In the Amazon 2.6 billion Trees Already Eliminated

Smoldering Pastureland Cleared For Cattle From The Amazon Rain Forest. Rondônia State, Brazil. (Photo by Michael Nichols/National Geographic/Getty Images)

Since the beginning of the occupation of the Amazon by non-indigenous people, at least 2.6 billion trees have been cut down, estimates the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE = The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) in a study titled: “Geoestatísticas de Recursos Naturais da Amazônia Legal” (Geo-statistics of the Natural Resources of the Amazon Legal), released the 1st of June. Almost half of that loss (1.2 billion trees) occurred in the federal state of Pará. The cleared area represents 15.3% of the original vegetation of the biome.

And that was till 2002, the reference year of the study. The discussions about the new Forestry Code, approved by Congress, but still in the Senate for its final vote 6 months from now, threw open the doors for a further and rapid devastation of the Amazon rainforest. Since last January, landowners and land speculators began to clear forests in the hope to create a fait accompli in favour of amnesty for the devastators of the Amazon.

DETER, the satellite System for Detection of Deforestation in Real Time, recorded the deforestation of 5.850 square kilometres in the nine months of August last year till April this year, many by ruthlessly using the “correntão”. Stretched between two bulldozers, a huge chain fells the trees by the roots, claiming all life on the way. In the end, the trees are collected. The logs are sold, and the rest is burned.

But deforestation is not only with the correntão, as many loggers work for the timber industry. The reason is simple. The loggers are working quietly under the canopy of trees, and are only found if the inspection team in a helicopter flies low or when denounced, which is rare. If they happen to be caught, they are arrested and immediately thereafter released. So what’s the problem? A new tree will grow, within 5 years there is a new one. What the hell.

Photo: Eliária Andrade/Ag O Globo

To fell a tree, there’s not much preparation needed. The logger knows which way the stem will fall and orders: “It’s over there”. The noise of the chainsaw is nothing. Takes about two or three minutes. It is even hard to hear the thud of the tree falling through the branches of the others.

Brazil biomes

Since the existence of Brazil 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed. But not only the Amazon rainforest suffers from deforestation. The Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado (savannah) – two other very important biomes, with a unique biodiversity, are also seriously threatened.

The Atlantic Forest, which originally ran along the Brazilian coast from end to end, spanning 1.3 million square kilometres, has today only 7% of its original size (about 52,000 km2). The Cerrado, the second largest biome in Brazil, located in the central region of the country, originally had 2 million square kilometres of vegetation, and is now down to only 20%. Deforestation in the Cerrado is alarming, reaching 3 million hectares per year, equivalent to 2.6 football fields per minute.

The rampant deforestation puts Brazil among the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) and methane into the atmosphere. Between 60% to 75% of Brazil’s emissions come from deforestation of the rainforest.

Photo: Eliária Andrade/Ag O Globo

The loss of trees are concentrated in the east (Pará, Maranhão and Tocantins) and in the south (Mato Grosso and Rondônia) of the so-called Amazônia Legal. Livestock appears in the publication of IBGE as primarily responsible for the alteration of the original coverage of the earth, representing 51.7% of the deforested area. Secondary vegetation (which arises naturally after the abandonment of areas used by men) accounted for 32.1%, and agriculture, to 15.2%.

Photo: Eliária Andrade/Ag O Globo

In absolute terms, the devastation is concentrated in the dense rain: 60% of the removed trees were standing there. The biggest loss was recorded in Pará (1.2 billion trees), followed by Maranhão (584 million), Mato Grosso (281 million) and Rondônia (214 million). Of the still existing 17.6 billion trees in 2002, the highest concentration is in the state of Amazonas (7.4 billion), followed by Pará (5.2 billion) and Mato Grosso (1.7 billion).

Photo: Eliária Andrade/Ag O Globo

The Amazon region covers 5,016,136.3 km2, which represents 59% of the country. In it live around 24 million people. The Amazon biome, the most extended of the Brazilian biomes, corresponds to 1/3 of the rainforests on the planet, has the highest biodiversity, the largest genetic database, and 1/5 of the availability of drinking water worldwide.

Photo: Eliária Andrade/Ag O Globo

I end this article with some words written by Chris Bueno, on his blog “O Verde do Brasil”:
“In Brazil the colour green is seriously threatened. Although it is crying in the wilderness to state that you need a series of measures to preserve our environmental wealth, and raise awareness and educate both the entire population and the authorities, this statement still holds true – and is getting very urgent. Otherwise, we run the serious risk of losing all our green – even the green in our flag”.

Aerial view of an area deforested by soybean farmers in Novo Progreso, Pará, Brazil - Photo: Alberto Cesar/Greenpeace

Photo: Eliária Andrade/Ag O Globo