Although the past 10 years have seen a reduction in deforestation, recent figures worry conservationists.
WARNING SIGNS FROM THE AMAZON
GLOBAL CONSUMPTION IS DRIVING AN ALARMING INCREASE IN DEFORESTATION THAT COULD SEE THE EXTINCTION OF MANY AMAZONIAN SPECIES, REPORTS RICHARD SCHIFFMAN.
Fly into the Amazonian metropolis of Manaus and you may not see a single paved road for the last hour of your flight.
But the world’s biggest rainforest is far from untouched. The southern and eastern flanks of Amazonia are a patchwork of soy plantations and cattle pasture punctuated by islands of standing forest. Nearly 20 per cent of Brazil’s Amazon has been felled, and another 20 per cent degraded, in the past 50 years.
In the past decade the rate of forest loss in Brazil actually fell by more than three-quarters, while deforestation worldwide rose 62 per cent in the tropics during the 1990s and the 2000s.
But deforestation in Brazil is now rising again – dramatically. Using satellite photography, the Amazon research group Imazon
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estimated that 1,660km2 of rainforest was cleared between August 2014 and January 2015. That’s more than double the loss during the same period a year earlier. Scientists say if we don’t stop cutting the world’s rainforests, 5–10 per cent of tropical species could be lost, a rate of extinction higher than in any other major ecosystem.
“The main cause of deforestation is the expansion of pastures, which account for 60 per cent of all deforested areas,” said Francisco de Oliveira Filho of Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment. Some of the pasture area is not actually used for cattle ranching, he explained, but cleared in a “land grab” for later resale using false papers.
Logging is another problem. More than half of Amazonia is made up of reserves where clearing is forbidden. Yet Brazil’s protected areas are routinely raided by criminal timber gangs, often under cloud cover or at night to avoid detection by satellite-monitoring systems. Between 60 and 80 per cent of all the timber cut in the Amazon is illegal, according to a recent Greenpeace report.
The government is cracking down, said Oliveira Filho, citing the recent arrest of the ‘King of Deforestation’ Ezequiel Antônio
`THE EXPANSION OF PASTURES ACCOUNTS FOR 60 PER CENT OF DEFORESTATION”
Castanha, who was reputedly responsible for a fifth of the illegal forest destruction in the Amazon.
But others will quickly take up the slack, predicted Christian Poirier of the NGO Amazon Watch. “These highly publicised cases are encouraging,” he said. “Deforestation numbers should drop when we take out a kingpin like this, but they don’t. They continue unabated.”
One reason is the rising price of beef. Growing global demand has stimulated clearing for ranches and for growing soybeans, sold largely as a cattle feed, said Phillip Fearnside, a scientist at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research. Changes in the exchange rate make exports more profitable too.
But Fearnside also blamed a recent government amnesty for deforestation. “The expectation