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Deforestation in Brazil up 28 Percent on the Year

Nov 16, 2013 08:29 AM EST

New data indicate that the deforestation rate in Brazil has risen by 28 percent this year, marking an about-face after four consecutive years of declining deforestation, the Brazilian government announced Thursday.

Environmental activists linked the increase in deforestation to a recent loosening of Brazilian environmental law, but the annual deforestation rate was still the second lowest Brazil has seen in the past quarter century.

"The government can't be surprised by this increase in deforestation, given that their own action is what's pushing it," Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign, told The Associated Press. "The change in the Forest Code and the resulting amnesty for those who illegally felled the forest sent the message that such crimes have no consequences."

The total deforested area sweeps across 5,843 square kilometers (2,256 square miles). The Mato Grosso region saw the most significant losses over the past year with 757 km2 (292 square miles) of deforestation in August 2012 to 1,149 (444 square miles) in July 2013, an increase of 52 percent.

"Unfortunately there has been an increasing trend in deforestation rates in some states, but I would like to emphasize that the government commitment is to reverse this trend and any increase tendency," said Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira. "What we want is to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon. For this we need the support of governments and society."

Teixeira singled out illegal mining operations as a key player in deforestation in Brazil.

Each summer the South American nation uses satellite data to measure levels of deforestation by analyzing images taken between August and July of each year.

The measurement cycle prior to the current one reported the lowest levels of deforestation since the reporting began in 1988.

A recent study from Princeton University found that if the Amazon rainforest were completely deforested it would significantly reduce rain and snowfall in the western United States, leading to water and food shortages and a greater risk of forest fires.

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