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By Mira Olson, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian government announced on August 9th that levels of deforestation of the Amazon rain forest have fallen by as much as half in the last year, compared to the 2008/2009 monitoring period.

Deforestation of the Amazon rain forest has slowed but is far from ceasing, photo by Nanoworld/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Based on data generated by the real time deforestation detection system DETER, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that between August 2009 and June 2010, deforestation in the Amazônia Legal region fell by 49 percent to 1,810.81 square kilometers, down from 3,538.51 square kilometers during the previous year.

In the month of June, satellite images indicated that 95 square miles of rainforest were destroyed, down by 58 percent relative to June 2009.

The announcement follows on the heels of a recent report by the Institute of Man and the Environment of Amazônia (IMAZON), which stated that over the last year the state of Pará, the largest wood exporter in the country, experienced a 75 percent reduction in the illegal extraction of wood.

With presidential elections scheduled for October, the current government was quick to attribute these improvements to better enforcement of environmental laws under the Lula Administration.

Environmental Minister Izabella Teixeira told the press that the decline in rain forest destruction was brought on by a change in the strategy against deforestation, giving greater attention to the smaller properties where it is now taking place.

In the past, deforestation reduction initiatives only targeted areas larger than 1,000 hectares. As a result, over the last ten years deforestation in these areas has declined significantly.

Teixiera told O Globo that deforestation is now taking place on smaller areas of land, mostly private properties and properties under dispute. According to INPE data, between 2002 and 2009 the proportion of deforestation concentrated on properties smaller than 25 hectares rose from 21 percent to 66 percent.

Environmental Minister Izabella Teixeira discusses reduction in deforestation, photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr.

Sérgio Rezende, the Brazilian Minister of Science and Technology, maintains that the decline is the result of technological advancement in the monitoring of deforestation in the Amazon region. In 2011 and 2012, two additional satellites will be put into operation to provide more complete monitoring of the area.

Meanwhile, INPE director Gilberto Câmara has suggested that the 49 percent reduction announced may in fact be incorrect. The data was collected by the DETER system, which captures only the destruction of large areas and covers only around forty percent of the Amazônia Legal region.

Confirmation of this positive trend will come at the end of the year after data from the more comprehensive Prodes system has been compiled. Prodes, or Project for Monitoring the Deforestation of the Amazônia Legal, captures data from both large and small affected areas.

Environmental groups are also contesting the government’s figures, arguing that the global financial crisis has caused the decline in deforestation, as a result of the decrease in demand for cattle and wood products.

Conversely, data from IMAZON reveals entirely contradictory information, indicating a fifteen percent increase in deforestation in June 2010 as compared to June 2009. According to the organization, most destruction took place in the states of Pará, Amazonas and Mato Grosso.

The government hopes to keep the amount of rain forest destroyed this year to less than 5,000 square kilometers, which is less than the goal Brazil presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last year.

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