This Is How The Million-Dollar Business Of Criminal Deforestation In The Amazon Works

BuzzFeed News visited one of the regions worst affected by fires in the Amazon to see how illegal deforestation is paving the way for a global environmental crisis.
| September 4, 2019

APUÍ, Brazil — A vigorous and incredibly lucrative trade in land for livestock is fueling the fires that have devastated the Amazon and caused an international outcry.

BuzzFeed News toured one of the areas most affected by fires in the Amazon and found that, according to farmers, one hectare of land cleared for cattle is changing hands for 20 times the price of the same area with standing forest.

In the municipality of Apuí, in Amazonas state, a bushel of pasture land, around 2.5 hectares, can be worth up to 10,000 Brazilian reals (about $2,430) if it’s close to a highway with access to water, while forested land goes for only around 500 Brazilian reals (about $120). Many of these deals are conducted illegally.

Apuí has witnessed more than 2,000 blazes in 2019. It also has one of the largest cattle populations in the state of Amazonas, with eight oxen per every person who lives there. That has attracted ranchers from out of state.

“The bushel of forest is cheap, the pasture is not. And now the deforestation has increased, the burning has increased, because many people are coming from abroad who are selling their farm in [the neighboring state of] Rondônia and coming here,” said rancher Demésio Souza da Luz.

Incomes and employment rates are low in Apuí, with daily labor rates of around $18. But workers can be offered much more, around $120, to spend two days clearing a bushel of forest. Once the trees are felled, they are burned, Luz said. Luz added he was proud to have accepted the money to put his two children through college.

Incomes and employment rates are low in Apuí, with daily labor rates of around $18. But workers can be offered much more, around $120, to spend two days clearing a bushel of forest. Once the trees are felled, they are burned, Luz said. Luz added he was proud to have accepted the money to put his two children through college.

Fires occur in the Amazon annually with depressing regularity, but this year’s have been particularly devastating and, according to farmers in Apuí and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), coordinated as never before.

Danilo Nascimento, an investigator for IBAMA in the Apuí region, has counted 20 incidents of deforestation and burning in the past week.

“Fire is a common practice for grassland weed control, but allied to this, there has been an advance in deforestation,” he said.

One case under investigation involves a fuel tanker’s arrival in the municipality, followed by two buses filled with people and chainsaws. First the chainsaws were used to bring down the trees; then, after a wait of a few days as the logs dried, fuel was scattered in the area, and the fires started.

Despite the widespread incidents of deforestation and burning, however, it’s unlikely that the people ordering the land to be cleared will be identified and held to account.

“We did the math, and there are people who spend up to 3 million Brazilian reals [about $730,000] to clear the forest,” said rancher Paulo Sancler Lopes, who has a herd of 500 cattle and for 21 years has been managing the pasture without having to use fire. Sancler said that the people clearing the forest, who live out of state, then use a loophole to designate the land as producing oranges to avoid fines.

Sancler said he has lost thousands of hectares of land to other farmers in territorial disputes because of a lack of legal certainty about who owns the land.

“I won’t be fighting in court for 20 years and creating conflict with people I don’t know. I preferred to lose,” he said.

Adelário Ronnau owns 83 hectares of land and has a 130-strong herd. He said he had been in Apuí since 1983, like other settlers encouraged by the military government of the time to deforest and populate the region.

“These deforesters are wanting to appropriate the land. Their business is as follows: They deforest now, wait a while, and sell after forming a farm,” Ronnau said.

The old farmers like Ronnau blame the new land grabbers and make a point of distinguishing themselves because they say they came to Apuí encouraged by the government of the day, and not pushed by the expanding agribusiness in neighboring states.

IBAMA has the power to seize cattle in land that’s been deforested and burned, and even issue huge fines. But in reality, it’s next to impossible to tell the difference between cattle reared by the farmers who’ve been there for decades and cattle sold by out-of-state ranchers driving the new round of deforestation and fires.

“We don’t know what is cattle reared on deforested land and what isn’t,” said Sancler.


The Amazon, Siberia, Indonesia: A World of Fire

The growing intensity of wildfires and their spread to new corners of the globe raises fears that climate change is exacerbating the dangers.

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In South America, the Amazon basin is ablaze. Halfway around the world in central Africa, vast stretches of savanna are going up in flame. Arctic regions in Siberia are burning at a historic pace.

While the Brazilian fires have grown into a full-blown international crisis, they represent only one of many significant areas where wildfires are currently burning around the world. Their increase in severity and spread to places where fires were rarely previously seen is raising fears that climate change is exacerbating the danger.


Putin orders Russian military to fight forest fires in Siberia

The Associated Press
31 July 2019

The Russian military on Wednesday joined efforts to fight forest fires that have engulfed nearly 30,000 square kilometers of territory in Siberia and the Russian Far East — an area the size of Belgium.

The move, which includes sending military transport planes and helicopters that can drop water on fires, came after an order from Russian President Vladimir Putin.


These scientists are setting a forest on fire — and studying it with drones

By: Alexandra Witze | 28 May 2019


Data from the blaze in Utah could improve models of how wildfire smoke spreads.

Sometime in late June, if all goes to plan, a helicopter will hover above a thickly forested slope in Utah and set it ablaze. The goal is to clear out dead conifer trees to allow quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) to regain a foothold in this high-altitude national forest. But the blaze could also help scientists better understand wildfires.


Clearing dead timber could prevent forest fires, experts say

by | 28 May 2019


A new restoration project proposed by Manti-La Sal National Forest will strip dead and diseased trees from a swath of Utah about the size of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The idea is to take out the most volatile fuel for potential wildfires which have grown in size, frequency and cost to fight.


Warmer summer expected in the West spells bad news for forest fires


With the wildfire season already under way in British Columbia and Alberta, Environment Canada is predicting a long, hot summer to come.

The wildfire threat has already forced evacuations in northwestern Alberta and central British Columbia, and the preliminary outlook for this summer points to worsening conditions, said David Phillips, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist.


Weather conditions remain a concern for northern Alberta firefighters but crews keeping flames at bay

By: The Canadian Press |
Chris Schwarz/The Canadian Press


Warmer temperatures, gusty winds and no rain continued to cause unpredictable conditions for firefighters in northern Alberta on Monday, but officials said measures to keep flames away from threatened communities were working.

The largest blaze in northern Alberta remained about three kilometres southwest of High Level, where crews have been bulldozing, back-burning and water bombing to ensure flames don’t creep closer to the town.


EU establishes initial firefighting fleet for next forest fire season


To prepare for the risk of forest fires during the upcoming summer, the Commission is launching today the first fleet of firefighting aircraft under the new rescEU system to tackle natural disasters. So far seven firefighting airplanes and six helicopters will be part of the rescEU fleet during an initial transition period, and the Commission is (more…)

Another forest fire in Vattavada region

15 Apr 2019


Officials calculate that the fire was intentionally created to delay or prevent departmental action in connection with the Neelakurinji garden. Further investigations are on.

Vattavada: Another forest fire has broken out in the Kambakkallu-Kadavari region near here in Idukki district on Monday.

The fire has destroyed several acres of land. The fire is spreading in block 58 of the stipulated Neelakurinji garden.


NASA Comes to India’s Aid in Detecting Forest Fires

By TWC India Edit Team | 10 April 2019


India’s battle against forest fires is likely to get a shot in the arm, thanks to two new NASA-monitored satellites deployed over the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Uttar Pradesh. The satellites will keep an eye on any untoward forest fire incidents and will immediately notify PTR forest officials so that they can respond promptly to such incidents.