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September 19, 2011

Number of Fires in Mato Grosso Falls 71%

The number of fires detected in Mato Grosso during the current dry season fell 71% compared to an equal period in 2010. From January 1st through August 31st there were 4,045 fires detected in the state compared to more than 14 thousand in 2010. The data concerning fires is gathered through satellite imagery and analyzed by the Brazilian National Institute of Space Studies (Inpe).

The majority of the detected fires are farmers and ranchers burning off the dry pastures in preparation for the start of the rainy season. By the end of the dry season the pastures are completely desiccated and the cattle have a difficult time getting to the new green shoots that will emerge with the onset of the rains. In order to improve the grazing, the ranchers burn off the dry grass allowing for easier grazing of the new emerging green shoots. In addition to pasture burning, the remainder of the fires are the result of land clearing operations as farmers remove the existing vegetation in preparation for planting their 2011/12 row crops.

One of the government's main environmental goals is to reduce the number of fires during the dry season. As a way to achieve this goal, the government is in the process of registering all the rural properties in the state in order to better monitor adherence to new environmental regulations including a ban on burnings. During the first eight months of the year, 43% of the fires were on properties already registered with the state. Thirty three percent of the fires were on properties not registered, 13% were on indigenous lands, 7% were on lands that had been given to small family farmers through agrarian reform, and 2% were on state or federal reserves.

There is renewed interest in these fires because 2010 was one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory in Mato Grosso. Many believe there were so many fires last year because landowners were worried about new environmental regulations that were being debated in the Brazilian Congress. These new regulations were going to limit the amount of land a property owner is allowed to clear and use for crop production. While still not completely written, these regulations are also expected to force some property owners to reforest some of their existing crop land. In anticipation of these changes, it is believed some property owners cleared land as quickly as possible in the hope that the cleared land would be "grandfathered in" under the old regulations.