October 26, 2005

Brazil busts logging permit forgers

By Andrew Hay

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilian police on Wednesday
arrested a gang that was forging thousands of logging permits
in the Amazon, in the latest government effort to slow
destruction of the world's largest rain forest.

Over 400 federal police agents staged dawn raids across
four Amazon states and arrested 35 people who produced and sold
illegal permits to transport millions of dollars worth of
hardwood timber.

Brazil's government says its crackdown on illegal logging
and tighter law enforcement have this year slowed deforestation
of Brazil's Amazon by half after it reached its second-highest
level ever the year before.

"We've cut the backbones of these gangs," Environment
Minister Marina Silva, flanked by federal police chiefs, told a
press conference.

Environmental groups say much of the reduction in Amazon
deforestation is due to a slump in farming rather than
government action. They fear Brazil's agriculture frontier will
speed its advance on the rain forest once commodity prices

Wednesday's large-scale police operation was the fifth
launched against illegal Amazon logging since President Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva entered office in 2003 with strong backing
from environmentalists.

As a result of the crackdown, the center-left government
estimates up to 60 percent of Amazon timber is now produced
legally compared with around 20 percent in 2000. It expects to
quadruple the amount of illegal lumber confiscated this year
compared with 2002, the final year of the former government.

Lula's support for Amazon road and energy projects has
worried some environmentalists that his government may
ultimately increase access to the jungle and speed its

His environment minister advocates controlled use of the
rain forest rather than banning logging outright. Silva is also
pushing for a new law to better control public lands, which
make up 75 percent of the Amazon area.

A recent study by the Carnegie Institution of Washington
suggests damage to the rain forest may be twice as large as
previously thought due to undetected selective logging, where
individual trees are picked out of the forest.

The government contests research suggesting selective
logging drastically increases rain-forest damage and says it is
preferable to clear cutting where all trees are felled.

"Selective cutting when it's done in a legal, organized
fashion is desirable," said Joao Paulo Capobianco, secretary
for biodiversity and forests at the environment ministry.