City-Size Tract of Amazon Forest Cleared in April

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Prodes is only released once a year, and the next batch of information is due in December.

Although satellites could detect more destruction in April due to low cloud cover, the increase in deforestation was much bigger than the gain in visibility.

INPE has calculated that over the past 20 years, an area equivalent to a soccer field is deforested in the Brazilian Amazon every ten seconds.

A total of 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) has already been cut down, more than half of this since 1988, when the group began monitoring the forest.

In its pristine state, the Brazilian Amazon once stretched for 1.5 million square miles (4 million square kilometers).

Clearing for Soy

Three reasons exist for the current increase, experts say.

Brazil has been experiencing high commodity prices, a long dry spell, plus 2008 is an election year, when some local governments slow down on measures to stop deforestation. (Get the facts on why rain forests are disappearing.)

In April, 70 percent of the damage occurred in Mato Grosso state. The state's governor, Blairo Maggi, is one of the world's largest soybean producers.

(Related: "Ethanol Production Could Be Eco-Disaster, Brazil's Critics Say" [February 8, 2007].)

Maggi has told local media that soybean production could help to relieve the world food crisis.

But soy is just part of the problem, said Greenpeace Brazil director Marcelo Furtado.

"It is an integrated cycle. First they cut down the wood [to sell], then they graze cattle and then plant crops," Furtado said.

Political Debate

The data also comes amid some political turmoil in Brazil's environment leadership.

In May Environment Minister Marina Silva reportedly resigned her post in frustration. She had been having difficulties in furthering the government's environmental initiatives, news reports said.

New Environment Minister Carlos Minc said at a news briefing that there's no relief in sight for Brazil's forests.

"It is much worse than it seems. The critical months for logging [traditionally June, July, and August] haven't arrived yet," Minc said.

"We don't want to cry over the cut-down jungle," he said. "We will act—time is short."

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