The Miami Herald
April 8, 1999

Study: Rain forest fading faster than thought

             By JEFF DONN
             Associated Press

             Brazil's Amazon rain forest is being destroyed or badly damaged more than twice
             as fast as previously believed, according to a study that relied on airplane surveys
             and on-the-ground interviews instead of satellite images.

             The researchers said their method more accurately measured the effects of logging
             and burning in the 1.3 million-square-mile rain forest.

             ``It's perhaps even more frightening,'' said Bill Mankin, director of the Global
             Forest Policy Project of two major environmental groups. ``It's going to creep up
             on us, and people may not even be crafting a solution because they don't realize
             there's a problem.''

             The study was carried out largely by ecologist Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole
             Research Center in Massachusetts and colleagues at the Institute of Environmental
             Research in Belem, Brazil. They interviewed 1,393 wood mill operators and 202
             landholders, and checked the effect of fires from an airplane at 1,104 sample

             Their findings were published in today's issue of the journal Nature.

             They concluded that analysts who study satellite images are missing much of the
             damage from logging and fires set to clear land for farming or pasture.

             Nepstad put the loss at 17,000 square miles last year, or three times the official
             Brazilian estimate of 5,700. But 1998 was an especially bad year because of El
             Niño drought conditions. He estimated that in an average year, actual damage is at
             least twice the official, satellite-based estimate.

             Nepstad estimated that 217,000 square miles, or 16 percent, of the original rain
             forest has been spoiled over the years.

             The findings trouble some scientists and environmentalists because perhaps a third
             of the world's plant and animal species live in the rain forest.

             ``As we lose species, we don't know which one is the critical one, the keystone
             species that results in the whole system falling apart,'' said Robert Sanford Jr., a
             University of Denver ecologist.

             The researchers also worry about huge quantities of carbon dioxide entering the
             atmosphere from the fires and rotting wood left by loggers. Carbon dioxide is
             thought to cause global warming.

             Also, some scientists fear that damage to the rain forest, which gives off enormous
             amounts of water vapor and keeps the ground from drying out, could throw the
             Earth's climate out of balance.

             The researchers called for more judicious logging, more prevention of accidental
             fires and curbs on roads, power grids and water systems.