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Brazil takes action to stop alarming deforestation of Amazon

by Staff Writers
Brasilia (AFP) Jan 24, 2008
Brazil announced a series of measures Thursday aimed at stopping an alarming rise in deforestation of the Amazon over the past five months.

The initiatives reinforced a number of actions unveiled a month ago and called for stepped-up police vigilance, a ban on using deforested areas, and the suspension of public funds for any group or individual found to be breaking environmental laws.

Cattle ranchers and loggers are targeted in the move, which was worked out Thursday in a cabinet meeting between President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, his ministers in charge of the environment, agriculture, justice, defense, and science, along with the country's police chief.

"What we want to do is install in the Amazon a permanent process of checks," the secretary general of the environment ministry, Joao Paulo Capobianco told reporters.

The issue has become an urgent priority for Brasilia after government figures showed the stripping of trees from the vast Amazon region -- sometimes called the "lungs of the world" for its role in producing oxygen -- had risen sharply in the last five months of 2007.

It is estimated 7,000 square kilometeres (2,700 square miles) have been devastated, with more than half of that occurring in November and December.

The total area deforestated is roughly equivalent to the area of Madrid.

Such destruction could reverse the gains Brazil has made in the past three years to slow deforestation of the Amazon.

The worst historic devastation was between August 2003 and July 2004, when 27,429 square kilometers fell to chainsaws and burning.

After that, the government tackled the problem vigorously and managed to reduce the amount of stripping to 11,224 square kilometers between August 2006 and July 2007.

Environment Minister Marina Silva on Wednesday told reporters that half the deforestation in the last five months was concentrated in the central-western state of Mato Grosso. The other problem states were Para and Rondonia.

Silva noted that "the typical activities of these states was cattle-raising and soya farming" and said: "I don't believe in coincidences."

She suggested the high prices fetched for commodities on the international market were pushing the trend.

In 2007, Brazilian soya exports grew 22 percent over the previous year, bringing in 11.4 billion dollars. Meat exports grew 31 percent and generated revenue of 11.3 billion dollars.

"The situation is alarming," agreed Paulo Adario, a Greenpeace member in charge of campaigning to save the Amazon. "Demand for soya and meat will stay high, with rises in international prices, and consumption in China and the United States," he told AFP.

The matter was all the more urgent because the dry period between May and July during which deforestation traditionally peaked was approaching.

If the government tackled the issue right away," maybe it will manage to keep deforestation under control," Adario said.

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Do those fall colors seem to show up later and later-if at all? Scientists say we can blame increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for prolonging the growing season of the trees. And that may actually be good news for forestry industries.

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