The New York Times
April 8, 2004

Brazil Says It Has Halted Rise in Forest Destruction

RIO DE JANEIRO, April 7 - Ranchers, soybean farmers and loggers destroyed an area of the Amazon rain forest about the size of Massachusetts last year, the government said Wednesday. But the government added that despite the near-record deforestation, they had kept the destruction from accelerating.

Satellite photos and data showed that 9,169 square miles of rain forest was cut down in the 12 months ended in August 2003, slightly more than in the year before, according to newly revised figures. But the government saw the results as a victory.

The environment minister, Marina da Silva, in announcing the figures in Brasília on Wednesday, said that while the government did not want to be overconfident, it had succeeded in breaking the rhythm of increase in the destruction. "This is highly significant,'' she added. Last year the government announced that 10,190 square miles of rain forest had vanished in the 2001-2 period, but on Wednesday officials said that they had overestimated and that the correct figure was 8,980 square miles.

Brazil's rain forest is as big as Western Europe and covers 60 percent of the country. Experts say as much as 20 percent of its 1.6 million square miles has already been destroyed by development, logging and farming.

While deforestation has increased in recent years, it is still below the peak of 1995, when the Amazon shrank by 11,600 square miles.

Robert Smeraldi, director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Brazil, said he was more concerned that the average annual destruction of the rain forest had doubled since the 1990's. "Never in history has the tropical rain forest disappeared at such a rapid rate," he said.

Last month, the government announced a $140 million package to curtail destruction.

Environmentalists gave the government high marks for its analysis of the problem but said they were worried that it won't provide real solutions. "The plan announced by the government is very good, but it has to be implemented with urgency or it won't mean anything," said Rosa Lemos de Sá, superintendent for conservation with the World Wildlife Fund Brazil.