[updated/corrected post, May 31, 2011] A controversial piece of “forest reform” legislation was passed by the Brazilian senate this past Tuesday that would ostensibly give amnesty to landowners and give more autonomy to Brazilian states over setting their own conservation standards.
Small landowners (those owning or appropriating less than 400 hectares of rain forest) would be exempt from penalties as would be larger landowners who made illegal clear-cuts prior to 2008.
“One of the biggest steps backwards…” — former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva
Although Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has threatened to veto parts of the legislation, its supporters in the senate claim that it would actually decrease illegal deforestation by allowing landowners the chance to legally claim title to forest lands as oppose to being left in a “legal limbo” over actual ownership responsibilities and rights. Other supporters say that reform was long overdue as Brazil’s forest laws, which are strict on paper, but only laxly enforced, have remained largely unchanged since the 1960’s.
Environmental groups have been vocal all week, largely viewing the law as a major mistake (a “disaster” according to Conservation International-Brazil) which will lead to more deforestation, water depletion and erosion, and a give-away to ranchers and farmers. The new legislation suspends the 80% rule by which owners of rain forest land were required to preserve 80% forest cover on their lands at all times.
The Brazilian Academy of Sciences issued a statement mid week stating that the new laws have no “scientific or technical foundation.”
Former Brazilian environmental minister Marina Silva called the new law “one of the biggest steps backwards I’ve ever seen in Brazil…” and a return “to the worst possible world.”
This new legislation comes following a two month period (March and April, 2011) that saw the rate of deforestation increase 4 to 5 times over all of 2010. The rate increase is generally attributed to rising prices for food commodities (e.g., soy beans) and demand for cheap beef (from Europe). This demand consequently makes the land under the forest more valuable and this creates an incentive for more clear cutting by farm and ranch owners — continuing the destructive cycle that is deforestation (and which may in part now be over-looked).
Adding to the gathering outrage from all corners of the globe, the new law was passed just hours after news of the (probable) contract killing of rain forest activist-campaigner José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife.
The killings occurred in the central-northern Brazilian state of Pará which contains some of the most heavily logged and clear-cut regions of the Brazilian rain forest. The rain forest is the largest rain forest on Earth and contains many biodiversity “hot spots” (those possessing the most varieties of plants and animals). The rain forest’s atmospheric cooling activity is also linked to the global climate system; rain forest destruction is likely to negatively impact the regional and global precipitation patterns and accelerate warming impacts.
Read the full Science Magazine on-line story: Furor Over Proposed Brazilian Forest Law
Note to the Reader: the earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the Manaus Forest as being part of the state of Pará. The forest is in fact located in the state of Amazonas, 400 km west of central Pará along the Amazon river.
Top photo: (Amazon rain forest, near Manaus, Para, Brazil) Phil P. Harris ; CC – By – SA 2.5