MEXICO & THE AMERICAS

Brazil says rate of Amazon deforestation up for first time in years

Deforestation of Brazilian Amazon picks up speed after years of slowing

The  deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil increased by 29% in the last recorded year, according to figures released Wednesday by the country's National Institute for Space Research, or INPE.

It is the first time the deforestation rate has increased since 2008, and the report comes as environmental issues move to the center of Brazil's October presidential election.

According to the study, carried out by satellite imaging, the Brazilian region of the world's largest rain forest lost 2,275 square miles, nearly five times the area of the city of Los Angeles, from August 2012 through July 2013.

Despite the jump, the space agency noted that this is still the second-lowest number since it began monitoring deforestation in 1988, when more than 7,700 square miles were lost.

“The result indicates there is effectiveness in combating deforestation, particularly since the 2004 creation of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon,” the report says.

Brazil's environment minister in 2004 was Marina Silva, who is now narrowly ahead in polls and poised to defeat incumbent Dilma Rousseff for the presidency next month. If she wins, she would be considered Brazil's first environmentalist president as well as the first president from the Amazon region.

But despite a relative slowing of the speed of destruction in the last decade, the Amazon has continued to shrink every year. Some of its trees are cleared for timber, but more are cleared to create grazing land for agriculture.

The rate of deforestation increased recently most quickly in the states of Mato Grosso, in the middle of Brazil's soy boom, and Maranhao, where armed indigenous residents recently captured and expelled illegal loggers from their land.

In 2012, Brazil's Congress passed a new forestry code governing the Amazon and deforestation. The law was seen as a step forward from the lawlessness that preceded it but was criticized by environmental groups that disagreed with provisions that would give amnesty to illegal Amazon destroyers.

Most analysts consider the pro-development agricultural bloc the most powerful alliance in Brazil's legislature.

Bevins is a special correspondent.

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