be defended for upholding the rule of law. Both men can be condemned for causing harm to fellow citizens.

    Of course, we cannot expect Comey to come to any grand realizations like Creon, and Comey has made it clear that he is not going to issue any apologies for adhering to his principles.

    Rather, reading Greek tragedy equips us with a framework for understanding ourselves a little better.

    Tragedy sparked shared reflection and ‘katharsis’

    In ancient Athens, the traditions of tragedy began in religious festivals. The theater was from the outset a place where performance, for actors and audience, was entwined with religious worship. Furthermore, the performance of tragedy was a distinctly political aspect of the life of Athenian citizens.

    Athens in the fifth century was a democracy, inclusive and participatory. The religious festival, including the award of prizes to the top playwright by a jury of 10 citizens chosen by lot, reflected not only the organization of the city but its pride and its intellectual achievement as well.

    The myths, retold from generation to generation, preserved and created images of universal significance. The myths also distanced the audience from the story being told in terms of space and time, and this distance allowed the playwright to portray topics that were socially uncomfortable, politically contentious, religiously irreverent and culturally radical.

    Tragedy gave the audience the opportunity to look at itself, to examine its less than noble qualities and, in the process, to come clean about what it means to be human and to be happy. This process is called katharsis, the Greek word for “cleansing.”

    A bust of the Greek playwright Sophocles.
    Wikimedia/Shakko, CC BY

    Although Sophocles’s audiences in fifth-century Athens were members of a participatory democracy, they were by no means homogeneous politically. Athens was in the middle of the Peloponnesian War. For 30 years, citizens regularly debated strategies and by the end, gauging from Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, some were even protesting the war.

    The tragedies presented ethical conundrums to unravel, with no clear-cut answers: Which is more powerful, fate or free will? Divine law or human law? Persuasion or justice? Justice or expedience?

    Through the stories on stage, audiences were able to think through some of the most pressing issues of their day, in spite of their political differences.

    There’s something cathartic, cleansing and even liberating about Comey’s memoir. A cynic will view the book as his attempt to whitewash, or at least control, the stories and maybe even clean up his image.

    But it also seems to be a book that – as Greek tragedy did for its audience thousands of years ago – appeals to those on either side of the political divide and can free us from crippling partisanship, even if only for 304 pages.

    The Conversation

    Victoria Pagan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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    Bornean bantengs feeling the heat in logged forests, study finds

    The endangered wild cattle of Malaysian Borneo have eased back on their daytime activities because of higher temperatures brought on by loss of forest cover — a finding that has important implications for the species’ well-being. The findings, in a report published April 12 in the open-access journal PLOS One, showed that recently logged forests in Sabah state were hotter, reaching temperatures of up to 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit), for longer periods of time in the day than forests that had experienced regrowth for longer. This temperature differential, it turns out, affects the activity of the Bornean banteng (Bos javanicus lowi). The researchers, from the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) in Malaysia, Cardiff University in the U.K., and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, carried out the study from 2011 to 2013 in three secondary protected forests in Sabah: the Malua Forest Reserve, Maliau Basin Conservation Area Buffer Zones, and Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Bantengs foraging in the early morning in an open degraded area. Image courtesy of Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC). Each of these areas has experienced extensive and repeated removal of timber, and each also have internal logging road networks with exposed and compacted substrate resulting from the use of heavy machinery. The last logging activities recorded in these areas occurred six, 17 and 23 years ago, respectively. The paper found that banteng populations in the more recently logged forests tended to show reduced activity and to avoid…

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    Cerrado: abandoned pasturelands fail to regain savanna biodiversity

    Cerrado landscape, characterized by sparse trees dotting a continuous grassy ground cover. Image by Alex Costa/Mighty Earth Once Cerrado savanna has been converted to pasture it does not fully regain its former flora and fauna, even after a quarter century, recent research has found. The Brazilian Cerrado biome, east and south of the Amazon biome, once covered 2 million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), but rapid conversion by agribusiness means less than half remains today. The region’s native vegetation and soils are important for storing carbon and curbing global warming. The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology sampled 29 Cerrado tracts which had previously been used for agricultural purposes, but had been abandoned for anywhere between 3 and 25 years. No matter how long since the land was last grazed, researchers found that native plants and animals that had lived there did not return. “The big question of this research was, once land has been abandoned, can it actually be restored?” explained study co-author Giselda Durigan from the Forest Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “We have shown that it’s basically impossible.” Researchers found that abandoned Cerrado cattle pasture does not regain its native biota, even after as much of 25 years of passive recovery. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay The primary attributes of natural savanna biodiversity that remained absent from abandoned agricultural lands were native grasses, forbs and shrubs — extremely important habitat and food for a variety of native animals including birds, lizards, foxes, wolves, and…

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    In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, April 20, 2018

    Tropical forests Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park is a haven for birdwatchers (The New York Times). Drinking water threatened by logging in the Solomon Islands (Wildlife Conservation Society/EurekAlert). A campaigner who took on the palm oil industry has been killed in Brazil (The Guardian). Fishing and rampant tourism are threatening the biodiversity paradise in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park (The Guardian). Peru’s president wants to move forward with mining to capitalize on commodity prices, but says that communities will have a say (Reuters). Ivory Coast is working with chocolate makers to halt deforestation for new cocoa plantations (Reuters). A new global study finds evidence that the climate change mitigation strategy REDD+ might diminish women’s well-being (CIFOR Forests News). How to save an endangered eagle that lives only in Philippine forests (Earth Island Journal). Scientists explain the outsize importance of blocks of relatively undisturbed “intact forest landscapes” (The New York Times). Coffee companies to work with farmers to reduce deforestation in Indonesia (Global Landscapes Forum). Artists come together to help save Tasmania’s rainforest (Arts Hub). Film: Blockchain technology that underlies digital currencies could help save the Amazon (The Economist). Food giants Pepsi and Nestlé alleged to have deforested rainforest in Borneo for a joint venture (The Grocer). Other news The U.S.’s Gray Ghost caribou herd is down to three females, making it “functionally extinct” (The New York Times, The Province, Calgary Herald). New study catalogs the irreversible changes to the Great Barrier Reef after heat waves hit it in 2016 and 2017 (Los…

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