Thursday, May 19, 2011

Huge surge in Amazon deforestation

Huge surge in Amazon deforestation
May 17, 2011

Analysis by Imazon, a research institute, has confirmed a huge surge in deforestation in a critical part of the Brazilian Amazon.

Imazon's satellite-based deforestation detection system recorded a near doubling in forest clearing in the state of Mato Grosso from August 2010-April 2011 over the year-earlier period. The findings are significant because Mato Grosso, which accounts for the bulk of Amazon deforestation in most years, is a bellwether for deforestation trends in Brazil.

Imazon's analysis shows that deforestation amounted to 243 km square in Mato Grosso in the month of April, a 537 percent increase over April 2010. But forest degradation — logging, burning, and thinning of forest that often precedes deforestation — reached 1,755 square kilometers in the month, up from 13 square kilometers April a year earlier.

The news comes just days after data leaked by Brazil's national space research agency INPE also showed a big increase in deforestation. But INPE hasn't officially released the data from its rapid deforestation detection (DETER) system, which has now been delayed by more than two months.

Imazon and other groups say the spike in deforestation is related to the ongoing debate over Brazil's forest code. Anticipating a weakening in the code that would grant amnesty for deforestation, farmers and ranchers have been clearing swathes of forest. Dry conditions, lingering from last year's worst-ever drought, have exacerbated the situation.

Information leak: Amazon deforestation increases sharply while forest code debated
Rhett A. Butler, May 16, 2011

Deforestation has increased sharply in Mato Grosso over the past nine months according to information leaked to

The news, revealed during a lecture last Friday in Cuiaba, is significant because INPE, Brazil's space research agency that tracks deforestation has unusually not provided any updates from its rapid deforestation detection system (DETER) since February, a period during which Brazil's forest code has been hostly debated in Congress. The agricultural lobby is pushing for reductions in the amount of forest farmers and ranchers must set aside for conservation under the forest code. Environmentalists call the proposed changes a weakening of the code and fear it could be used to grant amnesty to deforesters and encourage more forest clearing in the future. Some green groups say there has already been an uptick in clearing in anticipation of amnesty.

According to, deforestation in Mato Grosso climbed 43% between August 2010 and April 2011 compared with the same period last year. Mato Grosso, which accounts for the bulk of Amazon deforestation in most years, is a bellwether for deforestation trends in Brazil.

While the data raises concern, INPE officials have long cautioned about making judgements about deforestation trends based on DETER, which has coarser resolution than Brazil's annual tracking system called PRODES. DETER's accuracy can also obscured by cloud cover, which is especially common during the rainier times of the year from November through June.

Brazil is testing a new system to improve the accuracy of its deforestation tracking. Over the past couple of years some officials have expressed concern that deforesters are clearing smaller tracts of land to avoid detection by satellite. While the individual tracts are smaller, the number of cleared areas is greater.


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