A National Palm Oil Scheme

A National Palm Oil Scheme Towards Landscape Conservation

by Robert Hii

Palm oil, the cursed fruit or blessed fruit depending on who you ask, epitomizes the global struggle to find a balance between development and conservation. Widely grown in the tropical countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, the crop has become synonymous with the disappearance of wildlife habitats as ancient forests are replaced with the palm oil tree as far as the eye can see.

The projected growth of the need for vegetable oils to meet the needs of a booming human population is leading to the expansion of palm oil plantations into undeveloped areas including Papua New Guinea and Africa where some of the world’s last remaining primary forests remain. Other vegetable oil crops, notably soy, is further threatening South American landscapes as the two competing vegetable oils struggle for market share.

There is no shortage of bad news for conservation as reports from Australia all the way  to the Everglades in Florida talk about the loss of ecology to economy? Can the palm oil industries afford the costs of sustainable practices when the biggest influencers are not conservationists but soy from the Americas and investors worldwide who will punish poor financial performance?

These are some of the challenges facing the Malaysian palm oil industry as the government seeks to certify all of its local production as sustainable.

Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO)

Introduced in 2015 as a way to prove that the country’s palm oil production is sustainable, the MSPO was subsequently made mandatory as a national scheme. External influences aside, the scheme is further challenged by internal factors including state driven economic goals and competing industries in timber. Even the 650,000 small farmers of palm oil which are being presented as impoverished farmers finding a solution towards empowerment by farming palm oil, are a problem for certification as many of these are illiterate and may not be able to fulfil the rigorous reporting required by the MSPO.

The government has allocated $40 million to facilitate the certification of small and medium sized growers to assist them towards certification. This may help the palm oil industry gain certification but it does not necessarily mean that positive actions for conservation will follow. If we look at the most recognized certification bodies in sustainable palm oil for example, the RSPO and the ISCC which certifies member or client operations. These selected operations are rendered quite meaningless if surrounded by uncertified plantations whether its timber or rice. As recent studies have shown, isolated patches of HCVs will not preserve biodiversity for perpetuity which has to be the goal of any sustainable product.

Landscape Plans Needed for National Certification Schemes 

What Malaysia needs to do is to create a complete plan for land use in order to create long term conservation impact. The palm oil industry complains often that demands for sustainability certification is unfair when competing vegetable oils like soy or rapeseed do not face similar demands. As a crop that has been identified as most suitable to meet global demand and most likely to be grown in forested developing countries instead of soy, the industries whether in Malaysia or Gabon or Papua have an ethical obligation to show responsible use of landscapes.

Creating a national landscape use plan in Malaysia should be relatively simple. Enough research has gone into biodiversity in Malaysia that one could simply pull up these reports and confirm key areas in need of protection to ensure survival of flora and fauna plus target areas to make sure they not only survive, but thrive.

Examples of these are the Central Forest Spine in West Malaysia and the Heart of Borneo areas in Malaysian Borneo. It would be a gargantuan task to gather all stakeholders in state governments and industries but the benefits of such a plan are just as big. This nationwide plan for sustainable land use would go a long way towards the credibility of not only the MSPO but Malaysia’s compliance with international standards for certified timber.


Committing to Conservation

By Rick LoBello

This past week I attended a Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Nearly 300 conservation leaders from around the world working at zoos and aquariums and in the field came to be inspired, connect with each other and pledge to increase strategic actions in support of a wide array of conservation efforts.

We heard from people working on projects in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Many of the stories we heard were both dramatic and eye opening. Sonya Kahlenberg of the Grace Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo told the story of how the community the Center is reaching out to came together to save the orphan Grauer’s gorillas living there. One day the Center and the gorillas were threatened by a group that was planning to overrun the facility. Fortunately all of the Center’s efforts in gaining community support over the years paid off when the locals intervened and prevented the group from entering the area.

Charles Foley from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania reminded everyone of how important it was for zoos to send staff to field conservation areas so that they could connect with projects and bring back personal stories to zoo audiences.

I was especially interested in talking to Marc Ancrenaz of the Hutan-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme about the palm oil crisis. I told Marc that I believe that the most important thing that needs to happen in the US is legislation that bans the importation on non-sustainable palm oil. He told me about legislation recently approved by the EU. I plan to learn more about this effort in hopes of proposing similar legislation for the US.

To learn more about this conference check out the ZACC website.

Tree of hopes

Tree of Hopes 044

by Nestor Ramirez, Juarez, Mexico

My name is Nestor Ramirez. I live in Juarez, Mexico where I studied to be an Industrial Engineer.  The community I live in is called Anapra, one of the poorest areas of the city.   You can see it in the distance from UTEP and Sunland Park, New Mexico.

When I was a child I was jealous that my parents spent much of their time with other people feeding them, caring for them and helping them anyway they could.  One day I handed out apples and gave one to a child who said to me what is this? I said it’s an apple. You do not know what it is?   He said that his mom never bought these.  I thought it was a joke and told him to try it. The child bit the apple and said it’s very rich and sweet. My heart then became filled with sadness as I realized at that moment that I had been blessed with many things that other people did not have.  I was not paying attention to what my parents saw every day in their lives.  They saw the needs of other people. I only saw my needs and suddenly realized that giving to others and seeing the satisfaction in the faces of those who had so little, was so important to my life.

Tree of Hopes 053

Today I am working with my family and friends in creating a new organization called Tree of Hopes.   It is my dream that Tree of Hopes will help many people without hope experience a better life where they will receive and give love and extend their expectations.  Our world needs to see that there are many ways we all can come together to help someone who needs a home where they can spend pleasant moments with their family, without worries.

This is what motivates Tree of Hopes. I am not only the one who can make this happen; I need the help of others to make this dream a reality.  Working together united as fellow people on this earth we are strong because a single person could never do something like this.  But when many put their hearts together and decide that such a goal is achievable a hope begins to grow like a tree and the branches of the tree can help the hopes of many people who have so little. This is how hope dreams are born.

Tree of Hopes plans to build decent homes and provide food for low income families in Juarez who would never dream of owning their own home.  Today many families sleep in very poor conditions where water drips in from the rain and they have no windows.   Many families cover their primitive dwellings with sheets when winter arrives and freezing temperatures threaten every member of the family.

They live their lives in danger because of these conditions.  Tree of Hopes working with others plans to make a difference in helping these families.   A few years ago during a very strong winter storm it snowed so much making many houses look like freezers in the desert.   I met a family who lived in a school bus.  The roof was full of ice and it was colder inside the bus than outside. In the middle of the snowstorm my sister and I had to take them to a shelter so that they could be safe.  We ​​took them food and water, but still it was not enough.  A home protects the family and that’s what Tree of Hopes plans to do.  Hope is not just a house.  Hope is knowing that the family will be okay when the family can think of doing something else besides trying to survive, where the members of the family can share love with each other and dream of helping others themselves.  I believe that love surpasses all borders, languages, ​​colors and races.  I am planting the tree and need your help in making it grow.   Please contact me if you can help in any way by contacting my friend Rick LoBello. Many of you know him from his job at the El Paso Zoo.   He can be reached at 915-474-1456 by phone or text or by email at ricklobello@gmail.com.

Return the wolf to the wilds of Texas

South Rim and the mountains of Mexico, Big Bend National Park

By Rick LoBello

Over 5000 people in recent months have signed letters and petitions asking Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Governor of Texas to support returning the wolf to the ecosystem of our great state.  I often tell people that returning the wolf to Texas will be a monumental task because of the state’s politics more than anything,  but that I believe that it is an achievable and laudable goal.   After all here in Texas we helped to put a man on the moon at Mission Control in Houston.  You would think it would be possible to restore this important part of our natural heritage back into our ecosystem where it could once again become an important part of the balance of life.

It was back in 1978 when I was a park ranger in Big Bend National Park that I  was given the opportunity to see one of the last wild Mexican wolves known to science before the species went extinct in the wild.  It  it was a day I shall never forget.   I was stationed at Panther Junction Park Headquarters where it was a two hundred mile round trip to get groceries in Alpine.  One day my friend Roy McBride invited me to his ranch in Alpine to see a wolf that he had recently captured in Mexico as part of an emergency US-Mexico effort to save the species from extinction. As I looked at the recently captured wolf pacing back-and-forth inside a large fenced enclosure  a great sadness came over me. Just days before this wonderful animal was living wild and free in the mountains of northern Mexico.  Its ancestors had been an important part of the web of life for thousands of years.   I realized that I was looking at a species that not long ago was a part of the ecosystem in Big Bend National Park.  How could I knowing this reality do nothing?  I had to do something.


In 1988, ten years after I saw the captured Mexican wolf in Alpine, National Park Service Director William Penn Mott Jr., despite congressional opposition,  advocated for the return of the wolf to our national parks.   He inspired me to write about the wolf in the Big Bend National Park visitor guide newspaper called El Paisano.   Several years later I helped to organize the Mexican Wolf Coalition of Texas.

As a result of Mott’s leadership the wolf was eventually returned to Yellowstone National Park.  Today we now know just how important  wolves are to the biodiversity and health of the Yellowstone ecosystem.  How important is the wolf to the ecosystem in Texas?   We will never know until we give it a chance to return.

Like the name of this website we have only one lifetime to make any kind of difference in helping to take care of our earth.   When our ancestors killed off the wolf over most of its natural range during the 1800s it was not the best choice for the future of our environment.  Wolves have been successfully returned to the wild in places like Yellowstone National Park and the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico.   Isn’t it time that we gave the wolf a chance to re-inhabit its former homeland in Texas?   Past Chief Scientist of the National Park Service Roland Wauer once told me “I believe that reintroduction of Mexican wolves into the Big Bend country is both feasible and proper, and every effort should go into the program.”   The future of this species and the health of our ecosystem in Texas is in our hands.  Join the Texas wolf pack today and help bring back this amazing animal to the Texas Wilderness.   For more information contact me at ricklobello@gmail.com.



A message for President Trump


You can shut down the use of our social media accounts, but you cannot shut down the internet or take control of what we do with our personal time! We only wish to protect and preserve the environment for future generations to come.

Join the movement

– Arches, Shenandoah, Yosemite, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Parkway, Everglades, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What’s going on here?

By Rick LoBello

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Every day in El Paso we see more and more of what remains of the natural landscape in lower elevations of Franklin Mountains going under the blade of the bulldozer.  In the name of progress we can’t seem to stop making more roads, building more Walmarts and more strip malls.   I am all in favor of progress, but is this the kind of progress El Paso needs to have a sustainable future?   What are we going to do when all the land has been developed?   Why can’t we build away from what remains of these lands and protect them for our community today and future generations who will need more open space for outdoor recreation opportunities?  Have you ever tried to find a hiking trail in the Franklins that did not include climbing up a mountain side?  We definitely need more trails for senior citizens and families who simply want to take more level walking trails.  Saving these wild places also helps to protect trails and pathways that wildlife need to move from one part of the landscape to the next.  Why can’t we focus more on building upward like we see happening downtown and in places like the Venue at Montecillo on Mesa?    We are running out of water too so what’s going on here?

Did you know that some of the oldest organisms in the world live in the lower elevations of the Franklin Mountains?   One creosote bush in the Mojave Desert was found growing in a single clonal colony up to 67 feet in diameter and was estimated to be 11,700 years old.  Who is to say some creosote bush rings right here in El Paso may be older.  We may never know since no one will have a chance to find out as every square inch of desert is destroyed and covered with concrete.


Here is what is going on, special interest groups with lots of cash are making lots of money destroying El Paso’s natural heritage.  We are talking about the southernmost region of the Rocky Mountains in the United States of America – they’re called the Franklin Mountains.  These mountains cannot survive ecologically with only the higher elevations intact.   The lower elevations are important too because many wildlife species spend their entire lives in or travel through these lower areas to get from one part of the mountain range to the next.  Some species survive only in the lower elevations.   For example, how many jackrabbits do you find climbing up a steep mountain side?   These prey species live in lower elevations areas and guess who eats the jackrabbit,  the Golden Eagle.    Golden Eagles have long been admired by people around the world and are one of best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere.  They live in the Franklins and beyond and hunt in the lower elevations for rabbits and other small prey species.

Everyone in El Paso now and in the future needs to be connected to the natural world, for their physical and psychological well-being.   The estimated population of El Paso, County is now nearly 900,000.   The Franklin Mountains are home to thousands of species of animals and plants.    Looking for some good reasons to protect our natural environment?   How about 900,000?

Now that you have read this what are you going to do about it?     Need some ideas?   Contact organizations like the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and Frontera Land Alliance for some guidance.   Both are very active in trying to find solutions to protecting the natural environment in El Paso.  You can also form your own group and make your own noise.  Don’t just sit there and watch it happen.IMG_9253 Look into the face of a child if you need some motivation and ask yourself, is it worth it for their sake?