Brazil: Massive Forest Reserve Created in Para

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, January 19, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Brazil: Massive Forest Reserve Created in Para

Brazil became home to the world's largest forest reserve as the government placed almost 100,000 sq km in a designated reserve area in December. A swath of Amazon rain forest the size of Alabama came under government protection in December in a region infamous for violent conflicts among loggers, ranchers, and environmentalists--Para state in the nation's north.

Guyana Shield creates 7 protected areas in Amazon

Known as the Guayana Shield, the 15,000 sq km area contains more than 25% of the world's remaining humid tropical forests and the largest remaining unpolluted fresh-water reserves in the American tropics. The protected areas will link to existing reserves to form a vast preservation corridor eventually stretching into neighboring Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.

Conservation International put up US$1 million to facilitate the expansion, which preserves much of the jungle's largely untouched north. Still, it is far from clear how much the new reserves will do to stall Amazon destruction, since most of the deforestation is taking place along the rain forest's southern border.

"If any tropical rain forest on Earth remains intact a century from now, it will be this portion of northern Amazonia," Conservation International president Russell Mittermeier said. "The region has more undisturbed rain forest than anywhere else."

The Amazon region covers 60% of Brazil, and 20% of its forest-4.1 million sq km--already has been destroyed by development, logging, and farming. In the past four years, an area larger than South Carolina has been cut down.

The protections announced in December are all the more surprising coming out of Para, a state the size of Bolivia, long known for ruthlessly cutting down the rain forest and where ranchers often gun down those who try to stop it.

The 2005 murder of American nun Dorothy Stang (see NotiSur, 2005-02-25) is only the most internationally notorious killing of forest defenders in the largely lawless jungle frontier. Stang, 73, of Dayton, Ohio, was shot dead in a dispute regarding a piece of land she wanted to preserve and local ranchers wanted cut down to raise cattle.

The new protected areas will help break the power of ranchers who often own plots of land the size of small European nations and rule them as their own personal fiefdoms, said Para state environment secretary Raul Porto in a televised interview. "Now there's no need for the plantation-type estate, which was our biggest problem."

Two of the new protected areas, covering 57,580 sq km, would place the land completely off limits to the general public and only be accessible to researchers. Together these two areas are believed to contain up to 54.1% of all bird, animal, and plant species found in the Amazon, Conservation International said. They also are home to several endangered animal species, including the northern bearded saki monkey, jaguars, giant anteaters, the giant armadillo, and the ariranha or giant Amazon otter.

The remaining areas have been declared sustainable-use protected areas, allowing local communities to manage the natural resources and permitting limited logging under strict management.

The creation of the new reserves places about 55.4% of Para state either under some form of government protection or on an Indian reservation.

"Together, the protected areas and indigenous lands of northern Para form one of the greatest biodiversity corridors of tropical forests in the planet," Conservation International said.

Sao Paulo newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, calling the reserve the world's biggest, hailed the move as the final act of outgoing Gov. Simao Jatene, although the paper reported that he had been blocked by the courts from creating two other reserves in addition to the seven he designated.

Still, the reserve encompasses at least 61 amphibious species, 200 mammal species, and 700 bird species, eight of which are endangered.

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