From: Michael Astor, Associated Press
Published August 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Brazil Police Arrest 46 in Major Crackdown on Illegal Amazon Logging

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Police arrested 46 people, including 16 agents of the federal environmental protection agency, for allegedly operating illegal logging operations in the Amazon rainforest and in southern Brazil, the environment ministry said Wednesday.

The group is accused of selling an estimated 32 million cubic feet of illegally logged tropical hardwoods, worth an estimated $25 million, the ministry said in a statement.

The environmental agents are accused of selling permits that allowed loggers to cut down and transport trees while breaking Brazil's strict environmental laws. Other members of the ring included loggers and lobbyists, the ministry said.

Federal police carried out arrests in four states. Police were still searching for eight more suspects.

Police called it the second-largest operation to crack down on illegal logging. The biggest was in June, when federal police and environmental officials broke up a ring involving 74 suspects in five states.

Environment Minister Marina 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 rainforest 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 say the drop in deforestation may also be linked to the decline of soybean prices 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 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 also must file land management plans and have them approved by environmental authorities before cutting down the rainforest -- a requirement they often ignore.

Scientists say deforestation reduces the area's rich biodiversity and contributes to global warming.

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

Source: Associated Press

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