Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon continues to rise; clearing highest near Belo Monte dam site

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
June 17, 2011



Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from August 2009-May 2011
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from August 2009-May 2011.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continued to rise as Brazil's Congress weighed a bill that would weaken the country's Forest Code, according to new analysis by Imazon.

Imazon's near-real time deforestation tracking system found that 165 square kilometers (103 square miles) of forest was cleared last month, a 72 percent rise over May 2010. Accumulated deforestation in the period from August 2010 to May 2011 amounted to 1,435 sq km (1090 sq km), an increase of 24 percent over the same time-frame a year earlier. Deforestation in Brazil is typically measured on a calendar year ending in July, when cloud cover in the region is at a low point. Deforestation usually peaks in the Brazil Amazon during the dry season which runs from July through October.

While the increase is significant, deforestation in the region is still well below what it was five years ago. Deforestation has steadily declined since 2004 due to a several factors including macroeconomic trends, improved law enforcement, new protected areas, pressure from NGOs, and private-sector initiatives. But environmentalists and scientists fear that proposed changes to Brazil's Forest Code, which requires landholders in the Amazon to maintain 80 percent forest cover on their lands, could trigger a reversal in deforestation rates. Scientists expect the impact of forest loss and degradation to be amplified by climate change, which is thought to have contributed to the two worst droughts on record, both of which occurred since 2005.

Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon from August 2009-May 2011
Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon from August 2009-May 2011.

The analysis by Imazon suggests that the Forest Code debate may be a factor in rising deforestation. It found a 363 percent increase in forest degradation — logging and burning of forest that typically precedes deforestation — over the past 10 months, reaching 6,081 sq km. Most of the degradation occurred in major agricultural states: Mato Grosso (42 percent of degradation in May), Para (27 percent), and Rondônia (22 percent). The majority of deforestation also took place in these states: 39 percent in Pará, 25 percent in Mato Grosso, and 21 percent in Rondônia.

More tellingly, two-thirds of clearing occurred on private lands, which are most likely to benefit from changes in the Forest Code. Private landowners — particularly agroindustrial interests — have been pushing Forest Code reform, while small landowners and indigenous groups have generally opposed changes. Accordingly, deforestation over the past 10 months in indigenous territories and areas of agrarian reform (usually small-holder zones) amounted to only 12 percent and 1 percent, respectively. 22 percent of deforestation in May 20111 occurred in conservation areas.

Deforestation in May was highest in the municipality of Altamira, Para, where the controversial Belo Monte dam is to be constructed. Critics say the project will drive deforestation in surrounding areas as well as inundating large areas of forest and displacing thousands of indigenous people. Altamira accounted for 13 percent of total deforestation. It was followed by Porto Velho, Rondonia (8 percent), which serves as a key hub for the newly paved Trans-Oceanic Highway that links the heart of the Amazon to Peruvian ports. The highway will facilitate shipping of agricultural and timber products from the Amazon to China.

Deforestation in May 2011
Deforestation in May 2011.

Imazon also estimated emissions from deforestation. It figures clearing in May committed 10.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, an amount roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of Mongolia or the state of Rhode Island.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is typically driven by industrial agriculture and land speculation. More than 70 percent of deforested land ends up as cattle pasture. High commodity prices typically create incentives for deforestation.

The Amazon rainforest is the world's largest tropical rainforest. More than 60 percent of it lies within the borders of Brazil.

deforestation in brazil's amazon rainforest since 1988
Until March 2011, the trend in the Brazilian Amazon had been very positive, with annual deforestation falling nearly 80 percent since 2004.















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CITATION:
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (June 17, 2011).

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon continues to rise; clearing highest near Belo Monte dam site.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0617-imazon_2011.html