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Rehabilitation and increased productivity of formerly forested lands
Saving the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil
In reducing the loss of tropical rainforests we must not only be concerned with the transformation of existing natural ecosystems, but also the more rational utilization of already cleared and degraded areas. To lessen future forest loss we must increase and sustain the productivity of farms, pastures, plantations, and scrub-land in addition to restoring species and ecosystems to degraded habitats. By reducing wasteful land-use practices, consolidating gains on existing cleared lands, and improving already developed lands we can diminish the need to clear additional rainforest.
Increasing productivity of cleared rainforest lands is possible using improved technology to generate higher yielding crops. Taking advantage of improved germplasm developed through careful selection can produce grasses and crops that will grow on degraded forest soils. While technology may have accelerated the development and impoverishment of tropical rainforests, it will be one of the keys to saving them.
HABITAT AND SPECIES REHABILITATION:
When it comes to cattle pasture, Judson Valentim of the Brazilian Farm Research Corporation (Embrapa), suggests that "the use of so-called alternative technologies, such as non-plowing farming, could increase productivity in areas that have already been cleared ... Proper use of the area of the rainforest already cleared (deforested or destroyed) in the Amazon could solve many problems. He points out that 20 percent of the area could produce 50 million tons of grains annually. Another 20 percent could be used for small farmers (around 900,000 of them if each got 20,000 hectares)."
Valentim continues, "The remaining 60 percent would be used to raise 100 million head of cattle. And all that, without cutting down a single, additional tree or burning so much as one hectare." [Marrying Growth and Preservation in Brazil's Amazon]
One promising area of research looks at ancient societies that lived in the Amazon rainforest before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Apparently these populations were able to enrich the rainforest soil, which is usually quite poor, using charcoal and animal bones. By improving soil quality, large areas of the Amazon that have been deforested could be used to support agriculture. This could help reduce pressure on rainforest areas for agricultural land. Further, the "terra preta" soil could be used to help fight global warming since it absorbs carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.
There is still time to save some of the most threatened species and ecosystems that have been pushed so close to extinction that they will perish unless we intervene. In Brazil, tremendous progress has been made in restoring the population of the Golden Lion Tamarin which resides in the dwindling Atlantic forest. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the species has recovered "from a low of 200 wild animals recorded in the early 1970s ...[to its] 1,000th wild birth in March 2001."
The restoration of entire ecosystems is most possible in regions where parts or at least remnants of the original forest still remain and there are few human population pressures. Small clearings surrounded by forest recover quickly and large sections may recover in time especially if we provide some assistance in the reforestation process. After several years, a once barren field can once again support vegetation in the form of pioneer species and secondary growth. Although the secondary forest will be low in diversity and poorly developed, the forest cover will be adequate for some species to return (assuming they still exist). In addition, the newly forested patch can be used for the sustainable harvest of forest products and low intensity logging.
Tracts of replanted forest may have ecological returns in addition to economic ones. In the short term, forests absorb large amounts of atmospheric carbon and the more trees that are replanted, the more atmospheric carbon will be sequestered. Replanting and rehabilitating secondary forests around the world has tremendous potential for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, rehabilitated forest lands can attract ecotourists and sustain some native forest wildlife.
Expansion of protection areas
The extension of protection to critically important habitats within the Amazon region is key to maximizing survival of biodiversity in Brazil. Paramount to the success of conservation efforts:
- prioritizing areas for protection -- i.e. focusing on biological hotspots
- ensuring sufficient enforcement agencies and funding exist for the maintenance of protected areas
- encouraging the involvement of locals -- the fate of protected areas rests largely in the hands of local people and only by improving their living condition can we expect conservation efforts to be successful. Conservation cannot come at the expense of local people; local people must be made both partners and beneficiaries in conservation, and not enemies of it.
- involving indigenous people in park management. Indigenous people know more about the forest than anyone and have an interest in safeguarding it as a productive ecosystem that provides them food, shelter, and clean water. Research has found that in some cases, "indigenous reserves" may actually protect rainforest better than national parks in the Amazon.
Perhaps the best way to address deforestation in Brazil is developing a new conservation policy based on the principle of sustainable use and development of rainforests. Sustainable development is a phrase that has been used regularly over the past decade, but critics will quickly tell you that collecting fruits, latex, and nuts from the rainforests is not enough make a living let alone support a growing economy. "Sustainable development" should considered an underlying philosophy to be applied via policy to various agents and industries involved in the use and development of rainforest lands and resources.
For thousands of years parts of the Amazon has been managed to sustain productive agriculture and at times, sustain dense human populations. It is estimated that more land was under cultivation in the Amazon on the eve of the arrival of Columbus than is today. The fact that certain forms of agriculture are possible is a vital consideration for the sustainable, economic development of tropical rainforests.
Actions to take:
- Incorporate the techniques of indigenous Amazonians into agricultural projects in the rainforest to increase the productivity of degraded forest lands and promote sustainable use of forest resources. Through agroforestry, polycultural fields, and floodplain orchards outright destruction of rainforests can be avoided, while improving economic efficiency and providing a source of income for rural poor
- End subsidies granted to large landowners
What is desperately needed is a new form of forestry that departs from the older mentality where forests only exist to serve immediate human demands and are non-exhaustible resources. New forest management adds both rural development and conservation projects to traditional tree harvesting and aims to keep forests as functional ecological systems while providing multiple economic benefits.
Actions to take [more]:
- Restrict the trade of certain rainforest tree species. In 2002, CITES did just that with mahogany, but Brazil still has a way to go in terms of enforcing existing forestry laws governing the extraction of certain tree species. Native Amazonians still face violent encroachment by illegal loggers seeking mahogany.
- End Subsidies. By ending subsidies for saw mills and road construction, logging of tropical rainforests will become more accurately reflect the true costs of harvesting.
- Use reduced impact logging. Reduced impact logging practices including: 1) cutting climbers and lianas well prior to felling; 2) directional tree felling to inflict the smallest impact on the surrounding forest; 3) establishing stream buffer zones and watershed protection areas; 4) using improved technologies to reduce damage to the soil cause by log extraction; 5) careful planning to prevent excess roads which give access to transient settlers; 6) reducing wood waste for cut areas (anywhere from 25-50% of the wood from a given cleared patch is wasted); 7) limiting the gradient of roads to prevent excess erosion.
- Establish plantations on degraded lands. Forest plantations are essentially tree crops planted for the particular purpose of providing a specific source for wood products.
Clearing for pastureland and land speculation purposes is a major cause of tropical forest loss, especially in Latin America. Cattle are an attractive investment for Amazonian farmers because they are a highly liquid capital asset with low marginal costs once forest has been cleared. Cattle are used to establish land claims on otherwise "unoccupied" rainforest land and can be used as a hedge against inflation.
Actions to take:
- Eliminate tax incentives and land policies which encourage conversion of forest to pasture.
- Increase productivity on existing pastureland by introducing agroforestry techniques and using "non-plowing farming,"
Land policy reform
Under Brazilian law, much of the Amazon is essentially an open access resource so there little incentive for squatters, farmers, or developers to use forest lands or resources in a sustainable manner. Simply clear some land then move on to another area when the land is no longer viable. Developers can also acquire rights to unoccupied forest land simply by "using" it for at least one year and a day -- typically by burning the native forest and establishing some cattle on the land.
To remedy this wasteful use of land, lawmakers in Brazil should consider laws that restrict these practices. Or maybe lawmakers could enforce some of the existing laws like the 1996 law that forbade Amazon landowners from cutting more than 20% of the forest on their land. For whatever reason the laws on the books are not that effective -- deforestation has increased dramatically in the past couple of years.
Brazil has a number of laws on the books that theoretically should slow Amazon deforestation and encourage sustainable use of forest resources. The problem is, IBAMA, Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency, is woefully under funded -- in 2003, the entire budget for environmental law enforcement in Brazil was $9.5 million. $9.5 million to police Earth's 5th largest country (roughly the size of Australia, Spain, and Germany combined) having the world's biggest expanse of tropical wilderness.
Between the lack of resources, rampant corruption, and questions as to whether IBAMA even has any legal authority to enforce the law, the agency only collects 6.5% of the fines it imposes.
IBAMA estimates that 80% of all logging in the Amazon is illegal, but there's relatively little it can do about it. To effectively enforce existing environmental law, IBAMA is going to need more resources.
Brazil is a land of remarkable beauty and unsurpassed biological diversity. For this reason, deforestation in the Amazon is especially troubling. While environmental losses and degradation of the rainforests have yet to reach the point of collapse, the continuing disappearance of wildlands and loss of its species is disheartening.
Biodiversity is makes life on Earth livable for our species. By extinguishing hotbeds of biodiversity like the Amazon rainforest we are destroying a part of ourselves. Biodiversity will recover after humanity is gone, but in the meantime, the continuing loss of our fellow species will make Earth an awfully crowded, but lonely place.
Past extinctions have shown it takes at least 5 million years to restore biodiversity to the level equal to that prior of the extinction event event. Our actions today will determine whether Earth will be biologically impoverished for the 500 trillion or more humans that will inhabit the earth during that future period.
The extinction event that is occurring as you read these words rivals the extinctions caused by natural disasters of global ice ages, planetary collisions, atmospheric poisoning, and variations in solar radiation. The difference is that this extinction was conceived by humans and subject to human decisions. We are the last, best hope for life as we prefer it on this planet.
More on deforestation in Brazil
Today deforestation in the Amazon is the result of several activities, the foremost of which include:
- Clearing for cattle pasture
- Colonization and subsequent subsistence agriculture
- Infrastructure improvements
- Commercial agriculture
Causes and Effects of Deforestation
NEWS ON BRAZIL XML
Featured video: celebrities speak out for Yasuni
(04/02/2014) A group of celebrities, including recent Academy Award winner Jared Leto, Law and Order's Benjamin Bratt, and Kill Bill's Daryl Hannah, have lent their voices to a new Public Service Announcement to raise signatures to protect Ecuador's Yasuni National Park from oil drilling.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Quantifying the cost of forest degradation
(03/27/2014) How much is a forest really worth? And what is the cost of forest degradation? These values are difficult to estimate, but according to Dr. Phillip Fearnside, we need to do a better job. For nearly forty years, Fearnside has lived in Amazonia doing ecological research, looking at the value of forests in terms of environmental or ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water cycling, and biodiversity preservation. Fearnside then works to convert these services into a basis for sustainable development for rural populations.
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(03/20/2014) A new multimedia feature story by Brazilian environmental news group, ((o))eco, highlights the ongoing debate over Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, arguably the most biodiverse place on the planet.
Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie
(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.
Brazilian soy industry extends deforestation moratorium
(02/01/2014) Soy traders and producers in the Brazilian Amazon agreed to extend a moratorium on soybeans produced in recently deforested areas for another year, reports Greenpeace.
Assassination 25 years ago catalyzed movement to protect the Amazon
(12/22/2013) Twenty-five years ago today, Chico Mendes, an Amazon rubber tapper, was shot and killed in front of his family at his home in Acre, Brazil at the age of 44.
Brazilian cattle producers standardize audits to exclude deforestation from supply chain
(12/18/2013) Brazil's largest cattle producers have agreed to standardize and make public their audits as part of an effort to exclude from their supply chains livestock produced via deforestation, reports Greenpeace, which has led a campaign to improve the environmental performance of the sector. The agreement on a standard auditing protocol means that the companies' progress toward eliminating deforestation will now be directly comparable.
Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?
(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.
Amazon rainforest tribe sells REDD+ credits to Brazilian cosmetics giant
(09/10/2013) The Paiter-Suruí, a rainforest tribe that in June became the first indigenous group to generate REDD+ credits under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), has now closed their first deal. As reported by Ecosystem Marketplace, Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura Cosméticos has purchased 120,000 tons of carbon offsets from the the Surui Forest Carbon Project in Rondônia, Brazil.
Yasuni could still be spared oil drilling
(08/26/2013) When Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, announced on August 15th that he was abandoning an innovative program to spare three blocs of Yasuni National Park from oil drilling, it seemed like the world had tossed away its most biodiverse ecosystem. However, environmental groups and activists quickly responded that there may be another way to keep oil companies out of Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs: a national referendum.
Ecuador shelves big idea for saving the Amazon
(08/16/2013) The fate of the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth has been decided: it will be drilled for oil.
Amazonian students help monitor threatened frog populations
(07/01/2013) According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on Earth: currently around 30 percent of the world's amphibians are listed as threatened with extinction. However this percentage doesn't include those species about which too little is known to evaluate (26 percent). Amphibians face many threats but two of the largest are habitat loss and the lethal chytrid fungus, which has rapidly spread worldwide and is likely responsible for numerous extinctions. But conservationists are coming up with innovative and creative ways to keep amphibians from disappearing, including a program from the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) that is working with students in the Peruvian Amazon to monitor frog populations.
Brazilian state to pay counties that cut Amazon deforestation
(07/01/2013) The Brazilian state of Pará has launched a new compensation scheme to incentivize further cuts in deforestation.
Indigenous carbon conservation project gets verification, will start generating credits
(05/30/2013) An effort by an Amazonian tribe to protect their rainforest home against encroachment and illegal logging has finally been validated and verified under a leading carbon accounting standard, enabling it to begin selling carbon credits.
Peru delays oil drilling in the Amazon to consult with indigenous peoples
(05/20/2013) Peru has delayed auctioning off 27 oil blocs in the Amazon in order to conduct legally-required consultations with indigenous groups in the region, reports the Guardian. Perupetro S.A., Peru's state oil and gas company, has announced it will auction 9 blocs off the Pacific coast, but will hold auctioning off the controversial oil blocs in the Amazon rainforest at least until later this year.
NGO: conflict of interests behind Peruvian highway proposal in the Amazon
(05/16/2013) As Peru's legislature debates the merits of building the Purús highway through the Amazon rainforest, a new report by Global Witness alleges that the project has been aggressively pushed by those with a financial stake in opening up the remote area to logging and mining. Roads built in the Amazon lead to spikes in deforestation, mining, poaching and other extractive activities as remote areas become suddenly accessible. The road in question would cut through parts of the Peruvian Amazon rich in biodiversity and home to indigenous tribes who have chosen to live in "voluntary isolation."
Parks, indigenous territories are effectively reducing Amazon deforestation
(03/11/2013) Strict conservation areas and indigenous reserves are more effective at reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon relative to 'sustainble-use' areas set up for non-indigenous resource extraction, reports a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research, which involved an international team, compared rates of forest loss between different categories of managed lands using satellite imagery and statistical analysis.
A promising initiative to address deforestation in Brazil at the local level
(03/05/2013) The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Jaguars, tapirs, oh my!: Amazon explorer films shocking wildlife bonanza in threatened forest
(02/19/2013) Watching a new video by Amazon explorer, Paul Rosolie, one feels transported into a hidden world of stalking jaguars, heavyweight tapirs, and daylight-wandering giant armadillos. This is the Amazon as one imagines it as a child: still full of wild things. In just four weeks at a single colpa (or clay lick where mammals and birds gather) on the lower Las Piedras River, Rosolie and his team captured 30 Amazonian species on video, including seven imperiled species. However, the very spot Rosolie and his team filmed is under threat: the lower Las Piedras River is being infiltrated by loggers, miners, and farmers following the construction of the Trans-Amazon highway.
Loans tied to environmental compliance reduced Amazon deforestation by 15%
(01/30/2013) A rural credit law that ties loans to environmental compliance made a significant contribution to reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2008 and 2011, argues a study published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI).
Norway payments to Brazil for reducing deforestation reach $670 million
(12/06/2012) Norway will deposit another $180 million into Brazil's Amazon Fund after the Latin American giant reported a third straight annual drop in deforestation, reports Bloomberg. The payment comes despite a high-profile dispute over who verifies reductions in emissions from deforestation — Norway believes emissions reductions should be measured by an independent third party, but Brazil disagrees. The disagreement sidelined discussions over the REDD+ mechanism during climate talks in Doha, pushing negotiations over the program out another year.
Unique program to leave oil beneath Amazonian paradise raises $300 million
(11/26/2012) The Yasuni-ITT Initiative has been called many things: controversial, ecological blackmail, revolutionary, pioneering, and the best chance to keep oil companies out of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. But now, after a number of ups and downs, the program is beginning to make good: the Yasuni-ITT Initiative has raised $300 million, according to the Guardian, or 8 percent of the total amount needed to fully fund the idea.
Belo Monte mega-dam halted again by high Brazilian court, appeal likely but difficult
(08/15/2012) A high federal court in Brazil has ruled that work on the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon be immediately suspended. Finding that the government failed to properly consult indigenous people on the dam, the ruling is the latest in innumerable twists and turns regarding the massive dam, which was first conceived in the 1970s, and has been widely criticized for its impact on tribal groups in the region and the Amazon environment. In addition the Regional Federal Tribunal (TRF1) found that Brazil's Environmental Impact Assessment was flawed since it was conducted after work on the dam had already begun.
Guyana rainforests secure trust fund
(07/30/2012) The nation of Guyana sports some of South America's most intact and least-imperiled rainforests, and a new $8.5 million trust fund hopes to keep it that way. The Guyanese government has teamed up with Germany and Conservation International (CI) to create a long-term trust fund to manage the country's protected areas system (PAS).
Experts: sustainable logging in rainforests impossible
(07/19/2012) Industrial logging in primary tropical forests that is both sustainable and profitable is impossible, argues a new study in Bioscience, which finds that the ecology of tropical hardwoods makes logging with truly sustainable practices not only impractical, but completely unprofitable. Given this, the researchers recommend industrial logging subsidies be dropped from the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. The study, which adds to the growing debate about the role of logging in tropical forests, counters recent research making the case that well-managed logging in old-growth rainforests could provide a "middle way" between conservation and outright conversion of forests to monocultures or pasture.
THE AMAZON RAINFOREST