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.