updated 6/3/2008 4:37:15 PM ET 2008-06-03T20:37:15

Destruction of the Amazon seems to be on the upswing, and Brazil's environment minister has wasted no time in aiming at a villain: Cattle.

The minister, Carlos Minc, says Brazil's government will impound cattle caught grazing on illegally cleared pastures with an operation, dubbed "Rogue Bull," to attack deforestation in the rain forest.

"The price of meat and soy has skyrocketed and there is a historic relationship between prices and deforestation," Minc said as he announced the new measures late Monday.

Officials are going after livestock because ranchers routinely find ways to avoid fines for illegal logging by felling public forests for grazing land.

After three years of decline, Amazon deforestation appears to be on the upswing.

Government researchers said Monday that preliminary data indicate the Amazon lost at least 2,258 square miles of forest cover from August to April 2008. That was up from 1,920 square miles over the same period a year before.

The Amazon's 73 million cows outnumber the human population by about three to one and feeding them is the biggest driver of deforestation.

Cattle pasture already covers 7.8 percent of Brazil's 1.6-million-square-mile Amazon region, according to the National Statistics Institute.

Burning to clear new or overgrown pasture in the Amazon region accounts for about 75 percent of Brazil's total greenhouse gas emissions.

On top of that, cows themselves are living greenhouse-gas machines, emitting methane, one of the gases blamed for global warming.

Rogue Bull is the latest in a series of operations to crack down on profits from illegally cutting the rain forest.

Brazil's environmental protection agency in May seized 4,300 tons of grain, mostly soy and corn, grown on illegally deforested land.

The government also says it will start denying loans to farmers who have ignored requirements to leave 80 percent of their forested areas standing.

The measures have been opposed by powerful ranchers and farmers in the region, particularly Blairo Maggi, governor of the Amazon state of Mato Grosso and one of the world's largest soy producers.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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