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.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest increased almost 60 percent in the last year [06/05/2017]
- The Atlantic Forest is one of the richest and most threatened biomes in the world, but only 15 percent of its original extent is preserved. - Although the Atlantic Forest extends over 17 Brazilian states, four of them account for 90 percent of the losses. - Recent changes in legislation and the expansion of agribusiness are noted as among main drivers of deforestation.
Brazil assaults indigenous rights, environment, social movements [06/01/2017]
- The Temer administration and Congress, dominated by the increasingly militant bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby, are encouraging violence, say critics, as attacks reach record levels against the landless peasants of the agrarian reform movement and against indigenous groups fighting for land rights assured by the 1988 Constitution. - In May a Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry, dominated by the bancada, recommended prosecution of 67 people, many of them serving in the federal government, who the commission claims have allegedly committed illegal acts by supporting indigenous groups and their land claims. - Also in May, Congress approved MPs (administrative orders), handed down by Temer, removing 486,000 hectares of the National Forest of Jamanxim and 101,000 hectares of the National Park of Jamanxim from protection, likely allowing land thieves to claim these formerly protected Amazon areas for private ownership, ranching and mining. - The Chamber of Deputies also rushed through MP 759, giving real estate ownership rights to hundreds of thousands of small land owners illegally occupying land in Brazil. Critics say the MP is also a massive gift to wealthy land thieves. Another bill, now on hold, could gut environmental licensing rules for infrastructure and agribusiness projects.
Amid life and death risks, Brazil’s land defenders stand firm [05/29/2017]
- They comprise a diverse range of people, from indigenous groups to fishing communities descended from rubber tappers. - In 2015, more land defenders were killed in Brazil than any other country put together, according to watchdog organization Global Witness. - Among land defenders, indigenous activists are the most-targeted for their work and activism.
Temer seeks to privatize Brazil’s deforestation remote sensing program [05/26/2017]
- Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, in a surprise move at the end of April, tried to privatize much of the remote sensing deforestation work that, until now, has been successfully carried out by INPE, the federal National Institute for Space Research. So sudden was the move that INPE’s head learned of it from a journalist. - Under the plan, private companies would take over monitoring for Amazonia, the Cerrado (where Brazilian deforestation is most intense), and indigenous reserves (under attack by the Temer administration). Experts view the move as a bow to the powerful agribusiness lobby, which wants more control of Amazonia, the Cerrado and indigenous preserves. - The hurried maneuver was met with shock from experts inside and outside the government, with charges that the 8-day bid process was absurdly short, and with some calling the proposal incompetent. Critics suggest the privatization bid process may have been designed to turn over deforestation remote sensing to a foreign company. - Vocal protests from 6,000 experts led the Ministry of the Environment to shelve privatization for now; though the measure could still be revived. A concern of experts was that the company engaged would have played a key role in assessing whether or not Brazil was meeting its carbon reduction commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Brazil agribusiness company accuses ally Temer in secret bribe taping [05/23/2017]
- The world’s largest meat processor, Brazil’s JBS has been rocked by scandal. In March, investigations revealed the company had bribed federal officials to turn a blind eye to tainted meat, and had also illegally raised 59,000 head of cattle on illegally deforested Amazon lands. JBS is a key backer of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. - Now, JBS owners the Batista brothers, in a plea bargain with federal investigators, have produced a tape in which Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, in conversation with one of the JBS owners, apparently enthusiastically endorses the use of bribes by the company. Temer claims the recording has been altered. - Temer has consistently done the bidding of the agribusiness lobby, which brought him to power a year ago. He has worked to reverse indigenous land rights gained under the 1988 constitution, and to dismember conservation units, with up to 1.2 million hectares of forest to be turned over to land thieves who illegally seized federal lands. - There are calls for the president to resign, though Temer has refused to step down. Legislation to dismember Amazon conservation units was recently approved by Brazil’s Assembly and is headed for the Senate, which has until 29 May to approve the bills, a timeline which is looking extremely tight considering current events.
New soy-driven forest destruction exposed in South America [05/22/2017]
- Mighty Earth looked at updated satellite imagery from 28 sites in the Cerrado in Brazil and the Gran Chaco and the Amazon in Bolivia. - They found evidence of 60 square kilometers of land clearing for soy production since their September 2016 investigation. - Bunge and Cargill, the two companies that figure prominently in Mighty Earth’s latest report, argue that they are working to eradicate deforestation from their supply chains.
Federal prosecutor in Brazil calls for suspension of licensing to drill near Amazon Reef [05/22/2017]
- The Prosecutor made the request in a formal recommendation sent to Brazil’s Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (better known by its acronym, IBAMA), the environmental regulator responsible for environmental licensing in the country, on May 3. - According to a statement released by the prosecutor’s office, the prospect of oil spills and other accidents that could damage the unique marine environment were not the only motives for the request. The statement also notes that a possible international conflict could be sparked should any environmental pollutants like oil be released into the ecosystem by the drilling activities. - Some observers have suggested that it’s possible IBAMA is reluctant to make a decision one way or the other given the most recent scandal rocking a Brazilian government that has been in turmoil for months now.
A stubborn dreamer who fought to save Amazon’s Waimiri-Atroari passes [05/18/2017]
- As a young man in the 1960s, José Porfirio Fontenele de Carvalho decided to resist Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship by going into the Amazon to help indigenous groups in their struggles against the military’s assault on their way of life. - He made early contact with the warlike Waimiri-Atroari Indians, who were decimated in their struggle to block the BR-174 highway through their territory. The Indians tell of numerous atrocities committed against them by the government during this period. - With Carvalho’s help, a new indigenous reserve, covering 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles), was established, along with a conservation unit — the Biological Reserve of Uatumã. Through the years, Carvalho won other concessions for the Waimiri-Atroari. - Today, the group has increased its number to nearly 2,000, though the tribe continues fighting the government. President Temer is now determined to put a major transmission line through their lands. Most observers agree: without Carvalho’s assist, the Waimiri-Atroari would likely be extinct, and their forests gone. He died this month at age 70.
Environment secretary of São Paulo faces controversies over management plans of protected areas [05/15/2017]
- The suspension of the implementation of MPs affects over a million hectares of marine regions and oceanic islands. - One MP is under investigation following accusations that the secretariat surreptitiously introduced changes to decrease the level of protection for some areas. - Critics accuse the environment secretary of putting industrial interests over the defense of the environment.
Crabbing gone commercial: Brazilian mangroves threatened by shift in local traditions [05/12/2017]
- A new method of crabbing is bringing indigenous people a larger catch, but requires cutting mangroves and killing crabs indiscriminately. - Crabbers’ dependence on intermediaries is complicating the crabbing business by shackling them to informal loans and pressuring them to achieve greater harvests. - A researcher recommends further research to gauge the sustainability of new crabbing techniques for the mangroves and the local’s livelihoods.
“We don’t believe in words anymore”: Indians stand against Temer govt. [05/03/2017]
- Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but agribusiness and land thieves are working with the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories, and to defund FUNAI, the federal agency representing Indian concerns. - In response, Brazil’s Indians are launching numerous protests. Last week more than 4,000 indigenous leaders from 200 tribes gathered in Brasilia to demonstrate. They were greeted in front of the Congress building with a police teargas attack. - Emboldened by government support, ranchers and their hired gunmen brutally attacked a peaceful land occupation by members of the Gamela tribe in Maranhão state in northern Brazil on 30 April with rifles and machetes; 13 Indians were seriously injured. - In the Amazon, the Munduruku have blocked the Transamazonian highway, creating a 40 kilometer backup of trucks loaded with the soy harvest. In an unusual twist, the truckers met with the Munduruku Wednesday afternoon and expressed solidarity with the Indians, agreeing that the government’s failure to meet the people’s needs is the real problem.
Brazil’s deforestation “sheriff” has been fired [04/28/2017]
- A little more than a year after being named Brazil’s deforestation “sheriff,” Thelma Krug has reportedly been fired after a dispute over how trends in forest destruction are monitored in the country. - Climate Home’s Claudio Angelo reports from Brasilia that government officials told members of the press that Krug had “expressed her interest in leaving” in order to “dedicate more time to her attributions at IPCC” — but that sources say Krug’s dismissal was actually the result of a dispute with vice-minister Marcelo Cruz, who questioned the deforestation data produced by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), where Krug is a senior scientist. - Brazil has already named Krug’s replacement: Jair Schmitt, a biologist with the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), Brazil’s equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he oversees the agency’s environmental inspections.
Amazon’s fate hangs on outcome of war between opposing worldviews [04/27/2017]
- The battle for the Amazon is being fought over two opposing viewpoints: the first, mostly held by indigenous and traditional people and their conservationist allies, sees forests and rivers as valuable for their own sake, and for the livelihoods, biodiversity, ecological services and climate change mitigation they provide. For them the forests need protection. - The second worldview holds that Amazon forests are natural resources to be harvested and turned into dollars, an outlook largely held by wealthy landowners, land thieves, loggers, cattle ranchers and farmers. For them the forests are there to be cut down, and the land is there to be used for economic benefit. - The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby now has overwhelming political power in the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration, which are pushing a raft of bills and administrative actions to take away indigenous land rights, dismember conservation units, gut environmental licensing laws and defund environmental protection agencies. - The great fear is that the collision of the two worldviews in the wilds of the Amazon will result in escalating lawlessness and bloodshed against indigenous and traditional people, along with significant environmental destruction. The loss of Amazon ecosystems could be catastrophic for humanity, as the region’s forests are crucial for global carbon storage.
The meat hook: satiating Asia’s demand for beef [04/27/2017]
- Traditionally, beef was never a favored meat across much of Asia, but rising incomes and changing cultures are dramatically increasing beef demand on the continent. - Increased beef demand in China is bumping up imports from Brazil, leading to a new boom in local beef production. - Given the massive climate impact of beef production, some Asian nations are trying to dissuade beef consumption but the results, if any, remain to be seen.
Plans to drill for oil near newly discovered Amazon Reef alarm scientists [04/26/2017]
- The reef system is believed to extend 9,500 square kilometers (or nearly 3,700 square miles), from the territorial waters of French Guiana to Maranhão State in northern Brazil. - Exploratory drilling could start as soon as this summer, with the closest well to be drilled just 28 kilometers (17 miles) from the reef, according to Greenpeace. - But there are hurdles yet to be cleared by oil companies hoping to drill near the Amazon Reef. A spokesperson for the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), told Mongabay that Total and BP are still awaiting permits to begin exploratory drilling, the aim of which would be to verify the existence of the oil reservoirs beneath the ocean floor.
Brazil moves to cut Amazon conservation units by 1.2 million hectares [04/19/2017]
- Under the cover of Brazil’s current political crisis, the Congress — dominated by the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby — is pushing forward measures to dramatically slash the size of conservation units in Pará state in the eastern Amazon, removing conservation protection from 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres) of forest. - The moves, yet to be approved by the full Congress, would reduce Jamanxim Flona (National Forest) by 480,000 hectares, Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve by 180,000 hectares, the National Park of Jamanxin by 344,000 hectares, and the Itaituba II National Forest by 169,000 hectares. - The dismembered portions of the conservation units would be re-designated as Areas of Environmental Protection (APAs), where private land ownership, agriculture and forest clearing is allowed. Brazilian agribusiness — wealthy ranchers and farmers — are likely to benefit significantly from the shift, while forests and biodiversity would suffer. - Some of the conservation units have received significant funding from foreign donors, including the European Union and the World Bank. The congressional measures must now go for approval to the lower Chamber of Deputies and then to the Senate. Both measures must be approved by the end of May or lose validity. Approval seems likely.
Deforestation has become big business in the Brazilian Amazon [04/18/2017]
- Agamenom da Silva Menezes, is typical of modern Amazonian real estate operators: he is a wealthy individual who openly works with those who make a living by illegally laying claim to, deforesting and selling public lands for a high price. Lawlessness in the region means such land theft is rarely punished. - Agamenom and others like him use militias, hired thugs, to intimidate landless peasant farmers as well as less powerful land thieves who try to claim Amazonian forests. The land is then deforested and sold to cattle ranchers, with each tract of stolen federal land bringing in an estimated R$20 million (US$6.4 million) on average. - In March, the Temer government slashed by over 50 percent the budget of the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for both IBAMA, the federal environmental agency, and the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which oversees Brazil’s conservation units. - As a result, land thieves are likely to get bolder in their theft, deforestation and sale of public lands to cattle ranchers and others. Without a major shift in federal forestry policy and a dramatic improvement in enforcement, land theft and deforestation are likely to worsen across the Amazon basin.
Brazil slashes environment budget by 43% [04/07/2017]
- Brazil accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest. - After several years of decline, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is on the rise again. - Environmentalists say that the budget cut will “profoundly [impact] deforestation — and, consequently, Brazil’s climate targets.”
Indigenous groups, Amazon’s best land stewards, under federal attack [04/05/2017]
- According to 2014 data for Legal Amazonia, 59 percent of that year’s illegal deforestation occurred on privately held lands, 27 percent in conservation units, 13 percent in agrarian reform settlements, and a mere 1 percent on indigenous lands — demonstrating that indigenous land stewards are the best at limiting deforestation. - Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but land thieves and agribusiness are working to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories — forested territories that, if protected, could sequester a great deal of climate change-causing carbon. - While President Lula failed to live up to indigenous expectations, the Dilma and Temer governments, heavily influenced by the agricultural lobby, showed much greater hostility to indigenous needs and demands. Indigenous groups plan a mass protest on April 24-28 to make their grievances known to the Temer government. - “The Brazilian economy has become increasingly dependent on agribusiness [with] political repercussions.… People [aren’t] against the Indians because they are Indians or because they have too much land. The problem is that the Indians have lands these political actors want.” — Márcio Meira, former head of FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian affairs agency.
In Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, conservation efforts drown in a sea of eucalyptus [04/05/2017]
- Since 2001, Brazil has almost doubled its area of protected land without increasing its conservation budget. - In the central corridor of the Atlantic Forest, protected areas are scattered among large extensions of eucalyptus monocultures maintained by pulp companies. - With limited resources and facing powerful companies, those in charge of protected areas are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Rotten beef and illegal deforestation: Brazil’s largest meatpacker rocked by scandals [04/05/2017]
- On March 17, agents with Brazil’s Federal Police raided facilities belonging to JBS and another food processing giant, BRF, as well as several smaller companies. - The raids were the culmination of a two-year investigation, called “Operation Weak Flesh,” into an alleged scheme by which JBS, BRF, and others were bribing government officials to look the other way as they sold and exported rotten and salmonella-tainted beef, pork, and poultry. - Just four days after its plants were raided as part of the corruption probe, JBS found itself embroiled in another scandal. On March 21, as part of a three-year operation code-named “Cold Meat,” Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, raided two JBS meatpackers in the state of Pará that are accused of having purchased thousands of heads of cattle raised on illegally deforested land in the Amazon.
Jurisdictional certification approach aims to strengthen protections against deforestation [04/04/2017]
- Jurisdictional certification brings together all stakeholders across all commodities within a district or state to ensure the entire region is deforestation-free. - A few tropical forest regions have long used the jurisdictional approach; with proven success, more regions are now following suit. - Pilot programs in Brazil and elsewhere exemplify the successes and challenges of the jurisdictional approach.
Three new frog species found in disappearing Atlantic Forest [03/30/2017]
- The new species are of the Chiasmocleis genus of humming frogs. They spend most of their life underground, coming out only a few weeks a year for “explosive breeding.” - The frogs look similar to species already known to science, but have distinct genes and minute physical differences that researchers used to set them apart. - They were found in the Atlantic Forest, which has been heavily degraded by agriculture. As little as 3.5 percent of the biome may remain today.
Amazon land speculators poised to gain control of vast public lands [03/27/2017]
- In the Brazilian Amazon, the paving of highways makes adjacent forests far more attractive to land thieves, resulting in major deforestation. The Sustainable BR-163 Plan of 2006 created vast swathes of protected land — eight new conservation units — to prevent land theft and deforestation from happening near the vulnerable BR-163 highway in Pará state. - From the start, land speculators wanted to get their hands on one of those units, the National Forest of Jamanxim, known as “Flona Jamaxim.” They’ve occupied large areas of the Flona, making it one of Brazil’s conservation units with the most serious illegal forest clearing. Illicit activities there helped turn the region into a very violent place. - The rise of the agribusiness-friendly Temer administration in August 2016 emboldened the land speculators. Working with the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, they got Temer to pass interim measures in December 2016, dismembering Flona Jamanxim, reclassifying 305,000 hectares, and allowing land thieves to keep the land they had seized. - Other conservation units are being targeted: in January 2017, the government announced plans to slash conservation units in Amazonas state — dismembering the Biological Reserve of Manicoré, National Park of Acari, and National Forests of Aripuanã and Urupadi, and more. If approved, one million hectares will lose environmental protection.
Yellow fever is killing howler monkeys in Brazil [03/27/2017]
- Brown howler monkeys are extremely susceptible to yellow fever, and an outbreak can cause local extinctions. - Hundreds of brown howler monkeys are estimated to have died at the RPPN-FMA reserve due to yellow fever. - Fortunately, the critically endangerd muriquis (also found in the reserve) seem less susceptible to yellow fever than the howler monkeys.
New cave catfish threatened by deforestation, mining, pollution [03/23/2017]
- The new catfish, Aspidoras mephisto, is the first completely cave-dependent member of the Callichthyidae family found in South America. - The species has adaptations to living underground, including a lack of pigment and reduced eyes. Researchers think it may use tree roots for shelter and food. - Surveys indicate A. mephisto is restricted to two caves in an area devoid of official protection. Deforestation and mining activities threaten the vegetation around the caves, and sewage from a nearby town may be polluting their water sources.
Crime and not enough punishment: Amazon thieves keep stolen public land [03/15/2017]
- Land grabbing and illegal ranching (even on public lands) has long been, and still is, big business in the Brazilian Amazon. Last year the Brazilian government launched its most ambitious crackdown ever. And some of the criminals caught up in the federal police net were members of Brazil’s richest families. - In June 2016, federal law enforcement pounced on a gang of land thieves. Antônio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJ Vilela, and Ricardo Caldeira Viacava, among others, were charged with clearing public lands — 300 square kilometers (74,132 acres) of forest, in total — an area 5 times larger than Manhattan, and of using slave labor to do it. - One of the gang’s innovations was to use sophisticated technology to work out just how much forest they could clear without being detected by monitoring satellites. Unfortunately for the offenders, they were spotted by Kayapó Indians who had their own sophisticated monitoring system (called radio!); they reported the crime to federal police. - But by October 2016, AJ Vilela was out of jail and awaiting trial. And unofficial reports from Pará state, gathered there by Mongabay in November, say that the gang is carrying on as before, illegally raising cattle on the public lands they illegally deforested. Question: why hasn’t the land been reclaimed by the government?
Current regulations unable to control trade in products from slave labor, expert says [03/13/2017]
- Kevin Bales is co-founder of the advocacy group Free the Slaves and professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham in the UK. - In his recent book, Blood and Earth, Bales discusses his research to uncover connections between labor rights and the protection of nature. - In this interview with Repórter Brasil, Bales discusses how current regulation is largely unable to stem the trade in products manufactured through slave labor and recommends governments devote more resources to combatting it. He also highlights a few promising developments that are helping to boost corporate transparency.
Suppliers of Lowe’s in the US and Walmart in Brazil linked to slave labor in the Amazon [03/13/2017]
- Slave labor-analogous conditions were revealed by investigation of logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A supply chain investigation of the timber harvested through these camps has found links to markets in Brazil and the U.S. - Major retailers with links to intermediaries that sourced wood from logging camps found to use slave labor practices include Lowe’s, Timber Holdings, and Brazilian Walmart stories. Timber Holdings has used wood from Brazil in major renovation projects for New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
Slave labor in the Amazon: Risking lives to cut down the rainforest [03/13/2017]
- Investigations show conditions analogous to slave labor as defined by Brazilian law are not uncommon at small logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A recent bust of one labor camp by a team headed by the Ministry of Labor led to the rescue several men living in substandard conditions. Interviews of the men and observations by Repórter Brasil indicate their lives were forcibly put at-risk at the camp. - Workers from other logging camps came forward to report instances of nonpayment, and being threatened by guns when they demanded their pay. - Although the job is life threatening and illegal, and wages aren’t guaranteed, workers report often having no other choice but to work at the logging camps.
Investigation reveals slave labor conditions in Brazil’s timber industry [03/13/2017]
- The report was the culmination of an investigation into slave labor practices in the state of Pará’s timber industry led by the Integrated Action Network to Combat Slavery (RAICE). - The investigation found several conditions used by Brazilian law to define slave labor were occurring at logging camps, including forced work, debt bondage, isolation, exhausting working hours and life-threatening activities. - According to the report, workers at the camp often felt forced into illegal logging because of dire economic circumstances.
Big data timber exchange partners with FSC in Brazil [03/13/2017]
- BVRio pulls together data on the pricing, supply chain and certification of timber and wood products through its Responsible Timber Exchange. - Since opening in November 2016, the exchange has fielded more than 400 offers for 5 million cubic meters of timber. - The partnership with the Forest Stewardship Council is aimed at bolstering the market for certified forest products.
Displaced by Brazil’s giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, ‘river people’ reoccupy reservoir [03/13/2017]
- Thousands who once lived near the Xingu River have been mostly relocated and compensated, but some refuse to go and have taken back territory by reoccupying the Belo Monte Dam reservoir. - Overall, tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the dam, which was finished in 2015. - Locals known as ‘river people’ are in the process of resettling the area near the reservoir, with over 100 people currently living there.
New bill aims to cut protection of 1M hectares of Brazilian rainforest [03/10/2017]
- State legislators presented the proposal early last month to President Michel Temer’s Chief of Staff, which included changes to five protected areas in the southern state of Amazonas. - When presenting the proposal, the legislators argued that the “protected” classification undermines the legal security of rural producers and economic investments that have already been made in the region. - Conservation groups worry that, if approved, the bid would put more than a million hectares of rainforest at risk to deforestation. - When surveying documents filed with Brazil’s National Department of Mineral Production, WWF reportedly uncovered a link between the proposed bill and applications for prospecting and mining in southern Amazonas.
Cattle industry lags behind in addressing impact on deforestation [03/09/2017]
- Supply chain transparency is especially difficult in the cattle industry because cattle frequently change hands, unlike soy or oil palm crops that remain stationary for years. - While some major cattle companies have taken strides toward sustainability, they still lack sufficient support from the industry as a whole. - While consumers are increasingly pushing for deforestation-free palm oil and other products, consumer pressure for change in the cattle industry hasn’t been as significant.
Amazon Soy Moratorium: defeating deforestation or greenwash diversion? [03/08/2017]
- In the early 2000s, public outrage over Amazon clear cutting for soy production caused transnational grain companies including Cargill, Bunge and Brazil’s Amaggi, to join with soy producers and environmental NGOs including Greenpeace to sign the voluntary Amazon Soy Moratorium, banning direct conversion of Amazon forests to soy after 2006. - The agreement’s signatories have long proclaimed its phenomenal success. A 2014 study found that in the 2 years preceding the agreement, nearly 30 percent of soy expansion in the Amazon biome occurred through deforestation. But after the ASM direct deforestation for soy fell to only 1 percent of soy expansion in the Amazon biome. - Critics say these statistics hide major ASM failings: that its apparent success is largely due to there already being so much deforested land in the Amazon as of 2006, that there was plenty of room for soy expansion without cutting forest. Also, cleared pastureland onto which soy moved, often simply displaced cattle into forests newly cut by land grabbers for ranchers. - Of most concern: ASM covers only one of two Legal Amazonia biomes. While marginally protecting the Amazon, it doesn’t cover the Cerrado savanna, where soy growers have aggressively cleared millions of acres of biodiverse habitat — critics see the ASM as corporate and NGO greenwash; defenders say it inspired other tropical deforestation agreements globally.
Brazilian savanna and Bolivian rainforest at risk from soy production, says report [03/08/2017]
- Soybeans, which make up the main feed for livestock that supply fast food chains like Burger King, occupy almost 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of land around the world. - Through the investigation, researchers found that the production of some of Burger King’s meat may be linked to deforestation. - The report focuses on the massive soy purchase operations of multinational agricultural corporations Cargill, Bunge, and Archer Daniels Midland.
Pressure over water in Brazil puts pulp industry in the spotlight [03/02/2017]
- Brazil is the world’s largest producer of eucalyptus-derived pulp and the state of Espírito Santo is one of its biggest production centers. - More than a third of the state, which was once rich in Atlantic Forest, is at risk of becoming desert. - The region faces one of the worst droughts in its history, which is causing billions in losses.
The changing face of Amazon development: from land grab to eco-lodge [02/23/2017]
- Ariosto da Riva was often described as “the last of the bandeirantes”, the violent adventurers who first penetrated the Brazilian Amazon in the 16th century in search of gold. Working with Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), he owned a million hectares of forest, pushed indigenous people from their lands, and brought in settlers. - His daughter, Vitória da Riva Carvalho, though wealthy, did not buy into his legacy. She is noted instead for her strong defense of the rainforest and for her world-renowned ecotourism destination, the Cristalino Jungle Lodge, located outside the town of Alta Floresta — which her father settled — in northernmost Mato Grosso state. - The evolution of the relationship between father and daughter helps trace the unfolding land conflicts that have smouldered and exploded in the Amazon between indigenous and traditional peoples on one side; and land speculators, land grabbers, loggers, settlers and soy growers on the other. - Today, most of the indigenous people who lived in the region where the Cristalino Jungle Lodge entertains its wealthy guests are gone — dead, pushed into indigenous reserves, or retreated elsewhere. But for now, the rainforest and much extraordinary biodiversity remains, with people like Vitória da Riva Carvalho as its stewards.
Judge halts excavation plans for largest-ever Brazilian goldmine [02/22/2017]
- The Belo Sun goldmine, to be Brazil’s largest, would use cyanide and other industrial processes to produce 5 million ounces of gold over 12 years. The company´s environmental impact assessment says it will process nearly 35 million tons of rock. The open-pit mine would leave behind gigantic solid waste piles covering many hectares, plus a huge toxic waste impoundment near the Xingu River. - A Brazilian judge suspended the project’s installation license this week, faulting the Canadian company that would be excavating Belo Sun with improperly acquiring federal land and potentially removing families from those lands to “reduce social costs.” - The proposed Belo Sun goldmine is within a short distance of the controversial Belo Monte dam, which has dislocated residents, caused deforestation, and harmed the environment, causing major fish kills on the Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. Residents are concerned that the addition of the nation’s biggest goldmine will do more severe harm. - Residents fear that a failure of the Belo Sun toxic waste impoundment dam would create a disaster on the Xingu River similar in scale to the Samarco Fundão dam collapse in 2015, which dumped roughly 50 million tons of toxic iron ore waste into the Doce River, polluting it for 500 miles, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and causing Brazil´s largest environmental disaster.
What happens when the soy and palm oil boom ends? [02/21/2017]
- Over the past 30 years demand and production of oils crops like oil palm and soybeans has boomed across the tropics. - This rapid expansion has in some places taken a heavy toll on native, wildlife-rich ecosystems. - Derek Byerlee, co-author of a new book titled The Tropical Oil Crop Revolution, spoke with Mongabay about the tropical oil crop sector and what’s to come for the industry.
Protected areas found to be ‘significant’ sources of carbon emissions [02/17/2017]
- The researchers found 2,018 protected areas across the tropics store nearly 15 percent of all tropical forest carbon. This is because protected areas tend to have denser, older forest – thus, higher carbon stocks. - Their study uncovered that, on average, nearly 0.2 percent of protected area forest cover was razed per year between 2000 and 2012. - Less than nine percent of the reserves that the researchers sampled contributed 80 percent of the total carbon emissions between 2000 and 2012, putting this small subset of reserves on par with the UK’s entire transportation sector. - The researchers say their findings could help prioritize conservation attention.
Getting there: The rush to turn the Amazon into a soy transport corridor [02/15/2017]
- The development over the last 40 years of Mato Grosso state in Brazil’s interior as an industrial agribusiness powerhouse has, from the beginning, been hindered by a major economic problem: how to get the commodities to the coast for profitable export. - The first route of export from Mato Grosso was a costly and time-consuming southern one, with commodities trucked on a circuitous route to Santos in São Paulo state and Paranaguá in Paraná state on the Atlantic coast. - The paving of the northern section of BR-163, running south to north through Pará state, opened a much less expensive, faster route, with commodities now moved to Miritituba on the Tapajós River, then downstream to the Amazon, and on to Europe and China. - New infrastructure plans call for the channelization of the Juruena, Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers, creating a 1,000-mile industrial waterway. Two railways, one over the Andes, are also proposed. These schemes pose grave threats to the Amazon rainforest, biodiversity, indigenous and traditional communities, and even the global climate.
Brazil’s ‘river people’ join forces with indigenous communities, offer alternative to deforestation [02/10/2017]
- Extractive reserves are important to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, creating buffer zones of protection from deforestation and the exploitation of natural resources. - Extractive reserves cover 3.4 million hectares of land in Brazil, nearly all of it in the Amazon. - Mining, logging and professional hunting are prohibited within the Xingu Resex, but trading posts allow for the exchange of goods gathered from within the reserve.
Soy invasion poses imminent threat to Amazon, say agricultural experts [02/08/2017]
- The meteoric rise in soy production in the state of Mato Grosso is eating up rainforest and savanna at a staggering rate, with 1.2 million hectares under production in 1991; 6.2 million hectares in 2010; and 9.4 million hectares by 2016. Much of that soy is being exported to China, and it is expected that Brazil will grow more soy to meet Asia’s need. - Since the time of Brazil’s military government (1964-1985), down to the present day, the national government has repeatedly offered lip service in support of Brazil’s agrarian poor, while offering large tax breaks and other major incentives to large landowners, large-scale agribusiness, and transnational commodities companies. - This trend of overwhelming federal support for big soy growers seems likely to continue under current Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi (once dubbed the “Soy King”), and due to the powerful influence held by the ruralista agribusiness lobby in the National Congress. - If China’s 21st century demand for soy, and Brazil’s ambition to meet that demand, don’t slacken, Amazon deforestation rates are likely to continue rising, and indigenous peoples are likely to see on-going threats to their communities and livelihoods. One place the threat is most dire is in the Tapajós Basin on the border of Mato Grosso and Pará states.
Scientists launch expedition to find missing monkeys [02/02/2017]
- Vanzolini’s bald-faced saki hasn’t been seen since scientists first discovered it in western Brazil in the 1930s. - Navigating along the Rio Juruá and its tributaries, the expedition will be the first comprehensive biological survey of the region. - Its international team of researchers hopes to uncover the saki, as well as other yet-undocumented species, while calling conservation attention to the river and surrounding rainforest.
Birds wanted: Recovering forests need avian assist [02/02/2017]
- Clearing swaths of rainforests can permanently drive away or kill off birds that are important partners in the regeneration of the forest, the study finds. - The study surveyed 330 sites in the Brazilian Amazon, turning up 472 species of birds. - The analyses demonstrate that recovering forests don’t have the diversity of birds needed to ensure their survival. - The authors say that their findings point to a need to preserve standing forests, even if they’re heavily degraded.
Brazil alters indigenous land demarcation process, sparking conflict [02/02/2017]
- In mid-January Brasília issued Ordinance 80, which moves decisions regarding indigenous land demarcation from Funai, the agency of Indian affairs, to the Justice Ministry. Large-scale landowners applauded the measure, while indigenous land rights activists are opposed to it. - Brazil’s population includes 900,000 indigenous people, of whom 517,000 live on officially recognized indigenous lands. About 13 percent of the country’s territory is set aside as indigenous lands — 98.5 percent of it in the Amazon. - The demarcation process has been fraught with controversy; demarcation of indigenous territory has been delayed for years by Funai, and in some places, by decades. Federal authorities argue that the shift of decision-making to the Justice Ministry will speed the resolution of land conflicts. - Ordinance 80 opponents say that the shift to the Ministry of Justice takes away Funai’s power to decide indigenous demarcation matters via consultations with technical experts and anthropologists, an authority that is enshrined in Brazil’s Constitution.
Introducing Mongabay news alerts [02/01/2017]
- Now Mongabay readers can keep up-to-date on the latest conservation and environmental science developments by subscribing to our free topic-based news alerts. - The alerts enable a user to sign up for daily or weekly notifications via email on topics they select. - Our current topic list includes dozens of topics and locations.
Battle for the Amazon: As Sinop grew, the Amazon rainforest faded away [02/01/2017]
- Sinop, a city of 125,000 people in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon in Mato Grosso state, is a modern success story. Prosperous and booming, the small urban center services a region dominated today by industrial agriculture. - Few remember how the city came to be. As recently as the 1970’s, the Sinop region was mostly rainforest and occupied by indigenous peoples. - At the time, Brazil’s military government highly favored large-scale land speculators. These men gained dubious title to millions of acres of rainforest, divided it into lots, and sold it off to poor Brazilian settlers. Many settlers found their transplantation into the Amazon very difficult. - Indigenous and traditional people who lacked land titles were driven out, often violently. The story of Sinop is a story of development, exploitation and conflict that has continued to play out across the Amazon region — especially in the Tapajós River basin today.
First-ever underwater photos of newly discovered Amazon Reef have surfaced [01/30/2017]
- Extending from French Guiana to Maranhão State in northern Brazil, the Amazon Reef is a 9500-square-kilometer (or nearly 3,700-square-mile) system of corals, sponges, and rhodoliths (a colorful marine algae that resembles coral) located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean — a region currently threatened by oil exploration activities. - When the reef was discovered in April 2016, Fabiano Thompson of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, who was part of the team of scientists who made the discovery, told Mongabay that “The oceanographic conditions (biogeochemistry and microbiology) of this system are unique, not found in other places of the planet.” - The mouth of the Amazon River basin also provides valuable habitat for a range of species, including the American manatee, the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle, dolphins, and giant river otters, which are listed as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List.
Primates face impending extinction – what’s next? [01/24/2017]
- Nonhuman primates are on the decline almost everywhere. - The third most diverse Order of mammals, primates are under the highest level of threat of any larger group of mammals, and among the highest of any group of vertebrates - 63% of primates are threatened, meaning that they fall into one of the three IUCN categories of threat—Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable. - This post is a commentary – the views expressed are those of the authors.
Is Brazil green washing hydropower? The case of the Teles Pires dam [01/18/2017]
- The Teles Pires Hydroelectric Company (builder and operator of Brazil’s Teles Pires dam in the Amazon Basin) was awarded a Green Certificate in the “Responsible Social and Environmental Management” category of the Chico Mendes Award, a prize named after the murdered Brazilian eco-hero. - The company has won other green awards for its construction projects (including Amazon dams), and been awarded carbon credits by the United Nations. - But critics ask how green the company that built the Tele Pires dam can be when their project wrecked indigenous and traditional communities, led to the dynamiting of an indigenous sacred site, did harm to biodiversity and fisheries, while also likely producing significant carbon emissions. - The company claims it is not to blame, because it complied with all government regulations during the dam’s construction, and even went further to make the project sustainable. The Teles Pires dam raises key questions about “sustainability,” and who has the right to define it.
‘Day of Terror’: Munduruku village attacked by Brazil’s Federal Police [01/11/2017]
- On November 7, 2012, Brazil’s Federal Police launched the Eldorado Operation with a raid aimed at destroying an illegal gold mining barge at Teles Pires, a Munduruku village. During the attack, an Indian was killed by police — “executed,” according to a Federal Public Ministry (MPF) investigation. - The gold mining barge that was destroyed that day — and others in indigenous territory along the Teles Pires River in the Tapajós Basin — had been allowed to operate illegally by the government for years previously. - The income earned from the gold mining barges had recently been used to fund indigenous opposition to the Belo Monte mega-dam, and resistance to more than 40 dams proposed for the Tapajós Basin. The extreme violence of the Eldorado Operation has shaken Munduruku trust in Brazil’s government. - According to the Indians, the police told them to lie about these events, or face persecution. Mongabay’s videotaped eyewitness interviews have resulted in the MPF opening a new investigation into the Eldorado Operation; MPF is seeking US $2.9 million in damages for the Munduruku.
New maps show how our consumption impacts wildlife thousands of miles away [01/06/2017]
- The study identified 6,803 threatened species, pinpointed the commodities that contribute to threats affecting those species, then traced the implicated commodities to final consumers in 187 countries. - The maps revealed some unexpected linkages. - These maps can help connect conservationists, consumers, companies and governments to better target conservation actions, researchers say.
The end of a People: Amazon dam destroys sacred Munduruku “Heaven” [01/05/2017]
- Four dams are being built on the Teles Pires River — a major tributary of the Tapajós River — to provide Brazil with hydropower, and to possibly be a first step toward constructing an industrial waterway to transport soy and other commodities from Mato Grosso state, in the interior, to the Atlantic coast. - Those dams are being built largely without consultation with impacted indigenous people, as required by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, an agreement which Brazil signed. - A sacred rapid, known as Sete Quedas, the Munduruku “Heaven”, was dynamited in 2013 to build the Teles Pires dam. A cache of sacred artefacts was also seized by the dam construction consortium and the Brazilian state. - The Indians see both events as callous attacks on their sacred sites, and say that these desecrations will result in the destruction of the Munduruku as a people — 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries in the heart of the Amazon.
What to expect for rainforests in 2017 [01/04/2017]
- Will deforestation continue to rise in Brazil? - Will Indonesia continue on a path toward forestry reform? - What effect will Donald Trump have on rainforest conservation?
Battle for the Amazon: Tapajós Basin threatened by massive development [01/03/2017]
- The Brazilian Amazon has systematically been deforested, dammed and developed by the federal government, river basin by river basin. The most recent to be so developed was the Xingu watershed. The next target, where road and dam construction has already begun, is the Tapajós Basin. - Plans by agribusiness and the government call for the paving of the BR-163 highway (almost complete); the building of a new railroad, nicknamed Ferrogrão or Grainrail (just given approval); and the building of the Teles Pires-Tapajós industrial waterway, requiring dozens of dams, plus canals. - As Mato Grosso soy plantations creep north deeper into the Tapajós region, agribusiness hopes to benefit from the rapid development of transportation infrastructure that will provide a cheap, fast northern road, rail and water route to the Atlantic for the export of commodities. - Indigenous groups, traditional river communities, environmentalists and social NGOs oppose the mega-infrastructure projects, which they say will bring deforestation, cultural disruption, and quicken local and global climate change. The conflict is over no less than the fate of the Amazon.
Food from Brazil’s Amazon finds its way to metropolitan tables [01/02/2017]
- Amazonian ingredients have long been used by indigenous peoples, many of whom still rely on the Amazon rainforest for subsistence. - As forest-sourced ingredients find their way into more restaurants, observers are concerned about this new industry’s impact on the Brazilian Amazon and forest-dependent communities. - World-renowned, two-star Michelin chef Alex Atala is at the forefront when it comes to the sustainable use of indigenous ingredients.
The year in tropical rainforests: 2016 [12/31/2016]
- After 2015’s radical advancements in transparency around tropical forests between improved forest cover monitoring systems and corporate policies on commodity sourcing, progress slowed in 2016 with no major updates on tropical forest cover, resistance from several governments in releasing forest data, and some notable backtracking on zero deforestation commitments. - But even without the pan-tropical updates, we know that deforestation increased sharply in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for the world’s largest area of tropical forest. - Low commodity prices may have bought some relief for forests.
Temer government set to overthrow Brazil’s environmental agenda [12/21/2016]
- A catastrophic setback to environmental and indigenous protections was narrowly averted last week when quick action from two federal deputies prevented the agricultural lobby from forcing passage of bills to authorize construction of three mega-industrial waterways in the Amazon and elsewhere. - The Congress will likely pick up the bills again after the recess in February. They would authorize building many dozens of dams and industrial waterways in three river basins — PDC 119/2015 on the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Juruena rivers in the Amazon; PDC 120/2015 on the Tocantins and Araguaia rivers, also in the Amazon; and PDC 118/2015 on the Paraguai River. - In 2005, a similar bill was passed, fast tracking the Belo Monte dam and bypassing proper environmental evaluation. Today, Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Amazon mega-dam has been charged with environmental crimes, ethnocide and is under investigation for corruption. - Another bill working its way through the National Congress would completely gut the environmental licensing process for most infrastructure projects, while still another would take away hard won protections guaranteed to Brazil’s indigenous people in the 1988 Constitution.
Resource wars: Brazilian gold miners go up against indigenous people [12/15/2016]
- Violence in the Brazilian Amazon is on the increase. Last year, Brazil ranked as the most dangerous nation for environmentalists worldwide. Indigenous people are especially at risk, with 137 killings in Brazil reported in 2015. - One cause of this violence arises from the conflict between indigenous people and small-scale mineral prospectors, especially gold miners, who lay claim to the same lands. - Lack of government action to demarcate indigenous lands, along with an inadequate federal law enforcement presence in the Amazon, have exacerbated the problem. - Many worry that violence will escalate if the federal government doesn’t step in to help mediate the claims made by indigenous groups and prospectors. However, some indigenous people see the small-scale prospectors as potential allies in the face of large-scale mining operations moving into the region and as the Tapajós Basin is progressively industrialized.
Brazilian state invites private companies to run Atlantic Forest parks [12/15/2016]
- São Paulo — Brazil’s wealthiest state and the country’s industrial powerhouse — has turned over the concessions for 25 state parks to the private sector. The parks protect a large portion of the Atlantic Forest, the most threatened biome in Brazil. - Environmentalists worry that these company concessions, granted for 30 years, will lead to greater deforestation, though the government denies this possibility. - Social advocates say that local people who rely on the parks for ecotourism jobs and other employment could easily be excluded from working in the parks by the for-profit companies. - Critics say the law is unconstitutional because the state did not invite environmentalists and the people that would be impacted by the law to participate in discussions of the legislation before it was enacted.
Brazil’s dispossessed: Belo Monte dam ruinous for indigenous cultures [12/08/2016]
- Brazil’s Public Federal Ministry (MPF) launched a lawsuit in 2015 accusing Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingu River in Pará state, along with the federal government’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) with the crime of ethnocide. - Indigenous families say that serious harm was done to them when they were uprooted from their riverside homes; forced to give up their sustainable fishing, hunting and farming livelihoods; and compelled to seek jobs in an economically depressed urban environment. - Tamawaerw Paracana, an indigenous woman, describes the everyday challenges her family faces as they try to survive in an urban resettlement community: “I don’t have the means to live here. I don’t have the money for food. Here you have to have a job.… People who don’t work, can’t eat. There’s no food.” The ethnocide case has yet to go to court. - “Every day that goes by, there are more dams being built in our country; there are more people affected; and there are more rights violated. So our goal is to organize all the people affected and carry on this fight,” says Edizangela Alves Barros, an indigenous activist.
Brazil pledges ‘largest restoration commitment ever made’ [12/08/2016]
- Proponents of the pledge believe the restoration will help the country meet climate change and conservation targets as well as Brazil’s economy through the development of more productive agricultural lands and new jobs. - Twelve million hectares of forest land is slated for restoration, along with 10 million hectares of farmland and pastures. - The announcement follows a recent uptick in deforestation in the country, which contains 60 percent of the Amazon Rainforest. Deforestation levels in 2015-2016 were up 75 percent over the three-decade low reached in 2012.
Brazil: deforestation in the Amazon increased 29% over last year [11/30/2016]
- Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest jumped 29 percent over last year. - Deforestation from 2015-2016 reached the highest level since 2008. - Relaxed environmental regulation, dry conditions, and Brazil’s economy may be factors in the rising rate of forest loss.
NYT explores life and impact of Chico Mendes, “a Fighter for the Amazon” [11/28/2016]
- The NYTimes has released a video looking back on Mendes’ life and untimely death, which, as the newspaper notes, is widely credited with having marked “a turning point in Brazil’s environmental consciousness.” - In the 1980s, the Amazon was being burned to make way for pastureland and other economic development projects at an alarming rate — the NYTimes video features one scientist showing off the latest remote sensing technology and noting that it allows researchers to track as many as 7,000 fires per day. - Two Brazilian men — a local rancher and his 23-year-old son — were convicted of murdering Mendes and sentenced to 19 years in prison in 1990.
Top scientists: Amazon’s Tapajós Dam Complex “a crisis in the making” [11/28/2016]
- BRAZIL’S GRAND PLAN: Build 40+ dams, new roads and railways at the heart of the Amazon to transport soy from the interior to the coast and foreign markets, turning the Tapajós Basin and its river systems into an industrial waterway, leading to unprecedented deforestation, top researchers say. - ECOSYSTEM IMPACTS: “The effects would clearly be devastating for the ecology and connectivity of the greater Tapajós Basin,” says William Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia; a leading rainforest ecology scientist. “It is not overstating matters to term this a crisis in the making.” - HUMAN IMPACTS: The dams would produce “A human rights crisis, driven by the flooding of indigenous territories and forced relocation of indigenous villages… [plus] the loss of fisheries, reduced fertility of fertile floodplains, and polluting of clean water sources,” says Amazon Watch’s Christian Poirier. - CLIMATE IMPACTS: “The worst-case scenario… over 200,000 square kilometers of deforestation,” says climatologist Carlos Nobre, which would be “very serious” and create “regional climate change.” Tapajós deforestation could even help tip the global scales, as the Amazon ceases being a carbon sink, and becomes a carbon source — with grave consequences for the planet.
Amazon oil spill impacts indigenous villages on Teles Pires River [11/21/2016]
- An oil spill was detected on November 13th on the Teles Pires River, a tributary of the Tapajós River, in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon. The spill occurred near the under-construction São Manoel hydropower dam. The spill’s cause or extent is as yet unknown. - Roughly 320 indigenous people were affected in villages near the dam site. Empresa de Energia São Manoel, the consortium building the dam, has sent more than 4,000 liters of fresh water to affected indigenous communities. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, is investigating. - Indigenous leader Taravi Kayabi described the spill’s impact on his community: “All this is a terrible sadness for our people. This region is sacred to us. Now, along with the land being flooded [due to the dam], they´ve dirtied our water. The fish have disappeared, too. People are getting sick with diarrhea. Everyone is worried about their health.” - The Teles Pires River already has three other dams, which have to date been subject to 24 lawsuits. Most of these cases focused on environmental impacts and violations of indigenous rights. The dams are part of the Tapajós Complex, a gigantic infrastructure project aimed at turning the Tapajós River and its tributaries into an industrial waterway for soy transport.
New report: Brazil’s Cerrado could sidestep conversion for agriculture [11/13/2016]
- Home to almost half of Brazil’s agriculture, the country’s leaders are looking toward the Cerrado to accelerate economic development. - The Cerrado is also home to indigenous communities and traditional societies, such as the quilombolas, descendants of escaped African slaves. - The report argues for a more inclusive process that preserves traditional farming practices, intensifies existing large-scale agriculture and protects the Cerrado’s water, habitat and biodiversity.
Feral pigs, vampire bats, and infectious diseases in rural Brazil [11/11/2016]
- The distribution of feral pigs — which are also known as wild boars, or “javali” in Portuguese, and are actually the same species as the domestic pig (Sus scrofa) — has increased five-fold since they were first recorded in Brazil in 2007. - A group of Brazilian researchers found that not only might vampire bat populations explode as a result of this invasion of feral pigs, but associated threats, such as the spread of infectious diseases, could increase as well. - Wild boar are becoming a dominant mammal in Brazil’s Atlantic forest and could potentially invade the Amazon region.
‘A man schooled in the Amazon:’ Q&A with director of new feature film about the fight to save the rainforest [11/09/2016]
- Carter is the founder of Aliança da Terra (Land Alliance), a Brazilian non-profit organization that works directly with ranchers in the Amazon to reduce the environmental and social impact of their operations. - Wortman, who previously won an Emmy for his documentary Nefertiti Resurrected, intends to cast “real life characters,” such as John Carter himself, alongside professional actors in order to tell the true story of “Those fighting to save [the Amazon] and those fighting to take it.” - As much as it’s a Western and a love story, Wortman says the film is “a snapshot of what is going on in Brazil right now, which is the first wave that comes through. That’s why it’s called Frontier.”
No more mining disasters [11/04/2016]
- On October 20, 2016, prosecutors charged 21 people, including senior BHP and Vale executives, with qualified homicide for their alleged roles in this disaster. The companies were also charged with 12 environmental crimes. - Sadly, disasters involving poorly managed mine waste storage are not unique to Brazil. In the past few years alone, there have been a number of high-profile mine tailings dam disasters that communities from Canada to Mexico are still dealing with. - We can’t wait for another Samarco mine disaster to occur. Regulators must set strong rules to require dry mine waste storage – eliminating the need for gigantic, disaster-prone dams by dewatering mine waste. Regulators must set strong rules to require dry mine waste storage — eliminating the need for gigantic, disaster-prone dams by dewatering mine waste. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Rio Doce: The murder of an already dead river (commentary) [11/04/2016]
- On November 5, 2015, an iron mining tailings dam, owned by the Samarco company, a joint venture of Vale and Austro-British BHP Billiton, collapsed in Brazil killing 19 people and sending a toxic sludge flood into the Rio Doce, polluting its length to the Atlantic Ocean. - Dr. Fabiano de Melo recognizes this historic tragedy, but notes that the Rio Doce has died twice. It first died a slow death, over several hundred years, as the great river’s watershed was deforested and its wildlife slaughtered in order to serve human needs and desires. The Samarco disaster marked its second death. - “Many actions can and should be taken to restore the river and its biodiversity,” he says in this Mongabay commentary: “Forest recovery programs, followed by projects to reintroduce native fauna, in particular aquatic fauna, should be prioritized. [A]n intensive effort to implement sanitation projects in urban areas” is also needed. - “Without any action, we are facing the final funeral of the [Rio Doce] basin,” he concludes. “In a few years, with the current government policies and negative interventions, there will be nothing left but memories of a mighty river.” This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
One-Year Anniversary of Brazil dam disaster brings prosecutions [11/02/2016]
- One year ago, the collapse of the Fundão tailings dam killed 19 people and polluted the entire 663-kilometer (441-mile) length of the Rio Doce with 40 billion liters (over 10.5 billion gallons) of toxic mud tailings. It is the worst environmental and mining disaster in Brazil’s history. - At the end of October, federal prosecutors charged 22 executives and four companies (Samarco, Vale, BHP Billiton and VOGBR Consultancy) for their role in the disaster that occurred in Mariana town, Minas Gerais state. - The 272-page federal complaint includes numerous internal company documents that appear to show that Samarco knew of the threat their tailings dam posed to public safety, but did little to address the worsening problem. - These internal documents went so far as to estimate the deaths likely to be caused by the dam collapse. Samarco’s estimate of 20 or more deaths was just one above the actual total of 19 people killed. The complaint also lists damage to commercial fisheries (14 tons of dead fish), to forests and communities.
Quantifying the ecological impacts of the 20th century trade in Amazonian furs [10/25/2016]
- A study published this month in the journal Science Advances comprises the first systematic accounting of the history, scale, and repercussions of the Amazonian hide trade throughout the 20th century. - An international team of researchers used previously unanalyzed historical documents and unpublished shipping records cataloguing the quantity and scale of the wildlife trade to determine trends in the vulnerability of different wild animal species. - They found widespread collapse of giant river otter, black caiman and manatee populations in the aftermath of commercial hunting, while terrestrial species such as collared peccaries, deer, and even jaguars were found to be much more resilient to hunting pressure even during peak international hide exports.
Lakes in community hands spur gains for people and fish [10/20/2016]
- In an 8-year study covering a 500-kilometer stretch of a tributary to the Amazon, a team of scientists from Brazil and England found that the often-overfished arapaima came back in community-managed lakes. - Protected lakes had populations more than 30 times those where commercial fishing was allowed. - The team estimates that each protected lake is worth about $10,000 per community in revenue from arapaima stocks annually.
Study finds Brazil isn’t counting all deforestation in official estimates [10/19/2016]
- A new study published in the journal Conservation Letters finds that, between 2008 and 2012, close to 9,000 square kilometers (about 3,475 square miles) of the Brazilian Amazon were cleared without being detected by the government’s official monitoring system. - Brazil’s Monitoring Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by Satellite Project (known as PRODES) has played a key role in Brazil’s recent efforts to rein in deforestation. - But when researchers with Brown University compared data from PRODES with two independent satellite measures of forest loss — from the Global Forest Change project and the Fire Information for Resource Management Systems — they found an area of deforestation roughly the size of Puerto Rico was not included in the PRODES monitoring.
Violence against indigenous people high, as land conflicts heat up [10/18/2016]
- There were 137 killings of indigenous people in Brazil in 2015, with the state of Mato Grosso do Sul recording the highest number (25 for the year), said a major report released in September by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI). - Much of the violence is due to land conflicts exacerbated by the government’s failure to demarcate indigenous lands, resulting in conflicts between large-scale farmers and indigenous people. There are 96 indigenous lands in Brazil, but only four have been demarcated and approved so far. Another 68 are classified with the status of “no action” according to CIMI. - A high number of indigenous people also took their own lives, with 87 registered cases of suicide in 2015 by indigenous people. Again, Mato Grosso do Sul led the list with 45 cases. - Data showed that the infant mortality rate is nearly twice as high among Brazil’s indigenous groups (26.35 deaths per thousand live births) as compared to the national average (13.82 per thousand live births).
Environmental official murdered in Brazilian Amazon [10/17/2016]
- Luiz Alberto Araújo, head of the Altamira municipal government environmental department in the state of Pará, was gunned down in an execution-style killing last Thursday. 448 environmentalists were killed in Brazil between 2002-2013 — half the total murdered worldwide. - Araújo provided information this year that helped lead to the arrest of a major illegal logging operation led by Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as Ajj. - Ajj ran his operation near Altamira for ten years, often only cutting valuable understory trees, and leaving the tallest behind to fool satellites and avoid detection. His operation kept loggers in slave-like conditions. Ajj was fined US$37 million, the largest such fine ever in the Amazon. - Last February, Araújo’s team collected tons of dead fish secretly buried near the newly completed Belo Monte mega-dam, near Altamira. Norte Energia, the company operating the dam, was fined US$11 million for the 16.2 tons of fish illegally killed during the flooding of the dam’s reservoir.