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Satellite data reveals fires in region plagued by illegal logging in Madagascar

New satellite data reveals active burning in Sava, a region in Madagascar that has been ravaged by illegal logging for rosewood and other valuable rainforest timber.

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According to data provided by the Fire Alert System, a joint monitoring program run by NASA, Conservation International and the University of Maryland, more than 1,100 fires have burned in Andapa, Antalaha, Sambava, and Vohimarina—districts where the bulk of Madagascar’s illegal logging is taking place—since October 1. Roughly a quarter of these fires have burned in, or on the margins, of forest areas. A handful of fires have occurred in protected areas, including Masoala National Park, a World Heritage Site that has been besieged by illegal logging since last year. A biological survey in October turned up evidence of as many as 10,000 people living in the park.

The remote sensing data seems to support on-the-ground reports of a large number of fires in the region. Dry conditions are likely a contributing factor—the rainy season is late this year, so annual fires set for land-clearing are burning longer than usual. Politic conditions may also be a factor: since last year’s military coup, governance in Madagascar has been substantially weakened. As a result, there is less control over illegal fire-setting and logging.

Nevertheless, while the aggregate number of fires for October through December 2010 are higher than normal, they are down from the year earlier period, when more than 1,300 were recorded. The number of fires burning in forest areas is similar over the past two years, but markedly higher than 2008 and 2007, the first year the Fire Alert System was operational.

Neighboring regions are also seeing heavy burning. Analanjirofo, the region which contains parts of Makira and Masoala protected areas, had 553 forest fires in October and November, up from 421 a year earlier. Diana, which houses Analamerana and Andavakoera-Andrafiamenta-Ambohipiraka protected areas, and Sofia, which borders Makira, had more than 500 forest fires during the two months.

Final data for December 2010 will be available next month, making annual comparisons more complete.

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