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Deforestation rebounds in the Amazon

Clear-cutting ramped up again in the Amazon in August.

Courtesy of Sam Beebe, Ecotrust via Flickr under Creative Commons

Posted on behalf of Claudio Angelo.

Deforestation is on the rise again in the Brazilian Amazon. The amount of clear-cut land hit 522 square kilometres in August 2012, up from 163.3 square kilometres in the same month last year, a spike of 220%.

The data come from satellite measurements done by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), using the DETER system, which provides near-real-time data with a coarse resolution. The August figures will have no impact on the 2012 yearly total, which will be released in December and is still headed for a record low (see ‘Deforestation drops in the Brazilian Amazon again‘). Deforestation is measured yearly from August to July, so the 2011–12 data series is closed. But the numbers make a somber start to the 2013 series. This is the first major reversal in the downward trend in deforestation since April 2011. Back then, the spike prompted a government crackdown on environmental crime that set a course for the record low of 6,418 square kilometres that year.

Unlike previous DETER monthly data releases, usually followed by a press conference by Brazilian Environment minister Izabella Teixeira, this one saw no fanfare. The data only gained some publicity on Wednesday, after Brazilian environmental news site O Eco dug up the data on INPE’s webpage.

Chainsaws are roaring the loudest in the state of Pará, along the BR-163 (Cuiabá-Santarém) interstate highway, which cuts across the heart of the forest. The area was a hotspot of deforestation before 2005, when a string of protected areas were created to keep it in check. Some of those, however, became ‘paper parks’, never fully implemented. As gold and food prices rise and the economy recovers its pace, miners, land squatters and cattle ranchers are finding incentives to go back to business as usual. “We’re seeing it all around the Amazon”, says INPE’s former director Gilberto Câmara.

The government itself is adding to the pressure. Six of the protected areas in the so-called BR-163 mosaic were pruned this year by President Dilma Rousseff to make room for new hydropower plants, a move that stirred anger among environmentalists. And Congress is about to sanction a watered-down forest code that benefits owners of medium and large farms by partially exempting them from replanting illegally deforested areas. Environmentalists fear the new law will give farmers the assurance of impunity and stimulate further clear-cutting.


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