Study: Rain forest fading faster than thought
By JEFF DONN
Brazil's Amazon rain forest is being destroyed or badly damaged more than
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
and burning in the 1.3 million-square-mile rain forest.
``It's perhaps even more frightening,'' said Bill Mankin, director of the
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
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
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
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
forest has been spoiled over the years.
The findings trouble some scientists and environmentalists because perhaps
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
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
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
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.