For January to August, deforestation edged down 1.2% yet is still nearly double what it was in the same period in 2018, before right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office
By Jake Spring
BRASILIA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest fell for the second consecutive month in August, compared to a year ago, according to preliminary government data published on Friday, with year-to-date figures for 2021 also showing a slight decline.
Forest clearances in August totaled 918 square kilometers (354 square miles), down 32% from the same month a year ago, data from the national space research agency Inpe showed.
For January to August, deforestation edged down 1.2% to 6,026 square kilometers, or an area more than 7 times the size of New York City.
Despite the slight decrease, deforestation remains nearly double what it was in January to August 2018, prior to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro taking office.
Destruction surged after Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and immediately took steps to weaken environmental enforcement.
But in recent weeks, some signs have pointed to the Bolsonaro government taking some tentative steps toward combating the soaring destruction.
The government has doubled the budget for environmental enforcement and plans to hire 700 some new environmental field agents, Environment Minister Joaquim Pereira Leite said last month.
Environmental advocates say that destruction has merely plateaued but shows no sign of returning to pre-Bolsonaro levels.
Persistent high deforestation also helps to feed forest fires, with the felled trees serving as tinder, according to the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.
Loggers generally extract valuable wood with fire being set to the remains to clear it for eventual agricultural use.
A Reuters witness traveling in southern Amazonas state during the past week saw massive fires billowing smoke miles into the air with the haze blanketing the landscape.
Many of the fires were near the edge of existing cattle pasture. Much of the burned land will likely become pasture too, with cattle ranching the main driver of deforestation, according to a draft of a landmark study compiled by 200 scientists and published in July.
Amazon fires in August - while also showing a slight decline from a year ago - remained above the historic monthly average for the third consecutive year, according to Inpe. Prior to Bolsonaro, the last time Brazil saw such high levels of fire in the Amazon was in 2010.
(Reporting by Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Bruno Kelly Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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