Friday, July 23, 2010

Amazon deforestation in dramatic decline, official figures show

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): Large-scale deforestation in the Amazon rainforest fell dramatically last year, according to official figures released yesterday. Data from satellite sensors making fortnightly detections of only larger areas of forest destruction (greater than 25 hectares) was 1,500km2 between August 2009 and May 2010, compared with 3,000km2 in the same period a year earlier.

The Brazilian environment agency, Ibama, which is responsible for protecting the forests against illegal logging, said the drop was due to the increased use of satellite data to spot the felling of trees and new tactics to deter loggers, including ending their ability to hide under cloud cover.

The full figures for the year and all deforestation will be published on 31 July. The areas of forest destruction are expected to be 5,000-6,000km2, down from 7,500km2 the previous year, and from 27,000km2 in 2004.

"We are winning another victory over deforestation in the world's largest and most important biome," Luciano Evaristo, director of environmental protection, told the Guardian, which had been flown to Brazil by the Brazilian government for the annoucement. "Before [satellite data] we were looking blindly. But in 2010, all 244 actions were based on smart geo-processed data."

But Evaristo agreed with critics of the government that Ibama remains understaffed, with 700-800 enforcement officers on the ground at any one time across the vast country, which is nearly four times the size of western Europe. "I wish we had 4,000," he said, adding that the satellite data was making the work of officers more effective….

In this 2007 NASA image, intact forest near Rondonia, Brazil, is deep green, while cleared areas are tan (bare ground) or light green (crops, pasture, or occasionally, second-growth forest). The fish bone pattern of small clearings along new roads is the beginning of one of the common deforestation trajectories in the Amazon.

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