By Ben Tavener, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The amount of deforestation in the protected zones of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest increased by over 127 percent between 2000 and 2010, despite the creation of protected areas and the official demarcation of areas inhabited by indigenous peoples in the region. The statistics were released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which monitors Brazil’s sixty percent of the Amazonian rainforest for changes by satellite.
Brazil currently has 310 protection “conversation units” covering some 750,000km², and of 132 units surveyed, deforestation was up from just over 5,000 to over 11,400km² – an increase of 127 percent, or an area the size of Qatar.
Despite their “untouchable” status, even protected areas have seen devastating losses from illegal logging: the Bom Futuro (Good Future) National Park in Rondônia state is reported to have lost 27 percent of its total forest area.
Pará state has borne the brunt of much of the illegal logging, with Amazon Environment Institute Imazon reporting up to 65 percent of logging carried out there as illegal.
Conservationists are pointing fingers at officials, who have provided plenty of legislation and established a large number of protected areas but are not putting in enough action on the ground.
Even the Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio), which was created in 2007 to implement the protected areas for the Ministry of Environment, admits this. However, they say that time is needed for any such protection to start working.
“There is a lag time between signing a conservation area into law and the difficult and time-consuming job of controlling such areas, which were designed for preserving biodiversity,” ICMBio president Rômulo Mello was reported by Globo as saying.
Some apparent good news: the amount of deforestation in the Amazon in the past months of this year is reported to have dropped, with INPE data showing that the rate of deforestation was cut by nearly 22 percent between July and August this year, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Environment.
Officials say this is the lowest level of deforestation since 2004 and that the drop is a result of greater enforcement of legislation, with illegal sawmills shut down and illegal timber and vehicles seized since the beginning of this year.
Much improved satellite technology, which allows for near real-time monitoring of forest regions, and the expansion of sustainable activities in the area, are also major contributing factors, officials say.
But conservation groups are warning that loggers are able to circumvent the technology by gradually thinning out forests, rather than felling large swathes of forest, which would be more easily detectable.
Along with loggers and cattle ranchers, conservationists at Amazon Watch say they have been monitoring the R$19 billion Belo Monte dam project on the Amazon’s Xingu river, Pará, which they say poses a major threat in terms of deforestation.
“Belo Monte is a symbol of a tragic wave of destruction to the Amazon’s forests and rivers…The resulting influx of over 100,000 migrants to the region could lead to up to 5,000km² of deforestation,” Christian Poirier, Brazil Program Coordinator at Amazon Watch, said in an interview with The Rio Times.
Overall, the Amazon rainforest covers 5.5 million km²; of that, some 1.73 million km² is under some form of protection.