Thousands of Hectares of Forest Saved

Thousands of hectares of tropical dry forests are now safe from logging in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, thanks to scientists affiliated with the research project Tropi-Dry.

Thanks to data provided by researchers from Tropi-Dry, the Superior Court of Minas Gerais unanimously overturned a state law that had allowed more than 16,000 square kilometers (6,000 square miles) of tropical dry forests to be federally unprotected. Such a decision would have allowed a 70 percent clearing of Minas Gerais’ forests for economic purposes, and according to research, would have rovided limited, temporary fiscal benefits to a handful of large investors.

“This effort clarified a forest area’s classification in a way that brought it back under the purview of existing laws in Brazil and led to the protection of an endangered biome,” says Paul Filmer, NSF program director for IAI, which is funded by NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences.

“The emphasis on preservation of the Amazonian biome–over the many other biomes present in South America–has led to the exploitation of neglected areas,” Filmer says. “This is a major loss, as there are many critical ecological functions carried out by other biomes, functions that buffer the human-inhabited areas they surround.”

Loss of the Minas Gerais forests would have posed a serious threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including weather regulation and water production in Brazil’s second-largest watershed, the Sao Francisco River, showing that the Amazon is not the only important forest in South America.

“Many years of ecological and social science research conducted by Tropi-Dry project members and aimed at understanding the human and ecological dimensions of the Minas Gerais biome, clearly show that these forests belong in the federally protected category,” said Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa of the University of Alberta in Canada, lead scientist for Tropi-Dry.

Much of scientific focus has been focused on rainforests like the Amazon because of the incredibly high levels of biodiversity. And tough tropical dry forests are not as biologically diverse, they are sdtill home to a wide variety of wildlife, including  monkeys, deer, large members of the cat family, parrots and ground-dwelling birds. Mammal numbers are higher in tropical dry forests than in rainforests.

“With the substantial documentation we provided, lawyers were able to present a convincing argument that federal protection should extend to these forests,” said Marcos do Espirito Santo, of the Universidad Estadual de Montes Carlos, Minas Gerais, Brazil, who along with Sanchez-Azofeifa, provided ecological, remote sensing and socio-ecological data.

“Once the scientific data had established that the dry forest of Minas Gerais is an extension of the Atlantic forest, federal precedence could be asserted. The Tropi-Dry data were key to this success.”

Source: National Science Foundation
Image Source: Diego Brandao

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