Trees wait to be cut into lumber at sawmill in Amazon Basin
Rickey Rogers  /  Reuters
Trees cut from virgin Amazon rainforest await milling in the Amazon town of Vila Rica in Mato Grosso State.
msnbc.com news services
updated 5/19/2005 4:22:34 PM ET 2005-05-19T20:22:34

Deforestation in the Amazon in 2004 was the second worst ever as more rain forest was cleared for soy farms and cattle ranches, according to new figures released by the Brazilian government.

Satellite photos and data showed 10,088 square miles of rain forest were destroyed in the 12 months ending in August 2004, the Brazilian Environmental Ministry said.

The destruction was nearly 6 percent more than in the same period the year before.

The deforestation hit record numbers in 1995, when the Amazon shrank a record 11,200 square miles, an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.

Governor is world's biggest soy farmer
Nearly half the total deforestation took place in Mato Grosso state, whose Gov. Blairo Maggi’s farming operations are the world’s single largest soy producer. Soy is the country’s biggest farm export, equal to about $10 billion last year.

“Maggi is the king of deforestation, but the (nation's) Supreme Court ... also bears an immense responsibility for this disaster,” said Paulo Adario, the head of Greenpeace’s Amazon program.

Aerial view of advancing deforestation in Amazon Basin
Rickey Rogers  /  Reuters
Virgin Amazon rainforest is seen bordering an area of hundreds of acres of farmland that was jungle until recently.
Maggi representatives were not immediately available for comment. 

The Amazon forest — which sprawls over 1.6 million square miles and covers more than half the country — is a key component of the global environment. The jungle is sometimes called the world’s “lungs” because its billions of trees produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It also is home to up to 30 percent of the world’s animal and plant species.

As Brazil grabs an ever larger slice of global agricultural trade, environmentalists have worried that the expansion of soy and cattle farming into the Amazon will be impossible to stop.

“It’s a tragedy, a demonstration that more needs to be done by the government,” Adario said. “Clearly, Amazon deforestation is not one of the government’s priorities right now.”

$140 million in protection was promised
Government officials were expecting an increase in destruction of only about 2 percent. The new figures were announced nearly a year after the Brazilian government announced a $140 million package to curtail destruction.

“We will intensify our actions to fight illegal deforestation in the most critical areas,” Environment Minister Marina Silva said in a statement.

She noted that deforestation in several Amazon states decreased compared to the previous period thanks to the government’s efforts to implement “more lasting and effective” measures.

Brazil’s rain forest is as big as western Europe and covers 60 percent of the country’s territory. Experts say as much as 20 percent has already been destroyed by development, logging and farming.

Last year, the government announced that 9,170 square miles of rain forest had vanished in 2003, but on Wednesday it corrected the figure to 9,500 square miles.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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