Brazil Cuts a Rhode Island Worth of Amazon or Much More in 3 Months

Deforestation in Pará, Brazil Preliminary data reported this Wednesday, January 23, by the Brazilian Environment ministry and the Inpe (National Institute of Space Research)  show that deforestation in Brazil's Amazon region, between August and December 2007, amounted to 3,235 square kilometers (1,249 square miles), the equivalent to about 320,000 soccer fields and an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The Brazilian authorities don't talk in terms of percentage growth because there are no data from previous years to make the comparison. According to the Environment Minister, Marina Silva, however, the number represents a "worrisome" growing trend.

"The government doesn't wish to wait and see. We aren't going to just trust our luck, but we are going to work to fight this process," said the minister.

Most of the deforestation detected in the period mentioned above was concentrated in three states: Mato Grosso (53.7% of the deforested total), Pará (17.8%) and Rondônia (16%).

Among the causes for the increase, Silva mentioned the lengthy drought and a possible influence of soy and livestock production in the affected areas. She tried not to blame directly the economic activities for the deforestation, but when recalling that meat and soy have favorable international prices, she said: "I don't believe in coincidence."

The minister said that there will be a detailed inquiry in the deforested areas for a more precise diagnosis:  "We will zoom in to find out".

The tree cutting occurred more intensely during the months of November and December. In these two months, 1,922 square km (742 square miles) of forest were cut down.

According to Silva, the numbers will be discussed with Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, this Thursday, January 24, during a morning meeting in the president's office in Brazilian capital Brasí­lia. During the gathering, which should count on the participation of several other ministers, the government is supposed to discuss measures to strengthen inspection in places that are considered more critical.

According to the executive secretary of the Environment Ministry, João Paulo Capobianco, municipalities such as São Felix do Xingu and Cumaru do Norte, both in Pará state, and Colmiza, in Mato Grosso, traditionally show high deforestation rates.


The area deforested in the Amazon between August and December 2007 can be twice as big as the 3,235 square kilometers announced by the Environment ministry. The number discrepancy can be explained by the differences between two forest monitoring systems.

According to the Inpe's director, Gilberto Câmara, the preliminary data do not reflect the whole devastation occurred in the region. "This is just a part of what's happening. We don't have detailed satellite images for this period. The Inpe calls out the government so that it may take steps for proper prevention," said Câmara in an interview while sitting next to Environment Minister, Marina Silva.

The Inpe works with two Amazon monitoring systems: one that detects the deforestation in real time (this information is used for the preliminary data) and another with more precise satellite images, which reports annual results. As the average variation between the preliminary and the consolidated surveys reaches 40%, the executive secretary of the Environment Ministry (MMA), João Paulo Capobianco, believes that the real deforestation in the last five months can be as high as  7,000 square km (2,700 square miles).

According to Capobianco, the increase occurred in atypical months and can be an anticipation of something that had been forecasted for 2008, due to the dry weather, or it might mean that serious deforestation is back to the area. "We work with the worst hypothesis," he stated.

The secretary stressed that, between August 2006 and August 2007, the second smallest deforestation rate in the history of the Amazon was recorded. "We want to assure that this achievement can be maintained," he added.

Capobianco mentioned measures that will be implemented by the MMA to reduce the cutting of trees in the Amazon.  Among them, the creation of a black list of municipalities where new deforestation will be forbidden and the embargo of properties that cut trees illegally so that they cannot sell their products.

"The monitoring will be made by radar. If the producers disobey the embargoes, the buyers will answer solidarily," he explained.



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