August 26, 2005

Brazil says Amazon deforestation slows down

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil said on Friday the
deforestation of the Amazon rainforest was slowing, but
environmental groups suggested much of the reduction was due to
a slump in farming instead of government action.

Using data obtained by satellite, the government estimated
that 3,515 square miles were razed in the world's largest
tropical forest between August 2004 and July 2005, down sharply
from 7,229 square miles in the same period a year earlier.

Officials attributed the drop to a government action plan
launched last year aimed at curbing illegal logging in the
Amazon, home to an estimated 30 percent of the world's animal
and plant species.

"We have absolute certainty that the good indicators will
continue to depend on the implementation of the action plan,"
said Dilma Roussef, a senior Cabinet member coordinating the
government's environmental task force.

The announcement came less than three months after the
government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who came to
power in 2003 with the backing of environmentalists, released
official data showing that the Amazon rainforest was destroyed
at a near-record pace in 2003-2004.

In that period, 10,088 square miles -- an area larger than
the U.S. state of New Jersey -- were destroyed, compared with
9,496 square miles a year earlier. The worst year on record was
1994-1995, when 11,216 square miles were cleared.

Although environmental groups praised the government's
efforts to save the rain forest, some warned the pace of
deforestation could easily rise again if commodity prices
recover, giving farmers an incentive to clear more land.

"With the drop in profitability faced by the (agricultural)
sector, the reduction in deforestation is, unfortunately, less
the result of government action than the current economic
situation," the Brazilian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund
said in a statement.