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Brazil arrests ‘Amazon’s biggest destroyer’

Ezequiel Antonio Castanha in custody. Image courtesy of IBAMA

Authorities in Brazil have arrested a man they claim to be the single biggest deforester in the Amazon, according to a statement issued by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency.

Ezequiel Antônio Castanha was detained Saturday in Novo Progresso in the state of Par´ in a joint operation involving IBAMA, the Federal Public Ministry, the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Police. Castanha is accused of running a ring that invaded public forests which were cleared and then sold on to speculators. The forests were located along the BR-163 highway between Altamira and Novo Progresso.

IBAMA says that Castanha’s gang was responsible for chopping down 15,000 hectares of forests over the past decade, causing $15 million in environmental damage and racking up another $30 million in fines. Castanha faces up to 46 years in prison for land grabbing, counterfeiting, illegal deforestation and money laundering.

In a statement, IBAMA called Castanha “the biggest deforester in the Amazon” and said his arrested could “contribute significantly to controlling deforestation in the region.”

Forest loss along the BR-163

Global Forest Watch image showing forest loss in the corridor along BR-163 in Brazil. Courtesy of WRI.

9.4 million hectares of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between August 2005-July 2014. The state of Para lost 182,900 ha in the year ending July 2014. According to Global Forest Watch, a forest mapping platform run by World Resources Institute (WRI), the area along BR-163 between Altamira and Non Progresso lost roughly a million hectares of forest in the decade ending in December 2012. Virtually all of that loss was deforestation for large-scale agriculture and cattle production.

Brazil accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest. Just under 20 percent of the Brazilian Amazon has been cleared, mostly for cattle ranching.



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