Amazon deforestation highest since 2008

amazon fire
Source: INPE

Deforestation on protected Indigenous lands in the Amazon was almost three times higher than the loss of trees in the region as a whole and the highest since 2008, finds a new study based on satellite imagery.

The data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) studied by the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), a group working with Indigenous people, show that between August 2018 and July 2019 deforestation on reservations reached 42,600 hectares.

That represents only four percent of overall loss of forest in the Amazon in the same period (totaling 9,762 square kilometers or 976,200 hectares), but it is a dramatic increase over previous years and the highest since this data was first collected in 2008.

November marked the highest recorded rates of Amazon deforestation in years, finds Brazilian government data – INPE data.

The INPE found that in November 2019, 563 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest were destroyed — more than double what was destroyed in November 2018.

Moreover, the Amazon saw a lot more destruction overall this year than it did last year — a total of 8,934 square kilometers were destroyed in January through November of 2019, which is 83 percent more than what was destroyed in January through November of 2018. It is an area almost the size of Puerto Rico.

According to, deforestation rates in indigenous areas of the Amazon actually had an even higher incline this year than last year, increasing 74.5 percent between 2018 and 2019.

Other media reports said:

There has also recently been notable violence towards indigenous people who live in the Amazon. Last week, gunmen in a moving car opened fire in Brazil’s Maranhao state, killing two indigenous leaders of the Guajajara tribe; this weekend, someone stabbed a 15-year-old indigenous boy (also from the Guajajara tribe) to death while he was traveling to a city on the edge of the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is not protecting the Amazon. Developers and farmers are constantly destroying the rainforest for agribusiness. Bolsonaro has loosened regulations related to the Amazon.

The WWF reported, 80 percent of the Amazon that has been cut down is for cattle ranching, with the remainder for palm oil plantations and soy fields (about two-thirds of the world’s soy is grown to feed livestock, such as the cows being raised for meat and dairy in the Amazon).

The ISA study said: Land grabbers and illegal loggers and miners are the main drivers of deforestation on Indigenous reservations, where the rainforest has been protected by law.

“Indigenous lands are a strong barrier to deforestation. Where there are tribes there are trees,” said Antonio Oviedo, ISA’s researcher who authored the study report.

The expert warned: Year’s deforestation has surged above the recent trend due to increased outside pressure on protected lands.

Invasions of tribal lands have increased since last year, leading to killings of Indigenous people and ranchers deliberately setting fires aimed at clearing forest for cattle pastures, according to environmentalists, who accuse Bolsonaro of destroying the Amazon.

Deforestation in Indigenous areas had been falling steadily since 2008, to a low point of just over 5,000 hectares in 2014, but then began to rise again.

In 2017, it reached 11,000 hectares, and jumped to almost 25,000 hectares in 2018, but this year it surged by 174 percent over the average for the decade.

ISA said: The vast majority of the 424 reserves studied have lost less than 10 percent of their native forests, but 20 percent have lost almost half of their forest cover and five percent have virtually no trees left.

The worst recent deforestation was detected on the Ituna-Itata reservation south of Altamira in Para state, followed by the Apyterewa reservation in São Felix do Xingu, where the government had to send troops this year to remove invaders.

The data released by INPE was collected through the DETER database, a system that publishes alerts on fires and other types of developments affecting the rainforest.

The DETER numbers are not considered official deforestation data. That comes from a different system called PRODES, also managed by INPE.

PRODES numbers released last month showed deforestation rose to its highest in over a decade this year, jumping 30% from 2018 to 9,762 square km.

Deforestation usually slows around November and December during the Amazon region’s rainy season. The number for last month was unusually high.

Brazil’s Environment Ministry had no immediate comment on Friday on the DETER data for November.

The increasing rate of deforestation and fires could have dire consequences for the rainforest and the world, especially as global temperatures continue to rise.

“The Amazon is extremely important to our global environment,” said Dr. Josh Gray, an assistant professor at NC State’s Center for Geospatial Analytics and Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. “Our lives would be very different without it.”

Spanning more than 2 million square miles across northern South America, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and is home to millions of plants and animals, ranging from poison dart frogs to jaguars. This abundance of life is vital to the survival of human societies, providing everything from raw materials to functioning ecosystems.

The Amazon evolved for millions of years without fire, meaning unlike some other forests where fire is a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem, its plants and animals simply lack the necessary adaptations to survive the heat.

The Amazon plays a crucial role in regulating the climate, with its trees absorbing and storing millions of tons of carbon dioxide — a key greenhouse gas that drives global climate crisis. Deforestation releases this trapped carbon into the atmosphere.

“Trees release their stored carbon back into the atmosphere when they die,” Gray said. “Burning releases it immediately though.”

Not only does the Amazon encompass the single largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world, it’s also home to the largest river system on Earth.

The Amazon is home to more than 30 million people, including 350 indigenous and ethnic groups, who rely on the rainforest for food, shelter, clothing and even medicine.

Deforestation can also trigger changes in rainfall patterns and lead to longer dry seasons, putting agricultural productivity at risk as the warmer and drier conditions make it harder for the Amazon’s communities to grow crops and raise livestock.




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