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Preserving forests in Africa helps everyone
May 2, 2023

By Inquiry Charter Healthy Owl Times reporters | When he was 12, Michael Stern started working as a volunteer at the Philadelphia Zoo, he recently told the Healthy Owl Times reporters.

He grew to love the gorillas, monkeys, and other primates. He continued to learn about them when he went to college, and then he pursued a career working with them. He is now curator of primates and small mammals at the Philadelphia Zoo and works on conservation projects in other parts of the world.

Mr. Stern’s work took him in 2000 to western Uganda to study primates. While he was there, he saw that people were cutting down trees in the Kibale Forest National Park to get firewood for cooking their meals. But the trees provide homes and food to monkeys, and they also absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon is a source of climate change.

Keeping forests healthy helps keep people, animals, and the environment healthy, Mr. Stern says.

Since 2006, he has worked with communities in Uganda to conserve trees in Kibale. He and his wife, Rebecca Goldstone, started an organization called the New Nature Foundation to pursue that goal.

“The work I do in Uganda is focused on helping people get what they need in ways that don’t harm the rainforest,” says Mr. Stern. He teams up with Ugandans in three ways to conserve trees.

For one, they build fuel-efficient stoves that use less wood. The stoves are also safer for people because they are less likely to topple over and cause spills and burns, he says.

Secondly, his team helps people make charcoal using farm waste like banana peels and peanut shells and indus- trial waste like paper and sawdust. The charcoal—called eco briquettes—replaces wood from trees.

The third way is encouraging people to plant fast-growing trees near the places where they already plant beans, bananas, and other crops. Then they won’t need to take trees from the forest for cooking.

Mr. Stern also works with people in Vietnam who are dealing with the loss of trees. He says that pre- serving forests around the world helps combat cli mate change that affects everyone, including us in Philadelphia.

Forests are considered “carbon sinks” by conservationists. A carbon sink is an area that absorbs and stores carbon, according to the National Geographic website. Trees soak up carbon that has been released into the atmosphere by human activities such as driving cars or trucks or burning coal or oil. That car- bon plays a big role in causing the planet to warm and the climate to change.

In Kibale, some trees are “huge,” Mr. Stern says.

They are 200 feet tall and 10 feet across. They are soaking in carbon “all day and all night and storing it. And that’s what’s helping the environment.”

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