Controversial changes to Brazilian forest law passes first barrier

Jeremy Hance
July 08, 2010

An amendment to undermine protections in Brazil's 1965 forestry code has passed it first legislative barrier, reports the World Wide Fund for Nature-Brasil (WWF). Yesterday the amendment passed a special vote in the Congress's Special Committee on Forest Law Changes.

Pushed by a bloc of Brazilian legislatures known as the 'ruralistas', due to their ties to big agriculture, the amendment would scale down the forestry code's protection of Brazil's great forest ecosystems, including the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest. The amendment would change the forestry code's requirement that Amazonian landowners must retain 80 percent of their land as legal forest reserves. According to the ruralistas, the law hurts agricultural development, even though it is largely flouted. The amendment would also provide amnesty to any farmers or ranchers who have practiced illegal deforestation, incorporating over 40 million hectares of illegally deforested land.

Brazil's forestry code, one of the most progressive in the world, also extends protection to certain landscapes: riverbank, steep slopes, and hill tops, known as Areas of Permanent Preservation (APPs). However, the amendment would move APPs from protection under the federal governments to individual states, allowing states to cut their APPs by up to half.

Environmentalists contend that the amendment could open the door to a new era of massive forest loss in the Amazon and Atlantic Forest, undermining Brazil's many initiatives that have successfully slowed deforestation as well as its greenhouse gas emission pledges. They further argue that Brazil has the capacity to increase agricultural output without cutting down additional forests, if farmers simply use existing technologies and knowledge to raise yields.

The amendment will be voted on by the Brazilian Congress nest. If it passes, the President will have a chance to veto, but WWF-Brasil believes such a veto is unlikely during the run-up to October elections.

For more information on the amendment: Amazon and Atlantic Forest under threat: politicians press to dilute Brazil's forestry law.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (July 08, 2010).

Controversial changes to Brazilian forest law passes first barrier.