Forest CoverTotal forest area: 477,698,000 ha % of land area: 57.2%
Primary forest cover: 415,890,000 ha % of land area: 49.8% % total forest area: 87.1%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -3,103,000 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.6% Change in defor. rate since '90s: 22.0% Total forest loss since 1990: -42,329,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-8.1%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: -3466000 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.8% Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 35.0% Primary forest loss since 1990: -17,330,000 ha Primary forest loss since 1990:-9.7%
Forest ClassificationPublic: n/a Private: n/a Other: n/a Use Production: 5.5% Protection: 17.8% Conservation: 8.1% Social services: 23.8% Multiple purpose: 44.8% None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 477,698,000 ha Primary: 415,890,000 ha Modified natural: 56,424,000 ha Semi-natural: n/a Production plantation: 5,384,000 ha Production plantation: n/a
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 5,384,000 ha % of total forest cover: 1.1% Annual change rate (00-05): 21,000,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 79,219 M t Below-ground biomass: 22,017 M t
Area annually affected byFire: 68,000 ha Insects: 30,000 ha Diseases: 20,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 7,880 Critically endangered: 34 Endangered: 100 Vulnerable: 187
Brazil holds about one-third of the world's remaining rainforests, including a majority of the Amazon rainforest. It is also overwhelmingly the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 56,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds, 695 amphibians, 578 mammals, and 651 reptiles.
Due to the vastness of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil's average loss of 34,660 square kilometers of primary forest per year between 2000 and 2005 represents only about 0.8 percent of its forest cover. Nevertheless, deforestation in Brazil is one of the most important global environmental issues today.
The bulk of Brazil's forest cover is found in the Amazon Basin, a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests (the vast majority), seasonal forests, deciduous forests, flooded forests, and savannas. This region has experienced an exceptional extent of forest loss over the past two generations—an area almost certainly exceeding 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles), or about 15 percent of its total surface area of 4,005,082 square kilometers, has been cleared in the Amazon since 1970, when only 2.4 percent of the Amazon's forests had been lost. The increase in Amazon deforestation in the early 1970s coincided with the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which opened large forest areas to development by settlers and commercial interests. In more recent years, growing populations in the Amazon region, combined with increased viability of agricultural operations, have caused a further rise in deforestation rates. Since the close of the 1990s, deforestation rates of primary forest cover in Brazil have climbed by 35 percent.
Recent studies indicate that these figures do not include extensive areas degraded by fires and selective logging. Research led by the Woods Hole Research Center and the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology found that each year the amount of forest degraded is roughly equivalent to the amount of forest cleared. The finding is trouble to ecologists because degraded forest has lower levels of biodiversity and is more likely to be cleared in the future. Further, degraded forest is more susceptible to fires.
Why is the Amazon Rainforest Disappearing?
In many tropical countries, the majority of deforestation results from the actions of poor subsistence cultivators. However, in Brazil only about one-third of recent deforestation can be linked to "shifted" cultivators. A large portion of deforestation in Brazil can be attributed to land clearing for pastureland by commercial and speculative interests, misguided government policies, inappropriate World Bank projects, and commercial exploitation of forest resources. For effective action it is imperative that these issues be addressed. Focusing solely on the promotion of sustainable use by local people would neglect the most important forces behind deforestation in Brazil.
Brazilian deforestation is strongly correlated to the economic health of the country: the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil's period of rapid economic growth. During lean times, ranchers and developers do not have the cash to rapidly expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks funds to sponsor highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to forest exploiters.
A relatively small percentage of large landowners clear vast sections of the Amazon for cattle pastureland. Large tracts of forest are cleared and sometimes planted with African savanna grasses for cattle feeding. In many cases, especially during periods of high inflation, land is simply cleared for investment purposes. When pastureland prices exceed forest land prices (a condition made possible by tax incentives that favor pastureland over natural forest), forest clearing is a good hedge against inflation.
Such favorable taxation policies, combined with government subsidized agriculture and colonization programs, encourage the destruction of the Amazon. The practice of low taxes on income derived from agriculture and tax rates that favor pasture over forest overvalues agriculture and pastureland and makes it profitable to convert natural forest for these purposes when it normally would not be so.
A Closer Look at Brazilian Deforestation
Today deforestation in the Amazon is the result of several activities, the foremost of which include:
Several factors have spurred recent Brazil's growth as a producer of beef:
CURRENCY DEVALUATION—The devaluation of the Brazilian real against the dollar effectively doubled the price of beef in reals and created an incentive for ranchers to expand their pasture areas at the expense of the rainforest. The weakness of the real also made Brazilian beef more competitive on the world market [CIFOR].
CONTROL OVER FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE—The eradication of foot-and-mouth disease in much of Brazil has increased price and demand for Brazilian beef.
INFRASTRUCTURE—Road construction gives developers and ranchers access to previously inaccessible forest lands in the Amazon. Infrastructure improvements can reduce the costs of shipping and packing beef.
INTEREST RATES—Rainforest lands are often used for land speculation purposes. When real pasture land prices exceed real forest land prices, land clearing is a good hedge against inflation. At times of high inflation, the appreciation of cattle prices and the stream of services (milk) they provide may outpace the interest rate earned on money left in the bank.
LAND TENURE LAWS—In Brazil, colonists and developers can gain title to Amazon lands by simply clearing forest and placing a few head of cattle on the land. As an additional benefit, cattle are a low-risk investment relative to cash crops which are subject to wild price swings and pest infestations. Essentially cattle are a vehicle for land ownership in the Amazon.
Between 1995 and 1998, the government granted land in the Amazon to roughly 150,000 families. Forty-eight percent of forest loss in 1995 was in areas under 125 acres (50 hectares) in size, suggesting that both loggers and peasants are significant contributors to deforestation.
Road construction in the Amazon leads to deforestation. Roads provide access to logging and mining sites while opening forest frontier land to exploitation by poor landless farmers.
Brazil's Trans-Amazonian Highway was one of the most ambitious economic development programs ever devised, and one of the most spectacular failures. In the 1970s, Brazil planned a 2,000-mile highway that would bisect the massive Amazon forest, opening rainforest lands to (1) settlement by poor farmers from the crowded, drought-plagued north and (2) development of timber and mineral resources. Colonists would be granted a 250-acre lot, six-months' salary, and easy access to agricultural loans in exchange for settling along the highway and converting the surrounding rainforest into agricultural land. The plan would grow to cost Brazil US$65,000 (1980 dollars) to settle each family, a staggering amount for Brazil, a developing country at the time.
The project was plagued from the start. The sediments of the Amazon Basin rendered the highway unstable and subject to inundation during heavy rains, blocking traffic and leaving crops to rot. Harvest yields for peasants were dismal since the forest soils were quickly exhausted, and new forest had to be cleared annually. Logging was difficult due to the widespread distribution of commercially valuable trees. Rampant erosion, up to 40 tons of soil per acre (100 tons/ha) occurred after clearing. Many colonists, unfamiliar with banking and lured by easy credit, went deep into debt.
Adding to the economic and social failures of the project, are the long-term environmental costs. After the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, Brazilian deforestation accelerated to levels never before seen and vast swaths of forest were cleared for subsistence farmers and cattle-ranching schemes. The Trans-Amazonian Highway is a prime example of the environmental havoc that is caused by road construction in the rainforest.
Philip Fearnside, co-author of a report in Science [21-May-04] and member of Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research in Manaus, explains,
"Soybean farms cause some forest clearing directly. But they have a much greater impact on deforestation by consuming cleared land, savanna, and transitional forests, thereby pushing ranchers and slash-and-burn farmers ever deeper into the forest frontier. Soybean farming also provides a key economic and political impetus for new highways and infrastructure projects, which accelerate deforestation by other actors."
Satellite data from 2004 shows a marked increase in deforestation along the BR-163 road, a highway the government has been paving in an effort to help soy farmers from Mato Grosso get their crops to export markets. Typically, roads encourage settlement by rural poor who look to the rainforest as free land for subsistence agriculture.
Historically, hydroelectric projects have flooded vast areas of Amazon rainforest. The Balbina dam flooded some 2,400 square kilometers (920 square miles) of rainforest when it was completed. Phillip Fearnside, a leading expert on the Amazon, calculated that in the first three years of its existence, the Balbina Reservoir emitted 23,750,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 140,000 tons of methane, both potent greenhouse gases which contribute to global climate change.
Mining has impacted some parts of the Amazon Basin. During the 1980s, over 100,000 prospectors invaded the state of Para when a large gold deposit was discovered, while wildcat miners are still active in the state of Roraima near the Venezuelan border. Typically, miners clear forest for building material, fuelwood collection, and subsistence agriculture.
All figures derived from official National Institute of Space Research (INPA) figures
*For the 1978-1987 period the figures represent the average annual rates of deforestation.
Virtually all forest clearing, by small farmer and plantation owner alike, is done by fire. Though these fires are intended to burn only limited areas, they frequently escape agricultural plots and pastures and char pristine rainforest, especially in dry years like 2005. Many of the fires set for clearing forest for these purposes are set during the three-month burning season and the smoke produced creates widespread problems across the region, including airport closings and hospitalizations from smoke inhalation. These fires cover a vast area of forest. In 1987 during a four-month period (July-October), about 19,300 square miles (50,000 sq. km) of Brazilian Amazon were burned in the states of Parà, Rondonia, Mato Grosso, and Acre. The burning produced carbon dioxide containing more than 500 million tons of carbon, 44 million tons of carbon monoxide, and millions of tons of other particles and nitrogen oxides. An estimated 20 percent of fires that burn between June and October cause new deforestation, while another 10 percent is the burning of ground cover in virgin forests.
Fires and climate change are having a dramatic impact on the Amazon. Recent studies suggest that the Amazon rainforest may be losing its ability to stay green all year long as forest degradation and drought make it dangerously flammable. Scientists say that as much as 50 percent of the Amazon could go up in smoke should fires continue. Humidity levels were the lowest ever recorded in the Amazon in 2005.
Slavery and Violence in the Amazon
The Amazon has been a place of violence since at least the arrival of European explorers, and the present is no exception. Violent conflicts between large landowners, poor colonists, and indigenous groups over land are not unusual in the Amazon and may be worsening.
The Pastoral Land Commission, a nongovernmental group working in the region, found that land battles in Brazil's countryside reached the highest level in at least 20 years in 2004. According to the annual report by the organization, documented conflicts over land among peasants, farmers, and land speculators rose to 1,801 in 2004 from 1,690 conflicts in 2003 and 925 recorded in 2002. Tensions reached their peak earlier this year with the high-profile slaying of Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked with rural poor, by gunmen associated with plantation owners. In response to the murder, the Brazilian government sent in the army to quell violence in the region and promised to step up environmental monitoring efforts.
The government has also stepped up efforts to end slavery in the Amazon. While Brazil officially abolished slavery in 1888, the government acknowledges that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under "conditions analogous to slavery," clearing land and working for cattle ranches, soy farms, and other labor-intensive industries. Some groups say the true figure could be ten times that amount. In 2005, 4,133 slaves were freed after Brazilian Swat-style teams raided 183 farms.
Still, some locals view the government's increased presence in the area as an ominous sign of things to come. According to a June 23 article in the Los Angeles Times, many Brazilians are "convinced that foreign powers, in particular the United States, are making plans for a takeover of the world's biggest tropical forest to secure the rights to its seemingly limitless natural resources." Some 75 percent of Brazilians surveyed in a recent poll said they feared a foreign invasion provoked by their country's natural riches. Environmentalists' interests in the Amazon are seen as a way for foreigners to assert control over the region.
Concerns over the governance of the Amazon are nothing new in Brazil. Following the internationalization of Antarctica in the late 1950s, Brazil became concerned over its tenuous claim to the Amazon. To establish a "presence" in the Amazon, and therefore the right to keep it as part of the national territory, Brazil established the Manaus Free Trade Zone —a sort of tariff-free manufacturing zone. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government continued to see the region as having great potential that warranted massive investment (hence the road-building, transmigration, and hydroelectric projects) resulting in ever more forest loss.
Despite massive deforestation, Brazil has vast protected areas and intends to add more under Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA), a 10-year plan to create a 190,000 square mile network of protected areas and sustainable-use reserves. Brazil has also set aside large tracts of forests—roughly 12.5 percent of Brazil's total land area and 26.4 percent of the Amazon basin—for the indigenous population, which is made up of about 450,000 Indians or 0.25 percent of the total population. These indigenous reserves—set forth under Brazil's 1988 constitution—have helped the country's Indian population to rebound after centuries of decline. According to The Economist [Feb 2nd 2006], 60 percent of Brazil's Indian population lives in the Amazon.
These protected areas are not popular among poor farmers, landowners, and developers, who have tried to fight the establishment of new parks and indigenous reserves and are known to illegally exploit forest resources—especially mahogany and other valuable timber—within the boundaries of protected areas. Nevertheless, a 2006 study conducted by researchers at the Woods Hole Research Center and the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia, found that parks and indigenous reserves in the Amazon help slow deforestation. Using quantitative analysis of satellite data, the research concluded that deforestation and the incidence of fires was significantly lower inside the perimeter of reserves and demarcated indigenous lands.
IBAMA, which for most of the 1990s had less than 80 enforcement agents to patrol the entire Amazon and lacked the legal authority to even levy fines and prosecute offenders, has long been criticized as a corrupt institution with little power of enforcement, but that is changing. In August 1999, the government announced a new joint operation between IBAMA and the military to monitor and crack down on illegal logging and fires, and added some 360 inspectors to patrol the Amazon. Despite these new powers, IBAMA still struggles to combat illegal timber cutting which, it estimates, makes up 80 percent of logging in the Amazon.
It seems likely that deforestation will continue in the Brazil Amazon for the foreseeable future. This author personally expects at least half the Amazon to be converted for agriculture or otherwise degraded by 2050. While this is discouraging, there is hope that improved agricultural techniques—perhaps based on research into how
pre-Colombian societies managed these forests—could maybe
increase productivity on already affected areas and reduce the need for further forest clearing.
It is important to recognize that Brazil is a sovereign state with its own rights to develop its economy. How it chooses to do so will likely be influenced by economic factors which may include how western countries value the services (especially climate moderation and biodiversity preservation) provided by forests. If Western countries begin to place greater value on these services, then the protection of Brazil's rainforests can likely be "purchased" via the open market. While right now the environment for such a scenario is not favorable, this author believes it will become more so in the next few years. Scientists will play an important role in disseminating the value of these forests to policymakers and the media.
Brazil's other forests
Outside the Amazon, Brazil does have other tropical forests. To the south of the Amazon is an expanse of forest that lies in the Tocantins river system. A small area of forest, greatly reduced by urbanizations and agriculture to less than 5 percent of its original cover, is found along the Atlantic seaboard in Brazil. Known as the Mata Atlântica, this ecosystem is home to the world-famous golden lion tamarin.
Other important Brazilian ecosystems are the Pantanal Biome, an inland wetland that borders Paraguay and Bolivia and covers an area of 154,884 square kilometers, and the cerrado biomes, a tropical grassland that covers 1,890,278 square kilometers, or approximately 22 percent of the country. The Amazon covers about 47 percent of Brazil.
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Humans are not apex predators, but meat-eating on the rise worldwide
(12/05/2013) A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has measured the "trophic level" of human beings for the first time. Falling between 1 and 5.5, trophic levels refer to where species fit on the food chain. Apex predators like tigers and sharks are given a 5.5 on trophic scale since they survive almost entirely on consuming meat, while plants and phytoplankton, which make their own food, are at the bottom of the scale. Humans, according to the new paper, currently fall in the middle: 2.21. However, rising meat-eating in countries like China, India, and Brazil is pushing our trophic level higher with massive environmental impacts.
Scientists discover new cat species roaming Brazil
(11/27/2013) As a family, cats are some of the most well-studied animals on Earth, but that doesn't mean these adept carnivores don't continue to surprise us. Scientists have announced today the stunning discovery of a new species of cat, long-confused with another. Looking at the molecular data of small cats in Brazil, researchers found that the tigrina—also known as the oncilla in Central America—is actually two separate species. The new species has been dubbed Leopardus guttulus and is found in the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, while the other Leopardus tigrinus is found in the cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.
Why is Amazon deforestation climbing?
(11/17/2013) The 28 percent increase in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over last year that was reported this week is bad news, but it is not surprising. It is bad news because the decline in deforestation since 2005 has given us the single largest contribution to climate change mitigation on the planet, far surpassing the reductions in emissions achieved by any Annex 1 country under the Kyoto Protocol. Brazilâ€™s achievement is particularly noteworthy because it did not come at the expense of agricultural production; beef and soybean production continued to grow.
New bat species discovered in Brazil leaves another at risk
(11/15/2013) A team of researchers has discovered a new species of bat in Brazil, which has put a previously known species, Bokermann's nectar bat (Lonchophylla bokermanni), at risk of extinction. Long thought to comprise one species, the bat populations of the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado â€“ the tropical savannah of Brazil's interior - are in fact distinct from one another, according to a new study in Zootaxa. Scientists now say the Atlantic Forest's population represents a newly described species, which they have dubbed Peracchi's nectar bat (Lonchophylla peracchii).
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumps 28% in 2013
(11/14/2013) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in 2013 sparking concerns that recent progress in reducing forest loss in the world's largest rainforest may be in danger of reversing. The preliminary data, released Thursday by the Brazilian government, shows that 5,843 square kilometers (2,256 sq miles) of rainforest was cleared across the 'Legal Amazon' between August 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013.
Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide
(11/14/2013) Researchers today released a long-awaited tool that reveals the extent of forest cover loss and gain on a global scale. Powered by Google's massive computing cloud, the interactive forest map establishes a new baseline for measuring deforestation and forest recovery across all of the world's countries, biomes, and forest types. The map has far-reaching implications for efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities, according to the authors of the paper that describes the tool and details its first findings.
Scientists identify 137 protected areas most important for preserving biodiversity
(11/14/2013) Want to save the world's biodiversity from mass extinction? Then make certain to safeguard the 74 sites identified today in a new study in Science. Evaluating 173,000 terrestrial protected areas, scientists pulled out the most important ones for global biodiversity based on the number of threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians found in the parks. In all they identified 137 protected areas (spread over 74 sites as many protected areas were in the same region) in 34 countries as 'irreplaceable.'
Locally extinct birds in the Amazon slowly flock back to forests when trees regrow
(11/13/2013) Some good news out of the Amazon rainforest: given enough time, deforested land can rebound enough to host bird species that had previously deserted the area, according to a recent study in The Auk. When people abandon deforested land, the rainforest slowly reclaims it. Eventually, birds begin to use the clumps of secondary forest as corridors between thickets of old growth.
Like humans, marmosets are polite communicators
(11/06/2013) Common marmoset monkeys have been described as having human-like conversations according to a team of researchers from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
Native to Brazil, marmosets are highly social animals, using simple vocalizations in a multitude of situations: during courtship, keeping groups together and defending themselves. They also, according to the study published in Current Biology, exchange cooperative conversations with anyone and everyone - not just with their mates.
Belo Monte dam suspended
(10/29/2013) Construction on Belo Monte, Brazil's largest dam, was again halted by a federal court due to concerns over its license, reports Amazon Watch, an NGO that is mobilizing opposition to the project.
50,000 km of roads built across Brazilian Amazon in 3 years
(10/29/2013) Roads are rapidly expanding across the Brazilian Amazon opening up once remote rainforests to loggers, miners, ranchers, farmers, and land speculators, finds a new study published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.
Scientist splits Amazonian giants into separate species
(10/23/2013) It's hard to mistake an arapaima for anything else: these massive, heavily-armored, air-breathing fish (they have to surface every few minutes) are the megafauna of the Amazon's rivers. But despite their unmistakability, and the fact that they have been hunted by indigenous people for millennia, scientists still know relatively little about arapaima, including just how many species there are. Since the mid-Nineteenth Century, scientists have lumped all arapaima into one species: Arapaima gigas. However, two recent studies in Copeia split the arapaimas into at least five total species—and more may be coming.
Mammal-watching: one man's obsession to see the world's mammals
(10/16/2013) There are more than 5,000 different mammal species across the globe, but with this number being dwarfed by the 10,000 bird species, it is little wonder that bird-watching has become the most common wildlife watching hobby in the world. While there are thousands of websites dedicated to ornithology enthusiasts, with information detailing the best places to see particular species and how to find them, similar resources about mammals remain scarce.
Has Brazil turned against its progressive environmental policies?
(09/30/2013) Last year, Brazil rolled back crucial parts of its landmark Forestry Code, potentially opening vast tracts of forest for destruction; it is also moving ahead on a number of Amazon dams, including the infamous Belo Monte, despite international condemnation and conflict with indigenous people. Meanwhile, a new law under consideration proposes allowing large-scale mining in protected areas. Given this a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that Brazil has thrown off its once admired mantle of environmental legislation, imperiling hundreds of thousands of species in the most biodiverse country on Earth.
Brazil's satellite data suggests rise in Amazon deforestation over past year
(09/12/2013) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon appears to have risen significantly over the past year, according to data released by the country's space agency, INPE. Data aggregated from INPE's monthly deforestation alert system shows a 34 percent rise for the 12 months ended July 31, 2013 relative to the year-earlier period.
Scientists discover that threatened bird migrates entirely within Amazon Basin
(09/11/2013) When one thinks of bird migrations, it's usually a north-south route that follows seasonal climates. But researchers in the Amazon have tracked, for the first time, a largely-unknown long-distance migration that sticks entirely to the Amazon Basin. Using satellite telemetry, scientists tracked a pair of Orinoco geese (Neochen jubata) from Peru and a male from Western Brazil, who both migrated to the Llanos de Moxos, a vast savanna and Amazonian watershed in Bolivia. The research has shown that the Orinoco geese—which breeds in both Peru and Brazil—depends on wetlands in the Llanos de Moxos for much of the year.
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an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.