Last year, I wrote an article about an effort by university researchers and Google to create satellite imagery based map of global deforestation. The post hit all the familiar notes regarding the alarming rate of forest lost annually, but also hinted at the glimmer of hope of slower rates of deforestation and actual gains in Brazil. Well as it turns out, that glimmer was blinking out at about the time that article was posted.
Major deforestation in Brazil began in the 1960s, as forests were cleared by slash and burn methods to make way for agricultural use. Around 200,000 square miles of forest was lost between 1979 and 2005, with an average of 7,500 square miles lost annually between 1996 and 2005. Deforestation rates began to turn around in 2005, thanks in part to legal protections for the forest as well as government and environmentalist pressure on the agriculture industry and crackdowns on illegal logging. This trend against deforestation continued on to 2012, resulting in a 70% decline in forest land lost over that period of time. However, 2013 saw an increase in deforestation. A trend that has unfortunately continued into 2014.
The Brazilian non-profit group Imazon estimated a loss of 322 square miles in August-September of 2014, an increase of 190% over that period of time in previous years. The group’s findings point to an increase in deforestation nationwide, the causes of which are debatable. There has been increase in forest lost in rural areas due to subsistence farmers, small farmers whose activities are not covered in existing legislation that is mostly aimed at corporate farms and ranches.
There has also been a rise in illegal logging in recent years, however a good deal of blame has been put on the Brazilian government and recently re-elected president Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff took office in 2011, and has been the target of blame from environmentalists who point to her administration’s 2012 amendments to the “forest code” – regulations that stipulate the amount of forest land the agriculture and timber industries must leave intact on their lands.
Adding to that, Brazil recently refused to sign a global pledge (signed by thirty states including The European Union, Canada and The United States) to end deforestation. The reason being, according to Brazilian Environmental Minister Izabella Teixeira, that they were not consulted.
No matter the cause, deforestation is still running rampant in Brazil, despite the country’s goal of slowing it to 1500 square miles annually by 2020. Opinions on the possibility of curtailing further losses vary, and only time will tell if conservation efforts will bear fruit.
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