May 19, 2011

Increase In Deforestation In Brazil

An increase in deforestation in March and April in the Amazon has led Brazil to announce the creation of an emergency task force.

According to official statistics, 368 square miles of the Amazon has been deforested, which is six times the amount during the same period last year.

Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, who announced the increase, said the task force will be comprised of government experts and representatives of states badly impacted by recent deforestation.

"Our goal is to stifle deforestation," Teixeira said during a press conference. "And we are going to do it by July."

According to official statistics, Mato Grosso saw 298 square miles of forest destroyed in two months.

Teixeira said those responsible for illegal deforesting will have their cattle seized. 

She said officials in Mato Grosso are investigating how much land was destroyed in their state.

Brazil has about 3.3 million square miles of jungle and forests of which only about 1 million are under state protection.

Deforestation peaked in 2004 at about 16,777 square miles a year, and in 2010 it dropped to 4,038 square miles.

Mato Grosso produces more than a quarter of Brazil's soybean harvest.  Some environmentalists say that rising demand for soy and cattle is prompting farmers to clear more of their land.

However, others see a direct link between the jump in deforestation and months of debate over easing an existing law on forest protection.

"You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays," Marcio Astrini from Greenpeace told Reuters.

"The only relevant factor is the Forest Code. It is a gigantic rise."

The Forest Code, enacted in 1934 and amended in 1965, sets out how much of a farmer's land he can deforest.

Regulations currently require that 80 percent of a landholding in the Amazon remain forest, 20 percent in other areas.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said during her campaign that she would make no concessions that would result in further deforestation or threaten Brazil's international environmental commitments.

Image Courtesy Mateus Hidalgo/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)