Brazil's forests

By Rhett A. Butler [Last update August 14, 2020]

Brazil holds about one-third of the world's remaining primary tropical rainforests, including about 60% the Amazon rainforest. Terrestrially speaking, it is also the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 34,000 described species of plants, 1,813 species of birds, 1,022 amphibians, 648 mammals, and 814 reptiles.

About 80% of Brazil's tropical 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, including the woody cerrado. This region has experienced an exceptional extent of forest loss over the past two generations—an area exceeding 760,000 square kilometers, or about 19 percent of its total surface area of 4 million 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.

Natural forest in the Brazilian Amazon (Amazonia) by year

This data excludes extensive areas degraded by fires and selective logging, nor forest regrowth, which by one Brazilian government estimate occurs on about 20% of deforested areas. The area of Amazon forest degraded each year in Brazil is thought to be roughly equivalent to the amount of forest cleared. Forest degradation is significant because degraded forests are more likely to be cleared in the future. Degraded forest is also more susceptible to fires.

Why is the Amazon rainforest disappearing?

Historically the majority of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was the product of subsistence farmers, but in recent decades this has changed, with a greater proportion of forest clearing driven by large landowners and corporations. The majority of deforestation in the region can be attributed to land clearing for pasture by commercial and speculative interests.

In the early phase of this transition, Brazilian deforestation was 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 expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks the budget flexibility to underwrite highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to agribusiness, logging, and mining interests.

But this dynamic shifted in the mid-2000s, when the link between deforestation and the broader Brazilian economy began to wane. Between 2004 and 2012 the annual rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell 80% to the lowest levels recorded since annual record keeping began in the late 1980s. This decline occurred at the same time that Brazil's economy expanded 40 percent and agricultural output surged.

Tree cover loss and primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020
Comparison of data on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2001-2019, between official Brazilian government data and Hansen et al 2020.

Why did Amazon deforestation decline?

There are several reasons commonly cited for the decline in Brazil's deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012.

One of the most important active measures was the launch of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm) in 2004. PPCDAm aimed to reduce deforestation rates continuously and facilitate conditions that support a transition towards a sustainable economic development model in the region. PPCDAm had three main components: land tenure and spatial planning, environmental monitoring and control, and supporting sustainable production.

These components resulted in increased enforcement of environmental laws; improved forest monitoring by satellite, which enabled law enforcement to take action; new incentives for utilizing already deforested lands; and expanded protected areas and indigenous reserves. A byproduct of PPCDAm was heightened sensitivity to environmental criticism among private sector companies and emerging awareness of the values of ecosystem services afforded by the Amazon.

Other factors also played a part in the decline in deforestation, including macroeconomic trends like a stronger Brazilian currency, which reduced the profitability of export-driven agriculture; prioritization of non-rainforest areas like the adjacent cerrado ecosystem for agribusiness expansion; and increased diversification in the Brazilian economy as a whole.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Why has progress in reducing Amazon deforestation stalled?

Progress in reducing deforestation stalled after 2012 and forest loss has been trending upward since. There is debate over why this is the case, but some researchers argue that Brazil achieved about as much as it could through law enforcement and other punitive measures ("the stick" in the proverbial "the carrot and stick" approach). Reducing deforestation further requires sufficient economic incentives ("the carrot") to maintain forests as healthy and productive ecosystems. Put another way, standing forest needs to be made more valuable than clearing it for pasture or crops.

By that line of thought, the political impetus for reducing deforestation began to wane as ranchers, farmers, investors, and land speculators grew tried of fines, threats of legal action, and prohibitions against clearing. Political movements like the ruralistas pushed harder for relation of environmental laws and amnesty for past transgressions. These interests gained momentum when the Temer administration came to power in 2016 and won more clout with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018. Bolsonaro, who campaigned on the promise to open the Amazon to extractive industries and agribusiness while disparaging environmentalists and indigenous peoples, immediately set about dismantling protections for the Amazon when he took office in January 2019. Deforestation increased sharply thereafter.

Causes of deforestation in the Amazon

In evaluating deforestation in the Amazon, it is important to understand both direct and indirect drivers of forest loss.

Direct drivers of deforestation including conversion of forests for pasture, farmland, and plantations, as well as surface mining, dams that inundate forested areas, and intense fires.

Indirect drivers of deforestation include more subtle factors, like insecure land tenure, corruption, poor law enforcement, infrastructure projects, policies that favor conversion over conservation, and selective logging that create conditions or enable activities that facilitate forest clearing.

Pie chart showing drivers of deforestation in the Amazon
Causes of deforestation in the Amazon, 2001-2013 Share of direct deforestation
Cattle ranching63%
Small-scale agriculture
Includes both subsistence and commercial
12%
Fires
Sub-canopy fires often result in degradation, not deforestation
9%
Agriculture
Large-scale industrial agriculture like soy and plantations
8%
Logging
Selective logging commonly results in degradation, not deforestation
6%
Other
Mining, urbanization, road construction, dams, etc.
2%

 

Cattle ranching

Conversion of rainforest for cattle pasture is the single largest driver of deforestation in Brazil. Clearing forest for pasture is the cheapest and easiest way to establish an informal claim to land, which can then be sold on to other parties at a profit. In some parts of the Brazilian Amazon, cleared rainforest land can be worth more than eight times that of land with standing forest. According, cattle ranching is often viewed as a way to speculate on appreciating land prices.

However since 2000, cattle ranching in the Amazon has become increasingly industrialized, meaning that more ranchers are producing cattle to sell commercially. Most of the beef ends up in the domestic market, but secondary products like hides and leather are often exported.

These exports left Brazilian cattle ranchers exposed in the late 2000s when Greenpeace launched a high profile campaign against companies that were sourcing leather and other products from major Brazilian cattle processors. That campaign led major companies to demand zero deforestation cattle. Combined with a crackdown by public prosecutors, the Brazilian cattle industry started to shift substantially toward less damaging practices in late 2009 by signing the "Cattle Agreement", which barred the sourcing of cattle from illegally deforested areas.

However by the mid-2010s investigations revealed that some major cattle producers were circumventing the safeguards established under the Cattle Agreement by laundering cattle through third party ranches. Unlike soy (see below), cattle are highly mobile, making it easy for ranchers to shift livestock clandestinely.

Deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon. The isolated tree is a Brazil nut. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Soy

The model for the Brazilian cattle industry to move toward zero deforestation came from the country's soy industry, which underwent a similar transformation three years earlier. That shift was also initiative by a Greenpeace campaign, which targeted the soy-based chicken feed used by McDonald's in Europe. Within months of that campaign's launch, the largest soy crushers and traders in the Amazon had established a moratorium on buying soy produced via deforestation in the Amazon.

Timber

Logging in the Brazilian Amazon remains plagued by poor management, destructive practices, and outright fraud. Vast areas of rainforest are logged -- legally and illegally -- each year. According to government sources and NGOs, the vast majority of logging in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal.

Palm oil

At present, Amazon palm oil is not a major driver of deforestation in Brazil. While there are concerns that it could eventually exacerbate deforestation, there is also a chance that it could replace degraded cattle pasture, boosting economic productivity at a low environmental cost.

Dams, roads, and other infrastructure projects

Brazil's infrastructure spree from the late-2000s to mid-2010s was interrupted by the corruption scandals of the mid-2010s. Many of the scores of dams being built across the Amazon basin were put on hold following the Lava Jato scandal that ensnared senior politicians in several countries and executives at the infrastructure giant Odebrecht. Yet the scandals also helped usher in the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, which reinvigorated the push to build roads, dams, and mines in the Amazon.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Conservation in Brazil

While Brazil may be better known for losing its forests, during the 2000s it easily led the world in establishing new protected areas. Those gains were consolidated in 2014, when donors established a trust fund that will underwrite the country's protected areas system through 2039.

Beyond strict protected areas, more than a fifth of the Brazilian Amazon lies within indigenous reservations, which research has shown reduce deforestation even more effectively than national parks. Overall nearly half the Brazilian Amazon is under some form of protection.

Brazil's other forests

While the Amazon rainforest is Brazil's most famous forest, the country also has other types of forest.

The Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest is a drier tropical forest that lies along the coast and inland areas to the south of the Amazon. It has been greatly reduced by conversion to agriculture -- especially sugar cane and cattle pasture -- and urbanization. The Mata Atlântica is arguably Brazil's most threatened forest.

Forest loss in Brazil's Mata Atlantica according to National Space Research Institute, INPE

The Pantanal is an inland wetland that borders Paraguay and Bolivia and covers an area of 154,884 square kilometers. It includes a mosaic of forests and flooded grasslands.

The cerrado biome is a tropical grassland that covers 1.9 square kilometers, or approximately 22 percent of the country. It is being rapidly destroyed for agriculture.

The chaco biome is a dry forest ecosystem that extends into Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Brazil's tropical forests

Primary forest extentTree cover extent
StateDominant forest biome20012020% losss20012020% losss
AcreAmazon13,505,69012,583,4186.8%14312070134293788.1%
AlagoasAtlantic forest35,53734,9331.7%57551851079211.4%
AmapáAmazon10,934,64510,792,2681.3%12172480121887352.5%
AmazonasAmazon143,485,183141,217,4831.6%1505680051482690452.0%
BahiaAtlantic forest1,297,7021,187,3478.5%187766221518773716.5%
CearáAtlantic forest74,39572,5012.5%2974477280712710.0%
Espírito SantoAtlantic forest128,492124,4063.2%1813455167559918.8%
GoiásAtlantic forest / Cerrado388,506328,32915.5%7736542680816313.3%
MaranhãoAmazon3,185,7322,483,15322.1%210154431639155623.0%
Mato GrossoAmazon / Cerrado / Chaco39,009,64531,696,95318.7%563962284616815018.7%
Mato Grosso do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado1,489,0951,356,7178.9%10191243876195312.6%
Minas GeraisAtlantic forest / Cerrado268,244258,6883.6%183574221745008214.0%
ParáAmazon92,225,89683,576,9739.4%1079637179701346412.4%
ParaíbaAtlantic forest23,76423,5121.1%11214826632639.6%
ParanáAtlantic forest1,044,8811,020,2532.4%7947474734017014.1%
PernambucoAtlantic forest42,72741,0014.0%1563136125875910.7%
PiauíCaatinga141,286139,7851.1%11538381930006310.3%
Rio de JaneiroAtlantic forest587,724581,3631.1%180539817379223.8%
Rio Grande do NorteAtlantic forest7,3217,2870.5%90943249110611.0%
Rio Grande do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado24,16624,1460.1%763611273936658.1%
RondôniaAmazon15,649,57812,470,56320.3%184855791490877921.7%
RoraimaAmazon15,425,75914,683,7384.8%17889964170758365.7%
Santa CatarinaAtlantic forest1,205,5901,176,0142.5%6354636603158012.2%
São PauloAtlantic forest1,837,3211,817,0951.1%6560955646900412.1%
SergipeAtlantic forest17,94016,6707.1%54359139572221.5%
TocantinsAmazon / Cerrado1,194,996995,67116.7%11162164845997216.1%

 

Recent news on Brazil's tropical forests

Amazon rainforest destruction is accelerating, shows government data
- Destruction of Earth’s largest rainforest is accelerating ahead of the region’s peak fire and deforestation season, reveals data released today by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE.
- According to INPE’s satellite-based deforestation tracking system, DETER, forest clearing in the Brazilian part of the Amazon amounted to 1,391 square kilometers in May. That represents a 67% increase over May 2020 and puts deforestation nearly on pace with last year’s rate, when forest loss in the region reached 11,088 square kilometers, the highest level since 2008.
- The figure also represents the highest recorded in any May since at least 2007.
- Note: this is an updated version of a story published June 4, 2021. It has been revised using data released today.

What’s the cost of illegal mining in Brazil’s Amazon? A new tool calculates it
- The launch of a gold mining impacts calculator this week — a joint project of the Federal Public Ministry and the Conservation Strategy Fund — marks a big step forward in combating illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon, experts and government agents say.
- The new tool was able to estimate damages of $431 million caused by illegal mining in 2020 on the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve, where local leaders have reported several attacks in the past month by miners, following an influx of mining activities since 2019.
- Since 2019, Brazil has exported $11 billion in gold, with Switzerland, Canada and the United Kingdom as the top importers; last year alone, these three countries imported $3.5 billion of the precious metal from Brazil.
- Improving traceability is another important step to cracking down on the environmentally devasting illegal gold market, says Sérgio Leitão, an expert in the fight against illegal mining in Brazil.

Slash-and-burn clearing nears Indigenous park as Brazil’s fire season ignites
- Xingu Indigenous Park shields one of the last remaining large tracts of old growth rainforest in Brazil’s “arc of deforestation,” and is inhabited by dozens of Indigenous communities.
- The park experienced a jump in deforestation in 2020, quadrupling the amount of primary forest it lost in 2019.
- Most of this deforestation was caused by wildfires, which likely spread from slash-and-burn activity on nearby agricultural fields.
- Satellite data and imagery show agricultural fields and fires expanding towards the park in 2021 despite a prohibition on dry-season burning and a drought the likes of which haven’t been seen in nearly a century.

Chinese banks pouring billions into deforestation-linked firms, report says
- New analysis from Global Witness has revealed that Chinese banks and investors provided more than $22.5 billion to deforestation-linked companies worldwide from January 2013 to April 2020.
- Global Witness found that five of the biggest Chinese commercial banks accounted for 45% of all funds provided by Chinese financiers during this period.
- With the Chinese law regulating commercial banks set to be revised later this year, the eco-watchdog is calling for policymakers to prohibit Chinese banks from financing businesses linked to environmental and social damage.

Brazil’s environment minister faces second probe linked to illegal timber
- Brazil’s highest court has authorized an investigation into alleged obstruction of justice by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, who has admitted to siding with suspected illegal loggers targeted in a police operation.
- Following the country’s biggest ever bust of illegal timber in March, Salles traveled to the site in the Amazon and declared on social media accounts that he had personally checked the origin of a sample of the wood and found it was not of illegal origin, despite the police’s evidence to the contrary.
- The new investigation into Salles comes two weeks after the Federal Police began a probe into allegations that the minister was involved in exports of illegal timber to the U.S. and Europe.
- Salles’s term as environment minister has been marked by skyrocketing deforestation rates, a record-high number of rural land conflicts, the gutting of environmental regulators, and an increase in invasions and attacks on Indigenous lands.

May deforestation in the Amazon hits 14-year high, with 4 days of data still to process
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose sharply in May, reports the country’s national space research institute INPE.
- According to INPE’s satellite-based deforestation tracking system, DETER, forest destruction in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon through the first 27 days of the month amounted to 1,180 square kilometers, an area 20 times the size of Manhattan.
- Deforestation in May was the highest for any May dating back to at least 2007. The next highest May on record is May 2008, when 1,096 square kilometers was cut down.
- Scientists are bracing for a bad fire season in the southern and eastern Amazon due to below average rainfall during the most recent rainy season. A resurgence of fire and deforestation in the Amazon is heightening concerns about the fate of Earth’s largest rainforest, which some researchers say could be approaching a point where vast areas transition toward drier habitat.

Brazil’s Xingu River Basin feels the heat from Bolsonaro’s fiery rhetoric
- An area six times larger than New York City has been destroyed by loggers, land grabbers and illegal miners from 2018 to 2020 in the basin straddling the states of Pará and Mato Grosso.
- A green corridor of Indigenous reserves and conservation units risks being severed in two with land grabbers advancing on both sides from municipalities with high levels of deforestation.
- Experts say the dramatic increase of destruction reflects a generalized sense of impunity in the region, fueled by the anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental rhetoric of President Jair Bolsonaro.
- Suspension of environmental inspections led to a notable uptick in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon; the number of fines imposed for environmental crimes fell by 34% in the first year of the Bolsonaro administration.

New clearing of forest in protected area in Brazil linked to mining
- An expansive clearing of primary forest has been detected in Tapajós Environmental Protection Area in the Brazilian Amazon, possibly driven by illegal mining activities.
- Satellite imagery from Planet confirms that the deforestation, which covers around 1,250 hectares (3,090 acres), or an area the size of a large international airport, occurred between January and February of this year.
- Mining activity is the suspected driver of this forest loss, as the cleared area surrounds a long-standing feature resembling an airstrip and partially overlaps a proposed gold mining concession.
- Several bills are pending in both Brazil’s houses of Congress that would, if approved, create loopholes for mining on Indigenous territories and grant amnesties to land grabbers.

Chirp, chuckle and growl: Neotropical river otters call out to communicate
- Researchers observed and recorded captive neotropical river otters in Brazil and published the first formal description of their vocal repertoire.
- Neotropical river otters make six sounds, characterized as chirp, squeak, chuckle, hah, growl, and scream, which are used in different social interactions.
- The neotropical otter is classified as near threatened by the IUCN; otters were heavily hunted for their pelts from the 1950s through the 1970s which led to local extinctions, and although they’re now protected, they still face threats from poaching, habitat destruction, water pollution and mining.
- Despite the limitations of recording in captivity, researchers say they hope that understanding more about otter vocalizations will help manage both captive and wild populations.

Brazil court orders illegal miners booted from Yanomami Indigenous Reserve
- A court has ordered Brazilian authorities to remove all illegal gold miners from the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve in the Amazon, following five days of attacks and intimidation by the miners against an Indigenous village.
- The federal government has still not complied with the May 17 ruling. Army officials say they are planning operations in the region, but have not provided dates. The Federal Police say a team will arrive May 21 to collect data for investigation.
- The attacks that began May 10 saw the miners shoot at the village of Palimiú, throw tear gas canisters, and station several boats nearby in an apparent attempt at intimidation.
- The violent conflict between miners and Indigenous groups follows a surge of land invasions and illegal mining in Indigenous reserves and other conservation areas, dubbed “The Bolsonaro Effect” by Brazilian researchers after its chief enabler.

Illegal clearing for agriculture is driving tropical deforestation: Report
- In a new report, NGO Forest Trends found that at least 69% of tropical forests cleared for agricultural activities such as ranching and farmland between 2013 and 2019 was done in violation of national laws and regulations.
- The actual amount of illegally deforested land is immense during that period – 31.7 million hectares, or an area roughly the size of Norway.
- The study notes that if tropical deforestation emissions tied to commercial agriculture were a country, it would rank third behind China and the U.S.
- Forest Trends president Michael Jenkins said that when governments view forests like Indigenous peoples do – far more valuable standing than clear cut – conservation at scale is possible.

‘Amazônia must live on’: Photographer Sebastião Salgado returns home with his new book
- Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado traveled the Amazon for six years to capture nature and the people of the world’s largest rainforest, now depicted in his new book, Amazônia.
- Salgado, one of the most respected documentary photographers in the world, returned to the region four decades after gaining fame shooting the Serra Pelada gold mine and its thousands of mud-covered diggers.
- The book is also a cry for preservation of what remains of the Amazon: “My wish … is that in 50 years’ time this book will not resemble a record of a lost world,” he says.

Amazon palm oil has not lived up to its promise of sustainability (commentary)
- In this commentary, Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler says a new investigation by Mongabay-Brasil casts doubt on the Brazilian palm oil industry’s promise to usher in a new era of sustainable palm oil in the Amazon.
- “In the late 2000s and the early 2010s, the Brazilian palm oil industry told us that oil palm plantation expansion would take a different path than in Southeast Asia,” he writes. “We were told that by limiting oil palm plantations to low-yielding cattle pasture that was long ago carved out of the region’s forests, palm oil could increase carbon storage, create more economic activity and employment, and help restore ecosystem services — all without deforestation.”
- The investigation, led by Mongabay-Brasil’s Karla Mendes, found that the palm oil industry in the Brazilian Amazon has been using agrochemicals in concentrations that are considered unhealthy in other parts of the world, exacerbating land disputes, and engaging in deforestation. The sector has also been dogged by allegations of land-grabbing by local communities and even private landowners.
- This post is a commentary, the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil’s environment minister investigated for alleged illegal timber sales
- A week after Brazil’s Lower House of Congress approved a bill that exempts environmental impact assessments and licensing for development projects, Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, has been named in a probe for alleged illegal exports of Amazon timber, following a Federal Supreme Court ruling on May 19.
- The ruling cites “extremely atypical financial transactions” totaling $2.7 million involving a law firm where Salles is one of the stakeholders.
- The federal police carried out raids in various ministry offices in the early hours of May 19, which led to the suspension of 10 high-ranking environmental officials, including Eduardo Bim, the head of the IBAMA, the country’s environmental agency.
- Salles denied any wrongdoing and called the operation “exaggerated” and “unnecessary” in a press conference on May 19.

After gold miners shoot Yanomani people, Brazil cuts environmental regulation further
- With 300 votes in favor and 122 against, Brazil’s Lower House passed the draft of a bill on May 12 that withdraws environmental impact assessments and licensing for development projects, ranging from construction of roads to agriculture.
- The measure, which was submitted to the Senate for its appraisal, is backed by President Jair Bolsonaro and the powerful conservative agribusiness lobby — the ‘ruralistas’ — who champion it as a way of slashing red tape on environmental licensing, to facilitate “self-licensing” infrastructure projects.
- Congressmen, experts and activists opposed to it are convinced the new legal framework will inevitably fast-track approval of high-risk projects, leading to deforestation and the escalation of violence against traditional communities.
- As the Lower House moved to approve it, Yanomami people were under attack by illegal gold miners with automatic weapons for the third time this week in northern Roraima state. “They [illegal miners] are not shooting to try and scare us. They want us dead,” a Yanomami leader told Mongabay.

‘Bad science’: Planting frenzy misses the grasslands for the trees
- Planting trees by the millions has come to be considered one of the main ways of reining in runaway carbon emissions and tackling climate change.
- But experts say many tree-planting campaigns are based on flawed science: planting in grasslands and other non-forest areas, and prioritizing invasive trees over native ones.
- Experts point out that not all land is meant to be forested, and that planting trees in savannas and grasslands runs the risk of actually reducing carbon sequestration and increasing air temperature.
- The rush to reforest has also led to fast-growing eucalyptus and acacia becoming the choice of tree for planting, despite the fact they’re not native in most planting areas, and are both water-intensive and fire-prone.

Indigenous in Salvador: A struggle for identity in Brazil’s first capital
- The city of Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state was one of the first established by European colonizers 500 years ago, built where settlements of Indigenous people already existed.
- Today, the predominantly Afro-Brazilian city is home to an Indigenous minority of around 7,500, many of whom are enrolled in the local university under the Indigenous quota system.
- They say they continue to face prejudice from others, who question why they wear modern clothes and use smartphones and don’t look like the pictures in history books.
- Over centuries of suffering from colonization and enslavement, Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities here have forged something of a cultural alliance in an effort to keep their respective traditions alive.

Amazon deforestation jumps sharply in April
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged during the month of April, ending a streak of three consecutive months where forest clearing had been lower than the prior year.
- The rise in deforestation came despite a high-profile pledge from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to rein in deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest.
- According to preliminary deforestation alert data released Friday by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE, deforestation in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon amounted to 581 square kilometers in April, a 43% increase over April 2020
- However, by INPE’s count, deforestation is still pacing behind last year’s rate, though that conclusion is contradicted by Imazon, a group that independently monitors forest clearing in the region.

Karipuna people sue Brazil government for alleged complicity in land grabs
- Leaders of the Karipuna Indigenous group in Brazil are suing the government for what they say is complicity in the continued invasion and theft of their land.
- Findings by Greenpeace and the Catholic Church-affiliated Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) show 31 land claims overlapping onto the Karipuna Indigenous Reserve, while 7% of the area has already been deforested or destroyed.
- The Karipuna Indigenous, who rebuilt their population to around 60 in the last few decades from just eight members who survived mass deaths by disease that followed their forced contact with the outside world in the 1970s, are seeking damages of $8.2 million, the right to permanent protection, and the cancellation of all outsider land claims to their territory.
- Land grabbing has been fueled by the political rhetoric and action of President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies, who are seeking to drastically reduce protected areas in the Amazon and weaken environmental protections, activists and experts say.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro vowed to work with Indigenous people. Now he’s investigating them
- At least two top Indigenous leaders in Brazil, Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suruí, were recently summoned for questioning by the federal police over allegations of slander against the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.
- Both probes were prompted by complaints filed by Funai, the federal agency for Indigenous affairs, just a week after Bolsonaro pledged at a global leaders’ climate summit to work together with Indigenous peoples to tackle deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The NGO Human Rights Watch said it’s “deeply concerned” about the government’s moves and called any retaliation against Indigenous peoples a “flagrant abuse of power,” while APIB, Brazil’s main Indigenous association, called the government’s approach a “clear attempt to curtail freedom of expression.”
- Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in Brazil has reached its highest level since 2008, invasions of indigenous territories increased 135% in 2019, and the persecution of government critics under a draconian national security law has skyrocketed.