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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Study: conservation for carbon sequestration may not protect species

In this era of climate change, of the need to maintain biodiversity and of the growing reliance on agriculture for the production of energy and renewable materials, land-use choices need ever more careful scrutiny. What happens to species and the carbon cycle when we convert 'wild' land to farmland? And vice versa, what are the effects when we pay farmers to take farmland out of production for conservation? A commonly held view is that the conservation of land and the plants that thrive on it, is good for both carbon sequestration and biodiversity. However, a new study shows that this is not necessarily the case. Things are indeed far more complex.

Scientists from a range of U.S. universities built a case study around these questions. They found that paying rural landowners in Oregon's Willamette Basin to protect at-risk animals won't necessarily mean that their newly conserved trees and plants will absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, and vice versa.

The study, to be published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed hypothetical payments that were given to landowners to voluntarily take their acreage out of production for conservation. Scenarios conserving different types of land were also developed. The study then examined the relationship between the absorption of carbon, a contributor to global warming, by trees and plants and the protection of 37 different types of animals under each of these scenarios and payment schemes.
The main thing we found is that if you want to conserve species, that policy might not be compatible with carbon sequestration. On the other hand, if you want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, it's not clear that will be good for species. - Andrew Plantinga, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Oregon State University
Professor Plantinga and seven collegues wrote the report titled Efficiency of Incentives to Jointly Increase Carbon Sequestration and Species Conservation on a Landscape. Their take-home message is that when you think about policies targeted to private landowners, government has to be careful about how it does this because it may achieve one objective but at the expense of something else.

The researchers created five scenarios in which different types of land were taken out of production in the Willamette Basin, which consists of a flat valley floor and the surrounding forested Coast and Cascade ranges. They applied three different budgets to each scenario. In the first budget, an entity (for example, the government or a land trust) had US$1 million to give to landowners each year. The other annual budgets were for US$5 million and US$10 million.


In the first scenario, all landowners were eligible for the financial incentives. The result was that the precarious animals, which excluded fish and insects, increased as much or more than they did in the four other scenarios. Also, the amount of atmospheric carbon was about the same as it would have been if the landowner hadn't accepted payment:
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In the second scenario, only land whose natural state is prairie, oak savanna, wetland or late-succession conifer forest was eligible for the money. The result was that species increased but in one model, the carbon level decreased from what it would have been without the financial inducement.

In the third scenario, only owners who can significantly increase the forest coverage on their land were eligible for the incentive payments. Consequently, the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere increased but the at-risk animals hardly increased, and in one model they even decreased.

In the fourth scenario, only land dense with streams was eligible for payments. There was a negligible increase in species and carbon sequestration.

In the last scenario, payments were given to parcels deemed important for the conservation of terrestrial vertebrate species in the basin. The animals increased but carbon stayed about the same.

Based on these findings, the study concluded that the conservation of species generally is maximized when landowners who accept financial incentives restore habitats that are relatively rare on the current landscape. Carbon sequestration, on the other hand, is maximized when landowners who accept payments restore forests.

In addition to OSU, the research team was made up of professionals from Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The U.S. Forest Service financed Plantinga's contribution to the study.

The National Science Foundation has given the research team $1 million to conduct a similar three-year study on a national scale.

Note that, obviously, none of these results imply that converting pristine habitats to farmland or to land for carbon sequestration would be unharmful. The study only looked at restoring habitats on land that had already lost its original composition.

Picture: Fall view of Willamette Valley in Northern Polk County Near Bethel - former prairie turned into farmland. Credit: Wikimedia.

Eurekalert: Incentives for carbon sequestration may not protect species - July 7, 2008.

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