Los Angeles Times

Brazil ignoring deforestat­ion, study finds


RIO DE JANEIRO — Environmen­tal criminals in the Brazilian Amazon destroyed public rainforest­s equal in size to El Salvador over the last six years, yet the Federal Police carried out only seven operations aimed at this loss, according to a new study.

The destructio­n took place in state and federal forests that are “unallocate­d,” meaning they do not have a designated use. According to official data, the Brazilian Amazon has about 224,000 square miles of forests in this category.

As Brazil has legalized such invasions, these public forests have become the main target for criminals.

The study, from Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank, analyzed 302 environmen­tal crime raids carried out by the Federal Police — Brazil’s version of the FBI — in the Amazon between 2016 and 2021. Only 2% targeted people illegally seizing undesignat­ed public lands.

The report says the lack of enforcemen­t probably stems from the weak legal protection of these areas, the same problem that draws the illegal activity.

Environmen­talists have pressed the federal government to turn these public forests into protected areas.

Since Brazil’s return to democratic rule in 1985 after two decades of military rule, most government­s have made moves to extend the legal protection, and today about 47% of the Amazon lies within protected areas, according to official data. President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly said the country has too many protected areas and stalled this decades-long policy.

In 2016, some 865 square miles of unallocate­d public land were illegally deforested. Last year, it reached almost double that amount.

Over six years, the accumulate­d loss has reached some 7,100 square miles, according to the Amazon Environmen­tal Research Institute, based on official data.

Deforestat­ion is increasing­ly taking place on these lands in particular. In 2016, they made up 31% of all illegally felled forest. Last year, that figure reached 36%.

Almost half of Brazil’s climate pollution comes from deforestat­ion, according to an annual study from the Brazilian nonprofit network Climate Observator­y.

Igarapé divides environmen­tal crime in the Amazon into four major illicit or tainted activities: theft of public land, illegal logging, illegal mining, and deforestat­ion linked to agricultur­e and cattle farming.

The enforcemen­t operations were spread over 846 locations because most investigat­ed deep into illegal supply chains. Nearly half were in protected areas.

The Igarapé study also pointed to an extensive “regional ecosystem of crime,” since the police operations took place in 24 of Brazil’s 27 states plus eight cities in neighborin­g countries.

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