Deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon, the world’s biggest rain forest, more than doubled last month as farmers become more confident they’ll be granted amnesty for illegal logging.
Almost 268 square kilometres of protected rain forest were cut down in May, up from 110 square kilometres a year ago, the National Institute for Space Research said on Thursday in an e-mailed statement.
Brazil lawmakers are considering a bill that alters its forestry code and would forgive farmers who illegally cleared trees. The possibility that the government may ease these restrictions is encouraging more logging, said Marcio Astrini, coordinator of forest campaigns for Greenpeace International’s Brazil unit.
“Brazil has been reducing its deforestation for the last five years and this bill comes along and now it shoots up” Astrini said. “There is only one reason why deforestation is increasing: it’s called the forestry code,” which may be changing.
The bill was approved by Brazil’s lower house May 24 by a 410-63 vote. The Senate has not yet voted on it and President Dilma Rousseff has vowed to veto the legislation if it does pass.
If the bill is approved in its current form, farmers won’t have to replant trees that were illegally cut prior to July 2008, an estimated 30 million hectares (twice the area of neighbouring Uruguay), according to a study by government research agency Instituto de Pesquisa Economica Aplicada, IPEA. Under Brazil’s current forestry code, penalties for illegal logging include fines and a requirement to replant trees.
Some farmers are stepping up their illicit activities in the hope the government “will hand out further amnesties in the future,” or won’t be able to discern which trees were cut after the 2008 deadline, according to Fabio Alves, a specialist for IPEA.
About 35% of forests cleared in May were in Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest soy-producing state, according to Sao Jose dos Campos-based National Institute for Space Research.