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Amazon biodiversity at risk despite Brazil's forest protection law - study

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 17:00 GMT

An illegal gold dredge is seen burning down at the banks of Uraricoera River during an operation by Brazil’s environmental agency against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil, April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

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"Many of the forests that remain standing are shadows of the pristine forests that once stood in their place"

By Chris Arsenault

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Selective logging, road building and fires are threatening biodiversity in Brazil's Amazon despite a requirement that rural landowners maintain at least 80 percent of their forest cover in the world's largest rainforest, researchers said on Wednesday.

In 2012, Brazil enacted a law to protect forests and help establish clearer rules for the ranchers, soy growers and other producers who pushed into the Amazon rainforest and other sensitive regions in recent decades.

The new code carried over from previous legislation a requirement to maintain forest cover on 80 percent of rural properties in the Amazon, 35 percent in the central savanna region and 20 percent in other areas of the country.

But an international team of researchers which assessed forest degradation in northern Brazil's Para region found that areas with the highest levels of protection under Brazil's forestry code, still lost between 46 percent and 61 percent of their conservation value.

"Many of the forests that remain standing are shadows of the pristine forests that once stood in their place," said Toby Gardner, a co-author of the study published in the journal Nature.

"Brazil's efforts for reducing deforestation deserve praise, but the combined effects of these disturbances are undercutting those efforts," the scientist from the Stockholm Environment Institute told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The impacts of forest disturbance in Para have resulted in a loss of biodiversity equivalent to clearing more than 92,000 square kilometers of primary forests - an area larger than Austria, the study said.

The impact of forest disturbance on the broader environment is greater than all of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2006 and 2015, said researchers.

The problem of disturbed forests hurting the broader environment is exacerbated by unclear land titles in the Amazon, Gardner said.

Small-scale farmers who do not have formal land ownership are less likely to invest in forest protection measures such as fire breaks or sustainable management plans, he said.

Forest destruction, which is largely caused by land-clearing for cattle and other farming, is a major source of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

Annual forest clearing in the Amazon has declined by roughly 75 percent from its mid-2000s levels, although it has edged up in the past year.

While deforestation rates in Brazil have dropped markedly over the past decade, smaller pieces of remaining forest give far fewer benefits for reducing climate change or protecting wildlife, the study said.

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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