the Amazon arc of deforestation marches north

Amazonas state, the new Rondônia?

Visit the southern part of Amazonas state, drive its long, muddy roads through lush rainforest, and you’ll likely meet locals who say that the region is now starting to look more than ever like Rondônia – a Brazilian state farther to the south that was more than 26 percent  deforested by 2000, and was at more than 38 percent deforestation by 2017. Logging, cattle ranching and land clearing have become common in Rondônia, with the state government recently supporting those activities over land conservation.

In southern Amazonas the forests are now similarly disappearing, and it is happening fast.

That wasn’t always the case. For many years, Amazonas – the largest state in the Brazilian Amazon – was perceived as relatively safe from rampant deforestation by conservationists. For decades, no major extractive industry was active there, and roughly 90 percent of the state remains covered by thick vegetation.

By contrast, Rondônia’s only major remaining forests now lay within protected areas or indigenous reserves. Forest devastation started there during the period of the Brazilian military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, when the government offered land freely to families willing to immigrate there from southern states.

Today, in southern Amazonas, widespread deforestation is trending, especially in the municipalities of Lábrea and Apuí, both on the Transamazon highway (BR-230). These two towns are on the list of the ten municipalities with the highest deforestation rates in the Amazon in the last five years. Now researchers and forest defenders fear worse: that Amazonas state will suffer a total “rondonization,” following the rapid deforestation pattern of its neighbor.

Compared to Mato Grosso, Pará or Rondônia, Amazonas, still has seen little increase in total area deforestated, with only 2.6 percent converted to agricultural lands and other uses, according to the PRODES project of the National Institute of Space Research (INPE). .

However, it is the rate of forest cutting that astonishes conservationists. In the period 2015/2016, Amazonas saw the highest rate of deforestation increase in the entire Amazon region: with a 59 percent increase compared to the previous period (2015/2016). Although there was an 11 percent reduction in deforestation in 2016/2017, the total tree loss has still been twice as great as what occurred in 2014/2015, or a total of 100,000 hectares, or nearly a quarter million acres.

Analysts commonly blame this escalating deforestation rate on illegal logging and grazing facilitated by the ready access that the junction of the BR-230 and BR-319 provide in the south of Amazonas. That appears especially to be the case in the district of Santo Antônio do Matupi, also known as the Cento-e-Oitenta because it is located 180 kilometers (112 miles)  east of Humaitá. Loggers, ranchers, squatters and other opportunists flow out of Santo Antônio do Matupi and move into the forests on either side of the BR-319, cutting side roads and seeking their fortunes.

“All forests will be gone”

Just before leaving Porto Velho and heading north out of Rondônia and into Amazonas on our journey along the BR-319, we visited the headquarters of Kanindé, an NGO that for 26 years has been the most active voice for forest conservation and indigenous rights in the state of Rondônia. There we met Ivaneide Bandeira, or Neidinha as she is known.

She was very pessimistic in her predictions for the future of Amazonas: “Eventually, all forest will be gone,” she said.

In her view, paving the BR-319 will definitely benefit local businessmen, with cattle ranchers who occupy new lands becoming the big winners; and with forests and biodiversity being the big losers. Most locals are not unhappy about this prospect. Amazonas is among the poorest states in Brazil, so the arrival of investors, entrepreneurs, chainsaws and cows comes as good news. As we stopped in small hamlets, villages and towns along the BR-319, economic optimism was palpable.

One place this was especially true was Realidade, a village of 7,000 residents where the economy currently depends on logging for its vitality.

Wagner Reinoso, 24, first arrived in the town via the BR-319, attracted by the possibility of a job and fleeing the negative changes he’d experienced while living farther south near the junction of the BR-230 and BR-319. A school teacher, he says that in Matupi, economic activity fell off after a series of raids by IBAMA that shut down illegal logging and caused local sawmills to close.

“My mother and brother worked at the sawmill. After IBAMA passed by, it was difficult.” Now in Realidade, he says things are better. Indeed, hopes have only grown brighter along the BR-319 since the turn of the new century, as the federal government has made new transportation infrastructure investment pledges.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment

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