Response

Bruna and Kainer imply that Brazil’s Amazonian road building could help to promote “community-based timber management, the extraction of nontimber forest products, and other strategies advocated for slowing deforestation.” Our collective experience in Amazonia over the past quarter century suggests otherwise. Although their optimistic view may apply in a few, rather rare situations, it seems entirely foreign to the major hotbeds of deforestation.

For example, when completed, the Cuiabá-Santarém Highway (BR-163), one of the top priorities of the Brazilian federal government, is likely to create an 800-km-long swath of forest degradation across southern Amazonia. The highway will transport soybeans from Mato Grosso to the Amazon port of Santarém, almost entirely for the benefit of large corporations and landholders (1). The planned route is already swarming with land speculators, cut-and-run loggers, cattle ranchers, and soybean investors. BR-163 typifies the ecological impacts that often accompany major new highways in the Amazonian frontier (2–4).

Moreover, we do not advocate a “sweeping rejection” of proposed transportation and infrastructure projects in Brazilian Amazonia. We do, however, believe that a limited subset of the proposed projects—particularly those that would create major corridors between densely populated areas and the remote Amazonian frontier—will be so damaging environmentally that their potential societal and economic benefits are clearly outweighed (1–5).

The notion that society has “needs” for new infrastructure, whereas it merely has concerns for the environment and its services, is a false dichotomy that implicitly will always lead to choices in favor of infrastructure. The implied conclusion that planned projects should never be rejected or delayed, but only “balanced” with environmental add-ons, would clearly imperil Amazonian forests (5). Current efforts to reduce rampant forest loss are likely to fail, we believe, unless the Brazilian government addresses one of the most fundamental causes of forest destruction: the dramatic proliferation of new transportation projects throughout the heart of the Amazon basin.

References

   1. P. M. Fearnside, Environ. Conserv. 28, 23 (2001).

   2. W. F. Laurance et al., Science 291, 438 (2001).

   3. P. M. Fearnside, Environ. Manage. 30, 735 (2002).

   4. W. F. Laurance et al., J. Biogeogr. 29, 737 (2002).

   5. W. F. Laurance, P. M. Fearnside. Science 295, 1643 (2002).