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Archive for the ‘Forests For The World’ Category

Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer

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One of the most difficult things to deal with when working in EIA’s forest campaign is jet lag.

By the time you’ve ensured you have all your equipment, contacted your sources, confirmed meetings and booked travel plans, actually sitting on the plane with no communications for 11 hours is a bit of a break. But knowing that sleep deprivation is at the other end is something I try not to think about. There are three of us here in Thailand from EIA’s Forest Team to launch our new report “Crossroads: The Illicit Timber Trade Between Laos and Vietnam” and to follow up on our campaign in Indonesia with our partner Telepak.

The forests of Laos are in crisis. Credit EIA.

The forests of Laos are in crisis. Credit EIA.

Our press conference was held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where the findings of our undercover investigations traced the illegal trade of logs from Laos to Vietnam. A lot of work was done beforehand, arranging the undercover investigations and writing the new report, making the new film, working with our superb communications team, contacting the media and arranging for facilities, so when I was hit by the dreaded jet lag at 4am and lay there willing myself to go back to sleep, my mind was actually on this issue. The forests of Laos are in crisis. The people of Laos are ending up with a raw deal, and those with vested interests continue to make deals for huge profits. It’s wrong that a country blessed with the mighty Mekong River, beautiful forests filled with a wide biodiversity and a gentle people whose culture and livelihoods depended on their forests are under such a threat. I say depended, because if the timber industry of Vietnam continues to use the raw materials from Laos the way it is doing now, those who rely on the forest are doomed.

 Forest landscape, Attapeu, Laos. Credit EIA.

Forest landscape, Attapeu, Laos. Credit EIA.

I also find it greedy and short-sighted that a country such as Laos, which is blessed with its bountiful natural resources, is selling the energy from the Mekong River to neighbouring Thailand and its forests to the highest bidder, with nothing going back to its people.

As my jet lag continued and I saw the first light of a new day, I was also reminded of the many individuals in Laos and Vietnam who are quite simply champions. The courageous, the patriots, the ones with massive hearts and compassion for their country. Those are the people that the forest team in EIA is so lucky to work with.

So when I sat in front of the journalists and diplomats at the FCCT this morning, I was reminded that our work supports those who live in countries where having a press conference and naming names is far too dangerous for them, and coping with jet lag is nothing compared to what they are facing. But because of them, I know our campaigns will go from strength to strength.

Faith Doherty

Faith Doherty

Head of Forest Campaign

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Logging the Moratorium Zone in Indonesia’s REDD+ Pilot Province

Yesterday, EIA and Telapak released a new briefing paper – Caught REDD Handed- exposing illegal deforestation in Indonesia.

In summary, the briefing exposed how, on the very day Indonesia’s president signed a new moratorium on forest exploitation in areas of peatland and primary forest across Indonesia, EIA and Telapak were filming a Malaysian owned plantation company actively clearing about 5,000 hectares of it in the REDD+ Pilot Province, Central Kalimantan. The moratorium was breached on day one – hardly a good sign for what is already a weak moratorium.

Excavator clearing forest in PT Menteng area May 2011

Investing in Criminal Deforestation

Worse still, EIA’s research also reveals that Norway, Indonesia’s biggest REDD+ donor, stands to profit from the illegal deforestation of moratorium land through the $41.5 million of shares the country’s pension fund holds in the Malaysian company Kuala Lumpur Kepong. This is despite both the moratorium and the REDD+ Pilot Province being cornerstones of a US$ 1 billion Letter of Intent (LoI) on REDD+ between the two countries. Jago’s previous blog on the moratorium

The briefing also reveals how this is not Norway’s only investment in deforestation in Indonesia. EIA’s research reveals that during 2010, Norway’s portfolio of logging and plantations investments had increased in value from $437 million to $678 million, with $145 of this increase being profits to Norway from increased share values.

EIA has repeatedly warned Norway that its Pension Fund is in danger of profiting from the violation of the forests of Indonesia, but, it seems, to no avail. Indeed, as the briefing explains, Norway has actually put more money into, and made more money from deforesting industries in Indonesia and its neighbouring countries over the year, than it has granted to Indonesia under the Letter of Intent on REDD+.

Despite the whole idea of REDD+ being to reverse the structure of financial incentives – from those that encourage deforestation to those that encourage forest protection, the case of Norway’s pension fund reveals how the financial incentives in the forestry sector remain perverse.

Log in land cleared by PT Menteng, May 2011

EIA and Telapak have submitted the briefing to the Indonesian and Norwegian authorities, in the hope that both parties might prevent the moratorium being swept aside by realities in crime riddled Central Kalimantan.

While Indonesia needs to deliver on its pledges to clean up crime, corruption and illegal plantations in Central Kalimantan and nationwide, Norway’s finance ministry needs to get its pension fund REDD Ready by divesting from companies that drive the very deforestation Norway is hoping to see reduce in Indonesia.

For further information on the breach of the moratorium, see the following resources:

EIA/Telapak Press Release in Englishand Bahasa Indonesia

Caught REDD Handed Briefing in English& Bahasa Indonesia

EIA interviewed on Radio Australia

News coverage on Reuters & Mongabay, and in REDD Montor

 

Jago Wadley

Senior Campaigner

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We always need connections…paperwork not important once you have connections, paperwork not important, they are only on paper…they can always be manipulated…”

– Singapore ozone-depleting substances (ODS) dealer

 When it comes to getting insights into what criminals think, EIA and our partners are in a pretty enviable position.

Our undercover investigators spend weeks at a time in the field, often in remote and dangerous places, rubbing shoulders with environmental criminals. Getting to know these people and their worlds. Gathering intelligence, developing leads, responding to opportunities and threats as they come up. Click here to read a previous blog by one of our investigators.

In the process, when our undercover investigators speak one-on-one with traders, create bonds, convince them of their authenticity…that in itself generates a wealth of information about how the illegal trade is conducted.

Who’s buying, who’s selling, what tricks to use to evade detection, and what the stakes are (or are not…) if you get caught.

 “…the government regulation will be avoided. Anyway, you are taking the small risk to earn big profits.”

– Chinese ODS import/exporter

Often, the information gained doesn’t just implicate the trader who’s spilling the beans. The web of complicity can extend to police contacts who should be enforcing the law – but instead tip off the traders before inspections take place; dodgy Customs contacts who’ll “facilitate” the safe passage of a shipment…even government officials have been directly implicated in the illegal trade.

Of course there are people who’ll shake their heads and say, “That’s a criminal you’re talking to. You can’t believe what they say!”

 “I think it’s better if you know who I am. I’m a law officer, I’m a policeman. Beside a policeman, I am also a businessman.”

– Policeman (and merbau smuggler) in Indonesia

 EIA uses specialist investigators. Cover is carefully planned, so it’s totally convincing.

Questions are open, so the traders talk of their own volition.

And verification is crucial. In presenting often explosive investigation findings, things have to be water-tight.

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I suppose that if you must conduct your business from the shadows, when you do find someone you trust, if might feel good to talk. From relief in shared complicity, from your ego being flattered, or to assure your new “customer” that they’re in safe hands – that you’re the only one to deal with, and you know your trade well.

Of course you’re not to know that this new “friend” is actually undercover EIA.

But it’s often precisely because these people are criminals that we should at least listen to what they say – take it as a starting point from where to investigate further. Whilst they can be excellent at describing their activities, they’ll often highlight the factors that make it all too easy for them to continue.

“…(Customs) need money also… all the people still need money. It goes up to the top.”

– Merbau dealer in Indonesia

It’s been said before, but anyway…crime is good at self-preservation. A criminal’s response to enforcement activity (like the interception of cargo) will be to adapt, necessarily at the drop of a hat. What was true of smuggling methods a year ago may since have been abandoned in favour of a different way of doing things. Likewise, as we’ve shown, the end markets can change. For investigators, rather than labouring under misconceptions and coming up short, keeping up to date with these changes is essential.

And while stats can give you an overview and insights, they can’t paint a picture the way a trader does when he describes the “many hands” through which a tiger skin passes – from when it’s skinned from the carcass in India and travels thousands of miles north into China.

But if enforcement agencies don’t see the value in conducting covert operations and engaging traders, how is anyone – including policy makers – except the criminals to know how things really work?

In 2009, traders voiced anticipation at the forthcoming Chinese Year of the Tiger: more demand for tiger skin = higher profits. Tasteless, frightening, but EIA listened. With the species already on the brink, identifying additional, future threats is crucial.

We recommend enforcement agencies speak to one another, share information, and collaborate – both domestically and internationally.

But enforcement agencies might also speak to criminals. Not only when a suspect is in custody, but proactively go out into the field, task covert investigations, dig deep, and hear what these people have to say. In terms of understanding the illegal trade – and saving species – the information gained can be gold dust.

The same information can also, and probably will, reveal uncomfortable truths. But if those truths are too hard to face, or believed to be insurmountable…well then forests, tigers, elephants – all of us – might as well accept defeat.

Charlotte Davies, Intelligence Analyst

Charlotte Davies

Intelligence Analyst

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As the plane dipped to one side, the window revealed a sea of deep green below. Thousands of trees packed together like tiny cotton balls, their canopies forming a roof over one of nature’s greatest shows. Beneath, a beguiling cast of orang utans and gibbons, birds and insects.

Orang-utan, Borneo, Indonesia. Credit Jason Cheng

Orang-utan, Borneo, Indonesia. Credit Jason Cheng

Just a few decades ago this majestic scene would have met visitors anywhere they arrived on the island of Borneo. It’s the good fortune of passengers between Jakarta and Palangkaraya, in Central Kalimantan, that their flight path passes over Sebangau National Park, a vast expanse of peat swamp and one of the last bastions of rainforest on Borneo. But it’s a throwback to a seemingly distant past, a time when the level of destruction that would subsequently unfold in Borneo would have been unimaginable.

Today, the island’s landscape is scarred by logging roads that carve deep into the interior, pockmarked by coal and gold mines, rendered monochrome by palm oil plantations that stretch to the horizon. It serves as a salutary lesson in how much damage humans can do in a relatively short space of time; in 1950, almost all of Borneo was under forest cover. By 2005, almost half of it had gone. Rampant, unsustainable development proved just how fragile the rainforest can be. Even Sebangau has barely escaped the teeth of the chainsaw.

If this dystopian vision jars with Borneo’s evocative reputation, and is too gloomy for a Friday afternoon, now might be a good moment to point out that the game isn’t up: it just means the stakes are higher.

Since beginning its forest campaign at the end of the last century, EIA has demonstrated how a combination of hard evidence, relentless campaigning and, fundamentally, a belief that things can change can make a difference. The rate of deforestation in Indonesia, while still high, has slowed. Illegal logging has fallen and new regulations in both Indonesia and the EU gives us our greatest chance yet to clamp down further, addressing our culpability as consumers in driving this crime.

While EIA occasionally grabs the headlines, the unsung heroes of this work are the Indonesians who face the realities of forest crime every day. These men and women have seen their homes destroyed and their livelihoods stolen from them in the name of development. While EIA campaigners can always leave Indonesia, can at times switch off from the work, they lack that luxury. People like Wancino, who I met in Central Kalimantan last month, stand up to vested interests with wealth and power vastly beyond their own.

Together with EIA’s partners Telapak, we spent several days touring the less salubrious sights Borneo has to offer. We raced down peat drainage canals in a boat rigged up with a car engine, Indonesian pop music blaring out of a boom box. We drove for almost an hour through a bizarre, desert landscape; rainforest replaced with bright white sand after the illegal gold-miners had plied their trade. We fell in peat swamp that came up to our knees in newly opened palm oil plantations, the baking sun beating harshly down now the canopy has gone. It’s not hard to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of destruction, or the brazen nature of the crime, but people like Wancino don’t give up.

Those on the front line. Papua province, Indonesia. Credit Jason Cheng

Those on the front line. Papua province, Indonesia, another area of Indonesia EIA work in. Credit Jason Cheng

‘In the past the forest was friendly to the people,’ he told me. ‘We looked after each other.

‘Then one day the government gave a plantation to people who had money. They cleared the forest. The people’s forest, where the animals were, was gone.

We had no power. However much we protested, there was no response – not from the government, or the people who took the land.’

Wancino has no option but to fight for the forest that’s left – and neither do we.

Tomasz Johnson

Forest Campaigner


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Saving the world's forests, EIA has been working on this campaign for over 10 years. Credit EIA.

Saving the worlds forests, EIA has been working on this campaign for over 10 years.

Sitting on the Eurostar, once again on my way to Brussels and this time for what should be a defining moment for our campaign against illegal logging, I have been thinking about the amount of time I have spent in meetings and how much I have learned over the years about getting legislation through the European Union.  

As campaigners, we’re supposed to be flexible enough to take whatever is thrown at us, and turn complicated and over-talked issues into something anyone can understand. But nothing prepared me for what I had to deal with when I first went to Brussels. I have sat through meetings where I have literally not understood a single thing that has been said to me as to why something could not possibly happen. This, I have now learned, is the whole idea. A lot of governments I have lobbied over the years have used a similar practice and, drawing on that experience, I decided that if we wanted something to go through and if we couldn’t do it directly, then we would go over, under and around ’the problem’ in our own way.

I remember the first time I was invited to speak to a hearing on forestry issues, which at that time did not have illegal logging issues on the top of its agenda but instead focused on forest issues that were going nowhere. I had been invited by Europe-based NGO’s to talk about our campaign to a large group of Commission representatives from about five different Directorates. (Ministries).  I had no idea what I was walking into. The Commission was keeping everyone focused on some issue that was going around in circles and seemed totally pointless to me, but I was told “this is a consultation and it’s formal, so we need to ensure what we are saying goes on the record”. I sat there with huge admiration for my colleagues as they continued to make their point to the grey suits sitting on a panel in front of us in an enormously large room. Then it was my turn.

EIA have been in Brussels finalising the VPA between Indonesia & the EU

EIA have been in Brussels finalising the VPA between Indonesia & the EU

“Europe has made a lot of money from illegal logging and the illegal trade in timber for so long now that it’s become the norm.” I said. “Traders and importers know who the bad guys are. Our desire for cheap tropical timber means that we’re fuelling corruption, ensuring the middle men make all the money and there’s no chance for anyone wanting to work legally, let alone sustainably. It’s ensuring that those who do the right thing are unable to work with a level playing field and only those who have connections are able to make real profits. Producer countries are losing millions in lost state revenue and we’re creating a new breed of timber barons. Let me tell you how this works in the case of Indonesia.”

“Excuse me, but this is not on the agenda,” said a grey suit.

“Really? I am going to continue because it should be on your agenda.”

And I did. Our main objective in Europewas to have a law that would make it an offence to supply and sell illegally sourced timber. With illegal logging rampant in Indonesia at that time, the EU needed to take some responsibility. It sounded so simple.

Yesterday, EIA and Telapak held a debriefing on the conclusion of an accord between Indonesia and the EU called a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).

Indonesia has agreed to implement a credible timber licensing scheme to eliminate illegally produced timber in its trade with the EU. Although this is a milestone for Indonesia, it is the way this agreement was reached that is so extraordinary. Read more about the new VPA.

Over the years, the divide between stakeholders was huge. But yesterday, as we spoke of the journey we have all taken to get to this point, emotions ran high. Compared to the meeting I first went to in Europe all those years ago, this was something entirely different and the feeling of ownership from everyone made the difference.

Faith Doherty

Faith Doherty

Senior Campaigner

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Okay. I’m going to spare you all the ubiquitous yew-turn jokes and get right on with it. After a massive public campaign, the Government has wisely scrapped its plans to privatise and sell off England’s public forests. There were three strands to this and they have backed down on all of them. The consultation on selling the entire 258,000 hectare estate has been scrapped. The plan to quickly sell 15% of the estate (the legal maximum without changes to the law) is on hold, and the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill that would allow the sale of the whole thing have been removed.

It’s a rout.

It’s great news and I congratulate them on seeing sense.

Oak tree Snowdonia - Credit Jason Cheng

Does this mean that England’s forests are now safe and happy? Not quite. The immediate danger has passed but there are a few things to keep our eyes on. First, there is going to be a Commission set up to look into the whole forestry question. This will include the forestry industry and some big NGOs. Yet despite repeated questioning the Minister responsible refused to confirm that it would be held in public and that grass-roots campaigners would be included.

New style of campaigning

Why does this matter so much? Well, the big NGOs were pretty slow and ambiguous on this whole thing, and many have potential conflicts of interest as large landowners. Also, this was not a victory for established NGOs, but a victory for the new style of campaigning – fluid, fast and decentralised. A campaign made up of local groups, loose affinities and co-ordinated through on-line media. EIA made its views clear and we did a little behind the scenes, but this was run largely by ad-hoc groups. The brilliant 38 Degrees helped start the ball rolling but no one outfit can claim the result. It is a new and exciting world for the campaigner.

So we are going to have an enquiry. We will need to watch closely to make sure it doesn’t come up with something just as bad as the abandoned plans.

UK flora and fauna. Credit Jason Cheng

UK flora and fauna. Credit Jason Cheng

But we also need to be positive. We have an impoverished environment in this part of the world, beautiful though it is. We need to improve it. England and the rest of the UK, needs wilder, larger and more biodiverse forests. We need some that are worked for timber and some that are simply left alone for nature to decide what happens. This is a golden opportunity to start having those debates and working out how we can build a better future, for people and wildlife.

EIA already attends many of the meetings and grouping where these things are discussed and we will do what we can to influence the outcome!

Beavers in Scotland

On the subject of British wildness, I thought you might be interested to see this Facebook Groups about wild beavers living free in Scotland. They are escapees and are being rounded up, although they do appear to be a native species. EIA does not have an ‘official’ position on this, but you can check it out and make up your own minds!

EIA Campaigner

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