Brazil tops Places to Watch for deforestation, satellites show

Karla Mendes Reuters 14 Dec 17;

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Brazil topped the list of the world’s most important Places to Watch for deforestation on Wednesday, in a new initiative that uses near real-time satellite to highlight forest loss.

Satellites detected more than 50,000 hectares of tree cover loss - equivalent to more than 60,000 soccer fields - since October in the Kayapó Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon, Global Forest Watch (GFW), a U.S.-based charity said.

“September saw the most fires ever recorded in a single month, and 2017 now is on track to break the record for most fires in a single year,” GFW said.

“Though there is a drought happening, almost all of the fires are human-caused, likely to clear forest for agriculture.”

Forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia contributed to a record loss in global tree cover in 2016, equivalent to the size of New Zealand, that could accelerate deforestation blamed for climate change, GFW said.

Brazil’s environmental protection agency Ibama took issue with the group’s findings, telling the Foundation in an email that it found far less deforestation in its reading of its satellite monitoring and data from the country’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE).

Ibama said it found just 879 hectares of deforestation in 2016-2017 in the Kayapó territory.

“Therefore, it is incorrect to say that 50,000 hectares of deforestation in the protected area would have occurred,” Ibama said.

Deforestation in indigenous lands fell by 16 percent, it added.

Places to Watch provides detailed information on when, where and why forests are being cleared on a weekly basis.

“After identifying these hotspots our team reaches out to partners on the ground to find further details about what’s taking place,” Katie Fletcher, a spokeswoman for GFW told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.

GFW said in response that the discrepancy is likely caused by differences in its system of measurement and that of INPE, such as looking at different time periods and possibly differences in how forest fires are counted.

“Our experts are very confident, however, that there has been a major change in forest cover in that area in recent months. We’ve looked directly at raw satellite images and other data sources that visibly indicate there has been disturbance in the Kayapo territory,” it said in an email.

The GFW initiative will help to monitor forests and protect land rights amid budget cuts to institutions in Brazil in charge of protecting indigenous peoples, said Barbara Zimmerman, who heads the International Conservation Fund of Canada’s work in Kayapó.

Around 8,000 Kayapó live on more than 11 million hectares of legally protected land, one of the few remaining patches of undisturbed forests on the edge of the Amazon, GFW said.

“The Kayapós and other indigenous groups are really on their own,” said Zimmerman of ICF, which helped GFW with its research.

“The government is not present .... There is no law.”

Officials from Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, Funai, were not immediately available for comment.

GFW launched a mobile app in September which directs indigenous people, forest managers and law enforcement officials to remote areas where forests are being cleared, so they can capture photos and enter data about deforestation.

The other top Places to Watch this week are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ellen Wulfhorst.