Jump in deforestation in Mato Grosso in 2011 according to Imazon, a research institute.

IBAMA, Brazil’s equivalent of the EPA, is suspending 1,300 planned operations for 2011 in order to concentrate on curbing a spike in regional deforestation through a two-pronged strategy of greater institutional presence and reciprocal agreements with local municipal governments.

Following a series of meetings in the Amazonian states of Pará, Mato Grosso, and Amazonas between IBAMA and political leaders, landowners, ranchers, and environmentalists, IBAMA announced a “Zero Deforestation Pact” last Wednesday in cooperation with the Federal Public Ministry (Ministério Público Federal). The increased emphasis on Amazonian forest protection follows the release of an IBAMA document obtained by Folha revealing a jump in Amazonian deforestation that the government believes is related to proposed changes to relax the Forest Code, a debate which has given confidence to those deforesting.

IBAMA is deploying agents en masse to the Amazon region. Folha reports that 520 officers are in the region now, and another sixty will arrive this week. This increase in institutional presence, however, should be placed in the context of the scope of IBAMA’s jurisdiction: according to Lesley McAllister, a policy expert at the University of San Diego’s School of Law, in 2008 there was only one IBAMA employee per 800,000 hectares in the Amazonian states of Pará and Tocantins. Likely due to IBAMA’s limited capacity, the agency has announced that it will focus its “Zero Deforestation” campaign in eleven priority regions, most in the state of Pará and areas that have been the target of prior campaigns to combat deforestation. Novo Progresso, Redenção, and São Félix do Xingu are priority zones in Pará, along with Sinop in Mato Grosso and Lábrea in Amazonas. If there is not an overall decrease in deforestation, other predetermined areas in these states will be added to IBAMA’s priority list.

To put the “Zero Deforestation” policy into effect, IBAMA will rely on increased cooperation with local municipalities and cattle ranchers. In exchange for municipalities ensuring no new deforestation, IBAMA will suspend seizures of cattle in environmentally fragile areas, a move it says allows property owners time to adjust to environmental legislation. The General Coordinator for Environmental Inspection, Bruno Barbosa, said that seizures of cattle and equipment are merely instruments to reach the agency’s central objective of decreasing deforestation. Barbosa added that continued leniency regarding cattle seizures was dependent on the prioritized areas’ ability to uphold their end of the deal by preventing new outbreaks of deforestation. This sentiment was echoed by IBAMA’s president, Curt Trennepohl, who stated that it did not make sense to continue programs to combat illegal animal trafficking when the animals’ rainforest habitat was so threatened. Accordingly, Trennepohl said, resources would be moved to the primary challenge of slowing deforestation.

With news of rising rates of Amazonian deforestation, IBAMA will be under further pressure to halt deforestation. The agency’s limited capability is reflected in its abandonment of lesser objectives to focus all its energy on halting deforestation. IBAMA’s new “Zero Deforestation” policy, with its concessions to local agents of deforestation, is an attempt to increase compliance with environmental law given IBAMA’s current ineffective measures.

Brazil’s Globo Natureza news agency reports that less than one percent of the total value of fines levied by IBAMA for environmental infractions were collected between 2005 and 2010. This past year, IBAMA collected only 0.2 percent of fines issued. The agency also issued 42 percent fewer fines in 2010 than in 2005. Even so, IBAMA issued more than a billion reals in fines in the state of Pará alone in 2010 for crimes including deforestation, forest fires, and the illegal sale of wood. Without the ability to enforce these fines and in the context of a large scale of infractions, IBAMA’s new “Zero Deforestation” policy has given incentives and concessions to local governments and cattle ranchers in areas of high deforestation in exchange for what the agency hopes will be cooperation on stemming further deforestation in Amazonia.


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