Loading...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Brazil Gambles on Monitoring of Amazon Loggers


Aerial view of an area deforested in Brazil - deforestation is the second biggest contributer to climate change

New York Times -- A Brazilian government plan set to go into effect this year will bring large-scale logging deep into the heart of the Amazon rain forest for the first time, in a calculated gamble that new monitoring efforts can offset any danger of increased devastation.

The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in an attempt to create Brazil’s first coherent, effective forest policy, is to begin auctioning off timber rights to large tracts of the rain forest. The winning bidders will not have title to the land or the right to exploit resources other than timber, and the government says they will be closely monitored and will pay a royalty on their activities.

The architects of the plan say it will also help reduce tensions over land ownership in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest, which loses an area the size of New Jersey every year to clear-cutting and timbering.

In theory, 70 percent of the jungle is public land, but miners, ranchers and especially loggers have felt free to establish themselves in unpoliced areas, strip the land of valuable resources and then move on, mostly in the so-called arc of destruction on the eastern and southern fringes of the jungle.

But the called-for monitoring of the loggers allowed into the rain forest’s largely untouched center will come from a new, untested Forest Service with only 150 employees and from state and municipal governments. That concerns environmental and civic groups because local officials are more vulnerable to the pressures of powerful economic interests and to corruption.

Further, the new system assumes that the world community will also play a part and buy timber only from merchants who are properly licensed and will avoid unscrupulous dealers.

The plan “can be a good idea in places where the situation is already chaotic,” said Philip Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus who recently visited this remote area. “But it’s a different story in areas where hardly any logging or deforestation has taken place, where you are actually going to be encouraging the introduction of predatory forces that don’t exist there now.”

On paper and in principle, said Stephan Schwartzman, an Amazon specialist at Environmental Defense in Washington, “I think everyone agrees that this system is an improvement over the current situation, which is totally out of control.”

But in the end, he added, “everything is going to depend on how it is done and whether the financial and human resources are there to make it work.”

Here in this small settlement called Reality, along the rutted Highway BR-319, those resources do not yet exist, as residents have discovered. When outsiders recently appeared to fish out of season, wiping out protected species and killing three manatees, the peasants here went to the authorities looking for help, only to be turned away.

“They told us that we had to be the monitors ourselves, but we don’t have the ability to do that,” said Antonio Marfoni, a settler. “There’s no working phone here, and we don’t have the money or the time to be able to take the bus into town to denounce violations.”

Last October, during the final debate of the presidential campaign, the opposition candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, called the plan “irresponsible,” accused Mr. da Silva of wanting to “privatize the Amazon” and added, “If today there is no supervision, imagine what will happen if you hand it over to the private sector.”

Though the environmental movement was one of the founding constituencies of Mr. da Silva’s Workers’ Party, he made it clear after being re-elected to another four year term that his main goal was to get the Brazilian economy growing at 5 percent a year.

In November, he complained of “all the obstacles I have with the environment” and with “the Indian question,” which he said were hindering Brazil’s development.

But the proposal’s supporters dismiss criticisms as unfounded. Jorge Viana, who is a member of Mr. da Silva’s party and was governor of the Amazon state of Acre until Jan. 1, contends that “this is one of the most important initiatives that Brazil has ever adopted in the Amazon precisely because you are bringing the forest under state control, not privatizing it.”

“This is a battle Brazil has to win,” he added. “There’s only one way to save the forest, and that is by using it, responsibly and rationally.”

Claudio Langone, executive secretary of the Environment Ministry, said in a telephone interview from Brasília: “Brazil today is losing money due to the illegal exploitation of timber. With this new dynamic of management, legal deforestation and sustainable development, we want to create barriers to predatory advancement and increase the value of the forest.”

But some here fear that increased value will bring with it the kind of violence that has struck other more-developed areas of the Amazon.

Ivonete Aparecida Paes, a Roman Catholic nun who is the coordinator of the church’s Justice and Peace Commission in this area, said, “Since none of the settlers already here have titles to their tracts, that creates the possibility of greater conflicts over land ownership.”

After much debate, it was decided that the leases would run for 30 years. But Paulo Adario, director of Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign, said that “some species need 45 years or more to regenerate,” and that loggers might thus lack an economic incentive to care properly for a tract that would no longer be theirs when the trees they replaced reached harvestable size.

Already, there are signs of logging interests establishing themselves here. A sawmill opened just down the highway in mid-2005 and was operating at full capacity during a recent visit. Along the highway itself, there is now a clearing in which logs are piled haphazardly, like giant sticks.

“No one has the authorization to cut so much wood, even with a forest management plan,” said Leila Mattos, the director of Pacto Amazônico, an environmental group based in Humaitá, the closest town of any size. “I came by here at the beginning of November, and none of this was here. This is more than a year’s worth of timber.”

In addition, peasant settlers unable to obtain land of their own in Rondonia, a state south of here, have also begun moving up the highway and flocking to the area. Theirs is a pre-emptive action, aimed at establishing themselves on land that may go to logging companies later and thus forcing the government to give them other homesteads in return.

During an interview in Humaitá, Francisco Araujo, the director of the regional office of the governmental environmental agency, said that no matter who ended up in charge of supervising the timber extraction plan, the task would be hard. He complained of a shortage of gasoline and personnel and a lack of police protection for his agents.

“In reality, these conservation areas were created without very precise field studies,” Mr. Araujo said. “Only now are the technicians looking at the problems in the area. The infrastructure is very precarious. There is no equipment or physical base from which to operate, just a shack in which to stay, without a telephone.”

In the absence of the needed resources, he said, government policy envisions “a new partnership with society.” But those who work most closely with the peasant settlers who are being asked to bear that burden remain skeptical.

“To think that they can monitor violations in the absence of the state is a dream,” Sister Paes said. “The Amazon has no tradition of the poor standing up to the powerful. People simply don’t know how to do that.”

No comments: