Brazil: Amnesty for deforesters who have been required to replant?

A blow up in Brazil over a reduction in how much area rural landholders in one part of the Amazon have to replant, with environmental activists slamming what they said amounts to an amnesty. “This move is an amnesty, a pardon for those who engaged in deforestation and who haven’t replanted,” the country campaign director for Greenpeace, Sergio Leitao, told AFP.

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The dispute comes from an interpretation of the forestry law, which normally requires landowners in the Amazon to preserve or reforest 80 percent of their properties — but which is reduced to just 50 percent in areas considered “degraded.” The measure was being applied to 11,667 square kilometers (4,500 square miles) of forest along a Brazilian national highway, the BR-163, which cuts through the Amazon states of Mato Grosso and Para — two regions severely hit by deforestation. There, owners will only be obliged to reforest half their land, Para authorities said, adding, however, that they had more than doubled the area in the state earmarked for reforestation. Environment Minister Carlos Minc defended the decision, telling AFP in a telephone interview: “We are not allowing any more farming, or ranching or deforestation.”

“We are rigorously applying the law and this says that in degraded areas, as in this case, 50 percent has to be replanted.” Greenpeace said the affected zone suffered illegal land occupation, deforestation and violence since the dirt highway was built in the 1970s, allowing easy access to previously virgin woodland. The government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has announced it will have the road sealed, which would increase ease of access. Instead of reactivating an environmental conservation plan for the area, the government “has freed of responsibility anybody who engaged in deforestation and makes them reforest only 50 percent, and not 80 percent,” Leitao said.

Paulo Moutinho, of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said any reduction in reforestation was a “step backwards” in the fight against climate change. But he acknowledged the interpretation of the law was valid, and said the main thing was that reforestation was carried out.

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