July 28, 2010

Using Enforcement Response to Reduce Deforestation Rates in Brazil

Treehugger posits that credit is due to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, for the  observed declining rates of deforestation in Brazil.

Between 2000 and 2008, the Amazon rainforest lost an average of 18,786 km² annually; last year, that number was down to 7,464 km² last year — evidence of a shift in tactics. Ten years ago, says [IBAMA director Luciano] Evaristo, IBAMA was “looking blindly for deforestation,” with “no tools” to catch deforestation operations before it was too late. Even simple factors like cloud cover would make monitoring parts of the Amazon virtually impossible, and those cutting down the trees knew that.

In the past, IBAMA agents would essentially just drive around, trying to catch farmers and ranchers in the act. But even if a farmer or ranger was found to be illegally deforesting their land, the fines imposed on them were often contested in an endless legal battle. Amazingly, less than 1 percent of fines for deforesting have ever been paid.

After 27,772 km² of forest was deforested in 2004, the highest rate ever recorded, it became clear that these old enforcement methods really weren’t effective.

Since then, advances in technology and better enforcement methods have changed the way IBAMA operates. A recently launched satellite, developed with the help of the Chinese, allows the enforcement agency to peer through clouds, greatly enhancing their monitoring ability. Every 15 days, IBAMA receives new satellite imagery showing the latest spots where deforestation is taking place, allowing officers to close down such operations much more quickly than they could before.

Those caught illegally deforesting their land, usually farmers and ranchers making room for cattle or crops, can now expect a harder hit to their pocketbooks. Instead of only imposing fines, now enforcement agents seek to “decapitalize the crime,” says Evaristo. Deforesting cattle ranchers can now expect to have their livestock seized, while farmers’ crops will be forced to rot in the ground. Those caught with illegal timber operations, too, may be squeezed out of business; IBAMA posts the names of those landowners on their Web site for the world to see.

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