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In Brazil, Deforestation Is Up, And So Is The Risk Of Tree Extinction

In Brazil's western state of Rondonia, a patch of the forest burns near a small farm.
In Brazil's western state of Rondonia, a patch of the forest burns near a small farm.

The rate of deforestation in Brazil has increased by 16 percent over the past year, the country's Environment Ministry announced.

Brazil has often declared progress in reducing the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, but the government's own figures, released Thursday, show the challenges still facing the country.

Satellite imagery showed that 2,251 square miles were destroyed in Brazil's Amazon from August 2014 to July 2015, compared with 1,935 square miles destroyed in the same period a year earlier.

Earlier this month, before these figures were released, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from the Amazon:

In Rondonia, a small Amazonian state in western Brazil, the environmental police just had their only helicopter taken away in budget cuts. The people on the ground tell us that deforestation is "out of control."

Thursday's figures showed that Rondonia experienced a 41 percent increase in deforestation. Again, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reporting earlier this month:

According to the government figures, the rate of deforestation is down dramatically over the past decade. And there's a general consensus this is true. But critics say the numbers don't tell the whole story because so much of the Amazon has already been damaged or destroyed. And the country is still losing about 2,000 square miles of jungle each year.

Deforestation in Rondonia has increased by 41 percent.
Kainaz Amaria / NPR
Deforestation in Rondonia has increased by 41 percent.

Meanwhile, in a separate study published last week, an international team of more than 150 scientists reported that due to deforestation, "at least 36 percent and up to 57 percent of all Amazonian tree species are likely to qualify as globally threatened under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria."

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorizes the world's species according to risk of extinction.

Last week's study, published Nov. 20 in the journal Science Advances, examined 15,000 different Amazonian tree species. "If confirmed," the authors write, "these results would increase the number of threatened plant species on Earth by 22 percent."

In addition to contributing to degradation and loss of habitat, deforestation also emits greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Global leaders, including those from the Amazon region, will gather in Paris starting Nov. 30 for the United Nations conference on climate change.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.