Reserves with roads still vital for reducing fires in Brazilian Amazon

Jeremy Hance
April 08, 2009

Analyzing ten years of data from on fires in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers found that roads built through reserves do not largely hamper a reserve's important role in reducing the spread of forest fires. The finding is important as Brazil continues a spree of road-building while at the same time paving over existing roads.

"Our findings show that reserves are making a difference even when they are crossed by roads," said lead author, Marion Adeney, a PhD candidate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. "We already knew, from previous studies, that there were generally fewer fires inside reserves than outside – what we didn't know was whether this holds true when you put a road across the reserve."

According to Adeney, almost 90 percent of fires in the Amazon occur within 10 kilometers of a road, explaining why the link between roads and fires is so important.

One of the most important aspects of the study published in PLoS ONE was to look at indigenous reserves, which are more likely to have roads and settlements, since these cover five time the area of fully protected parks in Brazil. However, the study found that there was essentially no difference between fire occurrences in protected parks, indigenous reserves, and even sustainable-use reserves, where the government practices sustainable-management of natural resources.

"Although there are overall many fewer fires inside than outside reserves, we found that reserves in highly impacted areas still experienced more fires than reserves in remote areas. Large and remote reserves, not surprisingly, had the fewest roads and the fewest fires," Adeney says.

Fire in the Amazon is chiefly used to clear forest for agriculture or ranch land, however it often gets out of control and spreads to adjacent forest. Natural fires occur rarely in tropical forests, so trees have developed little resistance, making them particularly susceptible to burning.

According to Dr. Stuart Pimm, co-author and Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke's Nicholas School, the study's findings "reinforces the importance of reserves for protecting forest cover in the Amazon. Our results show that even inhabited reserves can be an effective tool to reduce fires, even when they have roads built through them."

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Jeremy Hance (April 08, 2009).

Reserves with roads still vital for reducing fires in Brazilian Amazon.