From: Michael Astor, Associated Press
Published June 12, 2006 12:00 AM

Brazilian Police Crack Down on Illegal Logging in Amazon Rain Rorest

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Police arrested 28 people suspected of operating an illegal logging ring in Brazil's Amazon rain forest and were looking for 46 more, officials said.

Some 300 officers in five states were involved in Friday's operation to shut down a gang accused of using phony permits to harvest rare tropical hardwoods.

Twenty-four people were arrested in the far western Amazon state of Acre and four more were captured in neighboring Rondonia state, federal police said in a statement.

Three agents from the federal environmental agency and one member of the Acre state environment protection agency were among those arrested, police said.

According to the Environment Ministry, the loggers cut some 5.3 million cubic feet of wood worth an estimated $20 million over three years.

"It's a clear signal that the institutions are standing up to organized crime against the forest," Environment Minister Marina Silva said in a statement.

Silva said joint operations by the Environment Ministry and federal police had reduced deforestation by 31 percent in 2005 compared with the previous year.

The rain forest lost 7,300 square miles -- an area more than half the size of Belgium -- between July 2004 and August 2005, down from 10,500 square miles the year before, according to the environment ministry.

Many environmentalists applaud the government for cracking down on illegal logging but say the drop in deforestation may have more to do with economic factors, such as a decrease in the price of soybeans on the international market.

In recent years, soybean planting has surpassed cattle ranching as the leading threat to the Amazon.

The environmental group Greenpeace estimates that about three-quarters of rain forest logging is illegal, as ranchers routinely ignore regulations requiring land owners to leave 80 percent of forested areas untouched.

Loggers must also file management plans with environmental authorities and have them approved before cutting down rain forest.

Scientists say deforestation reduces the area's rich biodiversity and contributes to global warming. Burning in the Brazilian Amazon releases about 370 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, about 5.4 percent of the world total.

Brazil's rain forest is the size of Western Europe and covers 60 percent of the country's territory. Experts say as much as 20 percent of its 1.6 million square miles has already been destroyed by development, logging and farming.

Source: Associated Press

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