Amazon deforestation up sharply, group says

AFP-JIJI

Deforestation has soared in the Brazilian Amazon since a new forestry code was passed last year at the urging of the agribusiness lobby, a nonprofit environmental group said Thursday.

Between August 2012 and last month, 1,838 sq. km of forest were lost, a 103 percent hike over a year earlier, Institute Imazon said in its latest report.

The biggest losses since last August were in the northern state of Para and in the central-western state of Matto Grosso, it said.

The institute said deforestation in June totaled 184 sq. km, up 437 percent over June 2012.

The increased losses coincided with adoption of the new forestry code last year.

The law limits the use of land for farming and says that up to 80 percent of privately owned land in the Amazon remain intact.

But it allows landowners to cultivate riverbanks and hillsides that were previously exempt, and eases restrictions for small landowners who face difficulties in recovering illegally cleared land.

More than 60 percent of Brazil’s 8.5 million sq. km is forested, but two-thirds is either privately owned or ownership is undefined.

Environmentalists say the new legislation encourages deforestation.

“The forestry code sent a bad signal, that past deforestation is being excused and both Congress and the government are signaling that rules are less rigorous,” Imazon investigator Adalberto Verissimo told O Globo newspaper Thursday.

“The risk is to lose control once again over Amazon deforestation, which was decreasing,” he added.

Provisional government figures, released on a monthly basis, showed deforestation rose about 30 percent in the 10 months until May.