Washington, D.C. - An unexpectedly high rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest announced by the Brazilian government indicates that urgent, sweeping measures are needed to save this area of global importance, according to WWF. But despite this news there is new hope stemming from efforts to establish protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon.
A satellite image survey conducted by the Brazilian government shows that about 10,000 square miles of Amazon forests in Brazil, an area more than twice the size of Connecticut, disappeared between July 2001 and June 2002. According to government statistics, the average annual deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon during the 1990's was about 7,000 square miles per year. The current deforestation rate, announced by the government last Thursday, represents a 40% jump from previous levels and is a troubling sign of the pressures facing the world's largest and most important expanse of tropical forest.
Last year, Brazil surpassed the U.S. as the leading producer of soybeans and the forests of the Amazon are being cut down to make way for continued expansion of soy production. Livestock grazing and the legal and illegal trade in tropical timber is also fueling the wave of deforestation. The relatively cheap cost of land in the region and the lack of a coherent policy approach to regulate land use according to environmental and economic criteria help drive the process of forest clearing.
WWF is working with the Brazilian government on a package of measures to safeguard the Amazon's ecological functions and biological riches while helping to improve the livelihoods of communities that depend on forests. These measures include ecological and economic zoning of the Amazonian states to promote proper land use planning, adoption of a sustainable agriculture program, establishment of national forests for the sustainable production of timber and other forest products, and financing and tax incentives to encourage responsible forest management and discourage illegal logging.
Anchoring WWF's approach is the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) program, an initiative of the Government of Brazil spearheaded by WWF with partners including The World Bank, Global Environment Facility, Government of Germany, and Brazilian Biodiversity Fund. ARPA is the largest, most ambitious effort ever made to protect tropical forests, and is planned to triple the Amazon protected area system by creating approximately 80 national parks and reserves over the coming decade, surpassing in size the entire U.S. National Park system.
Since ARPA was launched last September, protected areas totalling over 20,000 square miles have been established in Brazil. The largest area, Tumucumaque National Park (pronounced too-moo-koo-Mah-kay), covers just over 15,000 square miles and is the largest tropical forest national park in the world.
"The Amazon rainforest is of critical importance to the entire planet. It serves as habitat for countless rare and endangered species, provides us with products like medicines and lumber, and provides important environmental services like regulation of climate change," said Guillermo Castilleja, WWF's vice president for Latin American & Caribbean. "The government of Brazil, with help from organizations like WWF, must implement public policies aimed at responsible management of the Amazon rainforest."