For the third month in a row, Brazil’s early-warning system for monitoring deforestation in the Amazon has found higher-than-usual levels of cleared forest area (see the original report, in Portuguese). The LANDSAT satellite data, from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research’s DETER program, shows a total clearing of 267.9 square kilometers in May, a 144% increase on the 109.6 square kilometers cleared in May last year.
For March and April 2011, about 593.0 square kilometers of forest area were cleared, according to DETER. This is five times the corresponding clearing in 2010.
Deforestation in the Amazon has been declining since 2004, but recent months have suggested a reversal, although month-to-moth figures tend to vary. The deforestation rates between August 2010 and July 2011 – the year covered by the programme – are yet to be released.
The rise in deforestation in recent months may be due to proposed changes in Brazil’s Forest Law under consideration by the Congress. The amendments reduce the amount of privately-owned land that must be maintained as forest by small landholders from 80% to 50%. It requires landholders to register how much of their land is forested, as well as providing amnesty from fines for forest cleared before 2008.
The bill is widely expected to pass, and landowners may be increasing their clearing in order to seek some sort of amnesty for older cuts once the law comes into effect.
The environmental blog Ecopolity opines the deforestation could also be due to rising commodity prices, with the 81% of the deforestation between March and April this year in the Mato Grosso, where most of Brazil’s soybean and beef producers are based. Soybean prices rose from US$ 5.50/bushel in 2006 to US$ 13.60/bushel, reports Ecopolity. And the market has shifted from eco-minded American and European consumers to Asian and Eastern European buyers who ask few questions.
Image couresty of CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture via Flickr under Creative Commons.