According to recent satellite images, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased 470 percent in the last year. Approximately 103 square kilometers of forest were lost in March and April of 2010, compared with 593 sq km lost during the same period this year.
The Brazilian government has convened an emergency cabinet to address the six-fold increase in illegal clearing. When last measured in December of 2010, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was at the lowest levels seen in over two decades, with just 6,451 sq km of forest lost between August of 2009 and July of 2010.
The majority of the illegal logging is centered in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, where soy farming is a key industry. Local ranchers in the Mato Grosso region also blame “alien” loggers, arguing that loggers from other Brazilian states come to Mato Grosso only to make a profit and move on.
This claim was corroborated in part by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency. Curt Trennepohl, President of IBAMA, spoke to the Guardian on the influx of out-of-state ranchers and loggers. “We will contain the hemorrhage,” he stated. “This will not happen in south Amazonas because we have this intelligence and we are watching. Any aliens who arrive buying land will be watched.”
Led by Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, the cabinet hopes to cut deforestation levels sharply within the next two months. Environmental police officers have been deployed in the hundreds to help enforce forestry laws. IBAMA has also vowed to increase its presence in the region, including planning over 200 operations throughout the next year. The operations will target illegal deforestation, as well as any timber or cattle earned in the process.
The report comes before the Brazilian government takes up a key vote on its Forest Code. Formed in 1934 and amended in 1965, the Forest Code dictates that farmers may clear only 20% of the forest on their lands, conserving the remaining 80 percent, or the “legal reserve”.
Under the proposed reforms, large farm would be required to conserve only 50% of forest found on their lands, with this figure dropping significantly for farms under 400 hectares. The reforms were introduced by Brazil’s Communist Party and supported by a group in Brazil’s Congress that believes more land should be opened up for agricultural development.
Local ranchers agree, arguing that some compromise is necessary. Citing the lack of opportunities available for the rural poor, the forest is described as one of the few viable sources of revenue.
“Our survival has to come from the forest. There is no other way,” one local logger told the Guardian. “There are no universities here. There are no factories. If you don’t have a government job, you have to claw some kind of survival from the rivers and the forest.”
Some environmentalists have argued that it is the possibility of laxer regulations which has sparked pre-emptive deforestation by ranchers.
Speaking to Reuters, Greenpeace campaigner Marcio Astrini said, “You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays. The only relevant factor is the Forest Code.”
Voting on the proposed reforms has been delayed, but is expected to occur before the end of this month.
Over 60% of the Amazon Rainforest is found within Brazil. The Amazon forest is home to approximately one third of the Earth’s biodiversity, ranging from 40,000 different species of trees and plants and 3,000 different species of fish. It is also a significant carbon sink, absorbing approximately 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.
Photo credit: NASA LBA-ECO Project