An encouraging four-year trend toward preserving the Amazon rain forest was reversed by a jump in deforestation this year, the Brazilian government reported Thursday.
The amount of land cleared from August 2012 to July 2013 increased 28 percent, according to satellite data, to a scattered total of 2,250 square miles. The year before, only 1,765 square miles were cleared. From the Associated Press:
Environmentalists blame the increase on a loosening of Brazil's environmental laws. They also say that the government's push for big infrastructure projects like dams, roads and railways is pushing deforestation.
A bill revising the Forest Code law passed Congress last year after more than a decade of efforts by Brazil's powerful agricultural lobby to make changes to what has been one of the world's toughest environmental laws, at least on paper.
The changes mostly eased restrictions for landowners with smaller properties, allowing them to clear land closer to riverbanks and other measures. Perhaps the most controversial portion of the new law was what activists say was an amnesty, allowing those who illegally felled land to not face penalties if they signed an agreement to replant trees, which many environmentalists question could be enforced.
Those 2,250 square miles still represent the second-lowest amount of jungle destroyed since Brazil began keeping track, in 1988. But scientists and environmentalists fear this could signal the end of the progress that, before now, Brazil had been making.