Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Amazon Deforestation Spikes 190 Percent After Long Reported Decline

Cleared smaller section of forest below the range of 25 hectares that government satellites can detect (Credit: AP Photo/Andre Penner) Click to enlarge.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is up 190 percent for the months of August and September compared to the same period last year according to the non-profit Imazon, which monitors deforestation via satellite imagery.  This marks a steep reversal in what was an otherwise declining trend in deforestation rates observed over the past decade. Official land clearance figures for the past two months, otherwise released on a monthly basis by the Brazilian federal government, will only come out after the decisive round of Brazil’s heated presidential elections take place next Sunday.

The reason for the delay was made clear over the weekend, when Imazon released a report showing an alarming growth in the deforestation rate.  The figures dispute the incumbent Dilma Roussef’s claim that conservation is a priority of her government.  In total, 838 square kilometers of rainforest were cleared over the past two months, an area almost ten times the size of Manhattan.  Much of the timber obtained from illegal land-clearance is disguised as legal and sold in the U.S., Europe, China, and Russia.

Roussef’s party, the PT (Workers Party), has been in power for 12 years, and was credited for an unprecedented decline in Amazon deforestation — a decrease of 80 percent between 2004 and 2013.  More importantly the government was able to curb deforestation while observing very high economic growth.  Now the situation has reversed, with the Brazilian economy lagging and deforestation rates back up.

More effective monitoring by the government and a stricter crackdown on illegal logging and farming were the main reasons for the progress of the past decade.  Now it appears farmers and loggers have found ways to subvert monitoring by clearing smaller sections of forest below the range of 25 hectares that government satellites can detect.  A new more precise monitoring system will be put in place by the end of the year, and is expected to show even greater rates of land clearance.

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