Thursday, November 30, 2017

COTW: Here Come da Judge

Incredibly, the voters of Alabama do not seem to care that multiple allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against a former state judge who was removed from office for failing to follow the orders of a higher court.  Moore had refused to remove a Ten Commandment monument from an Alabama court house. If the chart is to be believed Moore suffered a significant drop in the polls after the Washington Post broke a story* that Moore had sexual relations with a fourteen year old when he was a thirty-two year old DA.  Moore denies the allegation and claims that it is deliberate character assassination formulated by "soft on crime" liberals in Washington.  That meme is grist for the mill of angry, white, racist, fundamentalists who are going to the voting booth in a special Senate election.  But their tired tropes never seem to get stale.  In fact Moore, according to latest reports, has regained the lost ground and is in a dead heat with his Democratic challenger after the racist pseudo-populist in the White House tweeted his support of the scandalized judge.  Partisanship has trumped common sense in a "house divided".  US Person wants to ask Judge Moore: how does it feel?

*After publishing the allegations of illicit sexual contact with a minor, the Post debunked a fake story being pushed on its undercover reporters by Project Veritas, a right wing agit-prop group. Trump should be very good at spotting "fake news" since his nationalist supporters are so adept at generating it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Radioactive Plume Detected Over Europe

What might be evidence of a nuclear accident is an unexplained high level of Ruthenium 106, a man-made isotope, detected in the atmosphere by a French nuclear safety institute and a Danish monitoring station in October, emanating from the southern Urals. The existence of high levels of the isotope was only confirmed by Russian meteorological authorities recently.

They deny that the source comes from one of their country's nuclear facilities. However, high on the list of suspects is the former plutonium production facility at Mayak, Chelyabinsk-65 (re-named Ozyorsk). It was responsible for the third largest release of radioactivity in history when a waste water tank exploded on September 29, 1957 releasing radioactivity over 20,000 square kilometers. [see map above] Entire villages had to be bulldozed to contain the contamination. In the village of Korabolka, three hundred of its five thousand inhabitants died of radiation poisoning within a few days of the event.   Ethnic Russians were evacuated and their half of the village razed, but ethnic Tartars were left behind.  Was this a blatant form of racism, or did they became a living experiment in the effects of nuclear fallout?  Remaining villagers believe the latter is true.  At least 270,000 people in the region were exposed to high levels of radiation.  Residents are still living with the explosion's deadly aftermath, suffering high rates of birth defects and radiation-related illnesses such as cancer.  What remains of Korabolka, now called Tatarskaya Korabolka, has a cancer rate five times that of uncontaminated villages. The explosion and fallout was kept secret for 32 years. 

A Russian anti-nuclear activist, now living in France, Nadezhda Kutepova, testified to French officials in 2017 that Mayak is probably the source of the plume since the facility tested new equipment on the 25th and 26th of September. On 22nd September a train transported used fuel from a VVER 1000 light-water reactor for disposal. [photos here] This was an entirely new combustible for Mayak, and radioactive alarms were set off on the same days according to Kutepova, who advocated for victims of the first Mayak disaster. The director of the facility refused to comment on these events to journalists, except to say there is no Ruthenium 106 at his facility. Later, Russian officials backtracked on the statement saying there were small releases of the isotope, but well below acceptable limits. The French institute for nuclear safety calculated the release at 300 Terrabequerels, or about 375,000 times the limit permitted French reactors. French nuclear experts say that Ruthenium 106 can be produced during a vitrification process in the volatile form of RuO₄, which when contacted with air, creates aerosols of RuO₂.

Mayak is owned by Rosatom, a state monopoly, eager to take over the role of world provider of nuclear power reactors from defunct Westinghouse. Mayak  therefore has no independent monitoring of its operations.  The last thing the company wants at this point is another nuclear disaster to explain away.  The province of Cheyalbinsk, the site for nuclear production and waste facilities since the end of WWII, has been declared the most polluted place on the planet.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Costa Rica Proves Its Green

Costa Rica has beaten its previous records by running for 300 days entirely using renewable energy sources. The country uses five sources of renewable energy (hydro, wind, geothermal, solar and biomass) to generate 99.63% of its energy needs. The country ran for 299 days in 2015 and 271 in 2016. Costa Rica has set an ambitious goal of being 100% carbon neutral by 2021, as well as totally eliminating single use plastic. It also has plans to significantly increase its forest cover. Too bad 'Merica that you are stuck in the age of Trump, this small Central American country is setting a big example for the rest of the world. Green Kudos go to Costa Rica!

In related news, the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico is struggling to restore power to the entire island by Christmas. Conventional grids which rely on poles and wires are extremely vulnerable to high winds such as the 185 mph winds the island suffered during hurricane Maria. A innovative solution is being provided, free, by a New England solar power company, ReVision Energy to Puerto Rico's citizens. The company is building mobile solar power trailers that deploy folding solar panels to generate electricity for low load uses such recharging battery-powered electronic devices and basic lighting needs. The company plans to build 100 of the 12 foot trailers in six months.

Another example of reactionary Repugnant policy making: the House tax plan eliminates the federal tax credit for purchase of electric cars.  The $7500 credit has successfully boosted sales of electric cars in the US. Since the credit was enacted in 2008 the number of available models has grown from 2 to 30. House tax bill supporters say the measure is need to save costs. That concern did not stop them from passing a record-breaking Pentagon budget or granting owners of private jets a new credit, however. An energy policy analyst from the Union of Concerned Scientists says ending the tax break will adversely effect the ability of the US to deploy more electric vehicles. Every year the US subsidizes the fossil fuel industry by $4.7 billion compared to the $580 million the electric car credit cost in 2015.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Screw Tightens

The house of Trump is in danger of crumbling as the 'king' sits precariously atop a construction of lies, collusion and foreign intrigue.  Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security advisor of a few days, has halted talks with Trump's lawyers indicating he may be on the verge of turning state's evidence,  The New York Times reports.  The paper cites four unnamed sources involved in the case. This is the strongest signal so far that his defenders are cutting a deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the allegations of collusion with Russian officials to interfere with the 2016 election.  To continue such communications after negotiating a deal with prosecutors would be a prohibited conflict of interest for defense attorneys.

Flynn and his son are assumed to have significant criminal exposure.  Cooperation would help them achieve more lenient treatment. As the head of Trump's transition team for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is in a unique position to provide information on the President's chaotic attempts to put together a government administration.  His connections in Russia predate the campaign; he was seen sitting with Putin at a Moscow event in 2015.   Flynn's possible defection is extremely bad news for Trump's defense team because he was of greater statute than those previously indicted: George Manafort, former campaign chairman and Rick Gates, a campaign aide. Although the White House has denied that the former general has any incriminating evidence against the President.  George Papadopoulos, a former lower level foreign policy advisor, is already cooperating with the special counsel investigation.

Flynn's troubles began when he lied to FBI interviewers about the nature of his discussion with Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak.  His false statements about the meeting to Vice President Pence led to his dismissal as national security advisor after only one month in office.  Flynn's legal problems multiplied when investigators discovered he failed to list Russian entities on his financial disclosure forms.  He also belatedly disclosed a $500,000 payment from the Turkish government after leaving the White House, leading to questions about whether he was an unregistered secret agent for a foreign government during the campaign.  Flynn's high profile dismissal caused President Trump to ask former FBI director James Comey to end the government's investigation of Flynn's activities.  Comey contemporaneously composed a memo about the improper request after meeting alone with the President.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Creature Feature: Polar Bears Swarm Whale Carcass

Just one of the many adverse consequences of extreme global warming is the disruption of natural food cycles.  Because the arctic sea ice is shrinking fast, polar bears are loosing access to their primary prey, ring seals. This fact contributes to the unusual spectacle of two hundred polar bears, normally solitary unless mating, swarming a single whale carcass to feed. Russian tourists off the northeastern coast at Wrangle Island saw two hundred bears rush down a slope to feed on a beached bowhead whale. There is little food on land for polar bears and competition for food will become intense.  This development worries human inhabitants, who fear the white bear will turn to foraging around their settlements in desperation for food.  An estimated third or more bears will starve in the coming decades. US Person apologizes for the computerized voice-over narration.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Grizzly Bear Deaths Rising

credit: NatGeo
After the decision to strip the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) of federal endangered species protection last year, bear deaths are rising.  Grizzly bears usually die prematurely from human causes. Only three of the recorded 51 bear deaths in the contiguous United States this year were classified as natural.  The rate of deaths is shocking: nearly one bear every two days since hunting season opened in October.  More than half of the deaths investigated (26) involve illegal activity otherwise known as poaching.  After making the customary adjustments for unknown deaths, about 77 bears are gone or about 11% of the Yellowstone bear population, the core of remaining grizzly habitat.  The grizzly population in Yellowstone is no longer rising, and after the record year of 2015 for bear mortality since 1959 when record-keeping began, is probably declining.

All of this bad news draws into question the demand for state wildlife officials to subject grizzly bears to trophy hunting next spring.  The bears are already suffering the effects of human population growth in the Yellowstone region.  People are drawn to the area because of the quality of natural life--clean air, water and abundant wildlife. Yet it is this development that is causing human-bear conflicts and reduction of habitat.  Trophy hunting is the embodiment of an archaic human urge to subjugate nature to its purposes, sanctioned by the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.  It is in direct conflict with a nature ethic practiced by indigenous people worldwide, and now environmentalists, who want to coexist and harmonize with Earth and its creatures.

State wildlife managers see large carnivores as a commodity that can be exchanged for funds by issuing permits to kill. 80-70% of large carnivore deaths in the Rockies can be attributed to sport hunting. Carnivores are simply competitors for edible herbivores such as elk, deer and moose.  Whatever else he may be, man is a carnivorous predator; so unenlightened ones are loath to allow other predators a share at nature's table.  Subjecting grizzlies to this grim harvest again is not management, but commerce in the time honored tradition of a country founded upon it.  It took decades of dedicated effort to bring grizzlies back from the edge of extinction, and it could all be undone in a very short time by a relatively small group of armed, hostile people.  Most citizens want to see the great bear survive in the wild--a potent symbol of what is good about America.  They come in droves each summer to the Park to see the bear up close.  Yet their desires may be thwarted by captured state officials who do the will of a clique of influential businessmen.  US Person thinks: Democracy?  Not so much.

Monday, November 20, 2017

This Month In WWI: Passhendaele

Passhendaele before and after the battle
The French shed copious amounts of blood at Verdun 1916, but in 1917 at the Third Battle of Yprès or Passhendaele, named after the Belgium village where the battle was fought, it was the English and Canadians turn to make enormous sacrifices. The Yprès salient was a tactical problem for the Allies, so the offensive was intended to capture ridges of high ground east of the town. A main rail route passed to the east of the salient that was vital to the German Fourth Army. The Germans had held the salient since the First Battle of Ypres in 1915. Passhendaele was situated at the top of the fourth objective ridge.

British plans to reduce the salient began with an assault on Messines Ridge in June, 1917. The attack featured an overwhelming use of mines against the German trenches which extended three deep from the front. The British had been digging since 1915 and the Germans knew this; however they were unable to stop the subterranean infiltration completely. Twenty-one mines were filled with 450 tons of explosives beneath their front line. On June 7th nineteen of the mines exploded, obliterating sections of the German front trenches through which British infantry poured in attack. By the end of the day, they had reached their objectives and had removed German forces from the high ground along the southern flank of the salient. [map]

The Allied offensive continued with heavy losses on both sides into winter. The tactical concept of combined arms was in its infancy; the royal flying corps was undergoing training for close air support. Tanks were just coming into regular use, having appeared en masse to great effect at Cambrai.  German fortifications had to be taken by frontal infantry assaults. The strategic rationale for the offensive was in part a diversion to allow the French army, still reeling  from mass casualties at Verdun and subsequent mutinies, to recover fighting strength. Another strategic goal of the Yprès operation was to flank the North Sea coast so German submarine bases could be destroyed or captured. The Germans by then had begun unrestricted submarine warfare which was hurting the Allied trans-Atlantic supply lines. But the Flanders campaign was controversial at the time and has remained so since; both David Lloyd George and General Ferdinand Foch opposed it.  In his Memoirs of 1938, Lloyd George wrote, "Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war...No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign..."  By the premature end of the operation in the winter of 1917, German U boats were still sinking Allied shipping in the North Atlantic, even though the French army had restored discipline and brought replacements forward.
muddy terrain near Passhendaele

Exhausted imperial soldiers had to also fight the incredibly muddy terrain churned to a gelatinous mass by repeated heavy shelling in very wet fall weather [photo, right]. Casualty figures have been repeatedly disputed by historians.  No one can argue they were not extremely high.  By the time the Canadian Corps captured the ruin of Passhendale (see photo above) on the fourth ridge, over a quarter million Allied soldiers had died or were wounded.  Germany lost perhaps twice that many, but could ill afford a war of attrition with the Allied army newly reinforced by the American expeditionary force.  British Fifth Army General Gough's plan was to proceed to Westrozebeke, but because the Germans scored a major victory over the Italians at Caporetto, Allied troops were diverted to Italy in support, and the advance was stopped short of the objective. The last major British attack at Yprès was made in November, 1917, the third year of the "war to end all wars."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Keystone Pipeline Leaks in La-la Land

courtesy: Trans Canada
Just days before the Nebraska utility commission is expected to decide right of way requests for an expansion of the Keystone Pipeline through the state, it leaked 210,000 gallons of bitumen onto agricultural land in Marshall County, South Dakota Thursday morning. Trump approved the expansion after his predecessor in office decided against granting necessary federal permits. The spill is relatively small--there have been 17 larger ones since 2010 according to AP-- and the owner, Trans Canada Corp., was quick to point out that no groundwater was contaminated. One of the major objections to the pipeline's expansion across Nebraska is the potential contamination of water aquifers. The expanded pipeline if built would carry up to 830,00 barrels per day of toxic bitumen slurry. The Repugnant dominated state legislature passed a law in 2011 that prevents the commission from factoring pipeline safety or the possibility of leaks into its decisions. Nevertheless, the Commission has received over half a million public comments on the company's application. In September Trump declared the pipeline would be "environmentally better".

Another classic example of greed motivated double-think from the so-called administration in Washington: his gang announced that it would reverse the ban on importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. ; Obama's government banned importation from that chaotic country because elephant's were endangered by lack of conservation efforts. ; Trump functionaries announced that dropping the ban would actually help endangered elephants, “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.” Mugabe's pockets are already swelling (he is being forced to resign by his own ruling party, Zanu PF after decades of dictatorial rule).

Corruption does not stop at the White House door.  The US House approved with a bipartisan vote an out-of-control appropriations bill of $700 billion to fund the warmongers at the Pentagon.  It aims to increase their military spending by $80 billion. The rationale: the increased spending is needed to protect the country from an arrogant, unstable President--talk about sick! The bill includes spending for 28 more anti-ballistic missiles stationed in Alaska that presumably could be used to shoot down a North Korean ICBM. The increase is more than enough to pay for Medicare for All and free college education which are routinely dismissed by reactionary politicians as 'too expensive'. Insane? Just ask the people of Flint, MI who still do not have potable drinking water.
Representatives approved with bipartisan support an

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hunter's Story Does Not Hold Up

courtesy: Oregon State Police
Update: An Oregon "meat hunter" shot an killed Oregon Wolf OR-25* last month while hunting near La Grande, Oregon.  He claims he saw what he claims were three coyotes together which fits the observations of a young female associated with a wolf pair in Union County known as OR-30. One wolf charged him, so from a distance of 27 yards, he raised his rifle and shot it in self defense.  The Oregon State Police accepted his story with little investigation of the facts.  No necroposy was performed and the body disposed of before any independent analysis could be performed. Perhaps the state police were anxious to close the case quickly because of an institutional bias for which law enforcement agencies are well known.  The district attorney for Union County also refused to prosecute the case.

Photographs of the dead wolf show that the animal was shot in the side, with the exit wound at the left front shoulder. This fact would directly contradict the claim that the animal was coming directly at the hunter.  An experienced wolf biologist who has worked for the state said the shot was well placed, indicating a stationary target, not a running snap shot. The wolf was a small female about 83 pounds, one that would have almost certainly have fled from an armed human, as would coyotes. Nor was she suffering from any obvious diseases such as rabies.  It is illegal to kill a wolf in Oregon except in self defense or if there is substantial evidence of wolf predation on livestock. The Oregon Wolf Coalition has asked Governor Brown to reopen the investigation to determine what actually happened. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is expected to release its new wolf management plan for public comment shortly.

*correction: OR-25 was wolf living in southern Oregon killed on October 29th. He was wearing a radio tracking collar. He was dispersed from the Imnaha Pack in northeastern Oregon as a yearling. OR-25 was four and a half when he was poached. Because he lived in the western third of the state, he was both supposedly protected at the state and federal levels of government. The state police is offering a $5000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the poacher.

OR-23, also wearing a tracking collar was killed by gunshot in Wallowa County near Cold Springs on November 14th. The state police is asking the public for information about this illegal taking. If you have information about this poaching incident call 1-800-452-7888 and leave an anonymous tip.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Creature Feature: Team Lifting

Human managers like to talk a lot about "teamwork". Little do they know that other creatures on Earth practice this virtue regularly without complaint or direction.  Clown fish have a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones in which they make their homes. Here on BBC's Blue Planet, the little clown fish of the subfamily Amphiprioninae demonstrates the concept of team lifting:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Palm Oil Company Clears More Land Despite Ban

credit: Rainforest Action Network
The Indonesian island of Sumatra faces a ecological crisis created by the burgeoning palm oil industry.  There is huge demand for the product as a common food additive.  PepsiCo, for example, is a major user of palm oil.  Producer PT Tualand Raya has cleared a total of 205 hectares of rain forest since the government banned new clearances in 2016.  Its concession is located in the Leuser ecosystem which is considered prime remaining habitat for the Sumatran elephant, Elephas maximus sumatranus, a species on the brink of extinction in the wild. Between 1980 and 2005, 69% of their habitat has been lost to development.  In two provinces Riau and Lampung entire populations have been lost due to habitat destruction. Plantation expansion interferes with migration along routes that have been used for centuries by elephants.  Herds rely on these paths to find water, food and each other.  Destruction of their paths increases the likelihood of human conflict and resulting elephant mortality.

credit: N. Sujana
The Trump government has proposed cutting US support of wildlife conservation programs abroad by 32%.  This money represents vital support of programs such as anti-trafficking efforts and community conservation initiatives in Africa and elsewhere. US Fish & Wildlife Services International Species Program would go from a modest $9.15 million in funding, compared to the Pentagon's billions, to zero.  This program funds conservation efforts to help elephants, great apes, migratory birds, tigers, rhinos and other iconic species under threat of extinction.  Funding to protect new species under the US Endangered Species Act would be cut by 17%.  The photo, left above, shows a sick elephant calf separated from his mother in an East Aceh palm oil plantation.  Perhaps he is asking for man's help to survive in a world not of his making.  He certainly needs it.  For He fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome... Wisdom 1:14

Thursday, November 09, 2017

COTW: Armed and Dangerous

credit: Guns & Ammo

'Merica, epitomized by Trump's callousness, has apparently decided to solve its "mental health problems" with more guns. The corporate mass media has endlessly touted the intervention of a bystander in the Texas church shooting who was also equipped with a rifle. But the fact is he did not stop the massacre from taking placed. The shooter died from a self-inflicted gunshot. The chart shows the spike in gun sales by type of weapon. Variants of the A-15, a civilian semi-automatic version of a military weapon is the blue line, exceeded by sales of high capacity magazines and matching ammo. In 2013 when this chart ends, the gun industry had its best sales year in history. The demand for weapons has outstripped supply, sending gun prices up as illustrated below. The FBI reported a record number of back ground checks on Black Friday of 2012 (154,873) exceed the previous year's total in one day in anticipation of a lame duck President doing something about the gun fetish in 'Merica. The problem is profit-making, not mental health (although US Person is not willing to dispute there is a metal health crisis in the country). Any excuse to keep the cash coming in by preventing a ban on non-sporting arms and stiring up another war is good enough for the plutocrats.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Alone Against the World

'Merica proves once again it is the exceptional country.  Not only do we allow 'mad men' to purchase military weapons which are designed to kill in volume (Would you sell a flamethrower to an arsonist?), but it is the only country in the world that has pulled out of the Paris climate accord.  'Merica is now alone after Syria, in the middle of a vicious civil war, announced it would sign the agreement.  Nicaragua, the other hold out, signed last month.  The world is meeting at the Bonn climate conference, which began yesterday, and a peoples' delegation from our country is attending to offset the ridiculously divisive pandering in which Trump specializes.  Is it any wonder our unstable President makes such bombastic and jingoistic statements while supposedly representing US overseas?  The United States does not have the biggest military machine in the world for nothing.  In his own narscisstic state of mind, he is "the only one that matters"  And that is bad news for the rest of US. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

'Toontime: I Don't Remember

Latest: Special Prosecutor Mueller is certainly working his way up the food chain at a steady pace: NBC reports that he now has enough evidence to charge Michael T. Flynn who was Trump's national security advisor for just twenty-four days before being fired. The charges may include lying to the FBI and money laundering. Also, the Special Prosecutor is looking into whether Flynn attempted to engineer the extradition of a chief rival of Turkish President Erdogan, Fethullah Gulen, from the United States to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, an illegal quid pro quo. According to sources familiar with the investigation, Flynn's son Michael, could also be charged at the same time. He worked briefly on the White House transition team. This development brings the Russian Connection investigation into the White House and not just the Trump campaign organization.  In most investigations of corporate bodies the ability of a prosecutor to charge high level officials with crimes depends to a large extent on the availability of insider witnesses willing to testify against their superiors in the organization. Howard Dean, former DNC chair, told reporters he thinks Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law will be indicted for money laundering. Other members of the Trump's family business may be next on Mueller's hit list.

credit: Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star   
{03.11.17} US Person cannot remember being called a lightweight before, either.  The lack of memory at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW will become depressingly familiar  as the investigation into the Russian Connection continues.  That is, of course, if Robert Mueller does not meet the same fate as Archibald Cox. This week contained the first indictments of Trump top aides and a plea agreement from a foreign policy advisor, George Pappadopoulos, an "excellent guy" according to the usually disparaging Trump.  It is the plea agreement that should be noted since it is conditioned on complete cooperation with the Special Counsel. Mr. Pappadopoulos offered to arrange a meeting for candidate Trump with President Putin, and he was in at least one meeting with Trump chaired by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Pappadopoulos swears he was offered "dirt" on Hillary Clinton via "thousands of emails" in the possession of Russians*. It is this meeting that Trump has difficulty recalling; that claim is somewhat incredible from someone who boasted just last week about having "one of the great memories of all time".  The only thing great about Donald Trump is his blatant buffoonery.

credit: John Cole
Wackdoodle sez:  Ah confess, the Democrats and Crooked Hillary made me do it!
*Apparently Facebook, Google and Twitter were flooded with ads coming from Russian sources. Whether this was a propaganda operation by the Russian government, "cyber-warfare"  or "Putin's revenge", remains to be proven.   US Person thinks that if all it takes is a hundred thousand dollars worth of absurd ads on social media to decisively sway a US election, then democracy is in worse condition than he believed previously. To him the capture of the DNC by corporate Clintonites, who bailed out the party financially and then rigged the primaries against socialist Bernie Sanders, was much more influential to the outcome of the 2016 election than any Russian hacks. Perhaps the fundamental explanation for this tempest in a teapot lies within our own national security state.  Any explanation that blames the systematic corruption of our national politics on sinister foreign powers is preferable than the truth.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Major US Plywood Company Implicated in Deforestation

More: A major Dutch timber company, Boogaerdt Hout, was ruled to have marketed illegal teak lumber from Myanmar in violation of EU timber regulations according to the Dutch Food and Safety Authority. The law requires timber companies within the EU to perform due diligence inquiries about the source of lumber sold. Most teak is now plantation grown, but illegal teak still comes from Myanmar where illegal logging is rampant. The country lost 15 million hectares of wooded land between 1990 and 2015. The Dutch government has given the company two months to clear its supply chain of illegal teak or be fined $23,000 per cubic meter of illegal lumber.  A London based NGO, Environmental Investigation Agency provided the evidence against Boogaerdt Hout.  It says 17 other companies have been found guilty of dealing in illegal Burmese teak.  Two EU nations, Italy and Spain, have yet to enforce a ban on importation of Burmese teak which leads to undermining enforcement efforts in Burma.  Myanmar's forests are still home to about 70 critically endangered Indonesian tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti)

{23.10.17}An article posted at last week tells us that a leading US importer of plywood products from Malaysia accepted shipments of product that was unsustainably harvested in the Shin Yang concession, Sarawak, Borneo.  Liberty Woods International, under the Lacey Act is required to not buy illegally logged lumber; however, due diligence is not required by the law. Shin Yang has been repeatedly accused of unsustainable operations and ignoring the rights of indigenous people.  Some of the logs used in Liberty Woods plywood came from within a proposed conservation area known as the Heart of Borneo according to Global Forestry Services, an industry support group.  The US company claims in its advertisements that it "cares about the environment" and that it "seeks out suppliers that are environmentally responsible."  A company representative confirmed to an investigator that the product in the questionable shipment came from lumber that was not certified to be within Shin Yang's legal concession.
deforested land in Heart of Borneo, credit Global Witness

In 2015 an NGO, Global Witness, reported that Shin Yang was clearing nine square kilometers of rain forest per month, equivalent to forty-two soccer fields per month.  The certification process is no guarantee that Malaysian lumber is sustainably harvested.  An open secret in Sarakwak is that concessions could be gained through bribes of Sarakwak's former chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, now the ceremonial head of state.  He left office after 32 years in power, and not before his family amassed a fortune estimated at $15 billion.

Sarawak officials claim that 84% of Sarawak is still forested, but satellite imagery analyzed by Global Witness indicates only 5% of the rain forest remains untouched and only 65% still has natural forest cover.  Between 2000 and 2012 Malaysia had the highest deforestation rate in the world.  Lumber trade associations counsel their members, like Liberty Woods, to conduct compliance investigations when purchasing "high-risk" lumber commodities such as Meranti plywood from Malaysia.  US Person, aka "turtle man" advises you to know your wood before you buy and buy only sustainable products.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Creature Feature: A New Relative

credit: A. Walmsley

There are only seven great ape species, of which man is one, on Earth. That is, until now. Biologists have determined after twenty years of study that an orangutan living in the Sumatran rain forest is a separate species. Only 800 exist, so they will be immediately listed as endangered. The Tapanuli orangutans (Pongo tapanuliensis) were located in 1997, but their unique genetic identity was undetermined until today. There are two other species of orangutans, Sumatran and Bornean, that were determined to be unique in 2001. Tapanuli orangs live in Batang Toru, south of Lake Toba, and are isolated from their northern relatives, the Sumatrans. A genetic divergence is thought to have occurred 3.4 million years ago based on genomic analysis. Orangutans are the most distant relatives of Homo sapiens. A video from the BBC showing our new forest-dwelling cousin in its native habitat can be viewed here.