The Associated Press
May 14, 2001

Amazon Deforestation Up 15 Percent


              RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- The destruction of trees in the Amazon's rain
              forest is on the rise again after a year of relative stability, officials said Monday,
              pointing to an improved economy as the main factor.

              ``Economic activity implies deforestation,'' said Mary Allegretti, secretary for
              Amazon affairs for the Environmental Ministry.

              Some 7,935 square miles of rain forest were cut down by logging companies and
              farmers clearing land in the 12 months after August 1999, she said. That was an
              increase of nearly 15 percent over the same period a year earlier, when 6,904
              square miles were cut down. The year before that, August 1997-1998, 6,950
              square miles were deforested.

              The government also announced that the number of fires in the Amazon rain forest
              was down 86 percent over that same 12-month period from the year before.

              The main factor contributing to the increased deforestation, Allegretti said, was
              Brazil's better-than-expected recovery from a recession following the devaluation of
              its currency in January 1999. An improving economy brings more demand for
              timber and land.

              Still, Allegretti said the ministry was making headway in making it harder for land
              owners to cut down forest without prior authorization. The bureaucracy involved in
              implementing sustainable logging programs in the region has also be reduced, she

              Environmentalists criticized the rise in the rate at which the world's largest remaining
              wilderness was disappearing.

              ``These numbers are alarming if we look to the future,'' said Garo Batmanian,
              general secretary of the World Wildlife Fund.

              In 1970, about 99 percent of the Amazon was still standing. That number has since
              dropped to about 85 percent of the 2 million-square-mile wilderness.

              Batmanian conceded that the reduction in fires shows that the government has
              beefed up firefighting efforts, however, he said that the government must develop a
              ``comprehensive forest policy that promotes sustainable development.''

              Last year, the government began heavily enforcing seasonal bans on burning,
              handing out hefty fines for the first time and even jailing farmers who continued to
              disobey the new regulations.

              Fires in the Amazon are usually the result of farmers burning off jungle scrub for