This Illegal Road Is a Threat to the Amazon

If completed, it will turn a large area of remaining forest into an island
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 24, 2022 9:16 AM CDT
This Illegal Road Is a Threat to the Amazon
This May 2, 2022, photo provided by Xingu Network shows an illegal road inside a protected area called Terra do Meio Ecological Station in Para state, in the Brazilian Amazon. The dirt road is now just a few miles shy of connecting two of the worst areas of deforestation in the region.   (Xingu Network via AP)

An illegal dirt road ripping through protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon is now just a few miles shy of connecting two of the worst areas of deforestation in the region, according to satellite images and accounts from people familiar with the area. If the road is completed it will turn a large area of remaining forest into an island, under pressure from human activity on all sides. Environmentalists have been warning about just this kind of development in the rainforest for decades. Roads are significant because most deforestation occurs alongside them, where access is easier and land value higher, reports the AP.

The new road was detected earlier this year. According to satellite images analyzed by a network of nonprofits called Xingu+ and reviewed by the AP, it is 27 miles long. On the east side of the new road is a massively-deforested area where Brazil's largest cattle herd, 2.4 million head, now grazes. To the west is an area where three years ago ranchers coordinated the burning of several swaths of virgin forest in an episode famously known as the Day of Fire. Wedged in between is the Xingu basin. The Xingu River that runs through it is one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River. Experts said the stakes could not be higher.

Almost half of Brazil’s climate pollution comes from deforestation, according to Climate Observatory. The destruction is so vast now that the eastern Amazon, just east of Xingu basin, has ceased to be a carbon sink, or absorber, for the Earth and has converted into a carbon source, according to a 2021 study. The road cuts through two ostensibly protected areas: Terra do Meio Ecological Station and Iriri State Forest. From January to August, Terra do Meio alone lost 9 square miles of forest, and Iriri lost almost 4 square miles of rainforest along the illegal road. In July, Xingu+ reported the illegal road-building to Brazil’s attorney general.

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The opportunities for new deforestation "in the center of the corridor of protected areas of the Xingu brings the risk of an irreversible breaking of the Amazon rainforest, dividing it into islands of degraded forest, which does not have the strength to resist climate change," Biviany Rojas, the program coordinator of Brazil's Socio-Environmental Institute, tells the AP. Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the area deforested in Brazil’s Amazon has reached a 15-year high, according to official data. The space agency said the national monitoring systems showed the Brazilian Amazon lost more than 5,000 square miles of rainforest in the 12 months from August 2020 to July 2021. New data is expected by the end of the year. (More Amazon rainforest stories.)

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