for National Geographic News
While deforestation in the Amazon continues at a rapid pace, a recent study sounds a hopeful note.
Reserve areas established for Indian peoples in Brazil (map) are as effective as uninhabited nature parks in preventing burning and clear-cutting, the study finds.
An international team of researchers tested a longstanding assumption: that land in uninhabited parks is better protected than that in reserves with human populations.
The scientists used satellite data taken from 1997 to 2000 to compare rates of fire and deforestation inside and outside the boundaries of different reserve types. Only protected areas larger than 25,000 acres (10,100 hectares) were included in the analysis.
In the February issue of the journal Conservation Biology, the researchers report that reserves of all types are providing significant Amazon forest protection, but tribal lands may be especially important to preventing region-wide deforestation.
"Many indigenous groups are very well organized, and they are also willing to use force to defend their lands," said Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, who led the study.
In the Line of Fire
The study confirms new thinking about conservation priorities in the Amazon. In the past, efforts have focused largely on protecting isolated areas with little human presence.
Nepstad and others argue that while establishing parks in inaccessible regions is important, that alone doesn't slow deforestation where it most commonly occurs: along the forest's retreating edge.
In fact, it is the proximity of many indigenous lands to Brazil's advancing agricultural frontier that makes them so important, conservationists say.
The front line of deforestation in the Amazon has been moving into the forest from the south and east, leaving soybean fields and pastureland in its wake.
But in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso, that march of destruction has been halted by a vast complex of indigenous lands occupied by the Kayapo and Xingu peoples.
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