Crucial illegal road threatens Amazon rainforest

Crucial illegal road threatens Amazon rainforest

An illegal dirt road ripping through protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon is now just a few miles shy of connecting two of the worst areas of deforestation in the region, according to satellite images and accounts from people familiar with the area. The road will make a vast area of forest disappear, putting it under the pressure of human activity from all directions.

Environmentalists have been warning about just this kind of development in the rainforest for decades. Because roads are important, most of the deforestation takes place alongside them. This is where land values and access are higher.

On the east side of the new road is a massively-deforested area where Brazil’s largest cattle herd, 2. 4 million head, now grazes. This municipality of Sao Felix do Xingu is the country’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, thanks to deforestation, according to Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups. It is roughly the size of Maine and has a population of 136,000.

To the west is an area where three years ago ranchers coordinated the burning of several swaths of virgin forest in an episode famously known as the Day of Fire. This municipality, larger than Maryland, is Brazil’s eighth-largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Wedged between them is the Xingu Basin. It is home to the Xingu River, which runs through it. This river is the principal tributary of the Amazon River. It begins in the drier Cerrado biome, surrounded by tens of thousands of square miles of protected areas.

The Xingu River is home to several Indigenous peoples, who are now pressed on both sides by an onslaught of settlers who have built a large network of dirt roads and illegal airstrips. Experts say the stakes are too high.

The opportunities for new deforestation “in the center of the corridor of protected areas of the Xingu brings the risk of an irreversible breaking of the Amazon rainforest, dividing it into islands of degraded forest, which does not have the strength to resist climate change. To sustain resilience in the endangered biome, we need to preserve and maintain large forest corridors,” Biviany Rojas (the program coordinator at Socio-Environmental Institute), a Brazilian non-profit told the Associated Press.

Almost half of Brazil’s climate pollution comes from deforestation, according to Climate Observatory. According to a Nature study, the east Amazon has become a source of carbon and is no longer a carbon sink or absorber for the Earth.

” “They come to deforest and extract timber, and to dig for golden,” Mydjere Kayapo, an Indigenous leader told the AP by phone. His people, the Kayapo, have suffered invasions from loggers and gold miners, who contaminate rivers with mud and mercury, co-opt leaders and provoke internal division.

The new road was discovered earlier in the year. According to satellite images analyzed by a network of nonprofits called Xingu+ and reviewed by the AP, it is 27 miles (43 kilometers) long. The road runs through two protected areas, Terra do Meio (Middle Earth), an federal unit and Iriri State Forest. Both are well-known for their deforestation rate.

From January to August, Terra do Meio alone lost 9 square miles (24 square kilometers) of forest, and Iriri lost 6 square kilometers (2 square miles) of rainforest along the illegal road. Xingu+ filed a report in July about the illegal road building to Brazil’s attorney General.

The city of Novo Progresso is also west of the new road. In recent days, the city has been covered by thick smoke from wildfires, deliberately set. On Monday alone, satellite sensors picked up 331 outbreaks of fire in the municipality, according to monitoring from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. August, which falls in the dry season, is typically the second worst month for both deforestation and fire.

Brazil’s federal agency ICMBio, which manages protected areas, and Para’s secretary of environment, didn’t respond to AP emails seeking comment about the illegal road. These are the agencies responsible for protecting the areas flanking the road.

Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the area deforested in Brazil’s Amazon has reached a 15-year high, according to official data. Prodes at the space agency said the national monitoring systems showed the Brazilian Amazon lost more than 5,000 square miles (13,200 square kilometers) of rainforest in the 12 months from Aug. 2020 to July 2021. Up to the end of this year, new data will be available.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.

The post Crucial illegal road threatens Amazon rainforest appeared first on Associated Press.