Brazil — Environmental police in Brazil seized the equivalent of 400 truckloads of wood in a major raid on illegal loggers, the government said on Wednesday, the latest effort to curb destruction of the Amazon rain forest.
During the surprise raid in Nova Esperanca do Piria, 120 miles east of Belem city, police shut down 13 logging companies and sawmills, and seized tractors, guns, and ammunition, Environment Minister Carlos Minc said during a visit to the remote jungle site. The owners fled the area.
The crackdown is the latest in a series of measures by the government to meet a new target of reducing destruction of the Amazon forest by 50 percent during the next decade.
“We are determined to slash deforestation — this operation is a warning to illegal loggers,” Minc told Reuters.
Brazil’s government last year abandoned years of opposition to deforestation targets and is now under pressure to show the world community and critics at home that it can deliver, particularly ahead of a major climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.
Minc aims to reduce deforestation to about 3,700 square miles (9,500 sq km) in the 12 months through July, the lowest on record and down from 4,600 square miles (11,900 sq km) the year earlier.
Each year advancing loggers, ranchers and farmers cut huge swathes of forest in search of cheap land.
In an attempt to prevent social unrest in Nova Esperanca, where most of the 32,000 inhabitants depend on the timber industry, the government pledged welfare measures and alternative economic activities.
Seeking alternatives to logging
The steps include unemployment benefits, food baskets and plots of land for the poorest. The estimated 5 million reais ($2.24 million) in proceeds from the sale of the impounded wood will finance local infrastructure projects where redundant loggers will be hired.
“We want to reduce the potential for unrest by bringing not only repression but also alternative economic solutions,” Minc said. “Neither works alone.”
Last year similar police operations in other areas caused violent protests in which loggers took officials hostage and fled with the impounded tree trunks.
Since he took office 10 months ago, Minc has cut credit to illegal ranchers and farmers and impounded beef and soy products from deforested areas. He also struck deals with timber and grain wholesalers as well as banks to boycott products of illegal origin.
But critics say President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government remains deeply divided over conservation. It is promoting a series of new roads and hydroelectric plants that conservationists fear could increase deforestation.
The country’s strong agriculture lobby also has resisted costly measures to improve productivity and recover depleted land instead of slashing and burning forest.
Norway, which last year pledged contributions of $1 billion through 2015 to a new Amazon Fund, has made its annual contributions conditional on progress in cutting deforestation rates. The fund will finance conservation, scientific research and sustainable economic development.