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In the Amazon, deforestation is on the rise

burning forest November 24, 1997
Web posted at: 11:47 p.m. EST (0447 GMT)

From Rio de Janeiro Bureau Chief Marina Mirabella

MANAUS, Brazil (CNN) -- The burning of the Amazon, the world's largest rain forest, is worse this year than it has been in the recent past.

According to satellite data, burnings are up 28 percent over last year. Over the years, more than 10 percent of the Amazon jungle has been destroyed.

"This is one of the worst burning seasons we've had in a long time," said Taracisio Machado of the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency.

After years of recession, cattle ranchers have more money to invest in clearing land.

vxtreme CNN's Marina Mirabella reports

Small farmers, like the de Souza family, continue to move into the rain forest.

"My husband and I have eight children to feed and no jobs in the city," says Silveria de Souza. "We've come here to clear the land and plant food."

Forest land being burned
video icon 1.4M/36 sec.
QuickTime movie

While people are setting fires to clear forest land, the El Nino weather phenomenon is aggravating those fires. El Nino has dramatically reduced humidity in the Amazon, turning loose foliage into kindling.

Machado said the extremely high temperatures and drought conditions make it easier for fires to spread.

rain forest

In an effort to control deforestation, Brazil's environmental inspectors are fining those who burn or log illegally. Government regulations require landowners in the Amazon to preserve 80 percent of their land.

There's a moratorium on new licenses for logging mahogany and other rare woods.

For every person who is fined for destroying the rain forest, hundreds are never caught. There are only about 300 inspectors monitoring the vast Amazon region.

"They're outnumbered," said Philip Fearnside of the Institute for Amazon Research. "Just a handful of inspectors can't possibly control an area that's 5 million square kilometers."

 
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