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June 21, 2013

Uptick in Amazon Deforestation in an Overall Downward Trend

According to data released by the Institute of Man and the Amazon Environment (Imazon), during the period of August 2012 to May 2013, there were 1,654 square kilometers of deforestation (400,200 acres) in the Amazon region, which represented an increase of 89% compared to the 873 square kilometers (211,200 acres) that were deforested during the same period a year earlier. The state of Para accounted for 41% of the deforestation and Mato Grosso accounted for 32%.

In the state of Mato Grosso, there were 532 square kilometers (128,700 acres) cleared during that period compared to 292 square kilometers (70,600 acres) cleared a year earlier.

The data from Imazon, which is a non-profit environmental group, conflicts with reports from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) that has indicated that long term deforestation rates continue to decline in Brazil.

Part of the difference between the two assessments could be their definition of what is the Legal Amazon Region and what type of vegetation is being cleared. Within the area considered the Legal Amazon Region, not all the vegetation is rain forest. The vast majority of the lowland Amazon vegetation is rain forest, but there are also areas of cerrado or savanna vegetation as well as transitional forest. This is especially the case along the southern and eastern edge of the Amazon forest in the states of Mato Grosso and Para. Cerrado vegetation consists of short-stature twisted trees interspersed with native grasses. The transitional forest is just what the name implies, a transition from the savanna vegetation to the rain forest for which the lowland Amazon is so famous.

If cerradoP vegetation is cleared for cattle ranching or crop production, it is still counted as deforestation within the Amazon region, but it was savanna being cleared and not rain forest. Regardless of the semantics, in the big picture, the rate of land clearing in the Amazon Region has been declining in recent years due to stricter enforcement of environmental laws and improved monitoring through the use of satellite technology.