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Amazon Conservation: How to Save the Amazon Rainforest

Between May 2000 and August 2005, Brazil lost more than 132,000 square kilometers of forest—an area larger than Greece—and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. Why is Brazil losing so much forest? What can be done to slow deforestation?

What can de done to save the Amazon rainforest in Brazil?

Today Brazil faces an enormous challenge: how to balance economic growth with the preservation of the Amazon rainforest.
  1. Rehabilitation and increased productivity of formerly forested lands
  2. Expansion of protection areas
  3. Development based on concepts of sustainable use of some existing forest
  4. Land policy reform
  5. Law Enforcement


Rehabilitation and increased productivity of formerly forested lands
In reducing the loss of tropical rainforests we must not only be concerned with the transformation of existing natural ecosystems, but also the more rational utilization of already cleared and degraded areas. To lessen future forest loss we must increase and sustain the productivity of farms, pastures, plantations, and scrub-land in addition to restoring species and ecosystems to degraded habitats. By reducing wasteful land-use practices, consolidating gains on existing cleared lands, and improving already developed lands we can diminish the need to clear additional rainforest.

INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY: [
more]
    Increasing productivity of cleared rainforest lands is possible using improved technology to generate higher yielding crops. Taking advantage of improved germplasm developed through careful selection can produce grasses and crops that will grow on degraded forest soils. While technology may have accelerated the development and impoverishment of tropical rainforests, it will be one of the keys to saving them.

    When it comes to cattle pasture, Judson Valentim of the Brazilian Farm Research Corporation (Embrapa), suggests that "the use of so-called alternative technologies, such as non-plowing farming, could increase productivity in areas that have already been cleared ... Proper use of the area of the rainforest already cleared (deforested or destroyed) in the Amazon could solve many problems. He points out that 20 percent of the area could produce 50 million tons of grains annually. Another 20 percent could be used for small farmers (around 900,000 of them if each got 20,000 hectares)."

    Valentim continues, "The remaining 60 percent would be used to raise 100 million head of cattle. And all that, without cutting down a single, additional tree or burning so much as one hectare." [Marrying Growth and Preservation in Brazil's Amazon]
Important Updates on Amazon Conservation

These updates are more current than the body of this text

Brazil could halt Amazon deforestation within a decade

(12/03/2009) Funds generated under a U.S. cap-and-trade or a broader U.N.-supported scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation ("REDD") could play a critical role in bringing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to a halt, reports a team writing in the journal Science. But the window of opportunity is short — Brazil has a two to three year window to take actions that would end Amazon deforestation within a decade.


Brazil's plan to save the Amazon rainforest

(06/02/2009) Accounting for roughly half of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2005, Brazil is the most important supply-side player when it comes to developing a climate framework that includes reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). But Brazil's position on REDD contrasts with proposals put forth by other tropical forest countries, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a negotiating block of 15 countries. Instead of advocating a market-based approach to REDD, where credits generated from forest conservation would be traded between countries, Brazil is calling for a giant fund financed with donations from industrialized nations. Contributors would not be eligible for carbon credits that could be used to meet emission reduction obligations under a binding climate treaty.


How to save the Amazon rainforest

(01/04/2009) Environmentalists have long voiced concern over the vanishing Amazon rainforest, but they haven't been particularly effective at slowing forest loss. In fact, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds that have flowed into the region since 2000 and the establishment of more than 100 million hectares of protected areas since 2002, average annual deforestation rates have increased since the 1990s, peaking at 73,785 square kilometers (28,488 square miles) of forest loss between 2002 and 2004. With land prices fast appreciating, cattle ranching and industrial soy farms expanding, and billions of dollars' worth of new infrastructure projects in the works, development pressure on the Amazon is expected to accelerate. Given these trends, it is apparent that conservation efforts alone will not determine the fate of the Amazon or other rainforests. Some argue that market measures, which value forests for the ecosystem services they provide as well as reward developers for environmental performance, will be the key to saving the Amazon from large-scale destruction. In the end it may be the very markets currently driving deforestation that save forests.


HABITAT AND SPECIES REHABILITATION: [more]
    There is still time to save some of the most threatened species and ecosystems that have been pushed so close to extinction that they will perish unless we intervene. In Brazil, tremendous progress has been made in restoring the population of the Golden Lion Tamarin which resides in the dwindling Atlantic forest. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the species has recovered "from a low of 200 wild animals recorded in the early 1970s ...[to its] 1,000th wild birth in March 2001."

    The restoration of entire ecosystems is most possible in regions where parts or at least remnants of the original forest still remain and there are few human population pressures. Small clearings surrounded by forest recover quickly and large sections may recover in time especially if we provide some assistance in the reforestation process. After several years, a once barren field can once again support vegetation in the form of pioneer species and secondary growth. Although the secondary forest will be low in diversity and poorly developed, the forest cover will be adequate for some species to return (assuming they still exist). In addition, the newly forested patch can be used for the sustainable harvest of forest products and low intensity logging.

    Tracts of replanted forest may have ecological returns in addition to economic ones. In the short term, forests absorb large amounts of atmospheric carbon and the more trees that are replanted, the more atmospheric carbon will be sequestered. Replanting and rehabilitating secondary forests around the world has tremendous potential for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, rehabilitated forest lands can attract ecotourists and sustain some native forest wildlife.


Expansion of protection areas
The extension of protection to critically important habitats within the Amazon region is key to maximizing survival of biodiversity in
Brazil. Paramount to the success of conservation efforts:
  1. prioritizing areas for protection -- i.e. focusing on biological hotspots
  2. ensuring sufficient enforcement agencies and funding exist for the maintenance of protected areas
  3. encouraging the involvement of locals -- the fate of protected areas rests largely in the hands of local people and only by improving their living condition can we expect conservation efforts to be successful. Conservation cannot come at the expense of local people; local people must be made both partners and beneficiaries in conservation, and not enemies of it.


Sustainable Development
Perhaps the best way to address deforestation in Brazil is developing a new conservation policy based on the principle of sustainable use and development of rainforests. Sustainable development is a phrase that has been used regularly over the past decade, but critics will quickly tell you that collecting fruits, latex, and nuts from the rainforests is not enough make a living let alone support a growing economy. "Sustainable development" should considered an underlying philosophy to be applied via policy to various agents and industries involved in the use and development of rainforest lands and resources.

Agriculture [
more]

For thousands of years parts of the Amazon has been managed to sustain productive agriculture and at times, sustain dense human populations. It is estimated that more land was under cultivation in the Amazon on the eve of the arrival of Columbus than is today. The fact that certain forms of agriculture are possible is a vital consideration for the sustainable, economic development of tropical rainforests.

Actions to take:
  • Incorporate the techniques of indigenous Amazonians into agricultural projects in the rainforest to increase the productivity of degraded forest lands and promote sustainable use of forest resources. Through agroforestry, polycultural fields, and floodplain orchards outright destruction of rainforests can be avoided, while improving economic efficiency and providing a source of income for rural poor
  • End subsidies granted to large landowners
Logging [more]

What is desperately needed is a new form of forestry that departs from the older mentality where forests only exist to serve immediate human demands and are non-exhaustible resources. New forest management adds both rural development and conservation projects to traditional tree harvesting and aims to keep forests as functional ecological systems while providing multiple economic benefits.

Actions to take [more]:
  • Restrict the trade of certain rainforest tree species. In 2002, CITES did just that with mahogany, but Brazil still has a way to go in terms of enforcing existing forestry laws governing the extraction of certain tree species. Native Amazonians still face violent encroachment by illegal loggers seeking mahogany.
  • End Subsidies. By ending subsidies for saw mills and road construction, logging of tropical rainforests will become more accurately reflect the true costs of harvesting.
  • Use reduced impact logging. Reduced impact logging practices including: 1) cutting climbers and lianas well prior to felling; 2) directional tree felling to inflict the smallest impact on the surrounding forest; 3) establishing stream buffer zones and watershed protection areas; 4) using improved technologies to reduce damage to the soil cause by log extraction; 5) careful planning to prevent excess roads which give access to transient settlers; 6) reducing wood waste for cut areas (anywhere from 25-50% of the wood from a given cleared patch is wasted); 7) limiting the gradient of roads to prevent excess erosion.
  • Establish plantations on degraded lands. Forest plantations are essentially tree crops planted for the particular purpose of providing a specific source for wood products.
Cattle [more]

Clearing for pastureland and land speculation purposes is a major cause of tropical forest loss, especially in Latin America. Cattle are an attractive investment for Amazonian farmers because they are a highly liquid capital asset with low marginal costs once forest has been cleared. Cattle are used to establish land claims on otherwise "unoccupied" rainforest land and can be used as a hedge against inflation.

Actions to take:
  • Eliminate tax incentives and land policies which encourage conversion of forest to pasture.
  • Increase productivity on existing pastureland by introducing agroforestry techniques and using "non-plowing farming,"


Land policy reform
Under Brazilian law, much of the Amazon is essentially an open access resource so there little incentive for squatters, farmers, or developers to use forest lands or resources in a sustainable manner. Simply clear some land then move on to another area when the land is no longer viable. Developers can also acquire rights to unoccupied forest land simply by "using" it for at least one year and a day -- typically by burning the native forest and establishing some cattle on the land.

To remedy this wasteful use of land, lawmakers in Brazil should consider laws that restrict these practices. Or maybe lawmakers could enforce some of the existing laws like the 1996 law that forbade Amazon landowners from cutting more than 20% of the forest on their land. For whatever reason the laws on the books are not that effective -- deforestation has increased dramatically in the past couple of years.



Law Enforcement
Brazil has a number of laws on the books that theoretically should slow Amazon deforestation and encourage sustainable use of forest resources. The problem is, IBAMA, Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency, is woefully under funded -- in 2003, the entire budget for environmental law enforcement in Brazil was $9.5 million. $9.5 million to police Earth's
5th largest country (roughly the size of Australia, Spain, and Germany combined) having the world's biggest expanse of tropical wilderness.

Between the lack of resources, rampant corruption, and questions as to whether IBAMA even has any legal authority to enforce the law, the agency only collects 6.5% of the fines it imposes.

IBAMA estimates that 80% of all logging in the Amazon is illegal, but there's relatively little it can do about it. To effectively enforce existing environmental law, IBAMA is going to need more resources.



Conclusion
Brazil is a land of remarkable beauty and unsurpassed biological diversity. For this reason, deforestation in the Amazon is especially troubling. While environmental losses and degradation of the rainforests have yet to reach the point of collapse, the continuing disappearance of wildlands and loss of its species is disheartening.

Biodiversity is makes life on Earth livable for our species. By extinguishing hotbeds of biodiversity like the Amazon rainforest we are destroying a part of ourselves. Biodiversity will recover after humanity is gone, but in the meantime, the continuing loss of our fellow species will make Earth an awfully crowded, but lonely place.

Past extinctions have shown it takes at least 5 million years to restore biodiversity to the level equal to that prior of the extinction event event. Our actions today will determine whether Earth will be biologically impoverished for the 500 trillion or more humans that will inhabit the earth during that future period.

The extinction event that is occurring as you read these words rivals the extinctions caused by natural disasters of global ice ages, planetary collisions, atmospheric poisoning, and variations in solar radiation. The difference is that this extinction was conceived by humans and subject to human decisions. We are the last, best hope for life as we prefer it on this planet.

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More on Rainforest Conservation

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Recent news on Amazon conservation [more news]

Saving rainforests by buying them

(04/04/2014) For more than twenty five years, an international non-profit known as the World Land Trust has been working to protect tropical forests through land purchase and partnerships with local groups. Last year, the U.S. arm of the group decided to rebrand itself as the Rainforest Trust to better convey its core mission to the outside world. Since then, the Rainforest Trust has launched its most ambitious project yet: conserving 5.9 million acres of tropical forest in Peru.


Featured video: celebrities speak out for Yasuni

(04/02/2014) A group of celebrities, including recent Academy Award winner Jared Leto, Law and Order's Benjamin Bratt, and Kill Bill's Daryl Hannah, have lent their voices to a new Public Service Announcement to raise signatures to protect Ecuador's Yasuni National Park from oil drilling.


Brief lives linked to Amazon biodiversity

(03/31/2014) The South American Amazon rainforest is renowned for being one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, boasting an estimated 16,000 different tree species. However, the distribution of these diverse tree species is curiously uneven. What is the reason behind this irregular diversity? According to a new study, the answer lies within short durations between tree generations.


Next big idea in forest conservation? Quantifying the cost of forest degradation

(03/27/2014) How much is a forest really worth? And what is the cost of forest degradation? These values are difficult to estimate, but according to Dr. Phillip Fearnside, we need to do a better job. For nearly forty years, Fearnside has lived in Amazonia doing ecological research, looking at the value of forests in terms of environmental or ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water cycling, and biodiversity preservation. Fearnside then works to convert these services into a basis for sustainable development for rural populations.


Oil or rainforest: new website highlights the plight of Yasuni National Park

(03/20/2014) A new multimedia feature story by Brazilian environmental news group, ((o))eco, highlights the ongoing debate over Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, arguably the most biodiverse place on the planet.


Will zero deforestation commitments save Indonesia's forests?

(03/17/2014) Skirting the Malacca Strait near the Indonesian city of Dumai the air is thick with haze from peat fires burning below. As the sky clears, a landscape of sharply-cut geometric shapes becomes apparent. What was once carbon-dense peat forests and rainforests are today massive oil palm and wood pulp plantations.


Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie

(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.


Controversial Amazon dams may have exacerbated biblical flooding

(03/16/2014) Environmentalists and scientists raised howls of protest when the Santo Antônio and Jirau Dams were proposed for the Western Amazon in Brazil, claiming among other issues that the dams would raise water levels on the Madeira River, potentially leading to catastrophic flooding. It turns out they may have been right: last week a federal Brazilian court ordered a new environmental impact study on the dams given suspicion that they have worsened recent flooding in Brazil and across the border in Bolivia.


Photos: Weird aquatic lizard discovered in mountain streams of Peru

(03/13/2014) A 'new' species of lizard has been described from the cloud forests of Peru's Manu National Park, reports SERNANP, the Peruvian National Park Service.


Amazon trees super-diverse in chemicals

(03/03/2014) In the Western Amazon—arguably the world's most biodiverse region—scientists have found that not only is the forest super-rich in species, but also in chemicals. Climbing into the canopy of thousands of trees across 19 different forests in the region—from the lowland Amazon to high Andean cloud forests—the researchers sampled chemical signatures from canopy leaves and were surprised by the levels of diversity uncovered.


Sharp jump in deforestation when Amazon parks lose protected status

(03/01/2014) Areas that have had their protected status removed or reduced have experienced a sharp increase in forest loss thereafter, finds a new study published by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO.


Is Brazil's epic drought a taste of the future?

(02/25/2014) With more than 140 cities implementing water rationing, analysts warning of collapsing soy and coffee exports, and reservoirs and rivers running precipitously low, talk about the World Cup in some parts of Brazil has been sidelined by concerns about an epic drought affecting the country's agricultural heartland.


New $20,000 reporting grant explores benefits of Amazonian protected areas

(02/21/2014) With six Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) already under way, Mongabay.org is excited to announce a call for applications for its latest journalism grant topic: Amazonian protected areas: benefits for people. The Amazon’s system of protected areas has grown exponentially in the past 25 years. In many South American nations, the mission of protected areas has expanded from biodiversity conservation to improving human welfare. However, given the multiple purposes and diverse management of many protected areas, it is often difficult to measure their effect on human populations.


The making of Amazon Gold: once more unto the breach

(02/19/2014) When Sarah duPont first visited the Peruvian Amazon rainforest in the summer of 1999, it was a different place than it is today. Oceans of green, tranquil forest, met the eye at every turn. At dawn, her brain struggled to comprehend the onslaught of morning calls and duets of the nearly 600 species of birds resounding under the canopy. Today, the director of the new award-winning film, Amazon Gold, reports that "roads have been built and people have arrived. It has become a new wild west, a place without law. People driven by poverty and the desire for a better life have come, exploiting the sacred ground."


Two kids, one year, from the Amazon to the Arctic: the environmental adventure of a lifetime

(02/19/2014) The Kraft family—Larry, Lauri, Jamie (age 8), and Jason (age 6)—are on the trip of a lifetime, a round-the-world tour with an environmental focus. Currently in India, the family has already made their way through the Amazon, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Australia, and the Galapagos, among other wild places. Still left on their itinerary: the Arctic. But the trip isn't all fun and games, instead the Kraft's are using the year abroad to learn first hand about global environmental issues and solutions.


Featured video: camera traps catch jaguars, anteaters, and a sloth eating clay in the Amazon rainforest

(02/13/2014) These are sights that have rarely been seen by human eyes: a stealthy jaguar, a bustling giant armadillo, and, most amazingly, a sloth slurping up clay from the ground. A new compilation of camera trap videos from Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorean Amazon shows a staggering array of species, many cryptic and rare.


Helping the Amazon's 'Jaguar People' protect their culture and traditional wisdom

(02/11/2014) Tribes in the Amazon are increasingly exposed to the outside world by choice or circumstance. The fallout of outside contact has rarely been anything less than catastrophic, resulting in untold extinction of hundreds of tribes over the centuries. For ones that survived the devastation of introduced disease and conquest, the process of acculturation transformed once proud cultures into fragmented remnants, their self-sufficiency and social cohesion stripped away, left to struggle in a new world marked by poverty and external dependence


Photos: mass turtle hatching produces over 200,000 babies

(02/11/2014) Biologists recently documented one of nature's least-known, big events. On the banks of the Purus River in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers witnessed the mass-hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles (Podocnemis expansa). The giant South American river turtle, or Arrau, is the world's largest side-necked turtle and can grow up to 80 centimeters long (nearly three feet).


Drought, fire reducing ability of Amazon rainforest to store carbon

(02/06/2014) New research published in Nature adds further evidence to the argument that drought and fire are reducing the Amazon's ability to store carbon, raising concerns that Earth's largest rainforest could tip from a carbon sink to a carbon source.


Amazon rainforest does not 'green up' during the dry season

(02/06/2014) Analysis of satellite imagery has cleared up a controversy over whether the Amazon rainforest 'greens up' during the dry season.






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KEY ARTICLES
  • Brazil could halt Amazon deforestation within a decade
  • Concerns over deforestation may drive new approach to cattle ranching in the Amazon
  • Are we on the brink of saving rainforests?
  • Amazon deforestation doesn't make communities richer, better educated, or healthier
  • Brazil's plan to save the Amazon rainforest
  • Beef consumption fuels rainforest destruction
  • How to save the Amazon rainforest
  • Oil development could destroy the most biodiverse part of the Amazon
  • Future threats to the Amazon rainforest
  • Half the Amazon rainforest will be lost within 20 years
  • Can cattle ranchers and soy farmers save the Amazon rainforest?
  • Globalization could save the Amazon rainforest
  • Amazon natives use Google Earth, GPS to protect forest home



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