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Amazonian jaguarThe governor of the Brazilian state of Pará, Simão Jatene, signed decrees yesterday creating 15 million hectares (57,915 sq miles) of newly protected rainforest, an area roughly the size of Illinois. This is positive action in efforts to save the Amazon rainforest from being lost forever. The rainforest is so precariously close to the "tipping point" that marks its death.

These seven newly protected areas will help boost Amazon conservation efforts in Brazil. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), these rainforest areas are being threatened by illegal gold mining, hunting, unsustainable logging, and irregular agriculture and cattle ranching. Pará is, as the AP describes, "a region infamous for violent conflicts among loggers, ranchers, and environmentalists."

Dorothy StangBefore Monday's announcement, Pará was in the international news last year because it was where Sister Dorothy Stang, an American Roman Catholic nun, was murdered in February 2005. Stang's execution-style killing was the violent culmination of a land dispute. Stang was working to preserve a piece of the rainforest that local ranchers wanted to clear cut and use to raise cattle. According to Greenpeace, "Pará State is responsible for approximately one-third of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and plays a leading role in both environmental abuse and human rights violations."

The deforestation of the Amazon is a global concern and the "side" that is winning is the one with money, chainsaws, and fire. You might remember this past July, The Independent ran a story (cached by Climate Ark) that described studies conducted by Woods Hole Research Center that raised concerns that the Amazon rainforest is on the brink of becoming a vast desert. This, obviously, would have "catastrophic consequences for the world's climate... and the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year." The research underscored the 2001 findings of James Alcock (Pennsylvania State University), in which, "the destruction of the Amazon rainforest could be irreversible within a decade." This event was described by at least one Daily Kos diarist to be "The scariest fucking thing I've ever read".

Aerial view in the rainforest, Para State, Amazon. The forest is being burned by the US based Cargill corporation to clear land for soya plantations. A soy plantation is seen near Santarem, in the Amazon state of Para, Brazil, May 2, 2006.A companion article in the The Independent (cached at Common Dreams), investigated the rainforest drought further and noted the role of American multinational corporations have in encouraging rainforest destruction. In the article, Brazil's environment minister, Marina Silva, explained illegal logging is an enormous problem when protecting the rainforest. "It has reached far into the forest after the American multinational Cargill built a huge port for soya three years ago at Santarem, some 400 miles downriver from here. This encouraged entrepreneurs to cut down the trees to grow the soya."

WWF's Pará MapThe 15 million hectares of newly protected rainforest, while significant, may not be enough to save them, but it is a vital part of their conservation (and the future of our home, planet Earth). As can be seen in the WWF's map, the newly protected areas link to existing reserves to form a vast preservation corridor eventually stretching into neighboring Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, the so-called Guayana Shield for the Amazon rainforest. The area "contains more than 25 percent of the world’s remaining humid tropical forests and the largest remaining unpolluted fresh water reserves in the American tropics."

The decrees created three state forests (Paru, Trombetas, and Fara), two new areas set aside for strict preservation measures (Grão-Pará Ecological Station (the world's largest at 4.3 million hectares) and Maicuru Biological Reserve, and the final two areas (the Iriri State Forrest and Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area) complete the Terra do Meio mosaic of protected areas.

"Though the Amazon rainforest remains the largest expanse of its kind in the world," the WWF notes, "scientists have estimated that more than 17 percent of the biome in Brazil has been lost." Amazon otterThis part of the rainforest is home to thousands of wildlife species including endangered species such as giant Amazon otters (ariranha), northern bearded saki monkeys, black spider monkeys, jaguars, giant anteaters, plus other residents as dwarf fruit-eating bats, red-legged short-tailed opossums, colorful birds such as royal flycatchers and macaws, and more than 61 species of amphibians. (More critter pictures available at BBC News.)

Today, I have three new hopes for Pará and the Amazonian rainforest as a result of Governor Jatene's decrees.

  1. Hopefully, this will mark a positive new direction in Amazonian rainforest conservation and not the be-all and end-all for Amazonian rainforest conservation.
  1. Hopefully, these rainforest areas will truly be protected and their conservation will help end the on-going violence, human rights abuses, and the catastrophic destruction of the Amazon.
  1. And, hopefully these newly protected areas will not be seen by future generations as too little, too late to prevent the total collapse of the rainforest.

Because, as Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, explained:

If any tropical rainforest on Earth remains intact a century from now, it will be this portion of northern Amazonia... The region has more undisturbed rainforest than anywhere else, and the new protected areas being created by Pará state represent an historic step toward ensuring that they continue to conserve the region's rich biodiversity and maintain its essential ecosystem services.

Or, as Sister Dorothy Stang would have said, "A morte da floresta é o fim da nossa vida." — The death of the forest is the end of our life.

Cross-posted with minor edits at European Tribune.

Originally posted to Magnifico on Tue Dec 05, 2006 at 01:51 AM PST.

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