Science, Vol 304,
Issue 5674, 1109-1111 , 21 May 2004
Deforestation in AmazoniaIn recent years,
we and others have identified critical threats posed to the forests
of Amazonia by the Brazilian government's plans to dramatically
expand highways and other major infrastructure projects in the
Our conclusions have been disputed by elements of the Brazilian
which assert that a key assumption of our spatial models--that new
roads and highways will continue to promote large-scale Amazonian
deforestation, as they have done in the past--no longer applies.
This is so, they argue, because of improvements in frontier
governance and environmental-law enforcement, as well as changes in
Brazilian public attitudes toward forests (7-10).
As a consequence, the Brazilian government is proceeding with the
largest expansion of highways, roads, power lines, gas lines,
hydroelectric reservoirs, railroads, and river-channelization
projects in the history of the Amazon (1-6).
In 2002 and 2003, the rate of deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia
climbed to nearly 2.4 million hectares per year (see
figure)--equivalent to 11 football fields a minute. This
increase mostly resulted from rapid destruction of seasonal forest
types in the southern and eastern parts of the basin; relative to
preceding years (1990-2001), forest loss shot up by 48% in the
states of Pará, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, and Acre (11).
The increase was evidently driven by rising deforestation and land
speculation along new highways and planned highway routes (12),
and the dramatic growth of Amazonian cattle ranching (13)
and industrial soybean farming (6,
Soybean farms promote some forest clearing directly, but have a much
greater impact on deforestation by consuming cleared land, savanna,
and ecotonal forests, thereby pushing ranchers and slash-and-burn
farmers ever deeper into the forest frontier. Equally important,
soybean farming provides a key economic and political impetus for
massive infrastructure projects, which accelerate deforestation by
other actors (6,
Anticipating public alarm about the new deforestation figures,
the Brazilian government recently announced new measures designed to
slow Amazon forest loss. These measures include increased satellite
monitoring of deforestation and the involvement of additional
ministries--not just the Ministry of Environment--in efforts to
reduce illegal deforestation and forest burning (12).
These measures, in concert with the establishment of new protected
or multiple-use areas in Amapa, Amazonas, and Acre, are a move in
the right direction.
The new measures do not go far enough, however. They fail to
address one of the most critical drivers of forest destruction: the
rapid proliferation of new highways and other infrastructure, which
greatly increases physical access to the Amazonian frontier. The
Brazilian government plans to create interministerial working groups
to recommend ways to reduce or mitigate project impacts, but is not
considering the cancellation or significant delay of any major
project. Indeed, just days after announcing the new
anti-deforestation package, Brazilian President Lula demanded that
his federal ministers find ways to circumvent environmental and
other impediments to stalled infrastructure projects throughout the
country, including 18 hydroelectric dams and 10,000 km of highways
In the Amazon, new
transportation projects frequently lead to a dramatic rise in
illegal deforestation, logging, mining, and hunting activities (1-6).
If Brazil criss-crosses the basin with thousands of kilometers of
such projects, the net result, our models suggest, will be not only
further increases in forest destruction, but fragmentation of
surviving forests on an unprecedented spatial scale (1,
Many of the government's recently announced measures to slow forest
loss are positive steps, but if it does not curtail its aggressive
plans for infrastructure expansion, Brazil will fail to address one
of the most critical root causes of Amazonian deforestation.
| Deforestation in Brazilian
Amazonia since 1990. Data are from Brazil's
National Space Agency (the fitted regression line shows the
overall trend). The increase in annual deforestation is
significant by both parametric (F1,12 =
8.22, R2 = 40.7%, P =
0.014; linear regression with log-transformed deforestation
data) and nonparametric (Rs =
0.717, P = 0.004; Spearman rank correlation) tests.
William F. Laurance,*
Tropical Research Institute,
Ana K. M. Albernaz,
Museu Paraense Emílio
Avenida Perimetral 190,
Philip M. Fearnside,
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia,
Heraldo L. Vasconcelos,
Universidade Federal de Uberlândia,
Leandro V. Ferreira
Museu Paraense Emílio
Avenida Perimetral 190,
*To whom correspondence should
References and Notes
- W. F. Laurance et al., Science
- W. F. Laurance, A. K. M. Albernaz, C. Da Costa, Environ.
Conserv. 28, 305 (2001).
- G. Carvalho, A. C. Barros, P. Moutinho, D. C. Nepstad,
Nature 409, 131 (2001).
- D. C. Nepstad et al., Forest Ecol. Manage.
154, 295 (2001).
- W. F. Laurance et al., J. Biogeogr.
29, 737 (2002).
- P. M. Fearnside, Environ. Manage.
30, 748 (2002).
- D. Weber, "Ministério contesta estudo sobre devastação," O
Estado de S. Paulo, 21 January 2001.
- S. S. do Amaral, "Threat to the Amazon," The
Independent, 26 January 2001.
- R. Goidanich, Science dEbates, 26 January 2001 (www.sciencemag.org/cgi/eletters/291/5503/438).
- J. P. Silveira et al., Science
292, 1651 (2001).
- The net deforestation rate in these four states increased from
1.43 million ha year-1 from 1990-2001 to 2.12 million
ha year-1 in 2002-2003, based on data from the
Brazilian National Space Agency (http://www.inpe.br/). Deforestation
data for 2003 are a preliminary estimate.
- Grupo Permanente de Trabalho Interministerial para a Redução
dos Índices de Desmatamento da Amazônia Legal, Plano de Ação
para a Prevenção e Controle do Desmatamento da Amazônia Legal
(Presidência da República, Casa Civil, Brasília, 2004).
- D. Kaimowitz, B. Mertens, S. Wunder, P. Pacheco, Hamburger
Connection Fuels Amazon Destruction (Tech. Rep., Center for
International Forest Research, Bogor, Indonesia, 2004).
- P. M. Fearnside, Environ. Conserv.
28, 23 (2001).
- "Lula quer a retomada de obras paralisadas," Amazonas em
Tempo (Manaus, Brazil), 21 March 2004.
Related articles in Science:
The Future of the
- William F. Laurance, Mark A. Cochrane, Scott Bergen, Philip M.
Fearnside, Patricia Delamônica, Christopher Barber, Sammya
D'Angelo, and Tito Fernandes
Science 2001 291: 438-439. (in
Policy Forum) [Summary]
Volume 304, Number 5674, Issue of 21 May 2004, pp. 1109-1111.
Copyright © 2004 by The American Association for the
Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.