Amazon Rainforest Cleared Faster Than Brazil Can Protect It

BRASILIA, Brazil, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - Today, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed decrees creating five extractive reserves and a biological reserve in the state of Pará where logging and land clearing will not be permitted. But the newly protected areas were announced the day after satellite images were released showing that more of the Amazon rainforest was cleared last year than in any year but one since recordkeeping began.

In a extractive reserve, sustainable use of natural resources is possible. Permits are granted to harvest fruits, fish, chestnuts, oils and other non-timber products that can be taken without depleting the rainforest.

In announcing the newly protected areas today, President Lula scolded those whose illegal logging and land clearing is destroying the Amazon rainforest. "The simple fulfilment of the law leaves some people infuriated," Lula said, "because some would deforest everything, if they could. They forget to look at the great expanses that today are totally degraded by irresponsibility."


Brazilian Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has set aside vast areas of the Amazon rainforest for protection. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
The global conservation organization WWF today contributed U.S. $3.3 million to secure long-term financial sustainability for the vast system of parks and sustainable use areas now being established in the Amazon by Brazil.

Today's contribution by WWF will be matched by the Global Environment Facility, resulting in a total contribution of $6.6 million. World Wildlife Fund, as it is known in the United States, also announced its intention to raise an additional $6.7 million by June 2007 to protect these areas in perpetuity.

"As our contribution today demonstrates, World Wildlife Fund supports Brazil's commitment to change destructive deforestation practices and protect the world's largest tropical rainforest," said Kathryn Fuller, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund from her office in Washington, DC.

"A healthy Amazon is a wise investment in our future," Fuller said. "As home to millions of species, its wilderness is a source of medicines, contains a fifth of the world's freshwater, is key to the livelihoods and cultural survival of many indigenous peoples, and is a force in shaping continental rainfall and climatic patterns."

The newly protected areas announced today by President Lula today and WWF's contribution are the latest steps toward achieving the vision of the Amazon Regional Protected Areas (ARPA) initiative - a 190,000 square mile network of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon one and a half times larger than the entire U.S. National Parks system.

The ARPA initiative, launched in 2002 by the Brazilian federal government, is meant to protect a representative sample of the Amazon biodiversity through the creation and implementation of at least 50 million hectares of protected areas and the promotion of sustainable development in the region over the next 10 years.


Covering 9.4 million acres of the northern Amazon along Brazil's boundary with French Guyana, the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park shelters rare jaguars, harpy eagles and 12 percent of all primates known to exist in the entire Brazilian Amazon. It was created by Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso in 2002. (Photo courtesy Conservation International)
Coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment and Ibama, the official environmental agency, it is implemented in partnership with state and municipal governments, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Funbio), the Global Environmental Fund (GEF), the World Bank, KfW (The German government cooperation bank), GTZ (The German technical cooperation agency) and WWF.

One of the largest and most ambitious conservation projects ever undertaken, the goal of this collaborative effort is to bring 12 percent of the Brazilian Amazon under protection over a 10 year period and establish an estimated $240 million endowment fund to finance the effective management of these protected areas for future generations.

President Lula today said he anticipates fulfilment of ARPA's goals. The program has already reached one of its initial goals, the President said, which was to create before 2006 at least nine million hectares of protected reserves in the Amazon where the extration of natural resources is not allowed.

The goal was reached in March, with the creation of nearly four million hectares of protected areas in two regions of southeast Pará, Lula said.

Including today's new designation, about 62,000 square miles of new protected areas - together covering an area larger than the state of Michigan - have been established under the ARPA initiative, including the 15,000 square mile Tumucumaque Mountains National Park.

Additional areas have been mapped and are undergoing scientific evaluation for inclusion in the network of protected areas.

But Brazil's Amazon rainforest is being cleared faster than Lula's administration and conservationists can protect it. The number of cleared areas in the Amazon went up six percent in one year, from 2003 to 2004, the Brazilian state news agency said today.

The forest lost 26,130 kilometers of green area - a territory almost the size of Brazilian northern state of Alagoas.

The states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Rondônia were the most affected by land clearing. This is the second highest deforestation rate recorded since 1995, when satellite imagery showed a record 29,000 square kilometers of the Amazon forest was destroyed.

An estimated total of 17.3 percent of the original Amazon forest has already been destroyed, according to a projection of the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe), based on 103 satellite images.


These logs once stood as trees in the Brazilian Amazon. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace UK)
"Deforestation has a strong connection with the dynamics of development. If we do not adopt a sustainability criterion for all aspects of the economy in the Amazon, it will be impossible to combat deforestation only with inspection and control – and this is what the government is doing through the Plan to Combat Deforestation," said Environment Minister Marina Silva.

Brazilian officials pointed to one story of success in reversing deforestation. The city of São Félix do Xingu in the state of Pará, set strict standards for logging and was able to reduce the problem by 40 percent, said Radiobras.

"Troubling deforestation persists in the Amazon as the Brazilian government announced earlier this week that 10,088 square miles were destroyed in 2004," said Denise Hamu, CEO, WWF-Brazil. "But this broad-based Amazon initiative with strong and committed partners shows that effective solutions can be found and implemented."

At the same time that WWF set aside millions for Amazon conservation, the organization criticized the Brazilian government for promoting inconsistent policies, which encourage real estate speculation within forest areas in order to expand cattle ranching and industrial-scale farming.

According to WWF, this causes environmental and social devastation because of illegal land clearing, exploitation of workers, and criminal activities.

"Despite the efforts of the Ministry of Environment, the federal government and state authorities are not committed enough to the fight against deforestation," said Hamu.

"Governmental bodies and business corporations must do much more to reduce such a shocking deforestation rate," she said, "otherwise we run the real risk that a considerable part of the Brazilian forest will disappear before it has even been explored."