Brazil Sees Amazon Land Clearing Easing This Year
BRASILIA, Brazil Huge tracts of Brazil's Amazon rainforest were cleared legally and illegally in the past year, but the rate of deforestation slowed, the country's environment minister said Tuesday.
It was the second year in a row that the pace of the destruction of the world's largest tropical rainforest declined. Booming demand for farm exports caused land-clearing to peak in 2004.
A slowdown in farming-driven deforestation and a crackdown on illegal logging may have contributed to the reduction in the rate. The effort, however, was hampered in part by corruption within the ranks of the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA, where some employees have been arrested in illegal logging raids.
Preliminary figures show that deforestation slowed 11 percent this year from last year, when 7,255 square miles of rainforest were cleared.
Officials estimate 6,450 square miles of forest -- an area about the size of Hawaii -- could have been lost legally or illegally in the 2006 season, which runs from August 2005 through July 2006.
"This shows it wasn't just a cyclical reduction," Environment Minister Marina Silva told a news conference.
The official deforestation report, based on a more detailed satellite reading, will be ready by year's end.
Brazil's chaotic legal system and its large informal economy have not helped the fight against deforestation. Illegal loggers often use fake permits and land titles to harvest trees and then sell the cleared land to farmers or ranchers.
Silva, whose parents were rubber-tappers in the rainforest state of Acre, pledged to fight illegal logging when she became environment minister in 2003.
But deforestation surged during her first year in office as local demand for timber and global demand for soy and beef tempted people deeper into the rainforest.
Nearly 10,620 square miles -- an area about the size of Massachusetts -- were cleared from August 2003 to July 2004.
Corruption inside Brazil's park service IBAMA has been part of the problem. Some 100 IBAMA employees have been arrested since mid-2003 in raids that have uncovered more than a dozen illegal logging rings.
The latest bust was announced Tuesday. Police dismantled a group using front companies to harvest timber from protected areas in the western states of Rondonia and Mato Grosso. Seven IBAMA employees were involved.
Environmental groups in Brazil largely applaud Silva's efforts, although some say they would like to see more attention given to replanting already deforested land.
To date, nearly 270,290 square miles of Amazon rainforest have been cleared, said Joao Paulo Capobianco, the Ministry's secretary of biodiversity. That represents about 17.5 percent of the rainforest, or an area equal to Texas in size .