for National Geographic News
The pace of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 25 percent in a recent 12-month period, according to recently released government figures.
Even so, some conservation groups claim the decrease is due to lower demand for crops that grow on cleared forest land, and not successful environmental policies.
Between July 2005 and July 2006, the amount of cleared forest fell to about 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers), as compared to 11,681 miles (18,800 kilometers) cut in the same period between 2004 and 2005, according to government figures. (Related: "World's Forests Rebounding, Study Suggests" [November 13, 2006].)
In his weekly radio address Monday, President Luiz Inácio da Silva said he expected further declines for the 2006 to 2007 period—drops that he said will not crimp economic growth, the Associated Press reported.
Preliminary figures for the July 2006 to July 2007 period suggest the amount of forest cut down has dropped to 3,700 square miles (9,600 square kilometers). The Brazilian economy grew by 3.7 percent last year.
"I am plainly convinced that it is possible to grow while preserving the environment," da Silva said in the address.
"The challenge we face now is how to use the forest and environmental preservation to improve the lives of people."
Brazil's environment minister Marina Silva joined the radio address. She attributed the falling rates to a government crackdown on illegal logging.
Denise Hamú is chief executive officer of the conservation organization WWF-Brazil in Brasília.
She told National Geographic News the dropping deforestation rates are important but result from market forces, not enforcement of environmental policies.
"Soy and several other commodities from the Amazon region are very low in the market, so [farmers] are not clearing more space for planting," she said.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES