Deforestation in Brazil’s tropical Cerrado savanna, which makes up a quarter of the country, fell 11 percent to a record low in 2018 compared with a year earlier, the Ministry of Environment said in a statement Tuesday.
Deforestation in the South American country’s savanna biome totaled 6,657 square kilometers (2,570 square miles), an area larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut. That’s just below 6,777 square kilometers in 2016, the previous low since records began to be kept, the ministry said.
A biome is a grouping of plants and animals that have adapted to a specific environment.
This contrasts with the Amazon rainforest, making up 40 percent of Brazil, which has seen a 13.7 percent spike in deforestation this year to a 10-year high.
Activists have been concerned that deforestation could spike under policies proposed by President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who assumes office Jan. 1 and has pledged to end the current “industry of fines” for environmental violations like deforestation.
The figure for Cerrado is based on the change in deforestation between August 2017 and July 2018, the period used to measure annual destruction, as recorded by Brazilian space research agency Inpe. The statement did not give a reason for the decline in deforestation.
The Cerrado’s vegetation soaks up major amounts of carbon dioxide, making its preservation key to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and for countering global warming.
While the Cerrado is less densely forested than the Amazon rainforest, its plants have deep roots that lock carbon into the ground and are sometimes referred to as an underground forest.
Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s future environment minister under Bolsonaro, told Reuters on Monday that Bolsonaro would not gut resources for environmental protection, contrary to the fears of environmentalists.
Money for environmental protection is spent inefficiently and mismanaged, he said, arguing he could produce better results with the same budget. (VOA)
New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued an executive order Wednesday making the Agriculture Ministry responsible for decisions concerning lands claimed by indigenous peoples, in a victory for agribusiness that will likely enrage environmentalists.
The temporary decree, which will expire unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, strips power over land claim decisions from indigenous affairs agency FUNAI.
It says the Agriculture Ministry will now be responsible for “identification, delimitation, demarcation and registration of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people.”
The move stoked concern among environmentalists and rights groups that the far-right president, who took office Tuesday, will open up the vast Amazon rainforest and other ecologically sensitive areas of Brazil to greater commercial exploitation.
The executive order also moves the Brazilian Forestry Service, which promotes the sustainable use of forests and is linked to the Environment Ministry, under Agriculture Ministry control.
Additionally, the decree states that the Agriculture Ministry will be in charge of the management of public forests.
Bolsonaro, who enjoys strong support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, said during his campaign he was considering such a move, arguing that protected lands should be opened to commercial activities.
Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people make up less than 1 percent of the population, but live on lands that stretch for 106.7 million hectares (264 million acres), or 12.5 percent of the national territory.
“Less than a million people live in these isolated places in Brazil, where they are exploited and manipulated by NGOs,” Bolsonaro tweeted, referring to non-profit groups. “Let us together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”
Critics say Bolsonaro’s plan to open indigenous reservations to commercial activity will destroy native cultures and languages by integrating the tribes into Brazilian society.
Environmentalists say the native peoples are the last custodians of the Amazon, which is the world’s largest rainforest and is vital for climate stability.
Adding to the gloom for NGOs, Bolsonaro also signed an executive order to give his government potentially far-reaching and restrictive powers over non-governmental organizations working in Brazil.
The temporary decree mandates that the office of the Government Secretary, Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory.”
Good news for farm lobby
After she was sworn in on Wednesday, new Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias defended the farm sector from accusations it has grown at the expense of the environment, adding that the strength of Brazil’s farmers had generated “unfounded accusations” from unnamed international groups.
Dias used to be the head of the farm caucus in Brazil’s Congress, which has long pushed for an end to land measures that it argues hold back the agricultural sector.
“Brazil is a country with extremely advanced environmental legislation and is more than able to preserve its native forests,” Dias said. “Our country is a model to be followed, never a transgressor to be punished.”
In comments to reporters after her speech, she said that decisions over land rights disputes were a new responsibility for the Agriculture Ministry. However, she indicated that in practice, the demarcation of land limits would fall to a council of ministries, without giving further details.
Bartolomeu Braz, the president of the national chapter of Aprosoja, a major grain growers association, cheered Wednesday’s move to transfer indigenous land demarcation to the Agriculture Ministry.
“The new rules will be interesting to the farmers and the Indians, some of whom are already producing soybeans. The Indians want to be productive too,” he added.
Three-time presidential candidate and former Environment Minister Marina Silva, who was beaten by Bolsonaro in October’s election, reacted with horror to the move.
“Bolsonaro has begun his government in the worst possible way,” she wrote on Twitter.
Dinamã Tuxá, a member of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, said many isolated communities viewed Bolsonaro’s administration with fear.
“We are very afraid because Bolsonaro is attacking indigenous policies, rolling back environmental protections, authorizing the invasion of indigenous territories and endorsing violence against indigenous peoples,” said Tuxá.
Under the new plan, the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI will be moved into a new ministry for family, women and human rights.
A former army captain and longtime member of Congress, Bolsonaro said at his inauguration on Tuesday that he had freed the country from “socialism and political correctness.”