The destruction of the Amazon forest in Brazil fell to its lowest level on record as improved surveillance technology and policing slowed the expansion of the agricultural frontier.
In the 12 months through July 2012, deforestation in the world’s largest rain forest totaled 4,656 square kilometers (1.2 million acres), a 27 percent fall from the previous period and the smallest area since the series began in 1988, according to data released by the Environment Ministry today.
“This is the only positive environmental news the planet had this year,” Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told reporters in Brasilia. “We will create a model for environmental control in this country.”
Brazil is closing legal loopholes to fine infractors and starting next year will use cutting-edge satellite monitoring technology to spot slash-and-burn activity, Teixeira said. Environmental officials showed reporters photos of camouflaged tractors used to clear land that were hiding under the forest canopy and were seized during a police sweep.
While improved controls and growing environmental awareness have helped reduce deforestation 83 percent since 2004, detecting and controlling smaller infractors is more challenging, said Paulo Moutinho, executive director at the Environmental Research Institute of the Amazon.
“It is increasingly difficult to bring deforestation down,” Moutinho said by telephone in Brasilia. “This is a big test for the government.”
Cattle ranchers, farmers, loggers and settlers have destroyed nearly 20 percent of the Amazon, government data shows. During Brazil’s 1964-85 military rule, the government built roads and provided incentives for Brazilians to settle the vast forest hinterland.
Brazil’s target is to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80 percent from 2005 levels to 3,925 square kilometers annually by 2020.