What will you protect first? Water or forest?

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Do you find yourself in the middle of another chicken and egg story as you read the title of this blog? You should, because it is.

Editor of Sanctuary Asia, Bittu Sahgal, has something interesting to say about the Cauvery river in India. Stay with me, we are on the same story. “Cauvery Cunnundrum: States fight over the water, but cannot find the wisdom to protect the water source… the forests.

So, we should have more national parks, right?

I have another story for you, that of the Van Gujjars, a forest-dwelling nomadic tribe in northern India, who for centuries have migrated into the Himalayas every spring. Now their culture and livelihood is at risk as some of the jungles and meadows they call home have become national parks.

As it goes, solutions are not cut and dried.

This year, Peru established that it would protect one of world’s last great untouched forests. Difference between this and the national parks in northern India is that Peru is working alongside local and international conservation groups and the National Park designation also protects land inhabited by several tribes of indigenous peoples, it doesn’t push them away. Or at least, that’s what the article says.

Technically, you are not in a chicken and egg story anymore. It is not this and that. It is different – each case.

Gnarliest tree in Canada

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Canada’s gnarliest tree giving a fist bump

After having slept through the wee hours, my friends and I headed to see one of Canada’s most twisted old-growth trees in Canada. A short climb to a breath-taking view started with a drive on bad roads leading towards Avatar Grove trail on Vancouver Island. Dirt cars and dirty cars passed by as we managed to drive through the unmarked and unpaved road. Be careful when you drive up there.

What appeared to be a fist bump, was actually a big knot in the tree. That’s how the tree got its name. Knots, or otherwise known as “burls“, are formed as a reaction to stress. They are kind of like blisters on our skin. In our case, the blisters go away as the skin underneath it heals. Knots on trees, on the other hand, are permanent. Climate change is one of the many stress causing factors. In fact, it can bring down not one tree, not two trees, but an entire forest. Because it strikes where it hurts the most – its immunity.

“Forest die-offs also impose an economic hit on loggers and those who depend on income from hikers, campers and others who use forests for recreation.” – Science Magazine

One would argue – doesn’t stress increase the tree’s immunity? Yes, it does. However, it needs time to build that immunity. What can we do, you say? Burning fossil fuels for fuel, electricity, and heat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. I asked Enterprise rent-a-car if there was a choice to rent an electric car. There isn’t at the moment, but there is an option to offset the emissions caused by the fossil-fuel powered car that you rent. I didn’t take it because I was afraid my friends wouldn’t agree to pay more. Did I ask? No. I wish I had. You’d face a similar situation when you’d wonder if others would take part in your crusade. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Wishtree is a kind of a genie

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Hindu mythology describes Kalpavriksha (wish tree) as a kind of a genie. Kalpavriksha is not one but many different trees revered and protected owing to its mythological significance and the benefits (or wishes) it provides. In other cultures, it is referred to as Tree of Life or Sacred Tree.

“The banyan tree or nyagrodha is called kalpataru; the coconut tree whose every part is utilised by human beings for various purposes,the ashwatha (fig) tree, believed to be sacred, mahua tree, shami tree or jaant of Rajasthan which stays green always and checks soil erosion is also referred to as kalapataru. A variety of palm is considered as kalpataru in Tamil Nadu in India. The Baobab or Parijata  tree is called kalpavriksh in Uttar Pradesh, believed to have been brought by Arjuna, one of the main Pandavas from the epic Mahabharata.”  – Deccan Views

Why isn’t every tree a wish tree? The answer probably lies in the fact that we don’t have all the knowledge about what every tree provides us. An arborist might help with specific information, but again there’s one thing that all trees give us. What is that one thing? Guess before you read on.

Continue reading “Wishtree is a kind of a genie”

Seasons are a kind of awakening

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Spring is waking up these flowers to come out of their velvety warm blankets

As a kid, I only knew of three seasons in India – Summer, Rainy (Monsoon), and Winter. When I moved to the USA, I heard of – Fall and Spring. Did someone say, Autumn? Delhi Tourism website lists five seasons – Winter, Spring, Autumn, Monsoon, Summer. Makes me wonder – did I miss some science class in school? If you have lived in India, what kind of seasons have you heard of?

Aren’t these seasons a kind of awakening?

Endotherms or warm-blooded animals that generate body heat tend to slow down during winter. Their metabolism, energy consumption, and growth slows down. It’s nature’s way of conserving energy. Even seeds stay dormant until the right environmental conditions favour its growth.

After a period of this deep-sleep or sometimes called as hibernation, these species are awakened by the sun’s warmth. Spring sunshine wakes them up.

When the rain falls, you smell the strong scent (petrichor) in the air after a dry spell produced by awakened bacteria.

External temperatures affect dormancy. Global warming is changing these amazing phenomena – causing spring to arrive early and autumn to come late. Sadly, some species are finding it hard to adapt. The world needs to wake up to this.

Life of Pine

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I saw this beautiful view dying with my own eyes, a small part of the millions trees affected by the beetle outbreak

On our trip to Denver, Colorado last year, we learnt how the mountain pine beetles are eating away pine forests across North America. This outbreak is ten times bigger than ever. We were saddened to see so many dead grey pine trees. What impact does this have on the local people and on the regional or even the global industry? What effect does it have on you as a tourist? A 2009 report concluded that Canada could have avoided a cost of $165 million annually by preventing the introduction and establishment of four high-profile invasive forest insects and diseases.

The pine beetles thrive in warmer and dryer atmospheres. Think global warming. Researchers are suspecting that global warming induced due to human activities is contributing to this. Add to that helpless drought-stressed trees that are vulnerable to outbreaks. Add to that forest fires.

Is this the survival of the fittest or survival of the luckiest? The beetles are moving, they are invading other regions of the world. If your area has pines, the best way to find out if the epidemic has reached you is to seek experts, because not all beetles behave the same way.

In this short film called Life of Pine made at the International Wildlife Film Festival Filmmaker Labs, shows what we can learn from this. Professor Six is studying the genetics and adaptation of these pine trees to understand how these trees are fighting back. This is just one kind of outbreak. Although outbreaks are, as Professor Six says, ‘a natural disturbance’, the scale observed these days are not normal.

In British Columbia alone, more than 16 million of the 55 million hectares of forest have been affected. Researchers are tracking how a forest that becomes infected by the pine beetle evolves from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, by measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above beetle-infected forests.

Professor Six says how we are shifting the blame onto these beetles for something that we humans have done. She says the beetle is just an organism that is doing what it does. I’d the say the same for humans, we are doing what we do – we are good at manipulating and using our environment to our needs. However, I do believe that we are doing it wrong. We can do better.

Further watching: An entomologist tells the story of how a little beetle has ecologically and economically altered North America’s forests.

State of Biodiversity Mitigation 2017 Report is out!

Hi there, how are you doing? I’m well. We are celebrating our 2nd anniversary together this month. Cake and all! :)

Today’s post however is about a new report on biodiversity that is out. The State of Biodiversity Mitigation 2017 report reviews the scale, scope, and performance of a new class of policy mechanisms, biodiversity offsets and compensation, that use market instruments to respond to negative impacts of infrastructure development. Proud to say my ex-colleague Divya Narain has contributed to this report, someone who I had the pleasure assisting in creating a course on Biodiversity Impact Assessment.

To better understand the report and its scope, it’s important to understand the following concepts, which I’m going to cherry pick out of its glossary:

Offsets and compensation: In this report, this phrase is used as an umbrella term for the three main mitigation types (permittee-responsible offsets, financial compensation, and mitigation banking) that may be used as the final step of the mitigation hierarchy ( will come to ‘mitigation hierarchy’ just after we finish learning about these three terminologies) to address residual negative impacts.

Permittee-responsible offset: “Do-it-yourself” offsetting conducted by the developer or a subcontractor (as opposed to a third party). Permittee-responsible offsets are typically conducted concurrently with the development project or projects resulting in negative residual impacts, unless advance offsets are used (see “Advance offsets”

Advance offsets: Offsets developed for future use, transfer, or sale, typically in anticipation of mitigation requirements from one or more development projects. 

Financial compensation: A third-party mechanism that collects and administers fees from developers to make a contribution towards offsetting their impacts to biodiversity. The money may go directly towards compensating biodiversity loss or to more indirect biodiversity-related projects (i.e., funding protected area management or research). In the United States, also known as “In-lieu fee mitigation.”

Mitigation bank: A site, or suite of sites, where resources (e.g., wetlands, streams, habitat, species) are restored, established, enhanced, and/or preserved for the purpose of providing compensatory mitigation for future impacts. In general, a mitigation bank sells compensatory mitigation credits to developers whose obligation to provide compensatory mitigation is then transferred to the mitigation bank sponsor. Also referred to as a “habitat bank” or “species bank.” In contrast to mitigation banks, advance offsets are generally developed by the impacting party themselves rather than a third party.

We now come to Mitigation Hierarchy. Understanding what this is will help us understand what exactly we are trying to do with offsets and mitigation. Mitigation Hierarchy is a process for managing negative impacts of a development project in order to achieve no net loss of biodiversity or net gain. The mitigation hierarchy consists of four sequential steps:

  1. avoid
  2. minimize
  3. restore/rehabilitate
  4. offset/compensate – last resort.

This I feel is a good foundation for us to delve into the findings of the report. Following are the few of the findings from the report:

  • $4.8B went into in mitigation bank credits and financial compensation was transacted in 2016, more than double since 2011.
  • Globally, 99 regulatory programs in 33 countries used compensatory mitigation to achieve biodiversity conservation goals in 2016. 
  • Permittee-responsible offsets are still the only option for compensatory mitigation in many countries. These offsets typically operate with far less public transparency than banking or financial compensation, and often enjoy lower standards set by regulators in terms of public notice during project design or reporting later on implementation and long-term outcomes. Mitigation banking primarily operates in only a few countries (US, Australia, Canada, Germany, France).

I’ve lived in three countries so far so here’s a bit about them:

India has the largest compensation program in the world according to this report, however to my surprise it has not really spent a lot of its funds. To fasten the process, a new Act and a committee was established in 2016.

USA is still trying to figure out the Trump Effect on this.

The place where I live there is a British Columbia Environmental Mitigation Policy, that offers Permittee responsible offsets and Financial compensation, but not Mitigation banking. Plus a lot of other places in Canada have similar policies.

You may now enjoy the full report here for a full learning experience!