Amazon Deforestation Up 15 Percent
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- The destruction of trees in the Amazon's
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
Amazon affairs for the Environmental Ministry.
Some 7,935 square miles of rain forest were cut down by logging companies
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
was down 86 percent over that same 12-month period from the year before.
The main factor contributing to the increased deforestation, Allegretti
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
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
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
dropped to about 85 percent of the 2 million-square-mile wilderness.
Batmanian conceded that the reduction in fires shows that the government
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