Illegal loggers ‘cook the books’ to harvest Amazon’s most valuable tree [05/24/2018]
- A new study finds that illegal logging, coupled with weak state-run timber licensing systems, has led to massive timber harvesting fraud in Brazil, resulting in huge illicit harvests of Ipê trees. This process is doing major damage to the Amazon, as loggers build roads deep into forests, causing fragmentation and creating greater access. - To reduce document fraud, the Brazilian federal government this month required that all states register or integrate their timber licensing systems within a national timber inventory and tracking system known as Sinaflor. While this should reduce fraudulent paperwork, onsite illicit timber harvesting practices remain a major problem. - Better oversight of forest management plans and more onsite inspections of timber operations are needed to curb illegal logging practices and to prevent harvesting on public lands and in indigenous reserves. The high value of Ipê wood — selling for up to $2,500 per cubic meter at export — makes it very profitable for illegal loggers. - Ipê wood is largely shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Analysts say that buyers all along the timber supply chain turn a blind eye toward fraud, with sawmills, exporters, and importers trusting the paperwork they receive, rather than questioning whether the lower prices they pay for Ipê and other timber may be due to timber laundering.
Brazil has the tools to end Amazon deforestation now: report [05/18/2018]
- A coalition of environmental NGOs known as the Zero Deforestation Working Group has developed a practical plan called “A Pathway to Zero Deforestation in the Amazon.” First proposed at the COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany, last November, the NGOs propose workable strategies for ending deforestation quickly in Brazil, while also yielding significant economic and social benefits. - Deforestation continues, the report says, because cleared land is worth more than forested land in the Amazon, so there is a strong economic incentive to buy up large amounts of forestland and clear it. Also, enforcement of Brazilian forestry laws remains weak. Finally, markets have been slow to make, and implement, commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains. - Deforestation solutions require a new development vision for the Brazilian Amazon, say analysts, with policies that promote the sustainable use of forest products, and policies that end the expansion of agro-commodities into native forests, and promote agribusiness growth on the nation’s surplus of 15-20 million hectares of already deforested and degraded land. - Law enforcement to curb illegal land grabbing also needs to happen, especially on the 70 million hectares of public land in Amazonia not allocated for specific uses. Also, government must start tracking cattle from point of origin with indirect suppliers, where deforestation occurs, to slaughterhouses. A key step to a solution: open talks between agribusiness and environmentalists.
Brazilian Amazon oil palm deforestation under control, for now [05/17/2018]
- Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP), launched in 2010, aims to prevent primary and secondary forest clearing for new oil palm plantations in Legal Amazonia. As part of the plan, a bio-physical suitability zoning map excluded legally protected parks, indigenous reserves and intact forest areas from those areas available for oil palm cultivation. - With 31.2 million hectares (120,463 square miles) of degraded land existing in Legal Amazonia that could be put into oil palm production without severe ecological consequences, it was thought at the time that there would be no need for deforestation by the industry. A recent study gauges SPOPP’s success from 2006 to 2014. - The study surveyed oil palm cultivation over a 50,000 square kilometer area in Pará state, finding that 90 percent of production expansion over that time occurred on former pasture, not forest. In fact, direct conversion of intact forest to oil palm declined 4 percent from 2006-2010, to less than 1 percent from 2010-2014 in the study area. - Researchers fear that major deforestation due to an oil palm production boom could occur in the near future if transportation infrastructure is markedly improved, and if Brazil’s economy, political and institutional stability increases. The study didn’t address escalating conflicts between Amazon oil palm plantations and traditional communities.
Study links malaria to deforestation in the Amazon [05/15/2018]
- A study published recently adds evidence to the argument that deforestation aids the spread of malaria. - Researchers compared deforestation patterns to malaria rates in nine states in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that places with the highest incidences of malaria were impacted forest patches between 0.1 and 5 square kilometers in size. - The researchers write that these forest patches contain the shaded, watery, forest-edge habitat preferred by the mosquitos that transmit malaria. - To keep malaria from becoming an even bigger threat, the authors call for better monitoring of mosquito populations, land planning, and income generation schemes for forest-dwelling communities.
Attack of the turtles: ruralists assault environmental laws, Amazon [05/15/2018]
- With the Brazilian public focused on the October elections, and many members of congress gone home to organize runs for office, the bancada ruralista, rural lobby, has launched a raft of amendments, attached to unrelated bills, that would undo many of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protections. There is a strong chance of passage. - These stealth measures are known as “jabutis” or “turtles.” Two jabutis, attached to an energy bill, could lead to the privatization of Brazil’s electricity sector, and to allowing the ownership of land by foreigners, currently forbidden in Brazil, for the purpose of building dams, transmission lines, and other energy facilities. Passage could greatly benefit China. - Another rider, attached to a bill giving emergency humanitarian assistance to Venezuelan refugees, would abolish a legal requirement to consult with indigenous communities about new energy projects to be built beside roads and railways that already cross their lands. The rider would immediately impact the Waimiri-Atroari Indians in Roraima state. - Another jabuti would benefit Cerrado agribusiness by classifying all proposed irrigation projects as “projects of public interest,” making them easier to approve, with less rigorous environmental impact studies. Another jabuti would simplify the environmental licensing process for small hydroelectric dams, potentially harming both the Amazon and Pantanal.
Damming the Amazon unfettered after Brazilian purge (commentary) [05/14/2018]
- In January 2018, two key Brazilian officials, Paulo Pedrosa, executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), and Luiz Augusto Barroso, the head of Energy Research Enterprise, an MME agency responsible for energy planning, announced a shift away from destructive Amazon mega-dam construction. - They said the reason for the shift was the heavy environmental and social impacts of such dams. - After the appointment of Moreira Franco, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, both MME officials were replaced. Franco is under investigation in the lava jato (car wash) corruption probe. Amazon dams are particularly prone to corruption. - There has been no mention since January that any planned Amazonian dams listed for construction by 2026 will be cancelled. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Debate ensues over British supermarket chain’s decision to ban palm oil [05/10/2018]
- Iceland Foods recently decided to remove palm oil from its own-label products. The move follows a vote by the European Parliament to ban the use of palm oil in European biofuels. - An aggressive lobbying campaign spearheaded by actors from Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top palm oil producers, have framed the ban as an attack on small farmers, although the industry is dominated by large companies. But Iceland’s move has also spurred debate among scientists and conservationists, some of whom say Iceland would do better to source palm oil that has been produced “sustainably.” - Iceland says it doesn’t believe there is enough “truly sustainable palm oil…currently available on the mass market” for that to be a practical solution. The credibility of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the world’s largest association for ethical production of the commodity, for example, is widely seen as questionable, as it has repeatedly failed to enforce its standards. - Greenpeace described Iceland’s move as a “warning shot from a tiny UK company, that could start to grow bigger if palm oil producers and governments don’t tackle the scourge of deforestation.”
A forgotten people: traditional Amazon hamlet fights for its territory [05/09/2018]
- In the early 20th century, rubber tappers established traditional communities along the middle reaches of the Xingu River in the Amazon. In the late 20th century these communities endured the threats of illegal loggers and land thieves. - In the early 2000s, São Sebastião do Xingu residents were told that a group of elite landowners had bought the land on which their hamlet stood, and that the community would be forced to vacate, which it did, moving upstream. Then, in 2005, the people were told again they would have to move to make way for Serra do Pardo National Park. - This time, the residents of São Sebastião resisted and stayed on the land, despite intense pressure from the Brazilian government to leave. They argued that they were not properly informed of the government’s plan to establish the park, that their livelihoods are sustainable, and that they live in harmony with the local ecology, rather than harming it. - São Sebastião residents continue to negotiate to stay on their land with officials from ICMBio, the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation. And while those talks have been painfully slow, the traditional people hope that the conflict will be resolved soon, and that they will be able to keep their homes and territory.
Pleistocene climates help scientists pick out targets for conservation in Brazil’s forests [05/08/2018]
- A team of scientists looked for places in the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest that have had stable weather patterns for a long time — going back to the Pleistocene Epoch — but that don’t fall within the boundaries of existing parks or reserves. - They measured the efficiency of the current network of protected areas in these areas, and they also came up with a prioritization scale for conservation efforts that incorporated the locations of intact forest landscapes. - The team reports that protected areas in the Amazon are four times as efficient at safeguarding these “climatically stable areas” as protected areas in the Atlantic Forest.
In Brazil, an island laboratory for Atlantic Forest restoration [05/03/2018]
- Anchieta Island, just off the coast of Brazil near São Paulo, has seen the worst side of humans. Now, scientists and local authorities are laboring to restore its biodiversity. - The island is located 800 meters (about 874 yards) from the municipality of Ubatuba, in one of the few regions of Brazil where the Atlantic Forest still thrives. - Most of the island’s original forest was devastated over a long period of human habitation, and more recent attempts to introduce foreign mammal species have also had a significant ecological impact. - Scientists are now studying the complex interactions at play during environmental restoration, including removing some invasive species, as they embark on an intensive reforestation program.
Religious leaders mobilize to protect indigenous people and forests [05/02/2018]
- Religious leaders joined forces with indigenous peoples from Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Meso-America and Peru at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo in 2017 to launch the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI). - The IRI plans to mobilize high profile religious leaders to intervene in policy forums and advocate for forests and indigenous people with support from UN Environment. - It has been estimated that one third of climate change mitigation is from tropical rainforests and securing land rights for indigenous peoples is an effective and low-cost method of reducing carbon emissions.
New film shines light on cattle industry link to Amazon deforestation [05/01/2018]
- Approximately one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been cut down, and nearly 80 percent of this deforestation is attributable to the cattle industry, says a new nearly hour-long documentary, “Grazing the Amazon.” - Many ranchers are outspoken in their justification for deforestation, possibly because they feel safe from prosecution under Brazilian law because of the bancada ruralista, the powerful agribusiness lobby that has a huge influence in congress and on the Temer administration. - One of the major problems driving deforestation is “cattle washing,” illicit techniques for raising cattle on newly deforested land by falsifying records, or shifting the cattle from illegal pasture to legal pasture, before sending them to slaughterhouses. Better recordkeeping could help to illuminate and limit this practice. - Government and/or banking sanctions and incentives are also badly needed to motivate cattle ranchers to move away from deforestation, and to support already proven techniques for sustainable livestock production in the Brazilian Amazon.
3,000 indigenous people gather in Brasilia to protest ruralist agenda [04/30/2018]
- From 23-27 April, 3,000 indigenous people from a hundred groups all across Brazil came together in Brasilia for the 15th annual encampment to demonstrate against government policies and to demand justice. While last year’s event saw police crowd control with teargas, this year’s was peaceful. - This year’s encampment, like last year’s, was among the largest ever, catalysed by rising violence against indigenous leaders and activists, and by what participants see as the repressive and authoritarian policies of the Temer government and Congress, both of which are dominated by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby. - Among other demands, the demonstrators called for demarcation of ancestral lands, guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, but not yet carried out in many indigenous areas. Protestors also asked the government to obey International Labour Organization Convention 169, which Brazil signed, and assures pre-consultation of groups impacted by large infrastructure projects. - Indigenous women had an exceptionally strong presence at this year’s encampment, and there was further collaboration with traditional riverine group representatives, who in the past were sometimes indigenous opponents. Now, indigenous and traditional people are joining together to prevent the loss of their lands and cultures, and to preserve their way of life.
For the Caiçaras, environmental laws in Brazil at odds with tradition [04/25/2018]
- The origin of the Caiçaras trace back to the early mixture of indigenous tribes, European settlers and African slaves in Brazil. - For the last 300 years the Caiçaras subsisted on fishing and farming in one of the best conserved stretches of Atlantic Forest. - Confined between the Atlantic Ocean and the Serra do Mar mountain range, Caiçaras lived in relative isolation until the 1970s, when the creation of the BR-101 road opened the doors to mass tourism. - In just the last few decades, real estate speculation and the enforcement of strict environmental laws have threatened the Caiçara’s traditional way of life.
Conservation Effectiveness series sparks action, dialogue [04/23/2018]
- Our in-depth series examined the effectiveness of six common conservation strategies: Forest certification, payments for ecosystem services, community-based forest management, terrestrial protected areas, marine protected areas, and environmental advocacy. - We also examined how four of the biggest groups that dominate today’s conservation landscape — The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) — make decisions about which conservation strategy to employ. - Our series generated a lot of discussion and attracted a wide variety of feedback. - We hope to keep our databases of scientific studies and our infographics alive and relevant by developing a platform that allows researchers to update them by adding studies. We welcome ideas on this effort.
Save intact forests for humanity’s sake, urge experts [04/20/2018]
- The world’s largest forests can help solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, but only if we move to safeguard them, argues a New York Times op-ed by Tom Lovejoy and John Reid. - Lovejoy and Reid make a case for protecting the planet’s last “intact forest landscapes” for the role they can play in addressing critical social and environmental challenges. - They argue that while the extent of intact forests have declined by 7 percent so far this century, there are “practical and affordable” options for protecting them. - “aving forests more than just a nice thing to do; it’s a survival skill we’re going to need over the next hundred years or more,” Reid told Mongabay in an interview.
Cerrado: abandoned pasturelands fail to regain savanna biodiversity [04/20/2018]
- A new study has found that abandoned pasturelands in the Brazilian Cerrado do not regain their former biodiversity even after as much as 25 years. The Cerrado biome once covered 2 million square kilometers, but its rapid conversion by agribusiness means that less than half the region’s native vegetation remains. - Researchers sampled 29 Cerrado pasture tracts that had been abandoned for between 3 and 25 years and found that native plants and animals largely didn’t return. Up to a quarter century after abandonment, restored savannas continued to lack 37 percent of their original species. - Brazil’s Forest Code requires that at least 20 percent of private rural Cerrado property not be cultivated. However the new study suggests that the code may not be fully achieving its goal of protecting and restoring native species if the conserved land is degraded pasture, since native vegetation will not come back. - The scientists suggest that one way of boosting biodiversity would be to use fire as a land management tool. Fire is a naturally occurring process in the Cerrado. Its artificial suppression allows trees to grow up, reducing biodiversity. So the reintroduction of fire could help restore native grasses as well as other species.
Brazil’s actual forest-related CO2 emissions could blow by Paris pledge [04/19/2018]
- Brazil is reporting its CO2 emissions within U.N. guidelines, but those rules ignore significant sources of national greenhouse gas emissions ¬by disregarding carbon emitting processes related to forests, say scientists. None of this underreporting is likely unique to Brazil, but it is perhaps more acute there than in other nations due to Brazil’s vast forests. - The U.N. doesn’t require Brazil and other developing nations to count certain greenhouse gas emissions in detail, especially sources it classifies as non-anthropogenic. This, for example, includes CO2 released from wildfires. However, most fires in the Brazilian Amazon are set by people clearing land, so those CO2 emissions are largely human-caused. - Forest degradation, methane emitted from reservoirs, and carbon released from soils where forests are converted to croplands or pastures go partly or totally untallied in emission reports, sometimes because data is lacking, or because the UN hasn’t included the source in its reporting criteria. Another problem: low-resolution satellite monitoring allows small-scale deforestation to go undetected, so is unreported. - As a result, Brazil’s actual carbon emissions are almost certainly higher than the figures reported to the United Nations — how much higher is unknown. But, experts say, that if this missing carbon were added to Brazil’s reported emissions, the nation would likely not meet its 2025 Paris Climate Agreement goal.
Anglo American iron ore pipeline suffers second rupture in Brazil [04/18/2018]
- A rupture of an Anglo American Brasil pipeline in Minas Gerais state spilled 318 tons of iron ore on 12 March. That has been followed by a second spill of 647 tons of mining material on 29 March into the Santo Antônio do Grama River and nearby pastureland. - The pipeline is currently waiting for licensing approval in order to begin expansion of the Sapo iron mine, part of the Minas-Rio Project. - The 529 kilometer (328 mile) mineral duct links the Sapo mine, located near the town of Conceição Mato Dentro, to the Atlantic Ocean export terminal Port of Açu, in São João da Barra, Rio de Janeiro. - IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, has charged the company with several environmental violations and slapped it with a fine of R$ 72.6 million (US$ 21.1 million). The duct is currently shut down pending a report from Anglo American certifying the operation’s safety.
Audio: Impacts of agriculture on Brazil’s Cerrado region [04/17/2018]
- On today’s episode: the impacts of agriculture on Brazil’s Cerrado region. Incredibly biodiverse, the region supports more than 10,000 plant species, 900 birds, and 300 mammals. But it has long been overlooked by scientists and environmentalists alike, and as protecting the Amazon has become more of a priority, much agricultural production in Brazil has moved from the rainforest to the vast Cerrado savannah. - In February, Mongabay sent journalists Alicia Prager and Flávia Milhorance to the Cerrado region of central Brazil to report on the impacts of this rapid expansion of agribusiness on the region’s environment and people. - Prager and Milhorance filed a series of six reports and they’re here to tell us what they found.
Brazil’s high court curbs executive power to dismember protected areas [04/12/2018]
- Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) ruled that MP 558, a Provisional Measure, was unconstitutional, making it unlawful for the executive branch to use the administrative decree to reduce seven conservation units by 100,000 hectares — five of those units were in the Tapajós basin. - In addition, the STF ruled that in future it would be unconstitutional for the executive branch to use MPs to alter the boundaries of already established conservation units. Such reductions can only be approved by the legislature. - MPs can continue to be used in setting other policies, some harmful to the environment. Past MPs approved the building of new coal burning power plants, and for dramatically revising the Terra Legal program, revising it not to benefit the landless poor, but wealthy elites and land grabbers, say critics. - In another win for conservationists, environment minister José Sarney Filho created five new Brazilian conservation units last week, covering 1.2 million hectares. Two were created in Bahia state, in the Cerrado savanna biome; and three in Maranhão state, in the Caatinga tropical dry forest biome.
NGOs acquire land in Brazil to create wildlife corridor [04/12/2018]
- The acquired land plot is located in a region of the Atlantic Forest, and will be connected to the Poço das Antas reserve by a bridge that will cross over a major highway. - Brazilian NGO Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD), in collaboration with US NGO SavingSpecies and Dutch charitable foundation DOB Ecology, has acquired a 237-hectare (585 acre) plot of land next to the Biological Reserve of Poço das Antas, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Currently, a four-lane highway separates the newly acquired land from the reserve. - The organizations now plan to restore the forest in the plot and build a bridge that will connect both areas over the highway. The bridge will allow animal species to circulate between the two regions, curtailing the negative impact of forest fragmentation. - One of the species that will benefit from the new corridor is the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), an endangered primate which only occurs in this region. The tamarin has been the focus of conservation efforts in recent years.
NGOs denounce Tapajós basin intimidation, violence, Brazil inaction [04/04/2018]
- Thirty-eight national and international civil society organizations (CSOs), including social movements and NGOs, have condemned the Brazilian government and the builders of four Teles Pires River dams in the Amazon. The groups denounce the dam consortium for acts of intimidation against indigenous groups, especially involving the newly built São Manoel dam. - This dam was built by the Sao Manoel Energy Consortium, headed by the Brazilian subsidiaries of China Three Gorges Corporation, Energia de Portugal, and state company Furnas. The CSOs/NGOs say the Temer government sent in a national police unit as a “private security firm” to defend the dam builders and intimidate indigenous groups. - The CSOs/NGOs also say the government is in violation of numerous laws regarding the São Manoel dam, including a failure to properly consult with indigenous communities, threats made to those groups, incomplete environmental impact studies, and failure to implement agreed to “conditions” made by authorities in return for dam authorization. - Elsewhere, riverside communities on the Tapajós River, frustrated with government delays to meet a legal obligation to demarcate their lands, took action to mark the borders themselves. Illegal loggers and miners responded with threats of violence. The Brazilian government has done nothing so far to protect these traditional communities.
Yellow fever may threaten biophilia in São Paulo city (commentary) [04/04/2018]
- Reconciling biodiversity conservation and urban development is one of the biggest challenges for humanity, considering that by 2030, 60 percent of people globally are expected to live in cities. - There are currently numerous forest fragments rooted in an urban matrix. On the one hand, these remnant forests confer many benefits on human society. One the other hand, forests may cause biophobias related to human fear and avoidance of some animals, misconceptions about animals’ risks, and the association of forest with dangerous and unsafe areas. - A recent increase of yellow fever cases in highly urbanized cities in Brazil’s Atlantic forest – a tropical hotspot of biodiversity – can threaten the balance between biophilia and biophobia. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Calls for change in handling abuse allegations at top conservation group [04/02/2018]
- Information provided to Mongabay shows a history of employees at CI who feel twice victimized — first by what they describe as “bullying and harassment,” and a second time by consequences if they report up. - Although CI advertises myriad policies about workplace ethics and protections, many say they are still afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation. - Staff also say that they are crippled by uncertainty about privacy rights and fear possibly destroying their careers or being branded a “troublemaker.” Despite that, staff have found ways to tell management time and again that not enough is being done to protect people in their organization.
New study discovers 81 lost human settlements in the Amazon rainforest [04/02/2018]
- By looking at satellite images of a previously unexplored part of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a team of archaeologists has identified 81 pre-Columbian human settlements. - The team also found that the settlements weren’t near major rivers, but closer to smaller streams and creeks, challenging a commonly held belief that pre-Columbian people tended to live close to fertile floodplains of large rivers, leaving the rest of the forest relatively untouched. - The researchers’ computer model predicted that the southern rim of the Amazon likely supported up to 1 million people in pre-Columbian times, a population that’s much larger than previous estimates.
Brazil creates four massive marine protected areas [03/30/2018]
- The four newly designated marine protected areas (MPAs) will cover an area of more than 920,000 square kilometers (355,200 square miles) in the Atlantic Ocean. - Two of the MPAs will cover waters around the archipelago of Trindade, Martin Vaz and Mount Columbia, located more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of the Brazilian mainland. - The remaining two MPAs will be located around the São Pedro and São Paulo archipelagos, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) off the northeast coast. - However, some marine biologists worry that these large, remote MPAs may do little to safeguard biodiversity.
Cerrado Manifesto could curb deforestation, but needs support: experts [03/29/2018]
- The Cerrado Manifesto, issued in 2017, calls for a voluntary pledge by companies to help halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado. The Brazilian savannah’s native vegetation once covered 2 million square kilometers that has been reduced by soy, corn, cotton, and cattle production by more than half. - A Manifesto Statement of Support (SoS) has been signed mostly by supermarkets and fast food chains, including McDonalds, Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Unilever. However, commodities firms such as Cargill, Bunge, and ADM, all active in the Cerrado, have yet to sign the SoS. Experts say big traders must join in to make the initiative effective. - The Cerrado Manifesto is a call to action, and is somewhat akin to the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium, which some say was effective in cutting deforestation due to the direct conversion of forests to soy plantations. Critics of the Manifesto say that its top down approach should also include major incentives to farmers to not clear native vegetation. - One concern is that the Manifesto and other deforestation mechanisms could force good actors out of the Cerrado, creating a vacuum into which entities unsupportive of environmental reform might enter. Among entities of concern is China, which already buys a third of Cerrado soy. China has not signed the Manifesto.
Cerrado: U.S. investment spurs land theft, deforestation in Brazil, say experts [03/28/2018]
- In Brazil, large swathes of land are owned by the state, but can be legally claimed by small-scale farmers if they cultivate crops and homestead on it, though they may lack legal title. In the 1990s, 240 small-scale farm families laid claim to lands in Cotegipe municipality, Bahia state. - Over time, local elites allegedly drove them off those lands, using intimidation and violence, and then laid claim to 140,000 hectares (540 square miles) — an area bigger than Los Angeles. That land was sold and resold. Today, it is occupied by the Campo Largo farm, a minimally productive operation owned by Caracol Agropecuária LTDA. - The capital that Caracol used to buy that land has now been traced to its foreign partners. Caracol is apparently owned by the endowment fund of Harvard University, via its Harvard Management Company: HMC, which oversees more than 12,000 funds, is believed to own Caracol through two subsidiaries: Guara LLC and Bromelia LLC. - Globally, HMC, TIAA-CREF and other financial firms began investing heavily in farmland in developing nations after 2007/08. Often, say analysts, these lands were originally obtained via land theft. In Cotegipe, 22 families are still fighting to reclaim the small farms they say were stolen from them — a Mongabay exclusive.
Cerrado: Agribusiness boomtown; profits for a few, hardships for many [03/26/2018]
- Luís Eduardo Magalhães (LEM) is a soy boomtown, built on Cerrado agribusiness. Its population has grown fourfold since 2000, to 83,000 people, and is one of Brazil’s fastest growing cities. But LEM has suffered growing pains as the people from rural areas have rushed there seeking jobs and opportunities. - Public services have failed to keep up, with most urban streets still dirt and sanitation services lagging behind population growth. Many new arrivals from the countryside, lacking specialized skills, have been unable to get good jobs or gain access to the highly mechanized and specialized industrial agribusiness economy. So they remain poor. - Many have ended up in Santa Cruz, an impoverished neighborhood where drug trafficking and gang violence are a constant daily threat. Those with better skills and more luck may end up in Jardim Paraíso (Paradise Garden), a nearby upscale neighborhood marked by security fences and security alarms as protection against crime. - Experts say LEM seems likely to follow the path of agribusiness boomtowns globally: population grows rapidly, but initial economic gains and urbanization aren’t followed by ongoing development and investment. Disorderly growth negatively impacts the environment, leading to more poverty and a concentration of land ownership and wealth.
Brazil ignored U.N. letters warning of land defender threats, record killings [03/23/2018]
- United Nations rapporteurs sent two letters to the Temer administration in 2017. The first warned of threats to human rights activists in Minas Gerais state. The second condemned the record number of environmental and land defender killings in Pará state last year. Brazil ignored both letters. - The State Public Ministry (MPE), the independent public prosecutor’s office in Minas Gerais, had requested the inclusion of six laborers and their families in the Protection Program of Human Rights Defenders, of the Secretariat of Rights of the Presidency in May, 2017. - The laborers say they were threatened by representatives of Anglo American Iron Ore Brazil S.A., a subsidiary of London-based Anglo American, a global mining company. In March Anglo American Brazil reported a mineral duct rupture which contaminated the Santo Antônio and Casca rivers, and riverside communities. - 908 murders of environmentalists and land defenders occurred in 35 countries between 2002 and 2013. Of those, 448, almost half, happened in Brazil. In 2018 so far, at least 12 Brazilian social activists and politicians have been slain — twice as many as compared to the same period in 2017.
How to build a Guardian: students learn about making technology work in the field [03/23/2018]
- Students in several science and tech schools in California are learning to design and build Guardians, acoustic monitoring devices to help protect rainforests from illegal logging while keeping a record of the sounds made by forest wildlife. - Led by the non-profit Rainforest Connection, the students are constructing the Guardians from old, recycled smartphones armed with solar power and Google’s open source machine learning framework, TensorFlow, which transforms them into field-tough listening tools. - The program also addresses the challenges of designing and developing technology for humid, rugged, remote field conditions typical of indigenous reserves and protected areas.
Cerrado: Traditional communities accuse agribusiness of ‘green land grabbing’ [03/22/2018]
- The Cerrado savannah includes many traditional communities. Among them are the geraizeiros who arrived in Western Bahia as much as 200 years ago. For those many years, they occupied small communal villages, and farmed, grazed, and harvested surrounding native lands held by the Brazilian government. - Typically lacking legal deeds to these lands, the geraizeiros have increasingly come into conflict with agribusiness expansion. Company-run plantations have, according to local people, laid claim to the natural lands, fenced them off, placed guards, then converted native vegetation to soy, corn and cotton monocultures. - Another conflict: in the Cerrado, a percentage of a land owner’s property must be kept in its natural state, as a Legal Reserve. However, these reserves needn’t be contiguous with croplands. As a result, say local people, agribusiness is laying claim to natural lands that the geraizeiros have long used sustainably for their livelihoods. - Conflict continues to escalate. The Cerrado states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia – known collectively as Matopiba – saw a 56 percent increase in reported land conflicts (400 in total) over the five year period, 2012-2016. In contrast, the national increase over the same period was 21 percent.
Brazilian lawmakers funded by donors guilty of environmental crimes: report [03/21/2018]
- The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has 513 members. Of those, 249 received a total of 58.9 million reais (US$18.3 million) in official donations during the 2014 election from companies and people who committed environmental crimes, including illegal clearing of forests, says a recent report by Repórter Brasil. - Receiving these donations is not a crime, but it does provide insight into how environmental offenders are connected to, and potentially influencing, lawmakers and their decisions. Of the 249 deputies who received tainted donations, 134 are members of the Bancada Ruralista, the pro-agribusiness rural caucus that dominates the chamber. - Since the 2014 general election, Brazil’s election laws have been tightened. In 2015, the Federal Supreme Court passed a decree that made it illegal for companies to donate to candidates and political parties. These new rules will be in effect for the October 2018 presidential election. - Analysts still worry that money from those who have committed environmental crimes will go right on flowing to politicians — possibly illegally or utilizing newly discovered campaign finance law loopholes — risking the possibility of influence peddling.
Pearl Jam invests in Amazonian reforestation to offset emissions from current Brazil tour [03/20/2018]
- Rock band Pearl Jam has partnered with Conservation International (CI) in purchasing carbon offsets for the estimated 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that will be generated by its Brazilian tour dates taking place this month. - Proceeds from the offset purchase will be used to support a tropical forest restoration project that aims to plant 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon by 2023, said to be the largest reforestation effort in the world. - “As a band, it’s important for us to recognize the environmental impact of our tours and do what we can to mitigate that,” Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said in a statement.
Cerrado: Agribusiness may be killing Brazil’s ‘birthplace of waters’ [03/19/2018]
- The eighth World Water Forum takes place in Brasilia this week, and World Water Day is this Thursday, 22 March. So Mongabay here takes a close look at the Cerrado as Brazil’s “birthplace of waters.” - The Cerrado savannah, despite its annual dry season, has in the past had water to spare. Eight out of 12 of Brazil’s major river basins and three aquifers — the Guarani, Bambuí and Urucuia — all rely on the Cerrado as a source for much of their water. - Traditional communities are also reliant on the Cerrado’s aquifers and streams. But as agribusiness has moved into the region, putting large-scale irrigation into operation, those communities have complained of a diminishing water supply. A major water conflict arose recently between the town of Correntina and large-scale farms, in Bahia state. - The diminishing Cerrado water supply has complex causes, including deforestation due to land conversion to agriculture; large-scale irrigation to grow water-intensive crops like soy, cotton and corn; and climate change. However, scientists say that addressing the problem proactively is critically important to local communities and all of Brazil.
Sharp-eyed Mongabay readers spot a jaguarundi (commentary) [03/16/2018]
- Last Monday, in an article about Brazil’s Cerrado, this Mongabay editor mistakenly identified an animal in a photo as a puma (Puma concolor). - Within hours multiple readers corrected that mistake, properly identifying the animal as a jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi). - Curiosity aroused, this editor went to work learning more about jaguarundis. - Most interesting find: these small cats of North, Central and South America, were until recently on track to be reintroduced to Texas, but a new president and his plan for a U.S. / Mexico border wall has put those plans in limbo.
Better agricultural planning could prevent 88% of biodiversity loss, study finds [03/16/2018]
- Results of a new study reveal that nearly 90 percent of the biodiversity that scientists expect will be lost to future agricultural expansion could be saved if more effective land-use planning directed this expansion to areas with the fewest species. - It found that 10 countries possessed the lion’s share of this potential, and could by themselves reduce the expected loss of the world’s biodiversity by 33 percent. - However, there are caveats. The researchers write that most of these countries are among the “20 worst-ranked” in terms of environmental impacts and have governance and political issues that would impede effective land-use planning at a national level. And they say global land-use optimization aimed at protecting the natural resources of the world’s most biodiverse countries may come “at the expense of their own production opportunities and economic development.” - The researchers write that in order for the world’s most biodiverse countries to reach their full conservation potential while providing for their human communities, global land-use policy and research need to better integrate the governance, political and economic challenges present in these countries.
Cerrado: can the empire of soy coexist with savannah conservation? [03/15/2018]
- With new deforestation due to soy production markedly reduced in recent years by Brazilian laws and by the 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium, agribusiness, transnational commodities companies like Bunge and Cargill, and investors have shifted their attention to the Cerrado, savannah. - Four Cerrado states, Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, known collectively as Matopiba, are seeing a rapid reduction in native vegetation as soy, cotton, corn and cattle production rises. Over half of the Cerrado’s 2 million square kilometers has already been converted to croplands, with large-scale agribusiness owning most land. - One reason for the focus on the Cerrado: Brazil’s Forest Code requires that inside Legal Amazonia 80 percent of forests on privately held lands be conserved as Legal Reserves. But in a large portion of the Cerrado, property owners are only required to protect 20 to 35 percent of native vegetation. - With little help coming currently from government, conservationists are responding with creative approaches for protection – developing partnerships with local communities, seeking signers for the Cerrado Manifesto to curb new deforestation due to soy, and restoring degraded lands to market the Cerrado’s unique fruits and other produce.
Camera traps nab crop-raiding animals near farms in the Amazon [03/14/2018]
- A team of scientists from the U.K. and Brazil used an array of 132 camera traps to snap more than 60,000 photographs around 47 farming communities in the Amazon. - They also conducted 157 interviews with local farmers about the animals that they found most frequently in their fields. - The researchers found that the animals that were most destructive to crops were also among the ones nabbed most frequently by their cameras.
Small hydropower a big global issue overlooked by science and policy [03/13/2018]
- Brazil recently announced an end to its mega-dam construction policy, a strategy other nations may embrace as understanding of the massive environmental and social impacts of big dams grows. - However, a trend long neglected by scientists and policymakers ¬ the rapid growth of small dams – has been spotlighted in a new study. - Nearly 83,000 small dams in 150 nations (with 11 small dams for each large dam), exist globally, while that number could triple if all capacity worldwide is used. More than 10,000 new small dams are already in the planning stages. But small dam impacts have been little studied by scientists, and little regulated by governments. - Environmentalists say that, with the rapid construction of new small dams, it is urgent for researchers to assess the impacts of different types of small dams, as well as looking at the cumulative impacts of many small dams placed on a single river, or on main stems and tributaries within watersheds.
Cerrado: appreciation grows for Brazil’s savannah, even as it vanishes [03/12/2018]
- The Brazilian Cerrado – a vast savannah – once covered two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), an area bigger than Great Britain, France and Germany combined, stretching to the east and south of the Amazon. - Long undervalued by scientists and environmental activists, researchers are today realizing that the Cerrado is incredibly biodiverse. The biome supports more than 10,000 plant species, over 900 bird and 300 mammal species. - The Cerrado’s deep-rooted plants and its soils also sequester huge amounts of carbon, making the region’s preservation key to curbing climate change, and to reducing Brazil’s deforestation and CO2 emissions to help meet its Paris carbon reduction pledge. - Agribusiness – hampered by Brazilian laws in the Amazon – has moved into the Cerrado in a big way. More than half of the biome’s native vegetation has already disappeared, as soy and cattle production rapidly replace habitat. This series explores the dynamics of change convulsing the region.
Tropical deforestation: the need for a strategy adjustment (commentary) [03/08/2018]
- Ecologist Dan Nepstad is the founder and executive director of the Earth Innovation Institute. - In this commentary, Nepstad makes the case for building stronger government support to end deforestation in tropical countries. - Without this support, it may not be possible to further curb tropical deforestation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Brazilian ‘quilombo’ community entitled with 220,000 hectares of rainforest [03/07/2018]
- Longtime residents of one of the country’s thousands of Quilombo communities have been given land titles for the first time. - Quilombo communities are Brazilian peoples of African descent whose ancestors were slaves – they have long lived in rural communities throughout Brazil. - The Cachoeira Porteira quilombo community of 500 people in Brazil’s Pará state was formally entitled with some 220,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest earlier this month.
Analysis: the Brazilian Supreme Court’s New Forest Code ruling [03/07/2018]
- Last week Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge by environmentalists, upholding the constitutionality of most, though not all, of Brazil’s New Forest Code – legislation crafted in 2012 by the powerful bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress. - The 2012 code is weaker than the old Forest Code, which was approved in 1965, but never well enforced. - Many environmentalists have expressed concern that the high court ruling endorses legislation that prioritizes the economic importance of industrial agriculture over basic environmental protections. - Conservationists also say that the decision rewards those who have illegally infringed on environmental laws at a time when pressures on forests are growing more intense, especially in the Amazon. This story includes a chart that provides a detailed analysis of the environmental pros and cons of the Supreme Court decision.
Amazon forest to savannah tipping point could be far closer than thought (commentary) [03/05/2018]
- In the 1970s, scientists recognized that the Amazon makes half of its own rainfall via evaporation and transpiration from vegetation. Researchers also recognized that escalating deforestation would reduce this rainfall producing effect. - A 2007 study estimated that with 40 percent Amazon deforestation a tipping point could be reached, with large swathes of Amazonia switching from forest to savannah. Two newly considered factors in a 2016 study – climate change and fires – have now reduced that estimated tipping point to 20-25 percent. Current deforestation is at 17 percent, with an unknown amount of degraded forest adding less moisture. - There is good reason to think that this Amazon forest to savannah tipping point is close at hand. Historically unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015 would seem to be the first flickers of such change. - Noted Amazon scientists Tom Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre argue that it is critical to build in a margin of safety by keeping Amazon deforestation below 20 percent. To avoid this tipping point, Brazil needs to strongly control deforestation, and combine that effort with reforestation. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Brazil high court Forest Code ruling largely bad for environment, Amazon: NGOs [03/01/2018]
- In a tight decision, the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) upheld the constitutionality of much of Brazil’s 2012 New Forest Code, that had been created under the powerful influence of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. The upheld 2012 New Forest Code is a weaker body of environmental regulations than the 1965 code created under Brazil’s military government. - The court ruling made constitutional a declared amnesty for those who illegally cleared their Legal Reserves (lands, by law, they must not clear) before 22 July 2008, eliminating required fines and tree replantings. It allows for the reduction of Legal Reserves in states or municipalities largely occupied by indigenous reserves or protected areas. - The STF decision also allows for the reduction in size of APAs (Areas of Permanent Protection), even when considered fundamental by environmentalists for maintaining water supplies and preventing climate disasters such as floods and mudslides. - The ruling allows farmers who have already illegally cleared protected APAs, to get authorization to clear even more land, and approves farming activities on steep slopes and hilltops. Environmentalists were critical of the high court decision, while agribusiness praised it.
Andes dams twice as numerous as thought are fragmenting the Amazon [02/28/2018]
- A new study identified 142 dams currently in operation or under construction in the Andes headwaters of the Amazon, twice the number previously estimated. An additional 160 are in the planning stages. - If proposed Andes dams go ahead, sediment transport to the Amazon floodplains could cease, blocking freshwater fish migratory routes, disrupting flow and flood regimes, and threatening food security for downstream communities, impacting up to 30 million people. - Most dams to date are on the tributary networks of Andean river main stems. But new dams are planned for five out of eight major Andean Amazon main stems, bringing connectivity reductions on the Marañón, Ucayali and Beni rivers of more than 50 percent; and on the Madre de Dios and Mamoré rivers of over 35 percent. - Researchers conclude that proposed dams should be required to complete cumulative effects assessments at a basin-wide scale, and account for synergistic impacts of existing dams, utilizing the UN Watercourses Convention as a legal basis for international cooperation for sustainable water management between Amazon nations.
Norsk Hydro accused of Amazon toxic spill, admits ‘clandestine pipeline’ [02/27/2018]
- Norsk Hydro’s Alunorte aluminum refining facility in Barcarena municipality, Pará state, has been accused by Brazilian authorities of contaminating the local waters of several communities with toxic waste that overflowed earlier this month from a holding basin. - The firm denied the allegation, but has agreed to provide water to local residents, and is investigating. - The government also accused the company of having a “clandestine pipeline to discharge untreated effluent,” an allegation that the Norwegian state firm has since admitted to being true. - Officials have yet to determine the full cause, scope or consequence of the spill, while locals complain that this isn’t the first time. According to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, Norsk Hydro has not paid fines set at R $17 million to date (US $5.27 million), after a toxic overflow in 2009 put the local Barcarena population at risk.
Belo Monte legacy: harm from Amazon dam didn’t end with construction (photo story) [02/26/2018]
- The controversial Belo Monte dam, operational in 2016 and the world’s third biggest, was forced on the people of Altamira, Pará state, and is now believed to have been built largely as payback to Brazil’s construction industry by the nation’s then ruling Workers’ Party for campaign contributions received. - The dam was opposed by an alliance of indigenous and traditional communities, and international environmentalists, all to no avail. Today, the media coverage that once turned the world’s eyes toward Belo Monte, has gone away. But that hasn’t ended the suffering and harm resulting from the project. - Tens of thousands of indigenous and traditional people were forced from their homes, and had to give up their fishing livelihoods. Meanwhile, the city of Altamira endured boom and bust, as workers flooded in, then abandoned it. The Belo Sun goldmine, if ever built, also continues to be a potential threat. - In this story, Mongabay contributor Maximo Anderson and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim document the ongoing harm being done by the giant dam. Belo Monte, today, stands as a warning regarding the urgent need to properly assess and plan for mega-infrastructure projects in Amazonia.
Drought-driven wildfires on rise in Amazon basin, upping CO2 release [02/22/2018]
- Despite a 76 percent decline in deforestation rates between 2003 and 2015, the incidence of forest fires is increasing in Brazil, with new research linking the rise in fires not only to deforestation, but also to severe droughts. - El Niño, combined with other oceanic and atmospheric cycles, produced an unusually severe drought in 2015, a year that saw a 36 percent increase in Amazon basin forest fires, which also raised carbon emissions. - Severe droughts are expected to become more common in the Brazilian Amazon as natural oceanic cycles are made more extreme by human-induced climate change. - In this new climate paradigm, limiting deforestation alone will not be sufficient to reduce fires and curb carbon emissions, scientists say. The maintenance of healthy, intact, unfragmented forests is vital to providing resilience against further increases in Amazon fires.
Brazil’s fundamental pesticide law under attack [02/20/2018]
- In 2008, Brazil became the largest pesticide consumer in the world – the dual result of booming industrial agribusiness and ineffective environmental regulation. - In 1989, the country established one of the then toughest pesticide laws in the world (7,802/1989), which included the precautionary principle in its pesticide evaluation and registration standards. However, limited staffing and budget has made the law very difficult to implement and enforce. - With its increasing power after 2000, the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, has worked to overthrow that law, an effort thwarted to date but more likely to succeed under the Temer administration and the current ruralista-dominated Congress. - Lax pesticide use regulation and education have major health and environmental consequences. Farmers often use pesticides without proper safety gear, while children are often in the fields when spraying occurs. Some experts blame pesticides partly for Brazil’s high cancer rate – cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of death.
Protected areas with deforestation more likely to lose status in Brazilian state [02/18/2018]
- A recent study finds that ineffective protected areas stand a lower chance of surviving if deforestation has occurred within their boundaries. - The research took place in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon. - The team of scientists also found that protected areas that work are less likely to be carved up for development. - The authors argue that removing safeguards, even from degraded areas, does not take into account the benefits that we may derive from existing protected areas, including carbon storage and clean water.
Brazilian Supreme Court ruling protects Quilombola land rights for now [02/13/2018]
- Brazil’s Supreme Court has soundly rejected a lawsuit filed in 2003 by a right wing political party that would have drastically limit the ability of quilombolas (former slave communities) to legitimize claims to their traditional lands. - There are 2,962 quilombolas in Brazil today, but just 219 have land titles, while 1,673 are pursuing the process of acquiring legal title. Titled quilombola territories include 767,596 hectares (1.9 million acres); these settlements have a good record of protecting their forests. Brazil’s total quilombola population includes some 16 million people. - While advocates for quilombola rights cheered the Supreme Court decision, major threats to the communities loom: successive administrations have drastically slashed the budget for titling quilombola lands, almost completely stalling the demarcation process. Also, a constitutional amendment, PEC 215 is moving through Brazil’s Congress. - PEC 215 would shift authority from the Executive branch to Congress for giving out land titles to quilombolas, recognizing indigenous claims to ancestral lands, and creating protected areas. With Congress dominated by the ruralist caucus and agribusiness, PEC 215 threatens Brazilian forests and indigenous and traditional communities.
Carbon pricing could save millions of hectares of tropical forest: new study [02/05/2018]
- Recently published research in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that setting a price of $20 per metric ton (about $18/short ton) of carbon dioxide could diminish deforestation by nearly 16 percent and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by nearly 25 percent. - The pair of economists calculated that, as things currently stand, the world stands to lose an India-size chunk of tropical forest by 2050. - In addition to carbon pricing, stricter policies to halt deforestation, such as those that helped Brazil cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent in the early 2000s, could save nearly 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles).
Amazon rainforest hit by surge in small-scale deforestation, study finds [02/02/2018]
- A recent study used high-resolution satellite imagery to analyze deforestation events in Amazonia, uncovering a shift from large- to small-scale deforestation events across the region. Protected areas also appear to be affected. - The results indicate big new deforestation hotspots are opening up in Peru and Bolivia, likely caused by industrial agriculture. - The researchers found 34 percent of forest loss patches in the Brazilian Amazon were smaller than 6.25 hectares, which is the smallest size detectable by the Brazilian government’s deforestation monitoring system. - The researchers say higher-resolution monitoring systems are needed to combat the rising tide of small-scale deforestation.
Stranger than fiction? New spiders found in Brazil named after creatures from popular fantasy stories [01/24/2018]
- Seven recently discovered spiders all belong to the genus Ochyrocera and were found in the iron caves of Floresta Nacional de Carajás in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. - While all seven species can live and breed without sunlight, they’re not necessarily consigned to the deepest depths of the underworld. The same cannot be said for some of the new spiders’ namesakes, however. - Researchers with the Sao Paulo, Brazil-based Instituto Butantan have named the seven new spiders in honor of characters from fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series.
New satellite data reveals forest loss far greater than expected in Brazil Amazon [01/18/2018]
- The Brazilian Amazon lost 184 km2 of forest in December 2017, 20 times more than was recorded in December 2016 (9 km2). - The massive increase reflects Brazil’s use of a more accurate satellite monitoring system that incorporates radar, which can see land cover at night and through clouds, and suggests prior deforestation rates were likely underestimates. - As the cost of radar and other satellite data decreases, continuous monitoring will enable officials and civil society to more accurately monitor and quantify forest loss over a broad range of spatial scales.
Record Amazon fires, intensified by forest degradation, burn indigenous lands [01/18/2018]
- As of September 2017, Brazil’s Pará state in the Amazon had seen a 229 percent increase in fires over 2016; in a single week in December the state saw 26,000 fire alerts. By year’s end, the Brazilian Amazon was on track for an all-time record fire season. - But 2017 was not a record drought year, so experts have sought other causes. Analysts say most of the wildfires were human-caused, set by people seeking to convert forests to crop or grazing lands. Forest degradation by mining companies, logging and agribusiness added to the problem. - Huge cuts made by the Temer administration in the budgets of Brazilian regulatory and enforcement agencies, such as FUNAI, the nation’s indigenous protection agency, and IBAMA, its environmental agency, which fights fires, added to the problem in 2017. - The dramatic rise in wildfires has put indigenous communities and their territories at risk. For example, an area covering 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres), lost tree cover within the Kayapó Indigenous Territory from October to December, while the nearby Xikrin Indigenous Territory lost roughly 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) over the same period.
Ancient human sites may have distorted our understanding of the Amazon’s natural ecology [01/16/2018]
- Scientists have traditionally based their knowledge of the Amazon rainforest on surveys from fewer than 1,000 plots of land, which they had assumed were representative of the rest of the forest. - Research now shows that many of these sites were occupied and modified by ancient peoples, and the trees are still regrowing from those disturbances. - These recovering trees absorb carbon at a faster rate than mature trees, so estimates of how well the rainforest can absorb carbon dioxide may be too high.
Study: Amazon dams are disrupting ecologically vital flood pulses [01/10/2018]
- Flood pulses are critical to the way the Amazon, its tributaries and other tropical rivers function – and these seasonal flood pulses are a huge driver of ecological productivity and diversity. - Floodplain forests depend upon annual flood pulses to bring nutrients and sediment from river channels out into the surrounding terrestrial habitat. - Reductions to flood pulses, brought by Amazon dams both large and small, could lead to shifts in tree species diversity and composition, with implications for carbon storage and emissions. - Unreliable flood regimes, as created by dams of all sizes, significantly impact Amazon river systems and species’ life cycles, population dynamics, food sources, and habitats above and below the water line.
Brazil 2018: Amazon under attack, resistance grows, courts to act, elections [01/09/2018]
- While forecasts are always difficult, it seems likely that Brazilian President Michel Temer will remain in power for the last year of his term, despite on-going corruption investigations. - Elections for president, the house of deputies, and most of the senate are scheduled for October. Former President Lula has led the presidential polls, though right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro has grown strong. Lula’s environmental record is mixed; Bolsonaro would almost certainly be bad news for the environment, indigenous groups and the Amazon. - During 2018, Temer, Congress and the bancada ruralista (a lobby representing agribusiness, cattle ranchers, land thieves and other wealthy rural elites) will likely seek to undermine environmental laws and indigenous land rights further. Potential paving of the BR 319 in the heart of the Amazon is considered one of the biggest threats. - However, grassroots environmental and indigenous resistance continues to grow, and important Brazilian Supreme Court decisions are expected in the weeks and months ahead, which could undo some of the major gains made by the ruralists under Temer.
Scientists surprised by orchid bee biodiversity near oil palm plantations [01/04/2018]
- A recent study finds orchid bee diversity is supported by forest patches along rivers near oil palm plantations in Brazil. - The study lends evidence that remnant patches of forest support the movement and survival of plant and animal species in deforested landscapes. - Brazil’s new forest code revisions greatly reduce or eliminate the requirement for some agricultural producers to maintain river forest patches.
Rainforests: the year in review 2017 [01/04/2018]
- 2017 was a rough year for tropical rainforests, but there were some bright spots. - This is Mongabay’s annual year-in-review on what happened in the world of tropical rainforests. - Here we summarize some of the more notable developments and trends for tropical forests in 2017.
Brazil announces end to Amazon mega-dam building policy [01/03/2018]
- Brazil’s government this week announced a major shift away from its policy of building mega-dams in the Brazilian Amazon – a strategy born during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and vigorously carried forward down to the present day. - The Temer government claims the decision is a response to intense resistance from environmentalists and indigenous groups, but while that may be part of the reason, experts see other causes as well. - The decline in political influence of Brazil’s gigantic construction companies caused by the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation is likely a major cause of the change in policy. So is the current depressed state of Brazil’s economy, which makes it unlikely that Brazil’s huge development bank (BNDES) will invest in such multi-billion dollar projects. - While environmentalists and indigenous groups will likely celebrate the shift away from the mega-dam policy, experts warn that many threats to the Amazon remain, including pressure by Brazil’s ruralist lobby to open up conserved areas and indigenous lands to agribusiness, along with threats posed by new road, rail, waterway and mining projects.
Brazil 2017: environmental and indigenous rollbacks, rising violence [12/27/2017]
- The bancada ruralista, or ruralist lobby, in Brazil’s congress flexed its muscles in 2017, making numerous demands on President Michel Temer to make presidential decrees weakening environmental protections and revoking land rights to indigenous and traditional communities in Brazil – decisions especially impacting the Amazon. - Emboldened ruralists – including agribusiness, cattle ranchers, land thieves and loggers – stepped up violent attacks in 2017, making Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for social or environmental activists. There were 63 assassinations by the end of October. - Budgets to FUNAI, the indigenous agency; IBAMA, the environmental agency; and other institutions, were reduced so severely this year that these government regulatory agencies were largely unable to do their enforcement and protection work. - In 2017, Temer led attempts to dismember Jimanxim National Forest and National Park, and to open the vast RENCA preserve in the Amazon to mining – efforts that have failed to date, but are still being pursued. Resistance has remained fierce, especially among indigenous groups, with Temer sometimes forced to backtrack on his initiatives.
Scientists determine there are seven species of silky anteater, not one [12/22/2017]
- A study published earlier this month in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society describes six distinct new species of silky anteater, meaning there are now officially seven species of the elusive mammal, not just one. - Silky anteaters are small, nocturnal animals that live in the canopies of trees in the tropical forests of South and Central America. They are known as very discreet and thus difficult to find, which helps explain why Cyclopes didactylus, the common anteater, was one of the least studied anteaters in the world and had been considered to be a single species up until now. - The common silky anteater is listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but that may not pertain to all of the newly discovered species.
Selective logging reduces biodiversity, disrupts Amazon ecosystems: study [12/22/2017]
- Reduced-impact logging, also called selective logging, which gained popularity in the 1990s, aims to balance biodiversity impacts with global demand for timber by extracting fewer trees. But the success of this approach is coming under increasing scrutiny. - A new study in the Brazilian Amazon found that dung beetle communities, and their important role as “ecosystem engineers,” is severely disrupted by even low-level timber extraction, with sharp reductions in species richness. - Multitudes of studies on birds, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates around the globe demonstrate the same finding: that even low-levels of timber extraction have significant impact on species diversity. - This extensive research suggests that selective logging techniques should be shelved in favor of “land-sparing” timber extraction strategies, which create a patchwork of highly logged sites and intact forest reserves.
Amazon dam impacts underestimated due to overlooked vine growth: study [12/20/2017]
- New research on the rapid growth of lianas – native woody vines – on the artificial reservoir islands of the Balbina dam in the Amazon finds that forest communities there underwent a transformation as a result of severe habitat fragmentation, resulting in the altering of the carbon sequestration and emission balance. - Some tree species are severely impacted by this extreme form of habitat fragmentation and die, while native lianas — woody vines that climb to reach the forest canopy — thrive and rapidly fill the biological niche left by failing trees. - Trees, with their greater biomass, store more carbon in trunks and branches than lianas, so the carbon balance shifts as lianas dominate. Rather than sequestering carbon, these dam-created islands end up emitting carbon as the trees die. - The rapid growth of lianas further contributes to the degradation of remnant tree communities challenged by fragmentation. Amazon dam environmental impact assessments don’t currently evaluate increased reservoir island carbon emissions.
Mine tailings dam failures major cause of environmental disasters: report [12/19/2017]
- Between 2008-2017 it’s estimated that more than 340 people died, communities have been ravaged, property ruined, rivers contaminated, fisheries wrecked and drinking water polluted by mining tailings dam collapses. Estimates from the year 2000 put the total number of tailings dams globally at 3,500, though there are likely more that have not been counted. - A new United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report states that as mining production escalates globally to provide the minerals and metals required for a variety of industrial needs, including green technologies, it is urgent that nations and companies address tailings dam safety. - The UNEP report recommends that mining companies strive for a “zero-failure objective” in regard to tailings dams, superseding economic goals. UNEP also recommends the establishment of a UN environmental stakeholder forum to support stronger international regulations for tailings dams, and the creation of a global database of mine sites and tailings storage facilities to track dam failures. - One idea would be to eliminate types of tailings dams that are just too dangerous to be tolerated. For example, mining experts say there is no way to insure against the failure of “wet tailings disposal” dams, like the Samarco dam that failed in 2015 – Brazil’s worst environmental disaster ever. As a result, they recommend storing all future tailings waste via “dry stock disposal.”
EU-LatAm trade deal good for agribusiness; bad for Amazon, climate – analysis [12/18/2017]
- The EU-Mercosur trade deal, being concluded this month by the European Union and the South American trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) is being negotiated in secret. However, part of the document has been leaked to Greenpeace, alarming environmentalists. - The leaked secret trade documents show that the accord would encourage the export of high-value goods, like automobiles, from Europe to Latin American, while encouraging the export of huge amounts of low-value products – including beef and soy – from South America. - This emphasis on production and international consumption could greatly increase the need for agricultural land in Latin America, and result in a major increase in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, and Argentine Chaco. - The conversion of forests to crop and range lands could significantly decrease carbon storage, leading to a rise in carbon emissions that could help push global temperatures more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, with potentially catastrophic results for ecosystems and civilization.
Brazil / UK push offshore oil pact, a potential climate change disaster [12/13/2017]
- This month, as Brazil ratified the Paris Agreement, President Michel Temer and the Congress pressed forward with Provisional Measure 795, which must be approved by Friday or it will expire. PM 795 would offer billions in tax breaks to transnational oil companies seeking to tap into Brazil’s 176 billion barrel offshore oil reserve. - In November, Britain reaffirmed its Paris Climate Agreement commitments, but diplomatic telegrams released by Greenpeace show the UK was in clandestine talks with Brazil in 2017 to smooth the way for offshore drilling, massive tax incentives and relaxation of environmental licenses for transnational oil and gas companies, including British Petroleum (BP). - Brazil has also announced major auctions for oil and gas exploration blocks in its offshore pre-salt region. Ten rounds of bids have been authorized to occur between 2017 and 2019. The September and October auctions counted BP, Shell, Exxon, and Brazil’s Petrobras among the big winners. - Exploitation of Brazil’s offshore oil reserves could release 74.8 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, compromising the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. UPDATE: Late on Dec. 13 Brazil’s House passed PM 795 in its original form. Now the bill goes to Pres. Temer. Court challenges may follow.
Latin America-Europe trade pact to include historic indigenous rights clause [12/12/2017]
- The Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are expected to conclude trade negotiations and put finishing touches on a trade agreement by the end of this year. - That pact will include landmark indigenous human rights clauses meant to protect indigenous groups from violence, land theft and other civil rights violations. - The human rights guarantees institutionalized in the trade agreement, if violated, could potentially lead to major trade boycotts, and are particularly important to indigenous groups in Brazil, where the agribusiness lobby known as the bancada ruralista wields tremendous political power. - Brazil’s ruralist elite has been engaged in a decades-long effort to deny indigenous groups rights to their ancestral lands. Violence by large scale farmers and land thieves has seriously escalated under the Temer administration, which strongly backs the ruralist agenda.
Forest Code falls short in protecting Amazonian fish [12/07/2017]
- A team of scientists reports that Brazil’s Forest Code doesn’t address significant impacts that agriculture can have on fish habitat in the rainforest’s streams and tributaries. - The study cataloged more than 130 species of fish, some of them new to science, in Brazil’s eastern Amazon. - The authors argue for protections that encompass entire basins and the complex drainage networks that together form the lifeblood of the Amazon rainforest.
Mammal diversity may increase carbon storage in rainforests [12/05/2017]
- Having a diverse mix of mammals may play a more pivotal role than expected in the carbon cycle of tropical forests, by feeding microbes that lock the carbon from food scraps in the soil. - Hundreds of indigenous research technicians collected data for this study across an area roughly the size of Costa Rica. - Conserving mammal species will become increasingly important in efforts to protect the health of rainforest ecosystems, researchers suggest.
Ferrogrão grain railway threatens Amazon indigenous groups, forest [12/04/2017]
- Michel Temer’s administration is fast tracking the Ferrogrão (Grainrail), a 1,142 kilometer railway to link grain-producing midwest Brazil with the Tapajós River, a major tributary of the Amazon, in order to more economically and efficiently export soy and other commodities to foreign markets. - The railway is seen as vital to Brazil’s agribusiness-centric economy, especially considering the country’s current economic crisis, but indigenous groups say they’ve not been consulted in project planning as stipulated by International Labour Organization Convention 169. - The railway will come near several indigenous groups: the Kaiabi in Indigenous Territory of Batelão, the Pankararu in Indigenous Territory of Pankararu, the Kayapó in Indigenous Territory of Kapot-Nhinore, and the Panará in Indigenous Territory of Baú. These groups say they’ve not been properly consulted by the government. - Ferrogrão will also pass near Jamanxim National Park and cut through Jamanxim National Forest, where the government is seeking diminished protections to benefit elite land thieves. Scientists worry that deforestation brought by the loss of these conserved lands, plus the railway, could significantly reduce the Amazon’s greenhouse gas storage capacity.
‘They want to occupy and take our land’: Land conflicts increase in Brazil [12/01/2017]
- Rondônia is one of the most-deforested states in the Brazilian Amazon, with vast tracts cleared for agriculture. - An investigation reveals that as deforestation of protected areas has risen in the state, so have allegations of attacks against the Indigenous communities. - As budget cuts deplete resources aimed at protecting these communities, many are worried this violence stands to worsen in the months and years to come.
Tropical deforestation is getting bigger, study finds [11/29/2017]
- An analysis of satellite data reveals the proportion of tropical deforestation comprised of medium, large and very large clearings increased between 2001 and 2012. - These larger clearing sizes are generally attributed to industrial agriculture like palm oil production. - South America and Southeast Asia had the biggest increases, with the exception of Brazil where large-scale clearing took a downturn during the study period. - The researchers say this downturn was the result of successful deforestation reduction policies, which may offer potential solutions to other countries with high rates of large-scale clearing.
Fundão dam criminal case moves ahead against 21 mining executives [11/29/2017]
- The Fundão dam rupture — the largest environmental disaster in Brazil’s history — unleashed 50 million tons of waste from the world´s largest iron mine, killing nineteen people in a flood of toxic mud and contaminating 500 miles of the Doce River. - A Brazilian judge has decided that the criminal case against 21 executives from the Samarco, Vale and BHP Biliton mining companies can again moving forward in the courts. The case had been put on hold in July. - Prosecutors have also announced an agreement with Samarco requiring that the corporation provide technical support to those affected by the disaster, along with an assessment of the socio-economic damage. - A just released study on the Doce River´s water quality revealed that nearly 90 percent of 18 test sites demonstrated bad or terrible water quality. The “terrible” designation, found at 7 test sites, indicates that the water is currently unfit for human consumption.
Culture keeps cattle ranching going in the Brazilian Amazon [11/23/2017]
- A recent study finds that financial incentives to move people away from cattle ranching don’t address cultural and logistical hurdles to changing course. - Even though ranchers could earn four times as much per hectare farming soy or up to 12 times as much from fruit and vegetable farming, many stick with cattle as a result of cultural values. - Ranchers, along with small-scale farmers, could benefit from targeted infrastructure investments to provide them with easier access to markets, according to the study. - The researchers argue that their findings point to the need for policies that take these obstacles into account.
From carbon sink to source: Brazil puts Amazon, Paris goals at risk [11/09/2017]
- Brazil is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, to ending illegal deforestation, and restoring 120,000 square kilometers of forest by 2030. Scientists warn these Paris commitments are at risk due to a flood of anti-environmental and anti-indigenous measures forwarded by President Michel Temer. - “If these initiatives succeed, Temer will go down in history with the ruralistas as the ones who put a stake in the beating heart of the Amazon.” — Thomas Lovejoy, conservation biologist and director of the Center for Biodiversity and Sustainability at George Mason University. - “The Temer government’s reckless behavior flies in the face of Brazil’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.” — Christian Poirier, program director at Amazon Watch. - “There was, or maybe there still is, a very slim chance we can avoid a catastrophic desertification of South America. No doubt, there will be horrific damage if the Brazilian government initiatives move forward in the region.” — Antonio Donato Nobre, scientist at INPA, the Institute for Amazonian Research.
As negotiators meet in Bonn, Brazil’s carbon emissions rise [11/07/2017]
- Brazil pledged in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. But its emissions shot up 8.9 percent in 2016, largely due to deforestation and agriculture. That increase threatens Brazil’s Paris goal. - Pará, in the heart of the Amazon, was the highest carbon emitter state, with 12.3 percent of the national total (due almost exclusively to deforestation and poorly managed industrial agriculture), followed by Mato Grosso state (9.6 percent of national emissions), which has converted much forest to soy production. - Experts say that this emissions trend could be reversed through sustainable forestry and more efficient agricultural practices. However, the dominance of the elite ruralist faction in Congress and in the Temer administration is preventing progress toward achieving Brazil’s carbon pledge.
Indigenous lands at risk, as Amazon sellout by Brazil’s Temer continues (commentary) [11/06/2017]
- Brazilian president Michel Temer has twice survived National Congress votes to initiate impeachment against him on extensive corruption charges. - Temer did so by selling out the environment, particularly the Amazon, to the ruralists who largely control the assembly. - Among the concessions made or promised to ruralists are presidential decrees to allow agribusiness to rent indigenous lands, forgiving unpaid environmental fines owed by landowners, and ending any enforcement of restrictions on labor “equivalent to slavery.” - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indigenous forests could be a key to averting climate catastrophe [11/06/2017]
- A new study finds the world’s tropical forests may no longer be carbon sinks, with a net loss of 425 million tons of carbon from 2003 to 2014. Also, 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon is emitted globally from forested areas and land use annually — 4.4 billion metric tons are absorbed by standing forests on managed lands, but 5.5 billion metric tons are released via deforestation and degradation. - As a result, curbing deforestation and degradation is now seen by scientists as a vital strategy for nations to meet the carbon reduction goals set in Paris in 2015, and of averting a catastrophic 2 degree Celsius rise in temperatures by the end of the century. - Other new research finds that indigenous and traditional community management of forests could offer a key to curbing emissions, and give the world time to transition to a green energy economy. In a separate study, Amazon deforestation rates were found to be five times greater outside indigenous territories and conservation units than inside. - “We are a proven solution to the long-term protection of forests, whose survival is vital for reaching our [planetary] climate change goals,” said an envoy of a global indigenous delegation in attendance at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The delegation wants the world’s nations to protect indigenous forests from an invasion by global extraction industries.
Betting on agroforestry in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest [11/03/2017]
- Guapiruvu is a rural neighborhood in the Vale do Ribeira, home to the largest remaining stretch of Atlantic Forest in Brazil, and listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. - The area has implemented a sustainable development plan, with many farmers opting for organic agriculture and agroforestry since they can sell their produce at a 30 percent premium. - This system grows bananas in combination with “pé de ata” (Annona squamosa) and juçara, an endangered species endemic to the region. - This is the second feature in a year-long series on agroforestry, an increasingly popular solution to challenges like climate change, food insecurity, and the biodiversity crisis. Agroforestry systems cover over a billion hectares of land worldwide.
Catastrophic fires sweep through iconic Brazilian national park [11/02/2017]
- Wildfires have consumed more than a quarter of Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, a much visited and beloved Brazilian preserve known for its biodiversity, spectacular waterfalls and ancient bedrock. - Though 2017 has been a very dry year, authorities suspect arson, with the park’s enlargement from 65,000 to 240,000 hectares earlier this year a possible motive. - Firefighters have now contained the blaze and the park has reopened. - The fire destroyed at least 65,000 hectares of habitat. It will be years before the preserve’s flora and fauna recover, say experts.
Mining activity causing nearly 10 percent of Amazon deforestation [11/02/2017]
- Scientists have learned that nearly 10 percent of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2005 and 2015 was due to mining activities. Previously, it was thought to cause just 1-2 percent, but that is because past assessments primarily looked at deforestation caused by the mines themselves, and didn’t account for all the ancillary infrastructure that accompanies the mines. - With mining causing such high levels of deforestation — up to 70 kilometers away from mines — and with the Brazilian government under Michel Temer eager to open vast areas of the Amazon to mining, the researchers say that companies and government need to aggressively address the deforestation issue. - While the new research documented Amazon deforestation due to many ancillary activities, including roads, staff housing and airports, it did not look into the major deforestation brought by
the new hydroelectric dams that often provide energy for mining operations - To address the high level of deforestation caused by mining in the Amazon, Brazil needs to significantly revise its environmental impact assessment process to include ancillary infrastructure up to 70 kilometers away from mines along with related hydroelectric dam construction.
Carbon sequestration role of savanna soils key to climate goals [11/01/2017]
- Savannas and grasslands cover a vast area, some 20 percent of the earth’s land surface — from sub-Saharan Africa, to the Cerrado in Brazil, to North America’s heartland. They also offer an enormous and underappreciated capacity for carbon sequestration. - However, the role of forests in storing carbon has long been emphasized over the role of savannas (and savanna soils) by international climate negotiators, resulting in policies such as REDD+ for preserving and restoring forests, with no such incentives for protecting grasslands. - Scientists warn that the planting of trees, such as nonnative eucalyptus in Africa and Brazil, could be counterproductive in the long term, potentially contributing to climate change emissions while harming grassland biodiversity and altering ecosystems. - As participants prepare to meet for the COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany next week, grassland scientists are urging that policymakers turn an eye toward savannas, and begin to develop incentives for preserving them and their carbon storing soils. More research is also needed to fully understand the role savannas can play in carbon sequestration.
Temer offers amnesty, erasing up to $2.1 billion in environmental crime fines [10/31/2017]
- 95 percent of fines issued by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, are never paid. These fines are worth R$11.5 billion (US $3.5 billion). - In a new decree, President Temer has offered offenders — including farmers and ranchers responsible for illegal deforestation —an amnesty of 60 percent of fines, provided the remaining 40 percent is paid into a government environmental fund. - While that fund — if fleshed out — would provide significant amounts of money for environmental agencies, Temer’s decree provides no new and effective means of enforcing the measure. - The amnesty, as seen by critics, is one in a long series of anti-environmental and anti-indigenous decrees made by Temer in order to buy support from congressional deputies and gain their votes to shelve a second round of corruption charges against the president.
Brazilian police nab Amazon timber thieves who faked forest credits [10/27/2017]
- Federal Police arrested and fined participants in an illegal logging and forest credit fraud scheme operating in Pará, Santa Catarina, Paraná and Mato Grosso states. - The timber thieves were aided in this crime by gaps in the government’s licensing program and poor control of the timber production chain in Pará and Mato Grosso; lapses which authorities are now moving to correct. - The timber thieves cut rare ipê trees on the Amazon’s Cachoeira Seca indigenous reserve, then used falsified records and a variety of companies to move the timber to other states and export the wood, used for expensive decking in the U.S., Argentina, Panama, France, Germany, the UK, United Arab Emirates and South Korea. - Fines for illegal timber harvesting are only R$ 5,000 (US$ 1,587) per hectare; and for failing to submit proper reports, between R$ 1,000 and R$ 100,000 (US$ 317 to US$ 31,700), insignificant amounts that do little to deter a crime that can yield very high profits for perpetrators. These fines have not been increased since 2008.
Major global companies commit to halting destruction of Brazilian Cerrado [10/27/2017]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon remains historically low. But much of the agricultural development that didn’t occur in the Amazon, it turns out, was simply shifted over to the Cerrado, a vast and highly biodiverse tropical savannah that is the second-largest ecoregion in Brazil. - In response to the enormous scale of destruction in the Cerrado, more than 40 Brazilian environmental organizations co-signed the Cerrado Manifesto this past September to “call for immediate action in defense of the Cerrado by companies that purchase soy and meat from within the biome.” - Twenty-three global companies, including Carrefour, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, Nestle, Unilever, and Wal-Mart, responded to that call to action on Wednesday by issuing a statement saying that they “support the objectives defined in the Cerrado Manifesto and commit to working with local and international stakeholders to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado.”
Two scientists and a NASA astronaut just biked across the Brazilian Amazon and want to tell you about it [10/25/2017]
- On Sept 26, two scientists and a NASA astronaut completed TransAmazon +25, a bike trek across the Brazilian Amazon. - What makes this trip particularly interesting is that one of the cyclists, Osvaldo Stella, a mechanical engineer with the non-profit Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) in Brazil who works with small-scale farmers and other landowners to preserve and restore forests, did the same ride 25 years ago. - Stella was accompanied on the journey by Paulo Moutinho, a co-founder and senior scientist at IPAM and a Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Woods Hole Research Center in the USA; as well as Chris Cassidy, an astronaut with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Navy SEAL. - “Gold mining, deforestation, and pastures covered many of the areas that were covered with forest 25 years ago,” Stella told Mongabay. ”The cities are larger but have not changed much in their overall appearance. One more sign that the current economic model generates much impact to the environment but little improvement in the quality of life of the people.”
Temer guts Brazil’s slavery law, to the applause of elite ruralists [10/23/2017]
- Brazil has about 155,000 people working in conditions analogous to slavery, many used by elite ruralists who have become wealthy via environmental crime. Slave labor, for example, is often used in the Amazon to keep illegal deforestation and illicit agribusiness hidden and off the books. - President Temer has issued a decree — known as a portaria — narrowing the definition of slavery. Holding people in economic servitude, in conditions analogous to slavery, is no longer illegal. Now slaves must be held against their will, and two government officials must catch the slaveholder in the act. - The easing of the slavery law, experts say, is Temer’s way of rewarding the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, which includes about 40 percent of the Congress and continues to support Temer and to reject on-going rounds of corruption charges against the president. - Outrage over the weakening of the slavery law is widespread in Brazil and abroad. NOTE: this story was updated on 10-25-17 to report that Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) has temporarily suspended implementation of Temer’s slavery decree until an STF ruling can be made.
Belo Monte dam-opposing Brazilian activist wins prestigious environmental award [10/19/2017]
- Brazilian environmental and human rights activist Antônia Melo da Silva received the Alexander Soros Foundation Award earlier this month in recognition of her work organizing opposition to the Belo Monte dam and other infrastructure projects in the Amazon. - Melo founded the “Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre” two decades ago in order to bring together the numerous people, communities, and organizations in the Altamira region of Brazil who oppose the Belo Monte hydroelectric project on the Xingu River. - Alex Soros, founder of the Alexander Soros Foundation, said of Melo: “She will not be deterred. She will not stop fighting. She will never give up. And she deserves recognition and appreciation for her work.”
Deforestation drops 16% in the Brazilian Amazon [10/19/2017]
- Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest declined 16% over the past year, reports the Brazilian government. - The decline in deforestation was not unexpected, but the trend isn’t expected to continue into 2018 given the current drought over large expanses of the Brazilian Amazon. - The recent rate of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon remains well below historic levels.
Amazonian manatee migration at risk from disruption by proposed dams [10/19/2017]
- Amazonian manatees (Trichechus inunguis) spend the high-water season feeding in flooded forests, but migrate to deeper permanent water bodies to see out the dry season. - Researchers have found that as the dry season approaches, manatees time their migration out of the floodplain to avoid bottlenecks that would block their route, and doom them. - But, the scientists warn, those bottlenecks will become far more common, and less predictable, if the hundreds of hydropower dams planned for the Amazon go forward. - The dams, and the bottleneck problem they create, “generates profound concern for the conservation of manatees,” the scientists write.
Audio: Indonesian rainforests for sale and bat calls of the Amazon [10/18/2017]
- This episode of the Mongabay Newscast takes a look at the first installment of our new investigative series, “Indonesia for Sale,” and features the sounds of Amazonian bats. - Mongabay’s Indonesia-based editor Phil Jacobson joins the Newscast to tell us all about “Indonesia for Sale” and the first piece in the series, “The palm oil fiefdom.” - We also speak with Adrià López-Baucells, a PhD student in bat ecology who has conducted acoustic studies of bats in the central Amazon for the past several years. In this Field Notes segment, López-Baucells plays some of the recordings he used to study the effects of Amazon forest fragmentation on bat foraging behavior.
Munduruku standoff against Amazon dam builders potentially explosive [10/17/2017]
- On 13 October, eighty Munduruku warriors and shamans tried to occupy the São Manoel dam on the Teles Pires River in one of the most remote parts of the Amazon. But the government and construction companies had been tipped off in advance. - Thirty armed Public Security National Force police had been flown in and blocked them from entering the site. The Munduruku were met by teargas and flash bombs. They have since left the immediate vicinity, but their demands remain unresolved. - The Munduruku say that the construction firms, to end a July occupation of the dam, had agreed to a September meeting and to apologize for the destruction of two of their most sacred sites — one of them the equivalent of Christian Heaven — and to apologize for collecting and storing sacred urns without proper rituals. - According to the Indians, the performance of these apology rituals is now vital to the survival of the Munduruku as a people, and to the survival of the Amazon itself, but the companies remain adamant in their denial of wrongdoing. Tensions remain high, and many fear more violence could erupt.
Record Amazon fires stun scientists; sign of sick, degraded forests [10/11/2017]
- With the fire season still on-going, Brazil has seen 208,278 fires this year, putting 2017 on track to beat 2004’s record 270,295 fires. While drought (likely exacerbated by climate change) worsens the fires, experts say that nearly every blaze this year is human-caused. - The highest concentration of fires in the Amazon biome in September was in the São Félix do Xingu and Altamira regions. Fires in Pará state in September numbered 24,949, an astonishing six-fold increase compared with 3,944 recorded in the same month last year. - The Amazon forest areas seeing the most wildfires have also seen rapid change in recent years, with high levels of deforestation, and especially forest degradation, as loggers, cattle ranchers, agribusiness and dam builders move in. - Scientists warn of a dangerous synergy: forest degradation is turning the Amazon from carbon sink to carbon source in some dry years; while globally, humanity’s carbon emissions are worsening drought and fires. Brazil’s push for Amazon agribusiness deepens the problem. Researchers warn that mega-fires could be coming, unless trends are reversed.
Booming legal Amazon wildlife trade documented in new report [10/06/2017]
- Wildlife trade attention has recently focused on Africa. But a new report spotlights the brisk legal international trade in plants and animals from eight Amazon nations. The report did not look at the illegal trade, whose scope is largely unknown. - The US$128 million industry exports 14 million animals and plants annually, plus one million kilograms by weight, including caiman and peccary skins for the fashion industry, live turtles and parrots for the pet trade, and arapaima for the food industry. - The report authors note that such trade, conducted properly, can have benefits for national economies, for livelihoods, and even for wildlife — animals bred in captivity, for example, can provide scientists with vital data for sustaining wild populations. - The report strongly emphasizes the need for monitoring, regulating and enforcing sustainable harvest levels of wild animals and plants if the legal trade is to continue to thrive, and if Amazonian forests and rivers are not to be emptied of their wildlife.
Amazon deforestation linked to McDonald’s and British retail giants [10/04/2017]
- British fast food restaurants and grocery chains, including Tesco, Morrisons and McDonald’s, buy their chicken from Cargill, which feeds its poultry with imported soy, much of it apparently coming from the Bolivian Amazon and Brazilian Cerrado — areas rapidly being deforested for new soy plantations. - A decade ago, Cargill and other global commodities companies agreed to stop buying soy from the Brazilian Amazon and established a Soy Moratorium in the region. - But a recent study showed that Cargill and other companies simply began sourcing their soy purchases from nearby areas, including the Bolivian Amazon and Brazilian Cerrado, a vast area of savanna, part of which is included in Brazil’s definition of Legal Amazonia. - That shift has resulted in rapid deforestation in both areas; a Mighty Earth report revealed that U.S. soy distributor Cargill is a major soy buyer there. Efforts to extend the soy moratorium to the Bolivian Amazon and Brazilian Cerrado have long been opposed by Cargill, despite calls to do so by NGOs, scientists and the Brazilian environment minister.
Amazon community on Tapajós River invaded by wildcat miners [10/02/2017]
- The Brazilian community of Montanha-Mangabal made up of beiradeiros —riverside peasant farmers and traditional fishermen — has been invaded and threatened by angry wildcat miners. - The beiradeiros community spread for miles along the Tapajós River in Pará, worked for decades to establish its legal land rights, achieved in 2013 when Brazil’s National Colonization and Agrarian Reform Institute (INCRA) turned the land into a 550 square kilometer Agro-Extractive Settlement (PAE). - However, the federal government failed to meet its obligation to demarcate the land. As a measure of last resort, Montanha-Mangabal and Munduruku indigenous allies began marking the land’s boundaries in September using GPS and signs. - This self-demarcation process apparently led to the miners’ invasion, as they illegitimately claim some of the community’s land. The beiradeiros, Munduruku, and other indigenous groups see the invasion as part of a bigger threat by Brazilian ruralists and the government to develop the Amazon.
Brazil: a world champion in political and environmental devastation (commentary) [09/29/2017]
- Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world is heir to a fabulously rich heritage in its natural wealth and natural wonders. - It is also heir to a corrupt colonial tradition that today still rewards the nation’s wealthiest most privileged elites, as they overexploit forests, rivers, soils and local communities in the name of exorbitant profits. - These vast profits are made via intense deforestation, cattle ranching, mining, agribusiness, dam and road building and other development, with little or no regard for the wellbeing of the environment or the people. - Brazil’s landed elites, known today as ruralists, are well protected by state and federal governments, and remain largely exempt from prosecution for crimes against the environment and public good. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Temer walks back plan to open Denmark-sized area of Amazon to mining [09/27/2017]
- Brazilian president Michel Temer this Tuesday published a new decree reversing his August 23rd order to open a vast national reserve in the Amazon to mining. - The reserve, known as RENCA, contains nine conserved areas as well as two indigenous reserves. Environmentalists and indigenous leaders were concerned that the opening of the region to large scale mining would put protected areas at risk. - Temer’s original Amazon mining decree was met with worldwide condemnation from environmentalists, indigenous groups, scientists, artists and the general public. - RENCA encompasses 4.6 million hectares (17,800 square miles). Only 0.3 percent of the entire reserve is deforested, making it one of the Amazon’s most intact regions.
Amazon dam operator defies order to shut down, police action looms [09/26/2017]
- In 2011, the Norte Energia consortium made an agreement with the Brazilian government to provide adequate housing to the more than 20,000 people to be displaced from their homes due to the building of the Belo Monte dam in Pará state in the Amazon. - On September 20th a federal court suspended Norte Energia’s installation license and ordered it to shut down the dam because it violated that agreement, breaking pledges to provide different-sized houses to accommodate variously sized families, and to resettle displaced people within two kilometers of their original homes. - The court order, which went into immediate effect, included an exceptional provision that federal police could be called on to force Norte Energia to comply with the ruling and shut down the dam. - The consortium has so far refused to cease operations at the dam, and argues that it has yet to see the court order, and that its operating license supersedes its installation license.
Temer uses controversial deforestation data in speech to UN [09/21/2017]
- In his speech to the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on Monday, Brazil’s president Michel Temer referred to preliminary data showing reduced deforestation that critics say may not be accurate. - Critics also refute other aspects of his speech, including his touting of Brazil’s renewable energy movement. Hydropower is the country’s largest source of renewable energy, which scientists say can have a huge carbon footprint. - A protest comprised of representatives from more than 150 organizations gathered in Brasilia on Tuesday in reaction to Temer’s speech.
Does forest certification really work? [09/21/2017]
- Based on a review of 40 studies of variable quality, we found that certified tropical forests can overall be better for the environment than forests managed conventionally. - But there wasn’t enough evidence to say if certified tropical forests are better than, the same as, or worse than conventionally managed tropical forests when it comes to people. - We also found that profits and other economic benefits can be hard to come by for certified logging companies working in tropical forests. - This is part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness”.
When will cattle ranchers be proud to show their farms in the Amazon? (commentary) [09/21/2017]
- Consumers increasingly seek information on the origin of products. In Brazil, though, many cattle ranchers are reluctant to reveal the source of their cattle. - Environmental, labor, and fiscal problems explain this resistance. Currently, however, there is a battle to increase transparency about the farms to eliminate these problems, especially in the Amazon, which is responsible for 40 percent of the country’s cattle herd. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Amazon dam defeats Brazil’s environment agency (commentary) [09/20/2017]
- The term “controversial” is inadequate to describe the São Manoel Dam. - It is located only 700 m from the Kayabí Indigenous Land and has already provoked a series of confrontations with the indigenous people. - As with other dams, São Manoel can be expected to negatively affect the fish and turtles that are vital food sources for the Kayabí, Munduruku and Apiacá indigenous groups. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author.
Andes dams could threaten food security for millions in Amazon basin [09/19/2017]
- More than 275 hydroelectric projects are planned for the Amazon basin, the majority of which could be constructed in the Andes whose rivers supply over 90 percent of the basin’s sediments and over half its nutrients. - A new study projects huge environmental costs for six of these dams, which together will retain 900 million tons of river sediment annually, reducing supplies of phosphorus and nitrogen, and threatening fish populations and soil quality downstream. - Accumulating sediments upstream of dams are projected to release 10 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, significantly contributing to global warming, and would contaminate waters and the aquatic life they support with mercury. - The construction of these dams should be reconsidered to preserve food security and the livelihoods of millions of people in the Amazon Basin.
Belo Monte dam installation license suspended, housing inadequacy cited [09/19/2017]
- A federal court has suspended the installation license of the Belo Monte mega-dam in the state of Pará, Brazil. The dam, slated to have the world’s third-largest generating capacity, became operational in 2015, but won’t see construction finished until 2019. - The court ordered further construction halted until Norte Energia met the commitments it made in 2011 to provide adequate housing for those displaced by the dam, including indigenous and traditional people that had been living along the Xingu River. - Among commitment violations cited were houses built without space for larger families, houses built from different materials than promised, and homes constructed too far from work, schools and shopping in Altamira, a city lacking a robust public transportation system. - The consortium continues to operate the dam, as its operating license has not been suspended.
Indigenous victory: Brazil’s Temer decrees 1.2 million Amazon reserve [09/18/2017]
- In a rare recent victory for Brazil’s indigenous people, President Temer has established the 1.2 million hectare Indigenous Territory of Turubaxi-Téa along the Middle Negro River in Amazonas state. - While NGOs and indigenous groups applaud the move, they note that the region has not been claimed by the Temer-backed ruralists, agribusiness and mining interests, who have aggressively disputed indigenous claims to ancestral lands in the southern Amazon region. - Two weeks ago, Temer reversed a decree establishing the 532-hectare indigenous Territory of Jaraguá in São Paulo state, ancestral home to 700 Guarani Indians. As a result, the indigenous group has now been squeezed into a reserve covering just 1.7 hectares. - Brazil also just established the 5,200-hectare Indigenous Territory of Tapeba, near Fortaleza, the capital of the northeastern state of Ceará. These indigenous victories do not seem to indicate a shift away from Temer’s wave of initiatives undermining indigenous land rights.
Amazon mining unleashed (commentary) [09/15/2017]
- On August 23, 2017, Brazil’s president Michel Temer issued a decree revoking the RENCA, an area the size of Switzerland in the Amazon. - The Ministry of Environment had not been consulted and Brazil’s environmentalists and public were caught by surprise - A firestorm of criticism in Brazil and abroad led Temer to “revoke” the decree on August 28th and replace it with a new one. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author.
Curiosity saves the cat: Tourism helps reinvent the jaguar [09/13/2017]
- Retaliatory killings of jaguar by cattle ranchers currently threaten the recovery of the species and the long-term viability of tour operators dependent on their presence. - A recent study found that the value of jaguars to tourism (US$6,827,392) was far in excess of the cost to ranchers from depredation of their cattle (US$121,500). - Tourists were overwhelmingly receptive to the idea of donating to a compensation fund for ranchers that live harmoniously with jaguars.
Transformance: Finding common ground in the Amazon (commentary) [09/12/2017]
- The Fórum Bem Viver (Good Life Forum) met earlier this month to bring together indigenous leaders, military police, a federal judge, television actors, musicians, journalists, scientists and activists from eight countries and 14 Brazilian states. - The event, organized by the eco-cultural education nonprofit Rios de Encontro, utilized arts performances and workshops to seek common ground between participants regarding sustainable solutions in the Amazon. - The event was held in Marabá, Pará state, which is home to the Carajás mine, the world’s largest iron ore mine, and the community sits beside the Tocantins River where a dam is proposed upstream. - Participants sought solutions for turning Marabá into an “example of sustainable development for the Amazon, the Americas, and the world.” This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Uncontacted Amazon indigenous groups reportedly attacked by outsiders [09/11/2017]
- Brazil is investigating possible violent incidents between illegal miners and farmers and two uncontacted indigenous groups in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Territory in Amazonas state bordering Peru. - One alleged case involved gold miners operating dredges illegally on the Jandiatuba River, a tributary of the Solimões. - In a second case, villagers in Jarinal, a Kanamari community on the Jutai River reported an attack against a Wakinara Djapar group, possibly carried out by people farming illegally in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Territory. - Both reports are under investigation, but so far no solid evidence confirming the attacks has been produced. FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous services agency, has been hampered in enforcing protections of uncontacted groups due to drastic budget reductions. This year, the Temer administration cut the agency’s operating budget by nearly 50 percent.
Zero tolerance of deforestation likely only way to save Amazon gateway [09/07/2017]
- In a new paper, conservationists urgently call for a policy of zero deforestation and sustainable agroforestry in Maranhão, one of Brazil’s poorest states, before its remaining Amazon forests are lost. - The region’s forests are home to unique and endangered species, including the jaguar (Panthera onca), Black bearded saki (Chiropotes satanas), and kaapori capuchin (Cebus kaapori), one of the world’s rarest primates. - It is also inhabited by some of the most vulnerable indigenous groups in the world, including uncontacted indigenous communities. - Though 70 percent of remaining forest lies within protected areas, illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture are persistent problems, threatening already fragmented wildlife habitat and forcing indigenous tribes off ancestral land.
Temer’s Amazon mining decrees derided by protestors, annulled by judge [08/30/2017]
- In a seeming win for Canadian and Brazilian mining companies, President Michel Temer on August 23rd abolished a vast Amazonian national reserve — the Renca preserve, covering 4.6 million hectares — and opened the region up to mining. - The reserve, straddling Pará and Amapá states, contains large preserved areas and indigenous communities. Temer’s original Amazon mining decree was met with widespread condemnation, resulting in a second clarifying decree on August 28th. - On August 29th, federal judge Ronaldo Spanholo annulled both decrees, citing Brazil’s 1988 constitution, and ruling that the Renca preserve may not be abolished by presidential order but only legislative action. The Brazilian Union´s General Advocate said it will appeal the judge´s decision. - BBC Brasil reported that Canadian mining companies, who would likely profit from the Renca preserve´s abolishment, were notified that the region was going to be opened up for prospecting last March, five months before the original decree was issued.
Brazil rejects oil company’s ‘Amazon Reef’ drilling bid [08/29/2017]
- Ibama, Brazil’s environmental regulator, today rejected Total SA’s environmental impact study for proposed drilling near the mouth of the Amazon. - The environmental agency said the French energy giant failed to provide sufficient information on potential threats to wildlife and habitat. - Environmentalists have been fighting the project.
Intact forests crucial to Amazon ecosystem resilience, stable climate [08/28/2017]
- Three recent South American studies emphasize the importance of intact forests to healthy habitat and a stable climate — both locally, and at a great distance. - The first study found that forest integrity is crucial for habitat stability and resilience. Degradation makes it harder for Brazil’s Caatinga forest to recover from intensifying drought due to climate change. Protected forests are more resilient against drought. - Another study showed that intense land use change in central Brazil and northern Argentina has resulted in the dry season becoming warmer across South America, with changes in Amazon plant productivity 500 kilometers from the disturbed area. - A third study’s modelling found that major future deforestation anywhere in the Amazon will dramatically reduce rainfall in the Amazon’s southwest — accounting for about 25 percent of the Amazon basin — and the La Plata basin.
Quilombolas’ community land rights under attack by Brazilian ruralists [08/25/2017]
- Four million African slaves were transported to Brazilian plantations. Many fled into the wild, some as far as the Amazon, and established quilombos — runaway slave communities long ignored by the federal and state governments. - Brazil’s 1988 constitution gave the quilombos legal land rights, which were not, however, recognized by the ruralists, an elite of wealthy landholders that coveted the land for agribusiness, mining and other development purposes. - In 2003, the “marco temporal,” requiring Quilombolas to prove that they occupied the land they are claiming both in 1888 (the year slavery was abolished) and in 1988 (the year of the new constitution) was overturned. Quilombos were granted inalienable community land rights. - Now, a long dormant court challenge by the DEM political party has reached Brazil’s Supreme Court, threatening the 2003 landmark ruling, again putting the Quilombolas at risk. Meanwhile, violence is up, with 13 people living in quilombos assassinated this year.
Temer pays back ruralists: opens Brazil, Amazon to mining, say critics [08/24/2017]
- In a victory for transnational and Brazilian mining companies, President Michel Temer this week decreed the opening of a vast national reserve covering 4.6 million hectares in the Amazon to mining. The region contains large conserved areas as well as indigenous communities. - Late last month, Temer also decreed a new Brazilian mining code. Though the code still needs to be approved by Congress, it shifts responsibility for monitoring environmental standards away from government and to the mining companies — a move that risks major mining accidents. - It also replaces the National Department of Mineral Production with a new regulatory agency, the National Mining Agency — a bureau that critics say lacks the teeth and personnel to do the job. - Mining code opponents are also concerned it could weaken protections against mining on indigenous lands. They say that the new mining code and green lighting of mining in the Amazon is pay back for a House of Deputies vote in August to close a criminal investigation of the president for corruption.
Identifying the world’s top biodiversity investment returns [08/21/2017]
- When portions of a previously contiguous forest are carved away, so-called “fragmented forests” are created, and now-isolated species find it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy and sustainable population. Species in fragmented forests start to head toward extinction within in less than a decade. - Out of 25 global biodiversity hotspots – sites that contain unusually high numbers of endemic plant and animal species and have lost greater than 70 percent of their original habitat – a team of scientists analyzed two forests for habitat restoration study. - The team calculated that the cost to regenerate the locations, two of the most fragmented biodiversity hotspots in the world, at less than $70 million. Under the advised approach, the overall projects could generate one of the highest returns on investment for biodiversity conservation in the world. - The team also notes that the work “could dramatically postpone and likely prevent many forest bird extinctions in these two highly fragmented tropical biodiversity hotspots.”
Indigenous groups win key land rights victory in Brazil’s Supreme Court [08/17/2017]
- In a victory for Brazil’s indigenous groups, the Supreme Court Wednesday decided against the claims of Mato Grosso state, which wanted compensation for Indian reserves established in that state by the federal government. - Mato Grosso argued that the land on which the reserves were established belonged to the state, but the Court decided on the side of indigenous people, noting in one case that the Indians had been living on the territory that became a reserve for 800 years. - Indirectly, this week’s court decisions undermine a measure recently signed by President Temer, and backed by the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby, known as the “marco temporal.” - The marco temporal sets an arbitrary 1988 date for Indian occupations as a legal basis for all indigenous land claims. The court, in its rulings, based its decision on far longer ancestral territory occupation. It’s likely Temer and the rural caucus will continue pushing marco temporal, or similar strategies to delegitimize indigenous land claims.
Brazil’s Indians on the march in last ditch effort to stop land theft [08/14/2017]
- Last week, indigenous organizations and civil society bodies demonstrated widely against what they see as the Brazilian government’s on going moves to reduce Indian land rights, and to demand the government open a dialogue with indigenous representatives. - Of greatest concern is President Temer’s recommendation to approve the “marco temporal” a 1988 cut-off date for Indian occupation of traditional lands. - Critics say the marco temporal is designed to deny indigenous land rights guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 constitution, while legalizing claims of land thieves and wealthy elite ruralists who have long hungered for control of Indian lands. - Brazilian Supreme Court rulings that will help determine the legality of the marco temporal are expected this Wednesday, 16 August.
Brazilian firm wants to build new dams in Amazon’s Aripuanã basin [08/10/2017]
- With the bancada ruralista mining / agribusiness lobby in control of the Temer government and Congress, a Brazilian company, Intertechne Consultores, sees it as an opportune time to revive a shelved plan to build dams in the Amazon’s Aripuanã basin. - The company has asked federal officials to allow viability studies for 3 new dams in this very remote, biodiverse region — the Sumaúma and Quebra Remo dams on the Aripuanã River, and the Inferninho dam on its tributary, the Roosevelt River. - The Inferninho dam, if built, would highly impact the Cinta Larga Indians, the victims of Brazilian-inflicted genocide in the 1960s. The Roosevelt Indigenous Reserve contains one of the world’s five largest diamond reserves, a cause of past violent conflicts. - Moves may be afoot in Congress to end a ban of mining on indigenous lands. If passed, a new law could allow mining on Cinta Larga land, with new mines potentially powered by the new hydroelectric dams. These projects, if built, would likely be a source of intense new controversy and conflict in the Amazon.
Monkey rediscovered in Brazil after 80 years [08/09/2017]
- An Ecuadorian naturalist collected the bald-faced Vanzolini saki in 1936 along the Eiru River. His record was the first and last known living evidence of the species. - In February 2017, an expedition called Houseboat Amazon set out to survey the forest along the Juruá River and its tributaries, with the hopes of finding the Vanzolini saki. - After just four days, the team spotted one leaping from branch to branch in a tall tree by the Eiru River. - The saki’s habitat is still fairly pristine, but the scientists worry its proximity to Brazil’s “arc of deforestation” and hunting pressure may threaten the species in the future.
Study examines sex-specific responses of Neotropical bats to habitat fragmentation [08/02/2017]
- While scientists have long known that males and females of some species use their habitat in different ways, the various responses to habitat destruction that are sex-specific are less well understood. - Research published in the journal Biotropica this month looked at the different responses to the effects of fragmentation exhibited by male and female individuals of Seba’s Short-tailed Bat (Carollia perspicillata) and the Dwarf Little Fruit Bat (Rhinophylla pumilio), both fruit-eating bats native to the Neotropics. - Researchers captured more than 2,000 bats of the target species in eight forest fragments of various sizes and nine control sites at the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, a research forest about 80 kilometers north of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon. - The authors of the study write that their results align with those of previous research in temperate areas, where male and female bats have been found to differ in their responses to habitat degradation at the local and landscape level.
Brazil’s Temer threatens constitutional indigenous land rights [08/01/2017]
- President Temer, influenced by the rural lobby in congress whose votes he needs to not be tried by the Supreme Court on corruption charges, has okayed new criteria meant to delegitimize indigenous land boundary claims, legal experts say. - One rule rejects any indigenous demarcation of land where Indians were not physically present on a traditional territory in 1988, which would disqualify many legitimate claims. - Another allows government to undertake “strategic” public works, such as dams and roads, without indigenous consent, violating the International Labor Organization’s 169 Convention, signed by Brazil. - The administration also introduced a bill likely to be passed by congress that reclassifies 349,000 hectares (1,347 square miles) of Jamanxim National Forest in the Amazon, gutting protections, allowing economic activities — logging, ranching, farming and mining — and legitimizing land grabs there.
Landless Workers Movement protest occupies farms of Brazil’s elite [07/28/2017]
- This week, Brazil’s internationally recognized Landless Workers Movement (MST) launched a coordinated protest against corruption, with thousands of its members occupying six farms affiliated with government officials and Brazil’s wealthy elite. - Farms were occupied by hundreds of protesting landless families in the states of Mato Grosso, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná and Minas Gerais. - One occupation occurred on a soy farm owned by the Amaggi Group and affiliated with Brazilian agriculture minister Blairo Maggi. Another occurred on the farm of João Baptista Lima Filho, a close friend of President Temer. Both Lima Filho and Temer are under investigation for alleged corruption. - At present, neither federal nor state authorities have made any known moves to end the occupations.
Amazonian city drags down fish stocks in 1,000-kilometer shadow [07/28/2017]
- A study of tambaqui, a popular table fish, in the Brazilian Amazon found that fish caught near the city of Manaus are half the size of those upriver. - Boats that buy the fish have brought the demand into the forest surrounding the city, and with holds full of ice, they’re able to travel further to bring tambaqui back to Manaus’ markets. - The fishers living in the relatively pristine forest along the Purus River reported that tambaquie are smaller and harder to catch than they were previously, a trend extended 1,000 kilometers from Manaus, the researchers found.
Study links most Amazon deforestation to 128 slaughterhouses [07/27/2017]
- A new study by the NGO Imazon finds that just 128 slaughterhouses process 93 percent of cattle raised in the Brazilian Amazon. The areas of influence supplying the herds to those plants coincide with where the most Amazon deforestation occurs. - The total pasture area, or zone of influence, corresponding to the 128 slaughterhouses provided an 88 percent match with the deforested area that occurred in the Amazon between 2010 and 2015. - Based on a probability map created by the study, a 90 percent match was also found between the 128 slaughterhouse zones of estimated cattle supply and the Amazon areas projected to have a higher risk of new deforestation in future. - The study adds weight to the idea that the most effective deforestation enforcement strategy is not to regulate the Amazon’s 400,000 ranchers and farmers, but for government to enter into effective deforestation enforcement partnerships with the slaughterhouses.
Visualizing the impacts of human disturbance on tropical forest biodiversity [07/26/2017]
- Efforts to protect biodiversity often focus on keeping forests and the habitat they represent from being cut down. But research published in the journal Nature last year suggests that forest degradation resulting from human activities is perhaps just as urgent a threat to biodiversity as deforestation. - According to the study, man-made disturbances in Pará’s tropical forests have resulted in levels of biodiversity loss equivalent to clearing 92,000 to 139,000 square kilometers (around 35,500 to 53,700 square miles) of pristine forest. - If that kind of raw data is hard to wrap your brain around, that’s where Silent Forest comes in. Thiago Medaglia described it as “a journalistic data visualization project” in an email to Mongabay.
Brazil’s indigenous Munduruku occupy dam site, halt construction [07/19/2017]
- The Munduruku say their sacred sites were destroyed to make way for other hydroelectric projects. Experts say the dams are also blocking fish migration routes. - The Munduruku are making a series of concrete demands they want fulfilled before they end the occupation. - The director of São Manoel Energia, the construction consortium building the dam, said that construction work would be halted for the duration of the occupation. - A prosecutor and acting head of Brazil’s FUNAI Indian agency will be visiting the site of the occupation this week.
Big mammals flourish as Cerrado park’s savanna comes back [07/14/2017]
- The study examined a state park in the Brazilian Cerrado, which contains land used in recent decades for eucalyptus plantations, cattle ranching and charcoal production. - The researchers used camera traps, recording the dry season presence of 18 species of large mammals. - In a subsequent analysis, they found that the number of large mammals found in the ‘secondary’ savanna was similar to numbers found in untouched regions of the Cerrado.
Soy King Blairo Maggi wields power over Amazon’s fate, say critics [07/13/2017]
- Brazil’s Blairo Maggi made a fortune with vast Mato Grosso soy plantations in Legal Amazonia. Today, Amaggi Group, the family company, dominates the nation’s agribusiness sector — profiting from farm commodities, and the roads, railways, and industrial waterways that transport them. - Maggi rose through Brazilian politics, becoming Mato Grosso’s governor, a senator, and today, the Temer administration’s agriculture minister. He is also a leader of the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, that dominates Brazilian government. - Once known as the Soy King, Maggi has often pushed anti-environmental agribusiness policies, including those resulting in major Amazon deforestation, ending indigenous land demarcation, and harmful infrastructure projects putting biodiversity at risk. He has also, paradoxically, worked to end illegal logging and to reduce deforestation. - On Monday, 17 July, Maggi will meet with the Trump administration to urge the U.S. to lift its ban on Brazilian beef, a ban prompted by scandal involving a corrupt federal meat inspection service overseen by his ministry. Maggi was recently accused of corruption by federal Lava Jato investigators. He continues to shape Amazon policies.
Temer signs law that could see millions of acres lost in the Amazon [07/13/2017]
- MP 759, signed into law this week by President Temer, and little noticed by the media, significantly alters Brazil’s Terra Legal program, introduced in 2009 by President Lula — a program that has already been hijacked by land thieves, critics say. - The new law introduces further multiple loopholes to allow land thieves, who have illegally occupied and cleared vast areas of public land in the Amazon, to legalize their land holdings, and to do so both easily and cheaply. - MP 759, among other things, increases the land claimable via Terra Legal from 1,500 to 2,500 hectares; allows wealthy land thieves to go on paying very little for land; and offers what in practice is an amnesty for land grabbers who illegally seized public lands between 2004 and 2011. - With government regulatory and enforcement agencies hard hit by massive budget cuts, analysts fear that the passage of MP 759 will result in an alarming increase in rural violence, which is already running at very high levels.
Amazon infrastructure EIAs under-assess biodiversity; scientists offer solutions [07/06/2017]
- In a new paper, scientists assert that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for major Brazilian Amazon infrastructure projects often fail in their performance of comprehensive biodiversity evaluations, so underestimate ecosystem risk. - Their proposed solution is the development and use within EIAs of multiple, complementary scientific methods they say would be cost effective, and make more comprehensive biodiversity assessments possible. - These methods include satellite imaging, near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, and DNA metabarcoding to detect a wider range of species. The scientists propose these methods be implemented to improve pre-construction biodiversity surveys and EIAs. - A major concern by researchers is that Brazil’s Congress is currently considering legislation that would do away with the existing environmental licensing process, and reduce or eliminate existing EIA requirements.
Is Brazil’s Forest Code failing to reduce deforestation? [07/06/2017]
- Engagement with the land registration system that underpins the Forest Code was initially high, but the researchers found that it had little bearing on the amount of illegal deforestation. - Only 6 percent of farmers surveyed said they were actively restoring deforested parts of their land, while 76 percent said that they would only do so if forced by authorities. - After dropping off substantially in the late 2000s, deforestation rates are once again on the rise, reaching their highest levels since 2008 last year.
Study: Brazilian mega-dams caused far more flooding than EIA predicted [07/05/2017]
- A satellite study of the Santo Antônio and Jirau dams in the Amazon found the area flooded by their reservoirs to be much greater than projected by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done as part of the Brazilian dams’ licensing process. - Satellite images from 2006-2015 were analyzed, spanning the time immediately before, during, and after dam construction, and then these images were compared with the flooding predictions found in the EIA. - The total flooded area upstream of the dams was found to be 69.8 percent larger than projected by the EIA. The area of natural forest flooded exceeded EIA predictions by 52 percent. - Political considerations likely influenced the EIAs gross inaccuracy, with real world results. In 2014, Madeira River floods upriver from the dams impacted 75,000 people, killed a quarter-million livestock and caused over US $180 million in damage.
Norway vexed as Brazil sends mixed message on Amazon forest protection [06/27/2017]
- Last week, Brazil’s President Michel Temer fully vetoed MP 756, and partially vetoed MP 758, two provisional measures which he himself introduced and which Congress approved that would have cut conserved Amazon lands by 600,000 hectares (2,316 square miles). - Almost simultaneously, Brazil’s environmental minister, José Sarney Filho, announced urgent plans for the administration to introduce a new bill to Congress to dismember the same conservation units described in the vetoed MP 756. - Also last week, Norway gave a stern warning to Temer on his visit to Oslo, telling him that Brazil could lose millions of dollars from the Amazon Fund if Brazil’s deforestation rates continue rising. - 7,989 square kilometers of Brazilian rainforest were lost between August 2015 and 2016. A rise in annual Amazon deforestation to 8,500 square kilometers would reduce Norway’s funding to Brazil to zero. Brazil defended itself, claiming preliminary annual data shows a recent leveling off of its deforestation rate.
U.S. bans Brazilian beef imports [06/24/2017]
- The United States has banned fresh beef imports from Brazil due to food safety concerns. - Brazil is one of the world’s largest beef exporters and is the fifth biggest supplier of beef to the United States. - Clearing of forests for cattle pasture is the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Is intensification of beef production really a solution to Amazonian deforestation? [06/23/2017]
- Beef production has become a major driver of tropical deforestation, responsible for as much as 65 percent of rainforest destruction caused by the global agricultural commodities trade in the first decade of the 21st century, according to a 2015 study. - One proposed means of slowing the rate at which forests are being destroyed to create pastureland for cattle in the Amazon and other tropical regions is intensification, or the adoption of technologies and practices that allow for the production of more beef on less land. - “Based on a historical comparison between the US, a fully intensive system, and Brazil, one moving in that direction, we suggest that cattle ranching will intensify as a result of conservation investments (reductions in capital and land subsidies) rather than intensifying in order to produce conservation results,” the researchers write in the article.
Unexamined synergies: dam building and mining go together in the Amazon [06/22/2017]
- 40 large hydroelectric dams are slated for the Amazon basin over the next 20 years, feeding the massive electricity needs of an energy-hungry mining industry — digging, processing and exporting iron, aluminum, manganese and gold. - But mining’s energy needs are rarely linked to plans for new dams or their environmental impact assessments. Amazon mining and dam building have repeatedly in the past resulted in major harmful environmental and social impacts, including displacement of indigenous and traditional communities. - Transnational mining companies and consortiums are major beneficiaries of government largesse through subsidies, tax breaks and the energy obtained from newly commissioned Amazon dams. - Brazilian infrastructure development in the Amazon, including dam building and mining, could — if environmental and social issues are not properly addressed — turn the Amazon into a national sacrifice zone where biological and cultural diversity are drastically diminished.
Brazil evicts 80 rural peasant families, awards land thieves parcel [06/21/2017]
- 80 families, hopeful of being granted land in the Amazon state of Pará, have instead been ordered by a Brazilian court to vacate their camp located on the parcel in just two weeks. - The land will then be turned over to members of the Vilela family, notorious convicted land thieves, illegal forest fellers and members of the wealthy Brazilian rural elite. - The judge’s decision has been called into question. Eliane Moreira, Justice Prosecutor in the Pará Public Ministry, has long criticized authorities for allowing land thieves to use the environmental register to legitimize land grabs, something the judge has now endorsed. - It will be very difficult for the peasant families to appeal the decision, as they don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer and cover other legal expenses.
International action a must to stop irreversible harm of Amazon dams, say experts [06/19/2017]
- A study, published in Nature and led by Edgardo Latrubesse of the University of Texas at Austin, went beyond local impacts of individual dams to assess cumulative, basin-wide impacts that planned dams are bringing to 19 major Amazon sub-basins. - The team developed a new metric: the Dam Environmental Vulnerability Index (DEVI) which includes assessments of basin integrity (vulnerability to land use change and erosion, etc.); fluvial dynamics (influence of sediment fluxes and flood pulses); and the extent of the river affected by dams. - A score for each sub-basin from 0-100 was assigned, with higher values indicating greater vulnerability. The Madeira, Ucayali, Marañon and Tapajós sub-basins were found to be most threatened; all had DEVI totals higher than 60. - The researchers say that a collective, cooperative, multi-country Amazon region assessment of dams and their cumulative impacts is urgently needed to get a handle on the true magnitude of the threat to the Amazon, as well as means to a solution.
If Brazil okays Terra Legal changes, land grabbers win, Amazon loses, say environmentalists [06/16/2017]
- Provisional Measure (MP) 759, now converted into a bill called the Conversion Law Project (PLC) 12/16, would significantly alter the successful Terra Legal program, introduced originally in 2009. President Temer has until 22 June to sign the bill or veto it. - The original program enabled peasant families to gain ownership of their small land plots. The new version introduces multiple loopholes to allow big, wealthy land owners to use the program, threatening small land owners and the environment, especially the Amazon. - Analysts say the new law, if passed, will allow another 20 million hectares (77,200 square miles) of the Amazon biome and 40 million hectares (154,440 square miles) of the Cerrado (savanna) to be legally cleared. - The bill ups the acreage claimable via the Terra Legal program, ends a rule allowing peasant families to delay paying for plots until the land is supported by adequate infrastructure, allows one farmer to acquire multiple plots, and ends a rule allowing peasant families to pay far less for their land than big farmers.
Brazil on verge of legitimizing Amazon land theft on a grand scale, warn NGOs [06/15/2017]
- Brazil’s president has until 22 June to approve or veto two bills (PLC 4 and PLC 5) turning over more than 600,000 hectares (2,317 square miles) of federally protected Amazon forest to illegal loggers, illegal miners and land thieves. - The measures, initiated by Temer and already approved by Congress, are seen as a reward to the bancada ruralista (rural lobby of agribusiness and mining) for its aid in bringing Temer to power through the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. - Large portions of the Jamanxim National Park and of the National Forest of Jamanxim would have their protections downgraded to an Area of Environmental Protection, where logging, mining and private property are allowed. - Mongabay recently went to the region to observe conditions there: we found major illegal mining operations underway within federal conservation units and interviewed miners who have been exploited by mine “owners” under conditions analogous to slavery.
In rare move, Brazil’s Temer ups conserved lands by 282,000 hectares [06/09/2017]
- President Temer announced the expansion of Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Goiás; the Taim Ecological Station, Rio Grande do Sul; and the Biological Reservation Union, in Rio de Janeiro; along with the creation of Ferruginous Fields National Park, Pará — increasing conserved lands by more than 282,000 hectares. - Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park sees the biggest expansion, increasing from 65,000 hectares (251 square miles) to 240,000 hectares (927 square miles). Its protection is seen as vital to the preservation of biodiversity in the Cerrado, where only 3 percent of land is federally protected. - The protection of 282,000 hectares comes as Temer and Congress finalize plans to reduce the National Park of Jamanxim and National Forest of Jamanxim by 587,000 hectares (2,266 square miles) — an Amazon land deal criticized by conservationists and expected to benefit the agribusiness lobby that helped put Temer in power.
Indigenous Guarani leader appeals to Europe to save people and forests [06/07/2017]
- Brazil’s Temer administration is seriously violating the rights of the Guarani-Kaiowá people according to their leader, Ladio Veron, who is touring Europe this Spring to garner support for the rights of indigenous people in Brazil. - Veron, in presentations and petitions across Europe, has highlighted the rising violence against indigenous people in Brazil, publicized past and on-going land thefts, and protested the efforts of the Temer government to halt the demarcation of indigenous lands guaranteed under the nation’s 1988 Constitution. - The tour is being conducted against a background of escalating civil unrest and public protest in Brazil, as the Temer government staggers under the weight of corruption charges. His administration’s approval rating is in the single digits and near collapse, though the current National Congress has also been antagonistic to indigenous rights.