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June 20, 2011

Deforestation Increases in Amazon in Anticipation of Stricter Rules

The amount of deforestation in the Amazon Region of Brazil during the months of April and May has increased significantly compared to 2010. According to satellite studies released by the Institute for Man and the Environment in the Amazon (Imazon), the amount of deforestation increased 72% during the two month period. During May, an estimated 165 square kilometers were cleared in the Amazon Region or 40,750 acres.

Imazon indicated that the state of Para was responsible for 39% of the deforestation during the period followed by Mato Grosso (25%), Rondonia (21%), Amazonas (12%), and Tocantins (2.5%). Researchers suspect that extensive cloud cover during the month of April may have hid some of the deforestation in Para during the month, but it was then revealed in May when there were fewer clouds.

Deforestation in Brazil during the months of April and May is highly unusual since the majority of land clearing usually occurs later in the dry season (July to September). Many suspect that landowners were attempting to clear land before stricter environmental regulations were put in place under the revised Forestry Code that was being debated in the Brazilian Congress at the time.

The new proposed regulation would put a strict limit on the amount of land that could be cleared in the future as well as forcing landowners to pay a fine and to reforest areas that may have been cleared illegally in the past. Landowners who cleared land during April and May may have been gambling that areas cleared before the new restrictions were implemented would be "grandfathered in" under the new Forestry Code.

When Imazon alerted the public to increased deforestation in April, the results were contested by the livestock industry because cattle ranching is responsible for the vast majority of land clearing in the Amazon Region of Brazil. Their initial estimates were later confirmed by the National Institute of Space Studies that is the official governmental agency responsible for monitoring the Amazon Region.

During the ten-month period from August 2010 until May 2011, there were 1,435 square kilometers (354,000 acres) of land cleared in the Amazon Region, which represented a 24% compared to the same ten-month a year earlier.