Record Amazon deforestation may be driven by highway projects


An unpaved portion of the Tranzamazonian Highway, taken between Rurópolis and Uruará.
Credit – Keith Irwin (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest broke all records for the month of April, nearly doubling the area of forest removed in the same month last year.

Based on data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the amount of destruction in April corresponded to more than 1,000 square kilometers (nearly 400 square miles), the highest figure for the month in the last seven years of record-keeping, according to the Associated Press.

Not only is the amount of deforestation 74 percent greater than in April 2021, it is also the first time that deforestation alerts have surpassed 1,000 square kilometers during a month in the rainy season, which runs from December to April.

In the first four months of the year deforestation of the Amazon also hit a record for the period of 1,954 square km (754 square miles), an increase of 69 percent compared to the same period of 2021, reports The Guardian, clearing an area over twice the size of New York City.

“The April number is very scary. Due to the rain, it is traditionally a month with less deforestation,” Suely Araújo, senior public policy specialist at the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, told The Associated Press.

The Financial Times makes an interesting observation: The amount of destruction of rainforest in the western Amazon rainforest sees a “sharp spike” in the vicinity of roads.

Mikaela Weisse, the deputy director of Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute, says, “It’s not necessarily a new phenomenon to see forest loss happening around roads, but what’s new this year, or intensified, is the rate of that loss.”

In the Amazon, some roads have been paved for the first time, making the forest easier to access and chop down, the researchers found. “An interesting question is: do roads cause deforestation or is the incentive to deforest creating the roads?” Weisse asked,

Highways through the Amazon lead to destruction

Historically, the opening and paving of highways has been the main driver of Amazon deforestation. Easier access drives up land value and makes economic activities, especially cattle-raising, viable.

Destruction of the Amazon in the state of Amazonas’ southern part has really ramped up since President Jair Bolsonaro promised to pave a 400-kilometer (250-mile) dirt stretch of the BR-319 highway that connects the cities of Manaus and Porto Velho. 

Anticipation of the paved road has already led to land speculation, land grabbing, and large-scale deforestation with the hope that the areas will become legal for agriculture or cattle-raising in the future.

Last week, the BR-319 Observatory, a network of environmental non-profits, revealed a study showing a nearly 3,000 -kilometer (more than 1,800 mile) network of secondary roads within reach of the highway. The roads are used primarily to get to areas desired by land grabbers and loggers.





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