Brazil to Crack Down on Amazon Clearing

Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil
Associated Press
January 25, 2008
Brazil will combat rising deforestation in the Amazon by sending extra federal police and environmental agents to areas where illegal clearing of the rain forest jumped dramatically last year, officials said Thursday.

Authorities will monitor the areas in an attempt to prevent anyone from trying to plant crops or raise cattle there, Environment Minister Marina Silva said.

The new measures were announced after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers because new data showed an apparent reversal of a three-year slowdown in the Amazon deforestation rate.

Rain forest clearing jumped in the final months of 2007, spurred by high prices for corn, soy, and cattle.

(Get the facts on rainforests.)

Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes said Latin America's largest nation has plenty of available land for farming and cattle that has already been deforested.

Environmentalists fear sugarcane—used here to produce ethanol—could spread through the rain forest, but most ethanol operations are in southern Brazil, far from the Amazon.

"It's not necessary to cut a single tree to produce soy or raise cattle," Stephanes said. "There's plenty of land outside of the Amazon to increase the production of soy and beef."

New Push

The government says its new push to stop deforestation is different than previous efforts because farmers will now be targeted as well as loggers.

The government will target 36 areas that registered the highest rates of deforestation, environmental officials said. Officials will try to fine businesses or people who buy anything produced on illegally deforested land, the environment minister said.

The plan means a 25 percent increase in the police force assigned to the region, though Justice Minister Tarso Genro did not say how many officers will take part.

Farmers working deforested land in the targeted area will also be forced to reregister holdings with government officials to prove their holdings were not illegally cleared, and there will be no new permits for logging.

On Wednesday, the environment ministry announced that up to 2,700 square miles (6,993 square kilometers) of rain forest was cleared from August through December.

That puts Brazil on course to lose 5,791 square miles (14,999 square kilometers) for the year ending in August—a 34 percent increase from the previous 12-month period.

Although preliminary calculations can only prove that 1,287 square miles (3,333 square kilometers) of rain forest were cleared from August through December, ministry executive secretary Joao Paulo Capobianco said officials are working under the assumption that the higher amount of jungle was cleared as they continue analyzing satellite data.

Well-Timed Crackdown

Environmentalists say an immediate crackdown could be well timed.

Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign, said it's important for the government to act now because slash-and-burn deforestation typically ramps up this time of year, the start of the rainy season.

Jungle is typically cleared in the Amazon to provide pasture for cattle, and soy farmers move in later and cultivate their crops.

Brazil also has a booming beef export industry, and cattle ranchers have been expanding operations in the Amazon.

Associated Press Writer Alan Clendenning contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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