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Brazil’s new environmental minister blames ranchers for surge in Amazon deforestation

Brazil’s new environmental minister blames ranchers for April surge in Amazon deforestation

Brazil’s new environmental minister blames ranchers for surge in Amazon deforestation
June 3, 2008

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose significantly in April 2008 according to Carlos Minc, Brazil’s newly appointed environment minister.

Minc, a founder of Brazil’s Green Party, attributed accelerating forest loss to clearing by ranchers and farmers who are taking advantage of high prices for grains and beef. The Amazon is an increasingly important source of agricultural production in Brazil.

Brazilian satellite data released Monday showed 1,123 square kilometers of forest were lost in April, almost eight times more the 145 square miles cleared in March. But officials cautioned that the jump may be overestimated due to limited visibility from cloud cover in March.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by more than 60 percent between 2004 and 2007, but increased in the second half of 2007. Nearly 400,000 square kilometers of forest have been cleared in the past 20 years.

Still the surge in deforestation is not good news for the new minister who is trying to quell criticism from environmentalists following the resignation of Marina da Silva, the former environmental minister. Silva, a former rubber tapper and famed environmentalist, resigned after losing a series environmental battles to development interests including powerful farmers and ranchers.

Minc said that forest loss will likely worsen in the upcoming June through September dry season when the bulk of deforestation in the Amazon takes place. Landowners typically burn large tracts of land to establish cattle pasture and clearing for soy farms.

“It will be very difficult for deforestation this year to stay below last year’s,” Minc told reporters in Brasilia. “The worst months are still to come.”

Minc said the government plans to create a “green barrier” of protected areas to deter deforestation expanding from the south and will seize and sell cattle, grains and timber produced and harvested illegally in the region, according to Bloomberg. Proceeds from the sales of illicit products will be used to finance anti-poverty initiatives.

The rise in deforestation was not unexpected: unusually large amounts of burning have been detected by satellites in recent months and commodity prices — increasingly correlated with forest clearing in the Amazon — have remained near record levels.

The increase in deforestation in the second half of 2007 and first quarter of 2008, follows a three-year decline in forest clearing.

Brazil houses more than 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest. Over the past 30 years nearly one-fifth of the forest area have been cleared, largely for agriculture and cattle pasture. Scientists estimate the forest may be home to one quarter of the world’s land-based plant and animal species as well as the largest population of indigenous people still living in traditional ways.

Additional details on the April deforestation figures

Data released by INPE, Brazil’s space agency, showed that 70 percent of deforestation during April 2008 occurred in Mato Grosso, an important soy- and beef-producing state in the so-called “Arc of Deforestation” where most forest clearing is occurring in the Amazon. The state of Roraima had the second largest area of forest loss during the month.

The new figures comes from the DETER (for Real-time Detection of Deforestation) system for monitoring deforestation. DETER detects an area of deforestation of greater than 25 hectares. Brazil’s other satellite system is known as PRODES (for Program to Calculate Deforestation in the Amazon). It can detect areas of deforestation of more than 6.5 hectares.

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