Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, the president of the Uru Eu Wau Wau Idigenous People's Association, photographed at Aldeia Jamari, in the Uru Eu Wau Wau territory, Rondônia, Brazil.

About the importance of the forest, Bitaté says: "My relationship with the forest comes from a young age, I learned how to hunt, I learned to know the great wealth that we have inside the territory, and I was always very proud to fight against invasions and everything that could destroy our forest. The relationship of my people with the forest comes from a long time, we have always been with it, and growing and seeing the good it does for us. My relationship with the forest is very good and it makes me very sad to see the deforestation coming closer and closer to our villages. Our ancestors have struggled to keep the forest from being destroyed and destruction is growing faster than I could imagine. My job is to protect the forest and show future generations that we have been fighting for preservation so that they can continue our work."
Amazon tribes are using drones to track deforestation in Brazil
03:24 - Source: CNN
Sao Paulo CNN  — 

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a 12-year high in the year between August 2019 and July 2020, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Over that time, 11,088 square kilometers (6,890 square miles) were destroyed – up 9.5% from the previous year-long period, and the highest level of destruction since 2008, INPE said during a news conference to release their annual data on Monday.

Deforestation has soared since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019. Bolsonaro has encouraged the development of the Amazon and has defunded the agencies responsible for preventing illegal logging, ranching and mining in the rainforest.

Fires are often lit in the Amazon to clear vegetation from parts of the forest that have already been cut down – all in preparation for illegal pasture planting and cattle raising.

Environmentalists have criticized Bolsonaro’s outspoken support for logging and development in the Amazon as signaling encouragement for illicit land-clearing operations.

In August, Bolsonaro called official data and news reports about fires in the Amazon “a lie.”

The President has faced pressure to take action to preserve the Amazon. In 2019, a group of 34 international investors threatened to divest from Brazilian companies unless steps were taken to curb the destruction and put out fires raging in the region.

His government has taken some steps to do so, periodically banning fires and allocating military personnel to help control the blazes.

But the new figures are damning. Environmental NGO Greenpeace has documented the destruction, releasing photos from an August 16 flyover of southern Amazonas and in Rondônia – including protected areas which cannot legally be exploited for commercial purposes – showing flames and smoke.

In September’s presidential debate, Joe Biden said the “rainforests of Brazil are being torn down,” adding that he would be “making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion to say ‘here’s $20 billion, stop tearing down the forest and if you don’t, you are going to have significant economic consequences.’”

Bolsonaro slammed Biden after his remarks, saying it was “difficult to understand such a disastrous and unnecessary declaration.”

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and an indispensable resource in the battle against global warming. When the rainforest is healthy, its trees and plants pull billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, making it is one of the planet’s best defenses against climate change.

It is not the only biodiversity hotspot on fire this year. South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The blazes have consumed about 28% of the vast floodplain that stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Wetlands like the Pantanal are Earth’s most effective carbon sinks – ecosystems that absorb and store more carbon than they release, keeping it away from the atmosphere. At roughly 200,000 square kilometers, the Pantanal comprises about 3% of the globe’s wetlands and plays a key role in the carbon cycle.

CNN’s Ivana Kottasová, Rodrigo Pedroso, Marcia Reverdosa and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.