Shocking news: There are actually three species of electric eel in the Amazon, not one [09/13/2019]
- A mostly nocturnal species found in freshwater habitats in Mexico and South America, the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) belongs to the knifefish family and is more closely related to catfish and carp than other eels. It was first described more than 250 years ago by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. - But now a team of scientists led by Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, has determined that E. electricus is in fact three distinct species. - During their work in the field, the researchers used a voltmeter to record a member of one of the newly described species, E. voltai, discharging 860 volts, the highest discharge ever recorded for any animal (the previous record was 650 volts).
Expand or Intensify? Balancing biodiversity and rising food needs: study [09/13/2019]
- A recent study shows that for a given rise in food production, the impact of cropland expansion on biodiversity is many times greater than that for cropland intensification. This is because expansion can be expected to occur in those regions with the highest existing levels of biodiversity, mainly in Central and South America, a new study finds. - Researchers estimated crop expansion and intensification potential for 17 major agricultural crops using socio-economic data as well as data on biophysical constraints. This information was overlaid with spatial data on biodiversity, specifically endemism richness to determine how each strategy would impact biodiversity in different locales. - Worldwide, there is a major gap between the amount farms are producing and potential yields that could be achieved if plants were grown in an optimal way on minimal land. Closing this yield gap by 28 percent through land use intensification would increase production equal to expanding cropland area by 730 million hectares. - In the future, we need to not only protect biodiversity on uncultivated wildlands, but also make the very most economically and ecologically of our existing croplands, encouraging biodiversity there as well, while maximizing food production.
Brazilian Amazon fires scientifically linked to 2019 deforestation: report [09/11/2019]
- A scientific report released today by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reveals critical overlap between deforestation and fire alerts. Mongabay had exclusive access to the report ahead of release. - At least 52,500 hectares (130,000 acres) of the Brazilian Amazon — the equivalent to 72,000 soccer fields — were cleared through 2019 and then burned in August. The findings offer a base map overlapping 2019 deforestation and fire hotspots, and include 16 high-resolution time lapse videos unveiling newly cleared agricultural lands linked to fire occurrences. - MAAP’s findings show that the dramatic photos that garnered worldwide attention of smoky fires sweeping the Brazilian Amazon in August do not correspond with burning rainforest, but instead coincide with areas intentionally deforested this year, with the cleared land then set ablaze to finish the agricultural conversion process. - Although the report didn’t detect major forest fires in Brazil to date, the risk still exists, as the dry season deepens, given that many fire occurrences were detected on agriculture-forest boundaries. The study doesn’t say how much of the 52,500 hectares cleared in the first 8 months of 2019 were illegally deforested.
Camera trap study reveals Amazon ocelot’s survival strategies [09/10/2019]
- Ocelots suffered severe declines in the 1960s and 70s due to hunting, but populations have rebounded since the international fur trade was banned. Now, heavy deforestation and increasing human activity across their range threaten to put this elegant creature back on the endangered list. - Researchers collected images from hundreds of camera traps set across the Amazon basin and analyzed the effect of different habitat characteristics on the presence of ocelots. Statistical modeling revealed the cat’s preference for dense forests and a dislike of roads and human settlements. - Experts say ocelots may also be responding to human activity and forest degradation in ways that camera traps cannot easily detect, such as changing how and when they use a particular habitat. The study looked at ocelot behavior in protected and forested habitat, not in degraded landscapes. - Ocelots are considered ambassador species for their forest ecosystem, and studies like this give support to maintaining protected areas, which are increasingly under threat from agricultural expansion and other human activities.
Pro-deforestation policies could be ruinous for farmers (commentary) [09/10/2019]
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claims to be a champion of farmers and ranchers, but his policies in the Amazon could be ruinous for them in the long-run, argues Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler. - While large-scale deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest may offer short-term opportunities for ranchers and farmers to expand their holdings, scientists say the approach is a risky proposition in the long-term given the role the Amazon plays in sustaining Brazilian agribusiness through the rainfall it affords. - Note: this commentary was originally written August 27, 2019. Minor modifications have been made to reflect the discrepancy between time of writing and publishing. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
State governors support Bolsonaro’s Amazon mining, agribusiness plans [09/09/2019]
- In a meeting with nine Amazon state governors called by Jair Bolsonaro to discuss the region’s wildfires, the president pushed the states to back his policies which seek to bring major mining and agribusiness operations onto indigenous lands. Doing so would be a direct violation of the 1988 Constitution. - Backing Bolsonaro were the governors of Acre, Roraima, Tocantins, Rondônia, Amazonas, Mato Grosso and Amapá states. Only the Pará and Maranhão governors opposed opening more forest areas to development and favored upholding current indigenous land use rights. - Most of the state governors agreed with Bolsonaro that indigenous groups hold control over too much Brazilian land that could be mined or turned over to agribusiness, greatly profiting the nation, while also bringing indigenous people into mainstream Brazilian society. - The federal Congress is presently crafting legislation that could open indigenous lands to mining and industrial agribusiness. It is also preparing to vote on a bill that seems likely to pass and would allocate R$ 1 billion (US$ 240 million) to combat deforestation and fires in the Amazon and carry out land regularization.
Amazon deforestation and development heighten Amazon fire risk: study [09/06/2019]
- The current fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon are helping confirm the findings of a new study published this July which shows a major connection between land use and fire incidence — with deforestation and development contributing more to fire occurrence than climate change. - New research shows that unrestrained deforestation, along with the construction of new highways, could expand wildfire risk in the Amazon by more than 70 percent by 2100, even inside protected areas and indigenous reserves that have relatively intact forests. - Scientist suggest that efforts to improve sustainable land management and reduce future deforestation and development could offer the best defenses against the escalating threat wildfires pose due to the increased heat and drought brought by escalating climate change.
New monkey species found in Amazon forest area that’s fast disappearing [09/05/2019]
- From a stretch of the Amazon forest lying between the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers in the Brazilian state of Pará, researchers have described a new-to-science species of marmoset. - The marmoset, with its distinct white tail, white forearms with a beige-yellowish spot on the elbow, and white feet and hands, has been named Mico munduruku after the Munduruku, an indigenous group of people who live in the Tapajós–Jamanxim interfluve. - At the moment, given the scarcity of information on M. munduruku, the researchers recommend listing the marmoset as data deficient on the IUCN Red List. - However, the Amazon forest that’s home to the newly described species is being rapidly cut for agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and infrastructure development.
Giant Norway pension fund weighs Brazil divestment over Amazon deforestation [09/03/2019]
- KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund, with over US$80 billion in assets, is saying it may divest from transnational commodities traders operating in Brazil such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill, if they work with producers who contribute to deforestation. KLP has $50 million in shares and loans with the firms. - KLP is also reaching out to other investors to lobby them to use their financial influence to curb Amazon deforestation via supply chains. On August 28, Nordea, the largest asset management group in the Nordic region announced a temporary quarantine on Brazilian government bonds in response to this year’s Amazon fires. - International investment firms play a pivotal role in preserving or deforesting the Amazon. A new report found that mega-investment house BlackRock ranks among the top three shareholders in 25 of the largest public “deforestation-risk” companies, firms dealing in soy, beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and timber. - The Amazon deforestation process is complex. But it often proceeds by the following steps: land speculators invade the rainforest, illegally cut down and sell the most valuable timber, then set fire to the rest; they then can sell the land for 100-200 times its previous worth to cattle ranchers, who may eventually sell it to soy growers.
Brazil’s satellite agency resumes releasing deforestation data [09/01/2019]
- Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE resumed releasing deforestation data after nearly a month-long hiatus that followed the firing of the agency’s director. - The newly released data estimates that more than 1,400 square kilometers of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between August 1 and August 26, 2019. That rate is running well ahead of last August. - Year-to-date, INPE data puts forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon at 5,884 square kilometers through August 26, up more than 75 percent over last year. - INPE reported an increase in burn scars in the Amazon, rising from 794 square kilometers last August to 1,259 square kilometers for the first 26 days of last month. For the year, INPE has recorded 46,825 hotspots in Amazonia, more than twice the number of a year ago.
Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires grows [08/30/2019]
- As a result of international concern and media attention, along with pressure from within his own nation, Jair Bolsonaro decreed a 60-day ban on the setting of fires in the Brazilian Amazon on Wednesday, 28 August. The order came as experts warned that the worst fires this year may be yet to come. - To avoid international attention, Brazil’s House of Deputies put on hold a plan to pass sweeping legislation that would abolish significant existing environmental protections for 1,514 quilombolas (communities of runaway slave descendants), 163 as yet un-demarcated indigenous territories, and 543 protected areas. - Both the House and Senate proposed inquiries into the Amazon fires. Also, 400 IBAMA personnel signed an open letter demanding qualified professionals run the environmental agency, that past budget and staffing levels be restored, and that security squads again be deployed with IBAMA teams fighting deforestation. - Even as South American nations organized a meeting to combat deforestation, Bolsonaro moved ahead with a plan to privatize deforestation satellite monitoring in Brazil. The new system, experts warn, could end real time monthly monitoring, needed to apprehend illegal deforesters.
Misinformation and blame spread concerning sources of Amazon fires [08/28/2019]
- With the global spotlight on Brazil’s Amazon fires, those in and out of government are playing a blame game, pointing fingers and often using unsubstantiated claims to target those they say set the blazes. - Pres. Jair Bolsonaro, without evidence, has blamed NGOs disgruntled at losing international Amazon funding. He also accused state governors for not fighting the fires. One ruralist even blamed ICMBio (Brazil’s national park service) for setting the blazes, though she has since been charged with setting fires in a protected area. - Conservationists put the blame squarely on Bolsonaro and his deregulation and defunding of government institutions, including IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, which used to regularly fight fires and arrest perpetrators. - IBAMA claims that, though warned days in advance of “A Day of Fire” in Pará state, it received no law enforcement backup from federal or state authorities. This allowed ruralists (radical agricultural advocates) in Altamira and Novo Progresso to set hundreds of fires on August 10-11, with little fear of fines or prosecution.
New road risks Pandora’s box of disruption in world’s most biodiverse national park (commentary) [08/28/2019]
- We are living in the most dramatic era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history. Thousands of projects are opening up many of Earth’s remaining wild areas and biodiversity hotspots to tsunamis of human pressures. - About nine-tenths of all new infrastructure is currently being built in developing nations, which sustain most of the world’s tropical and subtropical forests—renowned for their environmental importance. - William Laurance, a distinguished professor and authority on infrastructure developments, and Penny van Oosterzee, a tropical researcher, argue that planned or illegal road projects are imperiling Manu National Park, one of the world’s most critical protected areas and possibly the biologically richest ecosystem on Earth. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
A healthy and productive Amazon is the foundation of Brazil’s sovereignty (commentary) [08/27/2019]
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro likes to assert that foreigners deserve no say over the fate of the Amazon because it is a national sovereignty issue. In making the argument, Bolsonaro at times lays out a grand conspiracy under which a body like the U.N. tries to “internationalize” the Amazon, claiming it as the domain of the world. - As fires rage, some on social media are raising the idea of the Amazon being the domain of the world. But this discussion plays directly into Bolsonaro’s narrative, strengthening his hand. - Instead, concerned people of the world should talk about how a healthy and productive Amazon actually underpins Brazil’s sovereignty by strengthening food, water, and energy security, while supporting good relations with its neighbors. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Michael Shellenberger’s sloppy Forbes diatribe deceives on Amazon fires (commentary) [08/27/2019]
- Forbes columnist Michael Shellenberger gets a few things right about the Amazon fires, but he also spreads misinformation not founded in fact or science. - What Shellenberger gets right: The Amazon is being mischaracterized by the media as “the lungs of the planet”, the number of fires have been higher in the past, and there is a need to engage Brazilian ranchers and farmers to help curb deforestation and burning. - What Shellenberger gets wrong: According to scientists, the big issue is that the Brazilian Amazon stores a vast amount of carbon. Increased deforestation combined with climate change is pushing the Amazon ever closer to a forest-to-savanna tipping point, triggering a large release of carbon and worsening global warming. - Also downplayed: the role Jair Bolsonaro is playing in the crisis. Since January, he has dismantled environmental enforcement agencies and used incendiary language to incite ranchers and farmers to illegally clear forest. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
DiCaprio joins $5M effort to combat Amazon fires [08/26/2019]
- In response to rising deforestation and fires in the Amazon, on Sunday actor Leonardo DiCaprio and philanthropists Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth announced the establishment of a $5 million fund to support indigenous communities and other first responders working to protect the Amazon. - The Amazon Forest Fund is the first major initiative of the Earth Alliance, which Global Wildlife Conservation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and the Emerson Collective formed in July. - The fund’s initial grants went to five Brazilian organizations: Instituto Associacao Floresta Protegida, the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, Instituto Kabu, Instituto Raoni, and Instituto Socioambiental. - The establishment of the fund comes amid global outcry over rising deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. After years of declining deforestation in the region, forest clearing spiked in July. Then last week, smoke from land-clearing fires blackened the skies above Sao Paulo, acting as a catalyst for worldwide awareness of the issue.
Bolsonaro expresses ‘love’ for Amazon as it burns, offers no policy shift [08/26/2019]
- The number of fires in the Amazon biome topped 41,858 in 2019 as of August 24 (up from 22,000 this time last year). Scientists are especially concerned about wildfires raging inside protected areas, such as Jamanxim National Forest in Pará state and Mato Grosso’s Serra de Ricardo Franco Park. - While the Bolsonaro government blames hot weather for the Amazon blazes, others disagree. They point to the link between fires and their use to illegally clear rainforest by land speculators, who — emboldened by Bolsonaro’s lax enforcement policies —sell cleared land for 100-200 times more money than it would sell for with trees covering it. - Preliminary data shows deforestation rising under Bolsonaro. The rate in June 2019 was 88 percent higher than in June 2018; deforestation soared by 278 percent in July 2019 as compared with July 2018. The rise, analysts say, is due in part to the dismantling of IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency. - Bolsonaro has pledged to bring in the army to fight the Amazon blazes and deployed the first units over the weekend, while on Monday the G7 nations promised an emergency $20 million in aid to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a long-term global initiative to protect the rainforest.
Greenpeace releases dramatic photos of Amazon fires [08/25/2019]
- Today Greenpeace Brazil released dramatic photos of fires currently burning through rainforests and agricultural land in the Brazilian Amazon. - Some of the fires appear to be burning forests with well-developed canopy structure, suggesting that carbon-dense and biodiverse forests are being directly impacted by the fires. - Greenpeace says its own spatial analysis indicates that 15,749 of the 23,006 hotspots it recorded in the Amazon in the first 20 days of the month were in areas that were forest in 2017. - Those conclusions provide further evidence that the fires were set intentionally for forest-clearing purposes.
How many fires are burning in the Amazon? [08/25/2019]
- The fires raging in the Amazon are nearly double over last year, but remain moderate in the historical context. - The 41,858 fires recorded in the Amazon as of Aug. 24 this year are the highest number since 2010, when 58,476 were recorded by the end of August. But 2019 is well below the mid-2000s, when deforestation rates were very much higher. - However, this year’s numbers come with an important caveat: the satellites used for hotspot tracking in Brazil have limited capacity to detect sub-canopy fires. - The hazy, dark skies over São Paulo have focused worldwide attention on the soaring deforestation rates in the Amazon as well as the pro-deforestation policies of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Amazon fires trigger protests worldwide [08/24/2019]
- Tens of thousands of active fires are ravaging the Brazilian Amazon in recent weeks, sparking protests in cities across Brazil and around the world, urging effective action from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to contain fires in the world’s largest rainforest. - On August 23, demonstrators blocked off roads, shouting slogans and holding placards reading: “Stop killing our Amazon” in cities that included São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, London, Geneva, Paris, Berlin and Toronto. Protesters also demanded Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles to resign. - An online petition in the UK asked the European Union to sanction Brazil for its increased deforestation. Within a day, it collected over 65,000 signatures. If it reaches the 100,000 signatures mark, the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament. - French President Emmanuel Macron also have called for emergency talks at the G7 summit in Biarritz to discuss the record number of fires, calling the situation an international crisis and gaining the support of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Satellite images from Planet reveal devastating Amazon fires in near real-time [08/22/2019]
- While many of the images currently being shared on social media and by news outlets are from past fires, satellites can provide a near real-time view of what’s unfolding in the Amazon. - With near-daily overflights and high-resolution imagery, Planet’s constellation of satellites is providing a clear look at some of the fires now burning in the Brazilian Amazon. - Beyond dramatic snapshots, those images also provide data that can be mined for critical insights on what’s happening in the Amazon on a basin-wide scale.
Amazon rainforest fires leave São Paulo in the dark [08/21/2019]
- The number of forest fires in Brazil soared 85 percent between January 1 and August 20 compared to a year ago, according to data from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE). Roughly half of fire occurrences of this year were registered in the last 20 days, INPE data showed. - In a technical note released in the evening of August 20, the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia) said the occurrences are directly connected to deforestation as it didn’t find any evidence to argue that the fires could be a consequence of a lack of rain. - Fires in Brazil came to spotlight since the afternoon of August 19, when São Paulo’s skies suddenly turned black, spurring discussion about the linkage between the fires and the phenomenon. Since then, “Amazon Fires” are trending on Twitter under the hashtag #PrayforAmazonas. - Far-right President Bolsonaro reacted on August 21, raising suspicion that members of NGOs could be behind the fires in retaliation against the government for having caused the suspension of a $33.2 million payment from Norway to the Amazon Fund.
Deforestation, climate crisis could crash Amazon tree diversity: study [08/18/2019]
- New research finds that when climate change and deforestation impacts are taken together, up to 58 percent of Amazon tree species richness could be lost by 2050, of which 49 percent would have some degree of risk for extinction. - Under the deforestation/climate change scenario, half the Amazon (the north, central and west) could be reduced to 53 percent of the original forest. The other half (the east, south and southeast, where agribusiness occurs), could become extremely fragmented, with only 30 percent of forest remaining. - Studies rarely take both climate change and deforestation into account. But the new study’s results bolster the findings of other scientists who have modeled results showing that when the Amazon is 20-25 percent deforested, it could cross a rainforest to savanna conversion tipping point, a disaster for biodiversity. - Scientists warn that Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policies could result in a worst-case scenario, with severe damage to the Amazon rainforest and to its ecological services, including the loss of the sequestration of vast amounts of stored carbon, leading to a regional and global intensification of climate change.
Norway freezes support for Amazon Fund; EU/Brazil trade deal at risk? [08/16/2019]
- On Thursday, Norway announced a freeze on US$33.2 million, Amazon Fund donations slated for projects aimed at curbing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The REDD+ Amazon Fund was launched in 2008, and was expected to continue indefinitely. - However, the anti-environmental policies of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro have put the Fund’s future in grave doubt. Norway’s freeze came as the direct result of the Bolsonaro administration’s unilateral action to drastically alter the rules for administering the fund, even as monthly deforestation rates shot up in Brazil. - Bolsonaro seems not to care about the loss of funding. However, some analysts warn that Norway’s decision could lead to a refusal by the European Union to ratify the recently concluded EU/Mercosur Latin American trading bloc agreement. Brazil’s troubled economy badly needs the pact to be activated. - Other Bolsonaro critics have raised the prospect that the Amazon Fund freeze could be a first step toward a global consumer boycott of Brazilian commodities. Meanwhile, state governments in Brazil are scrambling to step up and accept deforestation reduction funding from international donors.
Precision conservation: High tech to the rescue in the Peruvian Amazon [08/15/2019]
- Peru’s Los Amigos Biological Station stands on a dividing line between the devastation caused by a gold rush centered on La Pampa, and a vast swath of conserved lands that includes Manú National Park — likely the most biologically important protected area in Latin America — plus its conserved buffers. - Teaming up to defend these thriving forests and their biodiversity are conservationists and technologists — an innovative alliance that includes Conservación Amazónica (ACCA), Amazon Conservation (ACA), the Andes Amazon Fund, along with other organizations. - Among the precision conservation tools they use to patrol against invading artisanal miners and illegal loggers are drones, acoustic monitoring, machine learning, lidar and thermal imaging — all applied to protecting one of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth. - Conservationists are hopeful not only that they’ll be able to protect Manú National Park and its buffers, but that they may be able to one day help remediate and restore the wrecked habitat of La Pampa. This integrative approach, they say, is vital to conserving the region’s biodiversity against the escalating climate crisis.
Germany cuts $39.5 million in environmental funding to Brazil [08/13/2019]
- Germany has announced plans to withdraw some €35 million (US $39.5 million) to Brazil due to the country’s lack of commitment to curbing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest shown by the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. - The funding loss will impact environmental projects in the Amazon, Atlantic Forest and Cerrado biomes. - The cut will not, however, impact the Amazon Fund — a pool of some $87 million provided to Brazil each year by developed nations, especially Norway and Germany — to finance a variety of programs aimed at halting deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. - Some experts have expressed concern that Germany’s $39.5 million cut could cause other developed nations to withdraw Brazil funding, and even threaten the Amazon Fund, or the ratification of the recently concluded EU/Mercosur Latin American trade agreement.
Bolsonaro administration approves 290 new pesticide products for use [08/12/2019]
- In just seven months, the Bolsonaro government has approved 290 new pesticide products for use, at the rate of nearly 1.4 per day. Some of the approved chemicals are banned in the EU, US, and elsewhere. Brazil is one of the largest users of pesticides in the world, with utilization on its vast soy crop especially intensive. - Most of the pesticides approved are not new individual chemicals, but toxic cocktails that combine a variety of pesticides blended for various uses. However, these combinations have rarely been tested to determine their interactions or impacts on human health or nature. - In addition to the new products, a new regulatory framework to assess pesticide health risks was established in July that will reduce restrictiveness of toxicological classifications. Under Bolsonaro, 1,942 registered pesticides were quickly reevaluated, with the number considered extremely toxic dropped from 702 to just 43. - Pesticide poisoning is common in Brazil, and on the rise. The full impacts of chemical toxins on wildlife, plants, waterways and ecosystems are not known. Agribusiness typically sprays from the air, a process that if not conducted properly can result in wind drift of toxins into natural areas and human communities.
Bolsonaro can bully on deforestation, but he can’t hide from satellites (commentary) [08/07/2019]
- In response to rising international criticism over a surge in forest clearing since the beginning of the year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and officials in his administration have recently stepped up attacks on scientists at the country’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) for continuing to report transparently on deforestation in the Amazon. - The expectation among civil society groups is that the Bolsonaro administration will soon stop releasing or start manipulating INPE’s deforestation data. But if Bolsonaro thinks that approach will pacify critics, he is gravely misleading himself: Bolsonaro will not be able to hide what’s happening in the Amazon from the rest of the world. - From Planet’s constellation of satellites to NASA’s Landsat to the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Sentinel-1, today there are many eyes in the sky looking down at the Amazon. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Amazon indigenous groups feel deserted by Brazil’s public health service [08/05/2019]
- Until recently, hundreds of Cuban doctors staffed many remote indigenous health facilities in the Brazilian Amazon and around the nation, an initiative funded by the More Doctors program set up by President Dilma Rousseff in 2013. - But far-right President Jair Bolsonaro radically restructured the program, and Cuba — calling Bolsonaro’s demands unreasonable — pulled its doctors out. - That withdrawal heavily impacted indigenous groups. Of the 372 doctors working within indigenous communities, 301 were Cuban. The Ministry of Health says 354 vacancies have since been filled by Brazilian doctors, but indigenous communities say many new doctors are unwilling to stay long in the remote posts. - Bolsonaro has hindered rural health care in other ways: 13,000 indigenous health workers have remained unpaid since February or April, depending on the region, after the Brazilian Minister of Health stopped providing resources to the 8 NGOs contracted to provide health services to 34 Special Sanitary Indigenous Districts.
Future of Amazon deforestation data in doubt as research head sacked [08/05/2019]
- The Brazilian government and the world have relied on the INPE (Brazilian National Institute of Space Research) satellite monitoring system to track deforestation since 1988, without controversy. INPE’s data gathering program has been hailed as one of the best such operations in the tropics. - However, after INPE reported a major uptick in the rate of Brazilian Amazon deforestation in June and July 2019, as compared with the same months in 2018, the Bolsonaro administration responded angrily by accusing the agency of manipulating data, of lying, and of being in conspiracy with international NGOs. - On August 2, the president fired Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, the head of INPE, leaving officials inside the institution concerned for the future of the satellite monitoring program. The government has repeatedly said it plans to develop a costly, privatized deforestation tracking system which would replace INPE. - Galvão’s removal triggered an outcry from scientists, NGOs and Brazilian federal prosecutors who are concerned over the threat to the future accuracy of Amazon deforestation monitoring. The Bolsonaro administration plans to announce a replacement shortly.
As Amazon deforestation in Brazil rises, Bolsonaro administration attacks the messenger (commentary) [08/03/2019]
- Officials in the Bolsonaro administration have attacked the credibility of the National Institute for Space Research’s system for tracking deforestation. - But an analysis indicates their criticism of INPE is flawed. - Nonetheless, the Bolsonaro administration is taking measures against the agency, including firing INPE’s director Ricardo Galvão on Friday. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
New film reveals at-risk ‘uncontacted’ Awá tribe in Brazilian Amazon [08/01/2019]
- A just released documentary film includes footage of an uncontacted indigenous group known as the Awá Guajá, hunter-gatherers described by NGO Survival International as the most threatened tribe on the planet. The indigenous group lives in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in Northeast Maranhão state. - The footage was captured by chance by cameraman Flay Guajajara, a member of the Mídia Índia (a collective of indigenous communicators of various ethnicities) when he and other Guajajara Indians were on a hunting trip in the Araribóia reserve, one of the country’s most threatened indigenous territories.
* - The Awá share the Araribóia reserve with their Guajajara relatives. In late 2012, the Guajajara set up a group who call themselves “Guardians of the Forest” and risk their lives combatting illegal logging to protect the reserve and the Awá’s lives.
Study shows how to protect more species for less money in western Amazon [07/31/2019]
- A new study identifies nearly 300 areas for proposed protection in the western Amazon that would give the most bang for the buck in terms of the number of species conserved in this biodiversity hotspot. - The researchers considered management and lost-opportunity costs in their analyses, and found that the presence of indigenous communities in protected areas can actually bring down the costs of conservation. - While the estimated cost for protecting these proposed areas is just $100 million a year — less than a hundredth of the GDP of the countries in the western Amazon — the researchers say there needs to be clear political will to implement such a solution.
‘Extremely rare’ fossil tooth of hamster-sized monkey found in Peru [07/31/2019]
- From the riverbed of the Río Alto Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru, researchers have found an extremely small tooth that belonged to a species of tiny monkey that lived some 18 million years ago. - Researchers have named the new species of extinct monkey Parvimico materdei, with parvimico meaning tiny monkey and the species name referring to the river where the fossil tooth was found. - From the tooth, the researchers have deduced that the monkey was exceptionally small, in the size range of marmosets and tamarins, and likely ate a mix of insects and fruits. - Given how the monkey fossil record for the period between 13 million and 31 million years ago from South America is extremely scarce, creating a gap in the understanding of the evolution of New World monkeys, the discovery of P. materdei is incredibly exciting, researchers say.
Authorities investigate murder of indigenous leader in Brazilian Amazon [07/30/2019]
- A task force is investigating the murder of indigenous leader Emyra Wajãpi, who was found dead on July 23, stabbed close to the Waseity indigenous village where he lived, in the northern state of Amapá, according to the Wajãpi Village Council (Apina). - On the night of July 26, a group of 50 gold miners — some reportedly armed with rifles and machine guns — allegedly invaded the neighboring Yvytotõ indigenous village and threatened residents, forcing them to flee, Apina reported. Authorities are investigating the alleged incursion. - The violence in Amapá came as far-right president Jair Bolsonaro continues pressing for legalization of mining and agribusiness operations within protected indigenous reserves. Indigenous groups argue that the president’s rhetoric encourages invasions of indigenous lands, escalating violence against native people. - The indigenous villages where the alleged crimes took place are part of the Wajãpi indigenous reserve, an area of about 6,000 square kilometers (2,317 square miles), rich in gold and other minerals.
Brazilian Amazon deforestation surge is real despite Bolsonaro’s denial (commentary) [07/29/2019]
- June 2019 saw an 88 percent increase in Amazon deforestation over the same month in 2018. In the first half of July 2019, deforestation was 68 percent above that for the entire month of July 2018, according to INPE, Brazil’s federal monitoring agency. - However, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, is denying the accuracy of his own government statistics, calling INPE’s data “lies.” - Like US President Trump, Bolsonaro has a history of denying scientific data and facts when they conflict with his ideology and policies, including the need for action to combat the escalating climate crisis. - The conservation outlook for the rest of Bolsonaro’s four-year term is grim; he has in just six months dismantled Brazil’s environmental agencies, deforestation program and environmental licensing system. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Small-scale farming is a big threat to biodiversity in the western Amazon: Study [07/24/2019]
- Smallholder farming poses a significant threat to biodiversity in the western Amazonian forests of northeastern Peru, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, a study led by researchers at Princeton University has found. - Small-scale agricultural operations are generally considered to be much less harmful to wildlife than the wholesale clearance and conversion of forests to pasture or cropland, but the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology in May, shows that small-scale farmers’ activities are having a substantially negative impact on wildlife and plant life all the same. - Plans to build more roads in the northern Peru could exacerbate the situation, but the researchers say their findings have important implications for conservation policy in the western Amazon region and could help point a way towards mitigating the impact of future development.
New initiative aims to jump-start stalled drive toward zero deforestation [07/19/2019]
- Over the past decade there has been a rise in corporate zero-deforestation commitments, but very few companies have shown progress in meeting their goals of reducing deforestation in their supply chains by 2020. - The Accountability Framework Initiative, launched by a group of 14 civil society organizations, is the latest tool to help companies make progress, and hold them accountable, on their zero-deforestation commitments. - The Accountability Framework Initiative is expected to be especially important for markets like Europe, where demand for crops like soy has been linked to rising deforestation in places like the Brazilian Cerrado.
Complicating the narrative about indigenous communities and their struggles (insider) [07/18/2019]
- Often in articles about indigenous struggles or resistance, there is a need to write about communities as being victims of the extractive sector, or warriors fighting to defend their territory. I’ve been writing about indigenous resistance in Ecuador for about three years, and I’ve often fallen into the same dynamic. - In my case, I seek out the warriors. But what if the news media allowed indigenous people to be whole and multifaceted? - This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.
Experts deny alleged manipulation of Amazon satellite deforestation data [07/16/2019]
- The Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE) issues annual Amazon deforestation reports via its PRODES satellite monitoring system (which relies on NASA Landsat satellite imaging), while the DETER system issues monthly deforestation/degradation alerts (which rely on Sino-Brazilian satellites). - While experts consider INPE’s monitoring systems among the best in the tropics, ministers in the Bolsonaro administration have insinuated that the deforestation data may be manipulated. Experts have denied this, and note that INPE findings align well with those collected by NGOs Imazon and ISA, and Global Forest Watch (GFW). - All of the data collected so far from various sources show an upswing in deforestation since Jair Bolsonaro’s election win. However, definitive and precise statistics require year-to-year comparisons, not monthly ones, and won’t be available until later in 2019. - In March, Brazil’s environment minister pressed for a new but costly private deforestation tracking system. In June, the open-access platform MapBiomas — a network of NGOs, universities and tech firms, along with Google — launched a system to compile data from INPE, ISA, Imazon and GFW to produce definitive deforestation data.
Yanomami Amazon reserve invaded by 20,000 miners; Bolsonaro fails to act [07/12/2019]
- An estimated 20,000 illegal goldminers (garimpeiros) have entered Yanomami Park, one of Brazil’s biggest indigenous reserves, located in Roraima and Amazonas states, near the border with Venezuela. - The miners are well funded, likely by entrepreneurs, who pay workers and provide them with earthmoving equipment, supplies and airplanes. Three illegal air strips and three open-pit goldmines are in operation within the Yanomami indigenous territory. - Indigenous leaders blame President Bolsonaro, with his incendiary anti-indigenous language, and his administration, with its policies that have defunded and gutted agencies responsible for law enforcement in the Amazon. - Bolsonaro claims indigenous people want mining and industrial agribusiness on their lands, but the Yanomami vehemently deny such desires. They say they want self-determination over the types of businesses on their lands. One such new, sustainable business is a chocolate concession that would preserve the rainforest and offer income.
As Amazon deforestation rises, sensational headlines play into Bolsonaro’s agenda (commentary) [07/08/2019]
- Deforestation appears to be on the rise in the Brazilian Amazon, but sensational headlines are playing into the Bolsonaro administration’s campaign to undermine science-based monitoring of the Amazon. - For example, administration officials are actively calling into question Brazilian space agency INPE’s data, according to BBC News, which last week quoted General Augusto Heleno Pereira as saying that data on deforestation rates in the Amazon are “manipulated.” Pereira’s claim is completely unsubstantiated, but is nonetheless consistent with a reported push by the Bolsonaro administration to privatize deforestation monitoring. - It is critically important that deforestation data is reported accurately by the media. The damage being wrought right now is certainly real and significant. There is no need to embellish or misrepresent the data. Doing so only furnishes the Bolsonaro administration with more ammunition for its war on journalism, science, and the environment. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Heart of Ecuador’s Yasuni, home to uncontacted tribes, opens for oil drilling [07/05/2019]
- Ecuador’s environment ministry has approved the environmental assessment plans to drill for oil in Ishpingo, the last field of the controversial ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) project in Yasuni National Park. - Saving Yasuni from oil extraction has long been a priority for conservationists, since former president Rafael Correa launched the ITT initiative in 2007, asking for international donations in return for keeping oil in the ground. The initiative failed in 2013. - Ishpingo is the most controversial of the three ITT fields as it overlaps with the Intangible Zone, home to two uncontacted indigenous communities, the Tagaeri and Taromenane; the government claims it will not expand into this area. - The Ecuadoran government also signed a new decree that now allows oil platforms to be constructed within the Intangible Zone’s buffer area, which was previously forbidden.
Amazon REDD+ scheme side-steps land rights to reward small forest producers [07/03/2019]
- To safeguard the almost 90 percent of its land still covered with forest, the small Brazilian state of Acre implemented a carbon credit scheme that assigns monetary value to stored carbon in the standing trees and rewards local “ecosystem service providers” for their role protecting it. - Acre’s System of Incentives for Environmental Services (SISA) rewards sustainable harvesting of rubber, nuts and other commodities from the forests. Crucially, it doesn’t make land tenure a prerequisite to qualify for incentives such as subsidies and agricultural supplies. - But a new study criticizes the program for giving state officials the power to determine what counts as “green labor.” The program already promotes intensive agricultural practices and artificial fishponds, and experts warn more damaging practices may be permitted under the control of new state officials. - There’s also no definitive evidence that the program works to conserve forests, with the rate of deforestation in Acre holding relatively steady since SISA came into effect.
For Ecuador’s Sápara, saving the forest means saving their language [07/02/2019]
- The Sápara people of Ecuador, who live in one of the most biodiverse forests in the world, are fighting to retain their traditional language, spoken today by only a handful of native speakers. - Tropical rainforests around the world and especially in Latin America are at the forefront of a rapid decline in linguistic diversity, and the traditional ecological knowledge encoded in it. - Half of the world’s languages, many spoken by only a few dozen or a few hundred people, are kept alive by only 0.1 percent of the world’s population, and constitute some of the most threatened languages. - 2019 has been declared the “year of indigenous languages” by the U.N., in recognition of the importance of linguistic diversity around the world and its rapid decline.
Amazon rural development and conservation: a path to sustainability? [07/02/2019]
- Oil palm production in Brazil continues to be conducted on a small scale as compared to the nation’s vast soy plantations. Total oil palm cultivation was just 50,000 hectares in 2010. Today, that total has risen to 236,000 hectares, 85 percent of which is in Pará state. - While environmentalists fear escalated oil palm production could lead to greater deforestation, Brazil possesses 200 million hectares (772,204 square miles) of deforested, degraded lands, three quarters of which is utilized as pasture, most of it with low productivity that could be converted to oil palm. - The Rurality Project offers an example of sustainable oil palm production through its recruitment of small-scale growers to boost local economies. But, the bulk of Amazon palm oil is produced on large plantations managed by big firms, like Biopalma, many of which have poor socioenvironmental records. - If oil palm is to become a large-scale reality in Brazil, without major deforestation, growth will need to be backed by strong regulation and enforcement. But critics say the Bolsonaro government is backing weak regulation that encourages land speculation and deforestation.
Brazil’s Bolsonaro presses anti-indigenous agenda; resistance surges [06/27/2019]
- As President Jair Bolsonaro tries to steamroll his indigenous and environmental policies into law, more than 340 international and Brazilian NGOs are urging the European Union to show its disapproval by pulling out of a nearly complete landmark trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (South America’s trade bloc). - A similar plea made in May by 600 European scientists and 300 indigenous groups called on the EU to demand that Brazil respect environmental and human rights standards as a precondition for concluding the Mercosur trade negotiations. It seems very unlikely that these protests will derail the trade agreement. - Despite being blocked by the Brazilian Congress and by the nation’s Supreme Court, Bolsonaro continues demanding that responsibility for demarcating indigenous lands be taken away from FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, and be handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture. - In another move, Brazil’s Environment Minister says he plans to overhaul rules used to select deforestation projects for the Amazon Fund, money provided to Brazil annually largely by Norway and Germany. Both nations deny being consulted about the rule change that could end many NGOs receiving grants.
Satellite data suggests deforestation on the rise in Brazil [06/25/2019]
- Newly released data based on analysis of satellite imagery suggests that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen relative to last year. - On June 21, the Brazil-based research NGO Imazon published its May 2019 deforestation report, showing the area of forest cleared in the Brazilian Amazon over the past 12-months is 43 percent higher than a year ago, according to short-term alert data. - However, data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE shows a much-smaller increase of 1 percent for the period. - Brazil is now entering the peak deforestation season so environmentalists are closely watching to see whether the recent trend continues or accelerates.
Brazil’s Roraima state at mercy of 2019 wildfires as federal funds dry up [06/25/2019]
- Brazil, and particularly the Amazonian state of Roraima, have seen large numbers of forest fires so far this year. From January through May, Brazil recorded 17,913 blazes nationwide, with 11,804 occurring in the nine Amazonian states. Only 2016 saw more harm in the Brazilian Amazon, when 13,663 wildfires burned over the same period. - From January to May, Roraima registered 4,600 fires, the most numerous of any state for that period (Roraima saw just 1,970 fires during all of last year). The previous annual record for a Brazilian state was set by Mato Grosso, which suffered 4,927 forest fires in all of 2016. - The uptick in fires is being blamed on a number of factors, including worsening Amazon drought brought by climate change, land theft and illegal deforestation (fire is typically used as a tool to clear rainforest in preparation for use by cattle ranchers and large-scale agribusiness). - Another contributing factor: federal deforestation and firefighting policies. Since March, the Bolsonaro government has cut $7.3 million slated for fire prevention and environmental inspections to Ibama and ICMBio, Brazil’s two federal environmental agencies.
Brazil guts environmental agencies, clears way for unchecked deforestation [06/10/2019]
- The Bolsonaro administration has launched policies that undermine IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, and ICMBio (The Chico Mendes Institute) which protects the nation’s federal conservation units, by effectively dismantling environmental law enforcement and allowing deforestation to proceed unchecked. - Fines imposed for illegal deforestation between Jan. 1 and May 15 this year were down 34 percent from the same period in 2018, the largest percentage drop ever recorded. It was also smallest number of fines ever imposed (850), compared to 1,290 in the same period last year. - Government seizures of illegally harvested timber fell even more precipitously, with just 40 cubic meters (1,410 cubic feet), equal to 10 large trees, confiscated in the first four months of 2019. By contrast, 25,000 cubic meters (883,000 cubic feet) of illegal timber were seized in 2018. IBAMA is now required to announce in advance the time and location of all its planned raids on illegal loggers. - Bolsonaro has defanged deforestation enforcement further by firing or not replacing top environmental officials. This includes 21 out of 27 IBAMA state superintendents responsible for imposing most of the deforestation fines. Also, 47 of Brazil’s conservation units now lack directors, leaving a combined area greater than the size of England without conservation leadership.
The Great Insect Dying: The tropics in trouble and some hope [06/10/2019]
- Insect species are most diverse in the tropics, but are largely unresearched, with many species not described by science. But entomologists believe abundance is being impacted by climate change, habitat destruction and the introduction of industrial agribusiness with its heavy pesticide use. - A 2018 repeat of a 1976 study in Puerto Rico, which measured the total biomass of a rainforest’s arthropods, found that in the intervening decades populations collapsed. Sticky traps caught up to 60-fold fewer insects than 37 years prior, while ground netting caught 8 times fewer insects than in 1976. - The same researchers also looked at insect abundance in a tropical forest in Western Mexico. There, biomass abundance fell eightfold in sticky traps from 1981 to 2014. Researchers from Southeast Asia, Australia, Oceania and Africa all expressed concern to Mongabay over possible insect abundance declines. - In response to feared tropical declines, new insect surveys are being launched, including the Arthropod Initiative and Global Malaise Trap Program. But all of these new initiatives suffer the same dire problem: a dearth of funding and lack of interest from foundations, conservation groups and governments.
Study reveals a fragile web of knowledge linking plants to people [06/04/2019]
- To understand how indigenous knowledge is structured, researchers chose to focus on communities’ use of palm plants, which are used across the world for a range of economically important needs — from medicine to rituals, roofing to flooring, hair products to handy tote bags. - The primary goal of the research was not to document the uses of the palms, but to study how knowledge is held in communities and how it might change. - The team concluded that cultural heritage is just as important as the plants themselves in our realization of nature’s services.
The Sateré-Mawé move to reclaim Amazon ancestral lands from invaders [06/04/2019]
- The Andirá-Marau Indigenous Reserve in Brazil’s Amazonas state — in a remote part of the Amazon basin — covers 7,885 square kilometers (3,044 square miles), and is occupied by 13,350 Sateré-Mawé indigenous people who live sustainably off the rainforest. - However, an area of Sateré-Mawé ancestral land along the Mariaquã River lies outside the demarcated reserve. It was abandoned by the Sateré-Mawé due to an epidemic. The Indians have renewed their claim to the territory since 2002 but FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, has not yet sorted the situation out. - But the Mariaquã lands are now in dispute, as illegal loggers and land grabbers invade and threaten the indigenous people living in the area around the village of Campo Branco. Dozens of outsiders have made land claims to CAR, Brazil’s Rural Environmental Registry, and allegedly threatened the Indians if they don’t vacate. - Mongabay’s reporting team joined a small group of Sateré-Mawé as they travelled to Campo Branco to strengthen their indigenous land claim. The Sateré fear that President Bolsonaro’s pledge to pass a law allowing Brazilians with “official” land claims to use arms to evict indigenous “invaders” could be used against them.
New report examines drivers of rising Amazon deforestation on country-by-country basis [05/23/2019]
- A new report examines the “unchecked development” in the Amazon that has driven deforestation rates to near-record levels throughout the world’s largest tropical forest. - The main drivers of deforestation vary from country to country, according to the report, a collaborative effort by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Andes Amazon Fund. - While the causes of Amazonian forest destruction vary, one thing that is common throughout the region is a lack of adequate resources for oversight and enforcement of environmental regulations. And “signs suggest this problem is only growing,” according to the report.
Former Brazilian enviro ministers blast Bolsonaro environmental assaults [05/23/2019]
- A new manifesto by eight of Brazil’s past environment ministers has accused the rightist Bolsonaro administration of “a series of unprecedented actions that are destroying the capacity of the environment ministry to formulate and carry out public policies.” - The ministers warn that Bolsonaro’s draconian environmental policies, including the weakening of environmental licensing, plus sweeping illegal deforestation amnesties, could cause great economic harm to Brazil, possibly endangering trade agreements with the European Union. - Brazil this month threatened to overhaul rules used to select deforestation projects for the Amazon Fund, a pool of money provided to Brazil annually, mostly by Norway and Germany. Both nations deny being consulted about the rule change that could end many NGOs receiving grants from the fund. - Environment Minister Riccardo Salles also announced a reassessment of every one of Brazil’s 334 conservation units. Some parks may be closed, including the Tamoios Ecological Station, where Bolsonaro was fined for illegal fishing in 2012 and which he’d like to turn into the “Brazilian Cancun.”
‘Resisting to exist’: Indigenous women unite against Brazil’s far-right president [05/20/2019]
- Brazil today is home to 900,000 indigenous people, speaking 274 languages and with widely differing cultural traditions. Indigenous rights were enshrined in Brazil’s 1988 constitution, including the demarcation and protection of indigenous ancestral lands. - But indigenous people have felt seriously threatened since Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, as illegal invasions of indigenous territories have rapidly escalated, and as the administration threatens to put policies in place to limit further indigenous demarcations, eliminate indigenous comments on infrastructure projects, and cut back on health services. - Many of the leaders in the fight against Bolsonaro’s policies are women; in this story, they give voice to their outrage at the danger to their homelands, communities and families.
’Green’ bonds finance industrial tree plantations in Brazil [05/16/2019]
- The Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a group of some 140 NGOs with the goal of making the pulp and paper industry more sustainable, released a briefing contending that green or climate bonds issued by Fibria, a pulp and paper company, went to maintaining and expanding plantations of eucalyptus trees. - The report suggests that the Brazilian company inflated the amount of carbon that new planting would store. - The author of the briefing also questions the environmental benefits of maintaining industrial monocultures of eucalyptus, a tree that requires a lot of water along with herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer that can impact local ecosystems and human communities.
The heat is on: Amazon tree loss could bring 1.45 degree C local rise [05/14/2019]
- A new modeling study finds that largely unrestricted “business-as-usual” Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado deforestation could result in the loss of an estimated 606,000 square kilometers of forest by 2050, leading to local temperature increases of up to 1.45 degrees Celsius, in addition to global rises in temperature. - Under a Brazil Forest Code enforcement model, researchers predict deforestation would be limited to 79,000 square kilometers, with reforestation occurring over 110,000 square kilometers, leading to an average local increase of just 0.02 degrees Celsius. - Researchers say loss of tree cover must be halted and reforestation program begun to protect people and wildlife, and curb regional warming. - Reptiles and amphibians would be especially vulnerable to deforestation-triggered temperature rises and loss of humidity.
UK supermarkets implicated in Amazon deforestation supply chain: report [05/13/2019]
- Deforestation due to cattle ranching has increased in Brazil since 2014. With between 60 and 80 percent of deforested Amazon lands used for pasture, European retailers who source beef from Brazil risk amplifying Amazonian forest destruction unless international action is taken. - A report from the UK organization Earthsight finds that UK supermarket chains — including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Lidl — are still importing corned beef from Brazil’s largest beef producer, JBS, despite the company being implicated in a long string of corruption and illegal deforestation scandals over the last decade. - JBS, one of the largest food companies in the world, has faced multiple corruption charges leading to the arrest of two of its former CEOs and was fined $8 million in 2017 for illegal deforestation in the Amazon. - Many hope the forthcoming EU Communication on Stepping Up Action to Halt Deforestation will propose legislation to ensure EU companies and suppliers are not contributing to deforestation and human rights abuses. However, experts say such an agreement will only work if corporate standards are mandatory not voluntary.
Pressure mounts on EU to curb Brazilian deforestation, human rights abuses [05/09/2019]
- Concern is rising among Brazilian socioenvironmental NGOs and internationally over the new threats to indigenous people and rising deforestation seen under President Jair Bolsonaro — his administration completed its first 100 days in office in April. - The EU is Brazil’s second largest trading partner, but currently lacks any binding trade regulations on agricultural goods linked to eliminating deforestation, reducing environmental degradation, and protecting against human rights violations. - A new report by more than 20 NGOs — including FERN, Forest Peoples Programme, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Amazon Watch — is calling on the EU to include provisions in trade agreements now under negotiation, such as the EU/MERCOSUR agreement, that would fully protect forests and indigenous rights.
Mercury poisoning chief among health problems facing Peru’s uncontacted tribes [05/09/2019]
- In Peru, about 5,000 indigenous people belonging to 18 different ethnic groups live in isolation, and many more live in a state of initial contact with the outside world. - One of the most urgent problems facing these communities is mercury contamination, which affects dozens of members of the Nahua indigenous community. - The Nahua live in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Territorial Reserve. They have access to a medical post, but it lacks necessary resources and permanent staff.
Dismantling of Brazilian environmental protections gains pace [05/08/2019]
- In his first 100 days in office, Jair Bolsonaro has moved fast to change personnel and reduce the authority of IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, and ICMBio, which manages its conservation areas. His actions are seen as most benefiting ruralists — wealthy elite agribusiness and mining interests. - Presidential Decree No. 9,760 creates “conciliation centers” to investigate environmental fines, and provides multiple new ways for appealing fines, while also preventing funds gathered via penalties from being distributed to NGOs for environmental projects. - Some worry the government may use the new decree as a precedent for forgiving the hefty R$250 million (US$63.4 million) fine imposed by IBAMA on Brazil’s gigantic Vale mining company for environmental law infractions related to the Brumadinho tailings dam disaster, in which 235 people died. - A large number of IBAMA staff have been fired, including 21 of its 27 regional superintendents, responsible for combating deforestation. Many of Bolsonaro’s replacements within the top ranks of the Environment Ministry, IBAMA and ICMBio are coming from the military.
China, EU, US trading with Brazilian firms fined for Amazon deforestation: report [05/06/2019]
- Soy, cattle, timber and other commodity producers fined for Amazon illegal deforestation in Brazil continue to sell their products to companies in China, the European Union and United States according to a new report. The document names 23 importing companies, including giants Bunge, Cargill and Northwest Hardwoods. - Large international investment firms, such as BlackRock, also continue to pump money into Brazilian firms, despite their being fined for illegal Amazon forest loss by the Brazilian government, according to the report. Many Brazilian producers deny the accuracy of the Amazon Watch document. - Forest losses in the Brazilian Amazon jumped 54 percent in January 2019 compared to a year ago, and are expected to increase under the Bolsonaro administration which has announced plans for extensive environmental deregulation, and is making an aggressive push to develop the Amazon rainforest for agribusiness and mining. - With Brazilian government checks on deforestation diminishing, many analysts feel that the only way to limit the loss of Amazon forests now will be to shed a bright light on global commodities supply chains in order to make consumers worldwide aware of the participation of international companies in deforestation.
Bolsonaro administration authorizes 150+ pesticides in first 100 days [05/02/2019]
- With Brazil’s Bolsonaro administration in power for just 100 days, it has already approved 152 new pesticides for use, a record in such a short period of time, while another 1,300 pesticide requests for authorization from transnational companies await action. Most requests are from U.S., German and Chinese companies. - Brazil is already the world’s largest user of pesticides and has an acknowledged pesticide poisoning problem, with 100,000 cases reported annually, with likely many more not reported. Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina denies that pesticide fast tracking will cause any serious environmental or health problems. - Newly authorized this year are the fungicide mancozeb (mostly banned in Canada), pesticide sulfoxaflor (associated with bee colony collapse disorder), and insecticide chlorpyrifos (banned in the U.S. in 2018 and associated with development disabilities in children). - The control of both the executive and legislative branches of the Brazilian federal government by the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby means that it is very likely that bill PL 6299/2002 — called “the poison package” by critics — will be voted up this year. The legislation would greatly deregulate the approval process for pesticides.
EU holds the key to stop the ‘Notre Dame of forests’ from burning (commentary) [04/30/2019]
- Brazil’s President vowed to rip up the rainforest to make way for farming and mining, threatening the lives of Indigenous people. - European scientists and Brazilian Indigenous groups say that the EU can halt the devastation. In ongoing trade talks, the EU must demand higher standards for Brazilian goods. - EU citizens care about our planetary life support systems. Their leaders should reflect this on the global stage. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Amazon fish kill at Sinop spotlights risk from 80+ Tapajós basin dams [04/29/2019]
- Evidence shows that a 2019 fish kill in which 13 tons of dead fish were found in Brazil’s Teles Pires River was likely caused by anoxia (lack of oxygen) created by the filling of the Sinop dam’s reservoir by the Sinop HPP consortium (which includes French and Brazilian firms responsible for construction and operation). - Scientists and environmentalists had warned of this and other ecological risks, but their calls for caution were ignored by regulators and resisted by the builder. Only 30 percent of vegetation was removed from the area of the reservoir, rather than the 100 percent required by law, which helped cause the die-off. - The concern now is that similar incidents could occur elsewhere. There are at least 80 hydroelectric plants planned for the Juruena / Teles Pires basin alone — one of the Brazilian Amazon’s most important watersheds. - Of immediate concern is the Castanheira dam on the Arinos River to be built by the federal Energy Research Company (EPE). Critics fear that, under the Jair Bolsonaro government, environmental licensing and construction will advance despite serious threats posed to indigenous reserves and the environment.
Brazil Supreme Court land demarcation decision sparks indigenous protest [04/26/2019]
- On January 1, the first day of his presidency, Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (MP 870) shifting decision-making power regarding indigenous reserve demarcations from Funai, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Ministry of Agriculture. - MP 870 was quickly challenged as unconstitutional in Brazil’s Supreme Court, but on April 24 Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso rejected that challenge, though he did agree that if the Agriculture Ministry failed to carry through with indigenous demarcations in future, further legal action could go forward at that time. - At their annual encampment in Brasilia from April 24-26, approximately 4,500 indigenous people from across Brazil protested Barroso’s demarcation decision by marching on the Supreme Court building. During the three-day encampment, indigenous groups also protested Bolsonaro’s plan to allow mining and agribusiness within indigenous reserves. - Of special concern to indigenous people is the administration’s move toward adopting a policy of assimilation, which could result in the erosion of indigenous autonomy within ancestral reserves, and the absorption of indigenous cultures and traditions into Brazil’s predominant culture.
Stinging ants: Amazon indigenous group girds itself to hold ancestral lands [04/25/2019]
- The ancestral home of the Sateré-Mawé indigenous group is the Andirá-Marau Indigenous Reserve, an officially demarcated, heavily forested region covering 780,000 hectares (3,011 square miles) in Amazonas and Pará states, Brazil. - The reserve itself — along with indigenous villages around it that were not included in the demarcated area — are increasingly under attack from illegal loggers and land grabbers. - To steel themselves against the challenges posed by invading outsiders, and to create unity among their tribal groups, Sateré young men participate in a ritual known as Waumat, in which they endure the painful bites of stinging ants. - They also renew their commitment to active resistance through dances and songs that celebrate myths, past wars, victories, losses, and terrible exploitation by the colonial Portuguese. The Sateré are feeling especially challenged today by the anti-indigenous rhetoric and policies of the rightist Bolsonaro administration.
Bolsonaro draws battle lines in fight over Amazon indigenous lands [04/24/2019]
- Parintins, site of Brazil’s big annual indigenous festival, is typical of towns in the Brazilian Amazon. The Sateré, and other indigenous groups living or working there, often endure discrimination and work analogous to slavery. Civil rights are few and indigenous populations inhabit the bottom rung of the economic ladder. - Now more than ever, indigenous groups fear the loss of their cultural heritage and land rights as guaranteed under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. New president Jair Bolsonaro wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased. - The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories. The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby is strong in Congress, and it supports Bolsonaro. - The Sateré, along with other indigenous groups, have endured a long history marked by extermination and exploitation. Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people are increasingly joining together to fight the anti-indigenous policies proposed by the Bolsonaro administration and supported by the ruralists.
Camera trap study finds a threatened high-elevation mammal community in Peru [04/23/2019]
- A new camera trap study, the results of which were published in the journal Oryx last week, seeks to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the Cerros del Sira’s mammalian inhabitants. - An international team of scientists from Peru and the UK led by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, a biologist at Peru’s National University of Cusco, deployed 45 camera traps from 2015 to 2016 in the Sira Communal Reserve, part of the Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yánesha Biosphere Reserve. - Aside from revealing the distribution of and threats to the Cerros del Sira’s mammal community, the results of the camera trap survey led to a number of other insights.
Shade or sun? Forest structure affects tree responses to Amazon drought [04/17/2019]
- Large-scale satellite data has shown that while large trees expand their crown during the dry season, small trees drop leaves – possibly due to limited light availability in the shaded understory. A new study finds that tree response to dry weather is far more complex, influenced by exposure to the sun and root depth. - Detailed measurements of leaf growth and leaf loss during the annual dry season and extreme drought events shows that small trees respond differently to water deprivation depending on their surrounding environment – shaded trees gain leaves but exposed trees tend to lose them, a possible sign of dehydration stress. - Two novel study approaches revealed a complex pattern of leaf growth and loss in response to dry weather: ground-based lidar imaging that produced high-resolution 2D image slices of forest structure, and statistical division of data based on an understory tree’s distance from the canopy top, rather than from the ground up. - Losing leaves could spell death for individual trees, but these small-scale changes can also impact transpiration and have consequences for regional weather patterns and regional climate change. Also, importantly, degraded forests, with many open clearings, could be less resilient to worsening Amazon drought.
Amazon could be biggest casualty of US-China Trade war, researchers warn [04/16/2019]
- The US is the world’s largest soy producer and historically has exported the majority of its soybeans to China. - But after President Donald Trump’s high China tariffs resulted in a Chinese retaliation of a 25 percent import tariff on US agricultural goods last year, United States soy exports to China dropped 50 percent, and Chinese imports of Brazilian soybeans increased significantly. - Soy production has been linked to large-scale deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savanna — Brazil’s two largest and ecologically most important biomes. - If the US/China trade war continues, new research suggests that the amount of land dedicated to soy production in Brazil could increase by up to 39 percent in order to fill Chinese demand, causing new deforestation by up to 13 million hectares (50,139 square miles) of forest, an area the size of Greece, researchers estimate.
New Amazonian species of short-tailed whip scorpion sheds light on ‘the mating march’ [04/12/2019]
- A new species of short-tailed whip scorpion has been discovered by two arachnologists, Gustavo Ruiz and Roberta Valente of the Universidade Federal do Pará in Brazil, who described the new species in an article published in the journal PLOS ONE last month. - The new species belongs to the genus Surazomus in the Hubbardiidae family of the order Schizomida. Schizomids are small arachnids who can typically be found in leaf litter and caves or in the cavities beneath tree bark, logs, and stones in humid tropical and sub-tropical forests; they are commonly known as short-tailed whip scorpions because of the short flagella possessed by both males and females. - More than 200 Schizomids have been discovered around the world, but the order has not yet been widely studied.
Brazil soy trade linked to widespread deforestation, carbon emissions [04/03/2019]
- Recent data released by the Brazilian government’s Prodes deforestation satellite monitoring system found that 220,000 square kilometers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes were deforested between 2006 and 2017. - Roughly 10 percent of that land was then used to grow soy, a native vegetation conversion of at least 21,000 square kilometres (with over 17,000 of that in the Cerrado), according to the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Global Canopy’s Trase platform, which analyze commodities supply chains. - Clearing native vegetation releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, while crop plantations store less CO2 – a one-two punch hindering efforts to curb climate change. About 140,000 square kilometers of Cerrado were lost from 2006-2017, releasing 210 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e). - The majority of Brazil’s soy is produced for export. So experts say the best way to protect the Cerrado under the Bolsonaro administration will be for commodities companies and NGOs to create market incentives. Plans now under consideration suggest momentum is building to protect Brazil’s most vulnerable ecoregion.
Leading Amazon dam rights activist, spouse and friend murdered in Brazil [03/27/2019]
- Dilma Ferreira Silva, long time regional coordinator of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in the Tucuruí region of Pará state, was brutally murdered last Friday at her home, along with her husband, Claudionor Costa da Silva, and Hilton Lopes, a friend. - Silva was one of 32,000 people displaced during the construction of the Tucuruí mega-dam. The internationally recognized activist has in recent years been pushing the Brazilian government to adopt legislation establishing the rights of those displaced by dams, providing them with compensation; the government has so far done little to create such laws. - The killers of public officials, environmentalists, landless movement and indigenous activists in the Amazon are rarely found or brought to justice. However, in this case, Civil Police have arrested a large landowner, farmer and businessman, Fernando Ferreira Rosa Filho, known as Fernando Shalom. - While the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and deputies in the Brazilian Congress, have condemned the killing of dam activist Silva, her husband and friend, the Bolsonaro administration has failed to issue a statement of any kind.
Brazil fails to give adequate public access to Amazon land title data, study finds [03/25/2019]
- Brazil possesses vast tracts of public lands, especially in the Amazon, which exist in the public domain. Traditional peoples, landless movements, quilombolas (communities established more than a century ago by Afro-Brazilian slave descendants), and other homesteaders have the legal right to lay claim to these lands. - It is the job of state land tenure agencies to keep track of these public lands, regulating the allocation of land and property rights to secure protection for individuals and communities against forcible evictions, and to monitor against illegal deforestation, large illegal land grabs and other illicit activities. - However, a recent study found that none of eight Amazonian states met all the mandated transparency criteria. Active transparency indicators (data accessible on the internet or via public documents) were missing 56 percent of the time. Passive transparency indicators (data available on request) fared poorly as well. - The inefficiency of land tenure agencies in providing land titling information contributes to numerous land conflicts, and increases insecurity in the countryside. The lack of transparency also enhances the possibility of fraud. When the poor are deprived of rightful land title data, the wealthy often have the upper hand if land disputes go to court.
Madeira River dams may spell doom for Amazon’s marathon catfish: Studies [03/25/2019]
- Independent monitoring of a giant Amazon catfish population in the Madeira River, a major tributary of the Amazon, confirms that two hydroelectric dams have virtually blocked the species’ homing migration upstream — the longest known freshwater fish migration in the world. - Research completed in 2018 indicates a serious decline in catches of the gilded catfish (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii) and other key commercial species on the Madeira, both upstream and downstream of the two dams. - New monitoring techniques show that the disruption of the migration route raises the risk of extinction for this species, for which researchers have recommended the conservation status be elevated from vulnerable to critically endangered. - If the gilded catfish and other migratory species are to survive, mechanisms to assist their migration past the dams must be improved, researchers say.
Tapirs could be key in helping degraded rainforests bounce back [03/20/2019]
- A new study has found that lowland tapirs spend more time in degraded forests than in pristine Amazon rainforest. - They also defecate and deposit three times more seeds in these degraded areas. - The results indicate that tapirs may help human-affected forests recover and grow back.
Bolsonaro on the move: International meetings push agribusiness agenda [03/20/2019]
- On his first trip outside Brazil to meet with a head of state, Jair Bolsonaro met with Donald Trump at the White House this week. Bolsonaro also visited the CIA and dined with Trump former strategist Steve Bannon, believed to have had a role in helping Bolsonaro get elected. - Bolsonaro and Trump are known to have discussed trade, but their meeting was conducted in secret. Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” has long expressed his interest in stronger U.S. relations, though Brazil’s agriculture minister is also courting China (U.S./China trade relations remain frosty, and Brazil hopes to sell more of its soy to the Asian nation). - In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bolsonaro stated that the Brazilian government wants more agreements with the United States in a number of areas, especially mining and agriculture. He added that there is much to be discovered in the Amazon, a likely reference to untapped resources and agribusiness possibilities there. - During the visit, a letter of intent was signed between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) “to work toward the launch of the first-ever biodiversity-focused impact-investment fund for the Brazilian Amazon,” with the US$100 million fund to be financed largely by the private sector.
Brazil’s key deforestation drivers: Pasture, cropland, land speculation [03/19/2019]
- New research shows that the expansion of cropland (row crops) in Brazil nearly doubled between 2000 and 2014, from 26 million hectares (100,387 square miles) to 46.5 million hectares (179,538 square miles). - 80 percent of new cropland in Brazil came as a result of the conversion of pastures, while only 20 percent resulted from the direct conversion of native vegetation to croplands, especially soy. - However, while pastureland “absorbs” cropland expansion, and displaces it away from forests, studies show Brazilian deforestation to be most highly driven by land speculation, whereby land speculators deforest an area, possibly selling off the timber, then converting the land to pasture, and then again quickly selling the land to a soy producer at a much increased price. - Study data also confirmed a strong correlation between the implementation of the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium and declines in forest-to-soy direct conversion. However, Amazon conversion to pasturelands remains high. Meanwhile, the Cerrado savannah has seen rapid deforestation due to both pasturelands and soy plantations.
Investors warn soy giants of backlash over deforestation in South America [03/18/2019]
- Investors have called on the world’s biggest soy companies to make firm commitments to end deforestation in wildlife-rich areas of South America such as the Cerrado and Gran Chaco. - Those that fail to do so risk being exposed by environmental activists to consumer boycotts, legal action and falling profits, experts warn. - Investors are leading the way as companies fail to appreciate the scale of the crisis, campaigners say.
Brazil to open indigenous reserves to mining without indigenous consent [03/14/2019]
- New Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque announced on 4 March that he plans to permit mining on indigenous lands in Brazil, including within the Amazon. He also said that he intends to allow mining right up to Brazil’s borders, abolishing the current ban along a 150-kilometer (93-mile)-wide swath at the frontier. - The Bolsonaro administration’s indigenous mining plan is in direct opposition to indigenous land rights as guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. The indigenous mining initiative will likely be implemented via a presidential decree, which will almost surely be reviewed, and possibly be rejected, by Brazil’s Supreme Court. - Mining companies stand ready to move into indigenous reserves, if the measure goes forward. Brazil’s mining ministry has received 4,073 requests from mining companies and individuals for mining-related activities on indigenous land. Indigenous groups are outraged and they plan to resist in the courts and by whatever means possible. - Brazil’s mining industry has a very poor safety and environmental record. As recently as January, Brazil mega-mining company Vale saw a tailings dam collapse at Brumadinho which killed 193 and left another 115 missing. Public outcry is strong against the industry currently, but how the public will respond to the indigenous mining plan isn’t yet known.
Brazil to build long-resisted Amazon transmission line on indigenous land [03/13/2019]
- The Brazilian state of Roraima is currently dependent for 70 percent of its power on Venezuela’s Guri hydroelectric dam. But socioeconomic chaos in Venezuela, and deteriorating political relations between the two nations, have caused Brazil to fast-track a 750-kilometer transmission line to replace the imported energy. - General Otávio Rêgo de Barros, using a national security justification, has announced that construction will begin at the end of June on a powerline running between the cities of Manaus and Boa Vista, connecting Roraima with Brazil’s national electrical power grid. - 125 kilometers of the planned transmission line will run through the Waimiri Atroari reserve, and the indigenous group has long resisted its construction. The Waimiri Atroari are concerned about detrimental impacts on the environment and on wildlife, as hunting is a primary way for their communities to obtain food. - Roraima state has done viability studies showing that wind and solar power offer cheaper alternatives to the transmission line. But the Bolsonaro administration has ignored those alternatives. “The Indians will be consulted, but national interest must prevail,” said the general.
Combined effects of fire, fragmentation, and windstorms leave Amazonian trees particularly vulnerable [03/11/2019]
- Recent research finds that Amazonian trees in fragmented forest landscapes remain especially vulnerable to windstorms for several years after being impacted by fire — and that, in particular, larger trees that store more carbon are most at risk. - The research, the results of which were detailed in the Journal of Ecology last September, builds on the findings of a 2014 study that was based on data gathered during a decade-long field experiment involving three 50-hectare rainforest plots on the edge of agricultural fields in southeastern Amazonia — one plot was burned every year, another was burned every three years, and one control site was left unburned. - The researchers found that trees in the burned plots were not only more likely to be uprooted or to have snapped off, usually at the same height as the fire damage the tree had sustained in the past, but that those fire-and-windstorm-damaged trees were much more likely to die in ensuing years.
Can jaguar tourism save Bolivia’s fast dwindling forests? [03/07/2019]
- Few countries in the tropics have seen trees chopped down as quickly as Bolivia did between 2001 and 2017. - Within Bolivia, nearly two-thirds of that loss occurred in just a single state—Santa Cruz—as agribusiness activity, namely cattle ranching and soy farming, ramped up. - This loss has greatly reduced the extent of habitat for some of Bolivia’s best known species, including the largest land predator in the Americas, the jaguar. On top of habitat loss, jaguars in Santa Cruz are both persecuted by landowners who see them as a danger to livestock, and targeted in a lucrative new trade in their parts, including teeth and bones. - Duston Larsen, the owner of San Miguelito Ranch, is working to reverse that trend by upending the perception that jaguars necessarily need be the enemy of ranchers.
Saving the Cerrado: Six commodities traders to disclose supply chain data [03/07/2019]
- The Brazilian Cerrado once covered two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), an area bigger than Great Britain, France and Germany combined, to the east and south of the Amazon. But today, more than half its native vegetation is gone largely due to a boom in soy production – with the valuable beans exported to the EU and other nations. - The Amazon Soy Moratorium, a voluntary agreement, while reducing soy-caused deforestation In the Amazon biome, resulted in intensified deforestation in the neighboring Cerrado savannah biome. And until recently, transnational commodities firms have resisted a similar deforestation agreement in the Cerrado. - Now 6 commodities companies and members of the Soft Commodities Forum – Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Glencore Agriculture, and COFCO International, a Chinese firm – have announced a new agreement to monitor soy supply chains in 25 Cerrado deforestation “high risk” municipalities. - This new voluntary industry agreement, while a step forward, is seen as partial by critics. They say that more measures are needed to achieve zero forestation, stop farmworker exploitation, conserve land and water, and reduce over-usage of toxic pesticides.
Audio: Scott Wallace on the importance of protecting uncontacted indigenous groups in the Amazon [03/05/2019]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Scott Wallace, a journalism professor at the University of Connecticut, National Geographic writer, and author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes. - The Unconquered tells the story of an expedition into remote Amazon rainforests undertaken by the head of Brazil’s Department of Isolated Indians in order to gather information about an uncontacted tribe known as “the Arrow People” and use that information to better protect the indigenous group from the ever-advancing arc of Amazonian deforestation. - Wallace discusses his travels in the Amazon, the latest developments affecting the Arrow People, his reporting on the threats facing isolated and uncontacted indigenous tribes, and why allowing these uncontacted indigenous groups to go extinct would be a “great stain” on our humanity.
The hidden costs of hydro: We need to reconsider world’s dam plans [03/05/2019]
- As thousands of hydroelectric dams are planned worldwide, including 147 in the Amazon, a new study finds that the true socio-environmental and cultural costs of dams are rarely evaluated before construction. Were such factors counted into the lifetime cost of the dams, many would not be built. - Dam repairs and removal at the end of a project’s life are rarely figured into upfront costs. Nor are impacts on river flow reduction, loss of fisheries, and aquatic habitat connectivity, destruction of productive farmlands drowned by reservoirs, and the displacement of riverine peoples. - Lack of transparency and corruption between government and dam construction companies is at the heart of the problem preventing change. Researchers recommend that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and social impact assessments (SIAs) be granted enough weight so that if they turn out negatively it will prevent a bad dam from being built. - EIAs and SIAs should be done by third parties serving citizens, not the dam company. Better governance surrounding dams needs to be organized and implemented. There needs to be increased transparency about the true financial, social, cultural and environmental costs of dams to the public. Maintaining river flows and fish migrations is also critical.
Brazil’s New Forest Code puts vast areas of protected Amazon forest at risk [03/04/2019]
- A still controversial 2012 update to the Brazilian Forest Code that reduced the area required for legal reserves on rural private properties is endangering more than 15 million hectares (57,915 square miles) of Amazon forest, an area roughly the size of the U.S. state of Georgia, according to a recent study. - Under the 2012 New Forest Code changes, Amazon states that have protected at least 65 percent of their territory as conservation units or indigenous reserves can reduce the percentage of native vegetation required to be conserved on private lands, which could lead to even larger increases in Amazon forest loss in those states. - The updated 2012 code also pardoned illegal deforestation that occurred prior to 2008, leading to concerns among conservationists that such amnesties give private landowners a greenlight to clear native vegetation on their properties with impunity. Some analysts expect more deforestation pardons in the future. - Rather than changing Brazil’s laws, say experts, what is needed to curb Amazon deforestation is a sea change in Brazilian culture – ceasing to prioritize industrial agribusiness above conservation and other socioeconomic goals. Such a shift seems unlikely under President Bolsonaro, except via international market forces.
Video: scientists capture giant spider eating an opossum [03/02/2019]
- For the first time, researchers have documented a giant spider eating an opossum in the Amazon rainforest. - Writing in the February 28th issue of the journal Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, a team of scientists describe several rarely observed cases of invertebrates eating various vertebrates, including frogs, lizards, snakes, and even a mammal — a mouse opossum. - The mouse opossum incident occurred in 2016 in the Peruvian Amazon and was captured on film by biology students. - The sighting was the first of a mygalomorph spider — a group of large spiders that includes tarantulas — preying on an opossum.
Brazil wants to legalize agribusiness leasing of indigenous lands [02/21/2019]
- It is currently illegal under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution for outside agricultural producers to lease land within indigenous reserves from indigenous groups in order to grow commercial commodities crops there. It is also illegal for indigenous groups to convert forests within their reserves to commercial commodities crop production. - However, the Bolsonaro government, utilizing public events and public statements, has made it clear that it condones such activities. Brazil currently knows of 22 indigenous reserves in violation of the law, with areas illegally leased to agricultural producers totaling 3.1 million hectares (11,969 square miles). - Bolsonaro’s Agriculture Minister stated last week that she wants to see Congress move forward with new measures to make commercial commodities growing legal within indigenous reserves, provided the indigenous people living there agree to the crops and make land leasing agreements with producers. - Up until now, indigenous groups have been renowned as the best protectors of the Amazon rainforest. However, the Bolsonaro administration’s moves seem aimed at dividing indigenous groups into two camps, one that favors agribusiness conversion, and one that wants to protect reserve forests and indigenous traditions.
Bolsonaro government takes aim at Vatican over Amazon meeting [02/20/2019]
- The Catholic Church has scheduled a Synod for October, a meeting at which bishops and priests (and one nun) from the nine Latin American Amazon countries will discuss environmental, indigenous and climate change issues. - Members of the new rightist Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro are eyeing the event with suspicion, seeing it as an attack on national sovereignty by a progressive church. - To show its opposition to the Amazon Synod, the Brazilian government plans to sponsor a rival symposium in Rome, just a month before the Pope’s meeting, to present examples of “Brazil’s concern and care for the Amazon.” - At issue are two opposing viewpoints: the Catholic Church under Pope Francis sees itself and all nations as stewards of the Earth and of less privileged indigenous and traditional people. Bolsonaro, however, and many of his ruralist and evangelical allies see the Amazon as a resource to be used and developed freely by humans.
Brazil sees growing wave of anti-indigenous threats, reserve invasions [02/19/2019]
- At least 14 indigenous reserves have been invaded or threatened with invasion, according to Repórter Brasil, an online news service and Mongabay media partner. Threats and acts of violence against indigenous communities appear to have escalated significantly since President Jair Bolsonaro assumed office. - Indigenous leaders say Bolsonaro’s incendiary language against indigenous people has helped incite that violence, though the government denies this, with one official saying the administration will “stop the illegality.” Indigenous leaders point out that, so far, the government has failed to provide significant law enforcement assistance in the crisis - Among recent threats and attacks: a top indigenous leader, Rosivaldo Ferreira da Silva of the Tupinambá people, claims to have detected a plot by large-scale landowners and military and civilian police to murder him and his family. The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau and Karipuna reserves in Rondônia state have been invaded by land grabbers and illegal loggers. - Another five indigenous territories near the city of Altamira in Pará state have also reportedly been invaded.
10 reasons U.S. must hold Peru to trade deal and protect Amazon (commentary) [02/15/2019]
- Peru’s pioneering forest inspection agency OSINFOR has taken the lead in exposing the rampant illegalities that have dominated Peru’s timber trade for decades, but it has done so only because it has been independent of other government ministries. - In December 2018, Peru moved OSINFOR into the Ministry of Environment, effectively stripping it of its independence, a decision that could gravely compromise OSINFOR’s effectiveness in the future. - This move also arguably violates the Trade Promotion Agreement between Peru and the United States, which entered into force 10 years ago and stipulates that OSINFOR must be “independent.” - The U.S., a top importer of Peruvian timber, has a major responsibility for ensuring that it is produced legally and therefore must insist Peru respect the Trade Promotion Agreement by making OSINFOR independent again. – This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Invaded Uru-eu-wau-wau indigenous reserve awaits relief by Brazil’s new government [02/14/2019]
- On January 12, Brazil’s Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reserve in Rondônia state, which covers 1.8 million hectares (6,950 square miles) and includes significant intact rainforest, was invaded by 40 land grabbers, some of them armed, who began cutting down trees, cut 15.5 miles of trails, and started subdividing cleared land into lots. - Detected, challenged and videotaped by indigenous men, the invaders said they came from “outside” and that 200 more invaders would be coming soon. Indigenous inhabitants made an immediate appeal to the new Bolsonaro administration for significant law enforcement assistance to repel the invaders. - While federal police in high numbers have not been deployed as requested, the federal and state governments did send in a high level official delegation to investigate the situation including new FUNAI National Indian Foundation president General Franklimberg de Freitas. - The government says the situation is being watched closely, but is under control for now, and that the administration will “stop illegality.” But indigenous leaders fear “the invaders believe they have support” from the Bolsonaro government. The incident is ongoing. There have been two arrests, but to date the invaders have not been completely expelled.
Amazon at risk: Brazil plans rapid road and rail infrastructure expansion [02/12/2019]
- New Minister of Infrastructure Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas is considered one of President Jair Bolsonaro’s most capable ministers. The former army engineer wants to streamline Brazil’s infrastructure agencies, root out corruption, and is seeking foreign investors, especially China, to finance a rush of new transportation construction. - Conservationists and indigenous groups worry that Tarcísio Freitas’ plans to push forward with new roads and railways – including Ferrogrâo (Grainrail) and FIOL (the Railway for the Integration of the Center-West) – could open the Amazon and Cerrado biomes to land grabbers, illegal loggers, illicit ranchers and industrial agribusiness. - While Tarcísio Freitas says that new Amazon transportation routes can help industrial agribusiness grow without causing new deforestation, in a Mongabay interview last year, he failed to address how all of this new infrastructure could be accomplished without also degrading Amazon forests or impacting indigenous communities.
Six new catfish species, facial tentacles and all, described in Amazon [02/11/2019]
- Researchers have described six new species of catfish from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. - All six species belong to the genus Ancistrus, and have tentacles sprouting from their faces, spines sticking out from their heads, and armor-like bony plates covering their bodies. - The newly described fish were once plentiful but are now scarce, the researchers say, largely due to habitat destruction from agricultural expansion, deforestation and gold mining.
Ecuador’s indigenous Cofán hail court-ordered end to mining on their land [02/11/2019]
- A court in Ecuador’s Sucumbíos province has ordered that the mining concessions already in operation on territory claimed by the Cofán indigenous people, and those currently in the process of being granted, must be canceled, affecting some 324 square kilometers (125 square miles) in total. - The ruling also requires that reparations be made for any impacts caused by recent mining. - For the community, the court’s decision is a victory that represents a milestone for the rights of all indigenous communities in Ecuador.
New appointments, new policies don’t bode well for Brazilian Amazon [02/04/2019]
- Jair Bolsonaro took office on 1 January. Since then, he has made appointments to his government, and there have been statements by people in his administration, that are causing grave concern among environmentalists. - New Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has come out strongly for an end to the demarcation of indigenous lands, and in support of entrepreneurs and companies being allowed to self-regulate the environmental licensing process for major infrastructure and development projects. - Salles also wants to hire a satellite firm to monitor Brazil’s forest fires, drought and deforestation. Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), a governmental agency, released a response explaining that it is already doing this work. While Salles plan isn’t clear, it could be a means of privatizing deforestation monitoring. - Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas has been chosen to head Funai, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency. However, some fear a major conflict of interest. Freitas was most recently a consulting advisor for indigenous, community, and environmental affairs with the Belo Sun mining company, where he sided against indigenous land rights.
Will President Bolsonaro withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement? (commentary) [01/31/2019]
- Early in his presidential campaign, candidate Jair Bolsonaro stated that he planned to pull Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Then, just before his election, the media reported that he was committed to keeping the nation in the accord. - However, what Bolsonaro actually said was that he would keep Brazil in the agreement “for now,” but only if several conditions were met, allowances that would likely require alterations in the international accord. - As there is no one who can make these assurances, Bolsonaro’s conditions cannot be met. Meanwhile, Amazon deforestation is rising, and the new government has announced massive plans for Amazon development. Brazil has also withdrawn its sponsorship of the 2019 United Nations Climate Conference (COP25). - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Bolsonaro government reveals plan to develop the ‘Unproductive Amazon’ [01/28/2019]
- Bolsonaro administration Chief of Strategic Affairs Maynard Santa Rosa last week announced new Brazilian mega-infrastructure projects that include a dam on the Trombetas River, a bridge over the Amazon River, and an extension of the BR-163 highway from the Amazon River through 300 miles of rainforest to the Surinam border. - Santa Rosa, a retired general, said that these Amazon biome infrastructure projects had as their purpose the integration of what he called an “unproductive, desertlike” region into “the national productive system.” - The Trombetas region contains 4 indigenous reserves, 8 quilombo communities and 5 conservation units. - In his radio announcement the official provided few details on the projects, saying nothing about costs, where the money to build would come from, what the socio-environmental impacts might be, or the timeline for the construction.
Latam Eco Review: Some whales may benefit from Japan’s whaling commission exit [01/26/2019]
More than 2,000 illegal mining sites in the Amazon, a wetland in Chile threatened by a highway extension, and a possible new monkey species in Peru were among the top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Interactive map shows more than 2,300 illegal mining sites across the Amazon A new interactive map shows 2,312 […]
Of concrete and corruption: Resistance kills Andes Amazon dams [01/24/2019]
- In 2010, the presidents of Peru and Brazil made a deal to build 22 major Andes Amazon dams on the Marañón River – the Amazon River’s mainstem. The energy generated by those dams would go to vastly expand Peru’s Conga gold and copper mine, making it one of the biggest in the world. - The Conga mine expansion would have dumped 85,000 tons of toxic, heavy metal-laden tailings into the Ucayali River watershed daily. The Marañón dams would have blocked vital nutrient and sediment flow, likely doing irreparable harm to Amazon River and Amazon basin ecology. - Odebrecht, a Brazilian mega-construction firm, was picked to spearhead building. The projects were strongly opposed by the rural people they’d impact, and by an international alliance of environmental NGOs and river adventure tourists who see the Marañón as Latin America’s Grand Canyon. - Nine years later, the Peruvian and Brazilian presidents and Odebrecht executives involved in the deal are in jail or charged with corruption. All but two of the dam projects have been abandoned. The result came about largely due to the astonishingly successful resistance of local rural people.
Latam Eco Review: Pirate fishers in the Caribbean and many new reserves created [01/19/2019]
The recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service, include a ‘pirate’ fishing vessel being welcomed in Panama, news of forestry officials indicted for illegal logging in Peru’s Amazon, and the loss of 11 protected areas in Brazil. Disease and drugs surround uncontacted peoples of Peru’s Amazon Infection, lack of culturally appropriate health services, […]
As Brazilian agribusiness booms, family farms feed the nation [01/17/2019]
- Brazil’s “Agricultural Miracle” credits industrial agribusiness with pulling the nation out of a recent economic tailspin, and contributing 23.5 percent to GDP in 2017. But that miracle relied on a steeply tilted playing field, with government heavily subsidizing elite entrepreneurs. - As a result, Brazilian agro-industrialists own 800,000 farms which occupy 75.7 percent of the nation’s agricultural land, with 62 percent of total agricultural output. Further defining the inequity, the top 1.5 percent of rural landowners occupy 53 percent of all agricultural land. - In contrast, there are 4.4 million family farms in Brazil, making up 85 percent of all agricultural operations in the country. The family farm sector produces 70 percent of food consumed in the country, but does so using under 25 percent of Brazil’s agricultural land. - Farm aid inequity favoring large-scale industrial agribusiness over family farms has deepened since 2016 under Michel Temer, and is expected to deepen further under Jair Bolsonaro. Experts say that policies favoring family farms could bolster national food security.
Brazilian hunger for meat fattened on soy is deforesting the Cerrado: report [01/16/2019]
- The Cerrado, Brazil’s savanna, covers over 20 percent of the nation’s territory, but it is seeing severe deforestation. A recent report uncovered links between municipalities with the highest levels of deforestation and with significant soy production. Soy is Brazil’s most important and profitable export, but is also used domestically as animal feed and as a biodiesel energy crop. - In 2017, Brazil produced 16.3 million tons of soymeal for its domestic market, and more than 90 percent of that became animal feed, with 50 percent used as chicken feed, 25 percent as pig feed, and 12 percent for beef and dairy cattle feed. - From 2013 to 2016, more than 75 percent of all direct soy crop expansion accomplished via native vegetation clearance occurred in the so-called Matopiba states (Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia). A third of the 2016 soy harvest coming from Matopiba was utilized as animal feed or biodiesel consumed domestically in Brazil. - More than 20 percent of all the native vegetation clearance occurring in the Cerrado in 2017 was located in just 20 out of 1387 municipalities. Forty percent of the soy produced in these 20 municipalities went to the Brazilian domestic market, with the soy processed mostly by Bunge, Granol, and Cargill.
Bolsonaro acts; Brazil’s socio-environmental groups resist [01/14/2019]
- The Bolsonaro administration is barely two weeks old, but the new president and his appointees continue to make incendiary statements and press forward with provisional measures and policies that could seriously infringe indigenous, quilombola and agrarian reform land rights, and environmental protections. - Protest has been loud against the government’s plan to shift the responsibility for indigenous land demarcation away from FUNAI, the indigenous affairs agency, to the Agriculture Ministry, which is dominated by agribusiness and far right ruralists who have long desired indigenous lands. Another proposal may “rent” indigenous lands to ruralists. - Amazon land thieves also have been emboldened since the election, with the invasion of the Arara Indigenous Reserve in southeast Pará state on 30 December, two days before Bolsonaro took office. On 11 January, land thieves invaded the Uru-eu-wau-wau reserve in Rondônia state. There has been no federal law enforcement response to either conflict. - On 5 January armed land grabbers attacked a landless rural workers agrarian reform encampment occupied by 200 families in Colniza in Mato Grosso state. One landless peasant was killed and nine seriously wounded. The landless peasants were awaiting a court ruling as to whether a nearby tract would be deeded to the group.
Community-based conservation offers hope for Amazon’s giant South American turtle [01/09/2019]
- Rural communities began protecting the threatened giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa) along a 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) stretch of the remote Juruá River in Brazil’s Amazonas state back in 1977 – becoming the largest community-based conservation management initiative ever conducted in the Brazilian Amazon. - A new study shows that these community stewards – who protect turtle nests and receive payment only in food baskets – have had incredible success not only in preserving endangered turtle species, but also in conserving riverine invertebrate and vertebrate species, including migratory birds, large catfish, caiman, river dolphins and manatees. - Today, the Middle Juruá River community-protected beaches are “true islands of biodiversity, while other unprotected beaches are inhabited by few species. They are empty of life,” say study authors. On the protected beaches, turtle egg predation is a mere 2 percent. On unprotected beaches on the same river, predation rates are as high as 99 percent. - The study also helps debunk a Brazilian and international policy that proposed the eviction of local traditional communities from newly instituted conservation units because they would be detrimental to conservation goals. Instead, researchers agree, traditional communities should be allowed to keep their homes and recruited as environmental stewards.
Brazil’s indigenous agency acts to protect isolated Kawahiva people [01/03/2019]
- On 14 December, FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, supported by law enforcement, launched an operation to clear invaders – land thieves, illegal loggers, miners and ranchers – from the Pardo River indigenous reserve in Mato Grosso state. They did so possibly because FUNAI expects President Bolsonaro to curtail such raids in future. - The reserve was established in 2016, after a 15-year effort by FUNAI to get it recognized. The territory covers 411,848 hectares (1,590 square miles) and is meant to protect the ancestral lands of the Kawahiva, a small beleaguered indigenous band that still lives there. - Giving the Kawahiva a reserve was controversial from the start, and strongly opposed by loggers and agribusiness who denied the Kawahiva existed. FUNAI expeditions have since filmed the Kawahiva, proving that they do in fact continue to inhabit the territory. - FUNAI officials fear that the Bolsonaro administration will refuse to demarcate the Pardo River Kawahiva reserve, and possibly even try to abolish it. Indigenous groups across Brazil say that if the government refuses to conclude the demarcation process for numerous indigenous reserves, and tries to dissolve some territories, they will resist.
Bolsonaro hands over indigenous land demarcation to agriculture ministry [01/02/2019]
- The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has issued an administrative decree shifting the responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from FUNAI, the government’s indigenous affairs office, to the ministry of agriculture. - Also as part of the decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over the regularization of quilombola territory (land belonging to runaway slave descendants), from the government’s agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the ministry of agriculture. - Critics responded with alarm, seeing the move as a direct conflict of interest. But the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress has long demanded this government reorganization, which analysts say will give agribusiness the political levers needed to invade and transform indigenous territories and treat forests as an industrial resource. - Brazil’s indigenous communities are known to be the best stewards of the Amazon. But Bolsonaro’s moves could signal the weakening, or even the dismantling, of the indigenous reserve system. The potentially resulting wholesale deforestation could be a disaster to indigenous peoples, biodiversity, and even the regional and global climate.
The biggest rainforest news stories in 2018 [12/30/2018]
- This is our annual rainforests year in review post. - Overall, 2018 was not a good year for the planet’s tropical rainforests. - Rainforest conservation suffered many setbacks, especially in Brazil, the Congo Basin, and Madagascar. - Colombia was one of the few bright spots for rainforests in 2018.
Brazil: Bolsonaro supporter works to imprison Dorothy Stang’s successor [12/28/2018]
- Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is reportedly considering logger and politician Silvério Fernandes to head the Xingu, Pará, branch of the Brazilian Institute for Settlement and Land Reform (INCRA). Fernandes and other ruralists have accused Father José Amaro Lopes de Souza of serious land reform-related crimes. - Father Amaro is the successor of U.S. missionary Dorothy Stang, murdered in 2005. Amaro says he committed no crime, though admits to supporting landless worker settlements in Anapu, Pará state. Father Amaro was charged and imprisoned earlier this year and held in proximity to the man convicted of organizing Stang’s murder. - Land conflicts in Anapu began in the 1970s when Brazil’s military government invited outsiders to occupy land there, with the provision that they could keep it when they produced crops or livestock. Few succeeded, and the land reverted to the state. Later, agrarian reform communities were established which Stang supported. - She was killed in 2005. Land conflicts simmered after that, with violence erupting after 2015 when the nearby Belo Monte dam was finished and unemployed workers, allegedly prompted by loggers, poured into Anapu to claim land. If Fernandes gets the INCRA title, he’ll hold sway over workers’ settlement policy in the Xingu region.
Adapt to a changing Amazon now, or pay far higher price later, experts say [12/25/2018]
- A new study estimates the costs of delaying adaptation to a hotter, dryer Amazon would be orders of magnitude higher than acting now, despite uncertainties. - The study is the first comprehensive impact analysis of the Amazon Forest Dieback hypothesis, which posits that there exists a definitive climate-driven deforestation tipping point beyond which large swaths of the rainforest would be rapidly replaced with savanna. - The study’s authors estimate the costs of such a catastrophic loss of forest could be as high as $3.6 trillion over a 30-year period. - They also estimate that the cost of a series of adaptation measures taken now would be $122 billion, a fraction of the economic losses estimated if no actions were taken.
Ten years on, Amazon Fund receives applause, criticism, faces new tests [12/21/2018]
- Launched in 2008, the Amazon Fund became one of the first UN REDD+ initiatives, funneling money from developed nations (with Norway as the major donor) to forest sustainability projects in Brazil, a developing nation in the Amazon basin. - By creating a national framework to garner international resources based on results, the Amazon Fund established REDD+ as a legitimate way of achieving global cooperation to curtail greenhouse gas emissions through rainforest conservation. - With the Fund now 10 years old, Mongabay spoke to experts about its accomplishments, shortfalls and suggestions for the future. Analysts share the view that future projects could become more innovative, encouraging not only limits to deforestation, but offering economic incentives for local communities to create a sustainable forest driven economy. - The problem to date, say analysts, is that while the Fund has done good work, it has become the only major economic resource available for curbing deforestation in a nation where the government of Michel Temer has turned away from sustainable forestry goals, while Jair Bolsonaro, taking office in January, seems far less inclined to conserve Amazon forests.
Illegal mining in the Amazon ‘not comparable to any other period of its history’ [12/20/2018]
- A new study produced jointly by six Amazonian countries calls illegal mining in protected areas and indigenous territories of the Amazon rainforest “epidemic” due to its rapid expansion across the basin and lack of government planning to contain it. - The report features an interactive map, produced from satellite imagery and a suite of experts and published materials, showing more than 2,300 mining sites and 30 rivers destroyed or contaminated by illegal mining activities. - The vast majority of mining sites in the report were in Venezuela, followed by Brazil and Ecuador; the Madre de Dios department in southeastern Peru experienced the Amazon’s highest degradation caused by gold mining.
Amazon soy boom poses urgent existential threat to landless movement [12/20/2018]
- Brazil’s 1988 constitution and other laws established the right of landless peasants to claim unused and underutilized lands. Thousands, with the support of the landless movement, occupied tracts. At times, they even succeeded in getting authorities to set up agrarian reform settlements. - Big landowners always opposed giving large tracts of land to the landless but, until roads began penetrating the Amazon making transport of commodities such as soy far cheaper, conflict over land was less intense. - As new Amazon transportation projects are proposed – like the planned Ferrogrāo (Grainrail), or the BR-163 and BR-319 highway improvements – land thieves increasingly move in to steal the land, with hired thugs often threatening peasant communities, and murdering leaders. - An example: a landless community leader named Carlos Antônio da Silva, known as Carlão, was assassinated by armed gunmen last April in Mato Grosso state. The rise of Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly threatened the landless movement with violence, has residents of Amazon agrarian reform settlements deeply worried.
Peccary’s disappearance foreboding for other Mesoamerican wildlife [12/20/2018]
- A multinational team of scientists met to discuss the current status and future of the white-lipped peccary, a pig-like mammal that lives in Central and South America. - White-lipped peccaries no longer live in 87 percent of their former range, driven out largely by hunting and habitat loss. - The scientists say the disappearance of this species, which requires large tracts of unbroken forest, could portend the extinction of other wildlife.
Amazon forests not changing fast enough to keep up with climate change: study [12/19/2018]
- Researchers analyzed three decades of Amazon basin data collected by a long-term international collaboration known as RAINFOR which individually monitors each tree in hundreds of forest plots across the region. - They found that over the past 30 years water-loving plants in the most drought-prone regions have been slowly replaced by trees that are better adapted to drier weather. - Of concern: these changes in tree composition lag about two orders of magnitude behind the change in climate. This suggests that the Amazon rainforest may struggle to adapt, and keep up with, ongoing, escalating shifts in climate. - In addition, some areas are seeing more drought, and more floods, creating multiple stressors. If the Amazon is to adapt to rapid climatic shifts, then forest fragmentation must be limited to allow species movement. However, croplands and pastures are shattering habitat connectivity, especially in the southern Amazon.
Bolsonaro shapes administration: Amazon, indigenous and landless at risk [12/18/2018]
- President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has chosen Ricardo Salles as Brazil’s environment minister. The former São Paulo state government environment secretary is under investigation for allegedly redrawing maps allowing protected lands to be developed for mining and factories. His statements are heavily pro-agribusiness and sometimes espouse violence. - The selection of ruralist Tereza Cristina as agriculture minister, and Ernesto Araújo as foreign minister, also almost certainly signals difficult days ahead for Brazil’s environment. Cristina has pushed hard for fast track approval of toxic pesticides. Araújo calls climate change a “Marxist” conspiracy. - Analysts say that, by choosing ministry appointees who hold extreme views on the environment, Bolsonaro is making Brazil vulnerable to economic reprisals from the international community – especially from developed nations and companies responding to voters and consumers who oppose harm to the Amazon and indigenous groups. - Former army officer Bolsonaro has chosen six retired generals to head ministries; other military men join him as VP and chief of staff. Activists fear these appointments will have a chilling effect on Brazilian democracy, leading to repression. Deforestation and violence against activists since the campaign, including assassinations, continue rising in Brazil.
Purus-Madeira: Amazon parks and extraordinary biodiversity at risk now [12/17/2018]
- The Purus-Madeira interfluvial – an Amazon region running south to north from Rondônia state through Amazonas state – has been little studied by science. It is very high in biodiversity and has been fairly well preserved up until now, thanks mostly to low human occupation and difficulty of access. - Studies indicate that more than 740 bird species occur regularly in the Madeira-Purus region representing more than 40 percent of all known Brazilian avifauna and approximately 60 percent of known Amazonian bird species. A new species, Campina’s Jay (Cyanocorax hafferi). with gaudy blue plumage, was recently recognized by science. - Eleven protected areas, including a new national park, created in 2009 to ensure conservation of endemic species near the increasingly improved BR-319 highway, were meant to serve as a buffer against unrestrained development in the Purus-Madeira region. - However, the Federal Attorneys Office accuses the Brazilian government of creating paper parks, without staffing or management plans. As a result, this diverse ecosystem is starting to see rapid negative change as plans to pave the BR-319 go forward, with the road offering access to illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and land grabbers invading protected areas.
‘Amazon Besieged’: Q&A with Mongabay contributor Sue Branford about new book [12/14/2018]
- From 2016 to 2017, Mongabay contributors Sue Branford and Maurício Torres traveled to the Tapajós River Basin, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, to report on the controversial plan to turn the region into a major commodities export corridor. - Branford and Torres wrote a 15-part investigative series (published in partnership with The Intercept Brazil) based on what they’d found during their travels for Mongabay in the Tapajós Basin, one of the most biodiverse and culturally rich places on Earth. Now, the reporters have turned those pieces into a book, Amazon Besieged, which was published by Practical Action Publishing this month. - Mongabay spoke with Sue Branford about what new perspectives she gained on the issues covered in the book while compiling her and Torres’ on-the-ground reporting for publication, what she hopes the average reader takes away from Amazon Besieged, and what she thinks the prospects are for the Amazon under the incoming Bolsonaro Administration.
COP24: Will they stay or will they go? Brazil’s threat to leave Paris [12/14/2018]
- In October, Brazil elected far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency. During the campaign, he threatened to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, implement extreme environmental deregulation policies, and introduce mining into Amazon indigenous reserves, while also using incendiary language which may be inciting violence in remote rural areas. - Just days before his election, Bolsonaro contradicted his past utterances, saying he won’t withdraw from the Paris accord. At COP24, the Brazilian delegation has fielded questions from concerned attendees, but it appears that no one there knows with certainty what the volatile leader will do once in office. He begins his presidency on the first of the year. - Even if Bolsonaro doesn’t pull out of Paris, his plans to develop the Amazon, removing most regulatory impediments to mining and agribusiness, could have huge ramifications for the global climate. The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, stores massive amounts of carbon. Deforestation rates are already going up there, and likely to grow under Bolsonaro. - Some in Brazil hope that environmental and economic realities will prevent Bolsonaro from fully implementing his plans. Escalating deforestation is already reducing Amazon rainfall, putting aquifers and agribusiness at risk. Agricultural producers also fear global consumer perceptions of Brazil as being anti-environmental could lead to a backlash and boycotts.
A monitoring network in the Amazon captures a flood of data [12/11/2018]
- Cameras and microphones are capturing images and sounds of the world’s largest rainforest to monitor the Amazon’s species and environmental dynamics in an unprecedented way. - The Providence Project’s series of networked sensors is aimed at complementing remote-sensing data on forest cover change by revealing ecological interactions beneath the forest canopy. - Capable of continuously recording, processing and transmitting information to a database in real time, this high-tech experiment involves research institutions from three countries and the skills of biologists, engineers, computer scientists and other experts. - The monitoring system will connect to a website to disseminate the forest biodiversity data interactively, which the researchers hope will contribute to more effective biodiversity conservation strategies.
Seeing Suriname: A visit to the rainforest goes awry (insider) [12/10/2018]
- Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler writes about getting stranded in a remote part of Suriname. - While he’s there, Rhett suffers an eye injury that makes for a harrowing few days. - This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.
Belo Monte dam Xingu River Management Plan violates human rights: finding [12/10/2018]
- Construction on the Belo Monte mega-dam, on the Xingu River in Pará state in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, began in 2011. Since then, the giant infrastructure project has met with a near constant flood of contentious protests from indigenous and traditional communities, and from the international environmental community. - Norte Energia, the consortium that built and operates the troubled project, has been fined or seen its operating license withdrawn by the Brazilian government for a variety of socio-environmental violations, including fish kills and the failure to provide compensation promised at the start of the project to local people and the nearby city of Altamira. - Local communities, with legal assistance from international civil society organizations, filed a motion to the UN Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asking for the Belo Monte dam project to be officially labeled a Violation of Human Rights. In November, the Commission’s preliminary conclusions found repeated violations. - Indigenous communities “suffer from frequent incidents of violence and lack of attention from public services, in addition to increased difficulties and obstacles surrounding claims to their lands,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera, the IACHR Rapporteur for Brazil. Norte Energia has denied the charges.
Tropical forest conservation in the Bolsonaro era (commentary) [12/06/2018]
- Brazil’s President-elect represents a major threat to Brazil’s legacy of forest conservation and to the prospects of preventing extremely dangerous climate change. This legacy was achieved largely through command-and-control measures that were supported by consistently pro-environment presidents over the last three decades; these measures are now vulnerable to the abrupt decline in environmental political will. - A strategy to avoid major forest conservation setbacks and achieve new wins is possible under Bolsonaro if Brazil’s farmers and the broader society are convinced that they will be worse off if this legacy is dismantled. - Instead of escalating antagonism between conservation leaders and medium- to large-scale farmers and agribusinesses, dialogues and collaborations are urgently needed to deliver positive incentives to conservation-minded producers. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Amazon indigenous groups and truckers ally to oppose Brazil’s Grainrail [12/06/2018]
- It is well documented that the construction of new transportation infrastructure in the Amazon leads to an invasion by illegal loggers, illicit ranchers, and other land grabbers. Which is why indigenous people are opposed to Grainrail, a new railroad that, if approved, will penetrate the Tapajós basin threatening 20 indigenous territories. - The Baú Indigenous Territory has already been reduced in size by the government which gave into pressure from invading land grabbers. Now, the Kayapó people worry that the construction of Grainrail will bring an onslaught of new land invaders and further reductions of their territory. - This concern is especially strong as Jair Bolsonaro comes to power. He has made it known that he is opposed to the concept of indigenous preserves, while also being on the side of Amazon development and in favor of the fast tracking of environmental licensing for infrastructure projects – which means Grainrail could go forward quickly. - Indigneous groups have found an unusual ally against Grainrail: truckers who fear they will lose their livelihoods if the planned railroad goes forward. Indigenous groups and truckers are both known for their use of direct actions, such as roadblocks and strikes, to get their views heard – methods that could lead to conflict with Bolsonaro.
Peru’s Brazil nut harvesters learn to monitor forests with drones [12/06/2018]
- Brazil nut and ecotourism concessions in the Amazon maintain intact rainforest, but deforestation by illegal loggers, miners, and agriculturalists threaten the integrity of these lands and the Brazil nut industry. - The Peruvian NGO Conservación Amazónica – ACCA is training concessionaires and forestry officials in southeastern Peru to fly drones and monitor the properties they manage using drone-based cameras. - The resulting high-resolution aerial images enable concessionaires to detect and quantify deforestation within their Brazil nut, ecotourism, and other forest concessions and support their claims of illegal activity to the authorities.
Extreme floods on the rise in the Amazon: study [12/05/2018]
- Scientists and the media have documented deepening drought in the Amazon basin. But a new study finds that flood events are significantly intensifying too, becoming five times more common over the last century. - The effect is caused by a combination of factors, including an increase in strength of the Walker circulation – an ocean-driven pattern of air circulation that carries warm moist air from the tropical Atlantic across South America towards the Pacific, resulting in Amazon precipitation. - Human-driven climate change is a major contributing factor to this increased Amazon basin flooding. Intensifying flood events result in lives and property lost, and significant harm to croplands, pastures and livestock. - A better understanding of flood and drought dynamics, and better predictability due partly to this study, could help reduce this damage. How escalating changes in precipitation occurrence and intensity might be altering Amazon flora and fauna is uncertain, though new research shows that tree species composition is altering.
Top U.S. flooring retailer linked to Brazilian firm snagged in timber bust [12/04/2018]
- An investigation by Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency and the federal police led to allegations that Indusparquet, a prominent supplier of tropical wood flooring, was using fraudulent permits to hide illegally harvested wood. - Government authorities fined the company, made the largest seizure of timber ever in the state of Sãa Paulo, and shut down Indusparquet’s primary warehouse for three weeks. - Indusparquet has denied wrongdoing and appealed the sanctions, and U.S.-based flooring retailer Floor & Decor has continued to source tropical wood flooring from the company. - Timberleaks, which first reported the link between Indusparquet and Floor & Decor, contends that the Lacey Act requires companies like Floor & Decor to go beyond the documentation provided by their suppliers — which in this case was alleged to be fraudulent — to ensure the source of those products is legal.
Santo Antônio mega-dam on Brazil’s Madeira River disrupts local lives [12/03/2018]
- The Santo Antônio mega-dam built in the Amazon has heavily impacted the traditional communities displaced from their homes on the Madeira River. Many local residents were relocated from the riverside to cities, and seriously uprooted from their lifestyles, livelihoods and cultures. - These local communities say that neither the Santo Antônio Energia Consortium, which built the dam, nor the government have been responsive to their allegations of polluted water, lost fisheries, lack of jobs and difficult urban living conditions. - Analysts agree that the close relationship between the Brazilian government and large dam building consortiums, energy firms, mining companies and agribusiness – all profiting heavily from new dams – has resulted in local concerns being poorly addressed or ignored in the past. - Experts also say that the Amazon dam building surge of the past few decades is likely to continue as Brazilian funding sources like the BNDES development bank dry up, but China steps in to fund mega-dams, and smaller hydro projects. Socio-environmental harm could easily escalate.
Mega-dam costs outweigh benefits, global building spree should end: experts [11/29/2018]
- The environmental and social costs of hydroelectric mega-dams have been grossly underestimated, and will continue to grow further as climate change escalates, a new report finds. Dams have been linked to habitat degradation, harm to biodiversity and migrating aquatic species, and to negative changes in river ecology. - More problems: dams rarely live up to promoter pledges. Costs are often underestimated, and once built, big dams rarely generate the huge energy amounts promised. River sediment flow estimates are commonly downplayed in plans, and builders rarely take climate change, with its intensifying droughts, into consideration. - Despite evidence of harmful impacts and disappointing outputs, many more mega-dams are planned in developing nations in Asia, Africa and South America. But when mega-dam environmental and social impact assessments are conducted, they often underestimate harm, and their findings tend to be overlooked. - A re-vamp of an age-old technology – the water wheel – could offer a reliable energy supply to local communities. Instream Energy Generation (IEG) uses clusters of small turbines, enabling fish and sediments to pass freely while generating power. Wind and solar offer other alternatives to mega-dams.
New research quantifies ecosystem services provided by Amazon rainforest [11/28/2018]
- New research published in the journal Nature Sustainability this month attempts to establish the monetary value of the ecosystem services provided by the world’s largest tropical forest, the Amazon. - Researchers estimated that, in total, the Amazon contributes as much as $8.2 billion to Brazil’s economy on an annual basis. Some $3.3 billion of that total is generated from privately owned forest areas, they found, while areas under protection, sustainable use areas, and indigenous lands together contribute $3 billion. - In the study, the researchers write that their findings can help inform tropical forest conservation measures, such as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, that allow for sustainable use of forests — and that their findings show the importance of conserving the rainforest not only to protect its rich biodiversity but also to ensure the sustainability of agricultural production in Brazil.
Amazon deforestation at highest level in 10 years, says Brazil [11/24/2018]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit 7,900 square kilometers for the year ending July 31, 2018, reports Brazil’s national space research institute, INPE. - The figure represents a 14% increase over last year and a 41% miss of the official deforestation target. Final figures will be released next spring. - The increase had been widely expected due to economic and political conditions in Brazil, as well as the American trade war that has increased the profitability of Brazilian agricultural products. - Scientists warn that ongoing destruction of the Amazon could have dire economic impacts across South America.
Climate change may turn Amazon peatlands from carbon sinks to sources [11/22/2018]
- A new study looked at peat in Peru’s Pastaza-Marañon foreland basin (PMFB) to see how carbon accumulation there responded to past changes in temperature and precipitation. They then used that information to predict how the peatland will respond to future climate conditions. - It finds that under expected future climate conditions, the PMFB peatland may lose more carbon than it sequesters, making it a carbon source instead of a sink. - In total, the study estimates that PMFB may release 500 million tons of carbon by the end of the century – roughly equivalent to 5 percent of the annual fossil-fuel emissions of the entire world.
Tax havens and Brazilian Amazon deforestation linked: study [11/21/2018]
- Tax havens are found in countries that demand no or low taxes for the transfer of foreign capital through their jurisdictions. Typically, tax havens, like those in the Cayman Islands, are very secretive and lack transparency. - This secrecy protects institutional or individual investors from being in the public spotlight when making investments that are controversial, such as those in agribusiness companies in Brazil known to have caused significant Amazon deforestation, or those investing in illegal fishing. - According to a recent study, between 2000 and 2011, 68 percent of all investigated foreign capital to 9 top companies in the soy and beef sectors in the Brazilian Amazon was transferred through tax havens. Soy and beef production cause major Amazon deforestation. Also, 70 percent of vessels known to be involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing were funded via tax havens. - Better transparency is needed so that investments moved through tax havens can be tracked so as to determine their impacts on the environment and on indigenous and traditional communities. This improved transparency would likely result in greater public scrutiny and force greater responsibility on investors who today remain largely anonymous.
Progress on jaguar conservation in Suriname [11/20/2018]
- Dr. Mark J. Plotkin is the Co‑Founder & President of the Amazon Conservation Team, which partners with indigenous peoples to conserve forests and wildlife in Suriname, Colombia, and Brazil. - In this post, Plotkin writes about a recent meeting in Suriname to discuss an emerging threat to jaguars across Latin America: poaching for traditional Chinese medicine. - He notes that representatives who attended the meeting are now deeply engaged in designing an action plan for jaguar conservation in Suriname.
Purus-Madeira: the Amazon arc of deforestation marches north [11/20/2018]
- For the past decade, the southern part of Amazonas state has seen some of the highest rates of deforestation increase in Brazil, threatening the unique moist forest ecosystem found on the divide between the Purus and Madeira river basins. - The municipalities of Apuí and Lábrea, on the Transamazon highway (BR-230) lead this destructive trend. But now a variety of land users, including legal and illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, entrepreneurs and land grabbers are moving north along the currently unpaved BR-319 highway, causing major deforestation. - Environmentalists warn that this new wave of Amazon destruction will continue sweeping northward, and intensify, if the Brazilian government continues investing in the BR-319, improving the 890-kilometer (550 mile) road linking the city of Porto Velho in Rondônia state with Manaus in Amazonas state and with the rest of Brazil. - The new Bolsonaro government is expected to prioritize infrastructure investments in the region, likely weakening regulations governing environmental impact assessments. That could mean the fast tracking of full paving for the BR-319 soon. Among listed Bolsonaro goals is the opening of the Amazon to “new partnerships.”
Bolsonaro pledges government shakeup, deregulation, Amazon development [11/19/2018]
- Events are unfolding rapidly in Brazil, as president elect Jair Bolsonaro selects members of his administration and continues to propose what many analysts see as sweeping and draconian changes to the Brazilian government and environmental regulations. - Bolsonaro, while stepping back from plans for a merger of the Environment Ministry with the Agriculture Ministry, still plans major government reorganization. Paulo Guedes, his chief economic advisor, for example, could lead a super ministry merging duties of the Finance, Planning, Industry and Foreign Trade ministries. - During the presidential campaign, Amazon deforestation rates rose by nearly 50 percent, possibly as Bolsonaro supporters and land grabbers anticipate government retreat from environmental protections. Analysts worry Bolsonaro will criminalize social movements and end the demarcation of indigenous reserves assured by the 1988 Constitution. - Bolsonaro also chose Tereza Cristina as Agriculture Minister. She is known for her intense support of pesticide deregulation, and for backing a bill to fast track socio-environmental licensing of large infrastructure projects such as dams, railways, roads, industrial waterways, and mines – a position Bolsonaro also supports.
Saving the Amazon has come at the cost of Cerrado deforestation: study [11/15/2018]
- In the early 21st century, Amazon biome deforestation decreased, as native vegetation loss began rising dramatically in the Cerrado savanna biome in Brazil. Now, scientists using a new research methodology known as telecoupling, have found that the Amazon deforestation decline and Cerrado increase are linked. - The effect, known as spillover, resulted as two zero deforestation conservation agreements – the 2006 Soy Moratorium and 2009 Brazilian Federal Prosecutors’ Terms of Adjustment of Conduct (TACs) – prompted commodities traders and ranchers to stop buying soy and cattle raised on newly deforested Amazon land. - However, a portion of this agribusiness activity simply relocated to the Cerrado. The research team notes that this deforestation spillover effect – resulting from regionalized conservation initiatives – had been neglected by conservationists in the past because the underlying mechanisms are difficult to identify. - The researchers suggest that telecoupling can be used in future research to understand the influences of conservation policies and supply chain agreements, whose impacts are displaced between biomes, countries and even continents. Telecoupling as a tool is especially important in a globalized, interconnected world.
California’s Tropical Forest Standard could be the state’s most important climate action (commentary) [11/14/2018]
- This week, the California Air Resources Board will meet to decide if it will adopt a set of comprehensive requirements for large-scale programs to reduce tropical deforestation emissions, known as the Tropical Forest Standard. - Approving this Standard, with its robust social and environmental safeguards, is the most important thing California can do right now for the climate (including its own climate), for the Amazon and other tropical forests, and for the people who live in them. - Adopting California’s Tropical Forest Standard, which doubles down on the most rigorous best practices for social and environmental safeguards, would send exactly the message that governments, farmers, and indigenous and local communities now most need to hear. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Merger of Brazil’s agriculture and environment ministries in limbo [11/12/2018]
- During his campaign, presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly called for the merger of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment (MMA) and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA). Bolsonaro strongly backs agribusiness, while seeing the work of environmentalists as undermining the Brazilian economy. - However, the president elect was met in recent days by a firestorm of resistance against the merger from environmentalists, NGOs, scientists, academics, the environmental ministry itself, and from eight former environmental ministers. - Even the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby has come out against the proposal, calling it unworkable, noting that the two ministries have different, incompatible missions and agendas that would be compromised by a merger. Others note that a spirited dialogue between the two ministries is politically healthy for the nation. - Bolsonaro, in response to criticism, said he will reconsider his plan, making a final decision on the merger known after taking office in January. Despite being close during the campaign to extreme right ruralists (mostly cattle ranchers), Bolsonaro has selected Tereza Cristina, a somewhat less radical ruralist, as new agriculture minister.
China increasingly involved in Brazil’s ambitious Amazon rail network [11/08/2018]
- Brazilian commodities producers have long dreamed of a railroad network crisscrossing Amazonia and the Cerrado, able to cheaply move crops and minerals from the nation’s interior to South America’s coasts. But factors, including lack of investment, political instability and difficult terrain, have foiled those hopes – until now. - In recent years, Brazil and China have developed mutual interests: Brazil produces soy and other food crops that China needs to feed its 1.3 billion population. As a result, China has increasingly gotten involved in potentially investing in and helping build a number of Brazilian railroads. And Brazil is actively seeking that help. - Today, China has moved actively toward including Brazil in its global Belt and Road initiative, a plan to improve worldwide transportation and other infrastructure, in order to provide the Chinese with needed commodities. - However, railroad construction has so far been slow to get underway. How last month’s election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro will impact Brazil-China relations is yet to be seen. While Bolsonaro has at times come out strongly against Chinese influence in Brazil, others within his administration may seek to actively court the Chinese.
Cerrado farm community fights for life against dam and eucalyptus growers [11/07/2018]
- A wealth of great rivers caused Brazil in recent years to pursue a frenzy of mega-dam construction in the Amazon and Cerrado, work that enthusiasts claimed would benefit Brazilians with cheap energy. Critics say otherwise, however, noting much of the power produced goes to large mining company operations. - Analysts also point to completed projects, such as the Belo Monte, Teles Pires, Santo Antonio, Jirau and other dams, that have resulted in significant environmental harm, the displacement of rural indigenous and traditional populations, and to generating massive corruption. - A case in point can be found in the small town of Formosa in Tocantins state. The building of the Estreito mega-dam, completed in 2008, flooded fields, pastures and homes. The most impacted half of the community was relocated by the consortium of companies that constructed the dam. - The rest remained and were denied the social and economic benefits they’d been promised by either the government or the dam building consortium, which includes two mining giants, Alcoa and Vale, and Suez Energy and Camargo Corrêa Energia. Many Brazilian mega-dams were planned to offer energy to large mines.
Deforestation-linked Brazilian beef still flowing into international markets: report [11/06/2018]
- More than 200 million cattle live and graze in Brazil, bringing US $123 billion into the country’s economy annually. However, 80 percent of new deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is caused by the conversion of forest to cattle pasture. - While international beef retailers have worked to decouple their markets from cattle-driven deforestation, a recent report shows that a lack of traceability and transparency of the cattle supply chain continues to thwart their efforts. - A major loophole: cattle are owned over their lifetimes by several ranches. But current policies only require slaughterhouses to assure that no deforestation occurred on the ranch from which the livestock was purchased. So ranchers who cause illegal deforestation “launder” cattle, by selling them to ranchers who don’t. - Experts say that Brazil needs to adopt Uruguay’s digital traceability system whereby every cow is electronically tagged at birth and tracked along the entire supply chain. But they say Brazil lacks the political will to establish a similar system, primarily because the government is dominated by the agribusiness lobby.
Deforestation continues upward trend in the Brazilian Amazon [10/31/2018]
- Deforestation is rising in the Brazilian Amazon, which contains the majority of forest in the world’s largest tropical rainforest. - The trend is evident in data released by both Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, and the Brazilian government. - The data is from both sources’ month-to-month deforestation tracking systems. - Official data for the deforestation year, which runs from August to July, is expected to be released next month.
The Brazilian government’s land war against rebel slave descendants [10/29/2018]
- Slavery wasn’t abolished in Brazil until 1888, but by then thousands of remote rural communities known as Quilombos had been founded by runaway slaves. Under the 1988 Constitution, these Quilombos, which lacked land deeds, were guaranteed land rights, and a process was devised to legitimize the settlements. - However, the Brazilian government has long dragged its feet to demarcate and recognize these communities. Meanwhile, land grabbers who typically obtain fraudulent land documentation, have laid claim to Quilombo territory, often in order to establish vast soy plantations and for other agribusiness purposes. - Today, the government has imposed numerous legal hurdles against Quilombos seeking their land deeds, using a convoluted bureaucratic process, draconian budget cuts to programs helping the communities, and imposing reparations that must be paid to agribusiness entrepreneurs who have seized traditional lands. - Across Brazil today, 3,123 Quilombos have been certified, and to date, more than 1,700 of these have called on INCRA, the federal agency, to title their territories. But just 40 have received titles. Legal attacks on Quilombos have grown fierce under the Temer administration, with president-elect Jair Bolsonaro threatening more severe policies.
Violence spikes during Brazil elections, rural minorities fear worse [10/24/2018]
- Brazil has seen a major upswing of violence in recent years, with 63,880 homicides in 2017, a trend that includes both urban and rural areas, and parts of the Amazon where land grabbing and other environmental crimes are common. - The highly polarized Brazilian presidential election between progressive candidate Fernando Haddad and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro seems to have escalated threats and acts of violence across the country. In the period after the 7 October first round election, three land activists were murdered in the Amazon. - Critics have accused Bolsonaro of perpetrating “fake news” and of inciting violence, especially against minorities, including urban LGBT communities, and rural indigenous groups, Quilombos (descendants of runaway slaves living in remote rural communities), and the landless peasant movement (MST). - The runoff presidential election is scheduled for Sunday, 28 October, and polls show Bolsonaro with a significant lead over Haddad, with Bolsonaro expected to be Brazil’s next president, barring surprises. Whether Bolsonaro will carry through on incendiary promises made during his candidacy is unknown.
Amazon and climate science threatened if Bolsonaro elected Brazil’s president (commentary) [10/23/2018]
- Fake news and pseudo-science have been used as propaganda by supporters of the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro during his presidential election bid, according to a group of 17 Latin American scientists. - The lack of defined environmental positions within the candidate’s political platform is of great concern to the scientific community. - The pledge to fuse the agricultural and environmental ministries, expand agricultural and mining activities especially in the Amazon, and the promise made in the media to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, could make a Bolsonaro presidency dangerous not only for Brazil but for the world. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay. A full list of authors is presented at the end of the commentary.
Grainrail: ‘2nd revolution in Brazilian agribusiness’ and Amazon threat [10/22/2018]
- The BR-163 highway is being overwhelmed with truck traffic moving soy from the interior state of Mato Grosso to ports on the Tapajós River, where the cargo is moved to barges taking it down the Amazon for export to the EU and China. Soy farmers and transnational commodities companies say the answer is a new Amazon railway. - Ferrogrão (Grainrail) would stretch for 934 kilometers (580 miles), running parallel to the BR-163, from northern Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajós River. Proponents argue the new rail line would cut freight costs, while reducing shipment times and backlogs, and even decrease greenhouse gas emissions due to transport. - Conservationists and indigenous groups strongly oppose the plan, saying that the railroad threatens the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado, would likely have harmful impacts on three indigenous groups, and would open 14 protected areas to illegal intruders, including loggers and ranchers. - Grainrail has yet to be green lighted, maybe due to Brazil’s political and economic instability. Investors may be waiting to see how the election of Jair Bolsonaro might impact the nation – possibly opening the way for much longed-for Amazon industrial waterways. This story is the first in an exclusive Mongabay series about Grainrail.