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Amazon deforestation drops 70% for Nov 2008-Jan 2009 period

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to 291 square miles (754 square kilometers) in the November 2008-January 2009 window, a drop of 70 percent compared to the year earlier period when 976 sq mi (2,527 sq km), said Environment Minister Carlos Minc.

A decrease in forest clearing had been expected. Economic turmoil, which has reduced the availability of credit, and collapsing commodity prices — especially beef and soy — have undermined the main drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Minc also credited government efforts, including increased vigilance and new loan policies, for the decline.

The data is based on Brazil’s Real-time Detection of Deforestation (DETER) system for tracking deforestation. DETER is an alert system that updates IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, with deforestation information, theoretically allowing authorities to attack illegal deforestation as it occurs. However the system requires on-the-ground follow up, something which is difficult due to poor land titling and political conflict between federal and regional authorities. From a technical standpoint, DETER is also thwarted by cloud cover — the latest deforestation data is only 60 percent complete. Brazil is developing an advanced satellite, the Amazon-1, that will use cloud-penetrating technology to allow more detailed monitoring of the Amazon.

Nearly 20 percent of the Brazilian Amazon — which makes up roughly 60 percent of the world’s largest rainforest — has been destroyed since the early 1970s, but deforestation has slowed significantly since 2004. Last year the Brazilian government announced an ambitious plan to cut deforestation rates to 5,600 square kilometers (2150 sq mi) per year by 2014 in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Deforestation presently accounts for two-thirds of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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