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Development outpaces conservation in Amazon rain forest
The stakes are high and the battle is being lost.
If current land-use trends continue, almost half of the Amazon rain forest could vanish over the next 20 years, a study published in the journal Science notes.
A $40 billion government project in Brazil, known as "Advance Brazil," involves the construction and repair of highways, railroads, pipelines and hydroelectric programs, and it could overwhelm ongoing efforts to promote conservation planning in the region, the study finds.
Using satellite data to paint detailed images of the impact of similar development projects in the past, the researchers developed models of what the proposed project would do to Brazil's section of the Amazon.
"We're basically talking about losing rain forest land the size of Rhode Island each year," said co-author of the study Mark Cochrane, a professor at Michigan State University. "We're trying to map out the implications and let them know what the consequences are. We feel this hasn't been looked at yet."
Deforestation in the Amazon is not a new trend. Totaling an area larger than the lower 48 states, the rain forest loses about 5 million acres a year and has the highest deforestation rate in the world. The study is one of the first attempts to look at the wider range of causes, including population growth, pipeline construction, roads, power lines, an influx of multinational timber companies, slash-and-burn farming, ranching, mining and oil exploration.
Many of the Advance Brazil projects could create passageways between densely populated areas and the remote Amazonian frontier, exposing the area to unsustainable development and increased rainforest destruction, the authors note.
If the Amazon disappears so will much of the planet's biodiversity.
The variety of trees in the Amazon alone indicates the wealth of species in the region, estimated to accommodate 50 percent of the world's biodiversity. While in North America there are up to 25 different species of trees per hectare (2.47 acres), as many as 300 different species may be found in a hectare in the Amazon rain forest.
The Amazon also shelters one fifth of the world's fresh water and helps combat regional and global climate change.
"Part of what's important about this report is we tried to tie together a lot of different components that often are not considered, but have long term impacts on land use," said Scott Bergen, a specialist in geographic information systems, remote sensing and spatial ecology, who contributed to the study. "The ultimate conclusion is that despite the best efforts of many people and hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on conservation, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has not decreased and in some places in still increasing."
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