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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Amazon tree loss continues
logs in amazonian timberyard
There are plenty more logs where these came from . . . for now
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Brazil says the rate at which its Amazon rainforest is being destroyed is continuing unchanged.

A government report said that in 1998-99 illegal logging and farming destroyed forest totalling 130 kilometres by 130 km in area.

Satellite imagery revealed the 16,926 square km (6,347 square mile) loss, with only a 3% margin of error.

This compares with a loss of 17,383 sq km in 1997-98. The area of forest lost during that year was almost a third more than in the year before.

Until then, the rate had been falling since its peak in 1995 and there were hopes that conservation measures were working.

Encouraged

This past year, there has been a strengthened police presence in threatened areas, though it seems to have had little deterrent effect.
boat on amazon
Amazonia means rich profits
But the Brazilian Government took comfort in the fact that the rate of loss had not increased again.

The Environment Minister, Jose Sarney Filho, said: "The tendency to an increase in deforestation has been controlled."

Dr Norman Myers, of Green College, Oxford, told BBC News Online: "It's a worrying trend.

"Fifteen years ago, the rate of loss in Amazonia was about half what it is today, assuming the figures are accurate.

"If it goes on doubling like this, we could be in a lot of trouble before long.

"It's good news that the rate hasn't increased, but I suspect that may have less to do with enforcement than with the downturn in the Brazilian economy."

New initiative

Roberto Smeraldi, head of the Amazon protection programme at Friends of the Earth Amazonia, said a recent devaluation could mean more rapid loss if loggers sought increased profits.


hut in burnt forest
Burnt to make farmland
His organisation has helped, with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), to establish a group of 42 Brazilian timber companies committed to obtaining wood from well-managed forests.

The group, Compradores de Madeira Certificada, uses at least half a million cubic metres of timber annually.

Dr Steve Howard, director of WWF's global forest and trade initiative, told BBC News Online: "The companies involved use less than 3% of the wood from Amazonia.

Modest beginning

"It's a very small start. But it is enough in financial terms to provide an incentive that could encourage responsible forest use.

"In a year or 18 months from now, we need to have not 42 companies involved, but 200 to 300."

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