Brazil opens massive reserve in Amazon for mining

A community on the Rio Araguari in the state of Amapá, Brazil. (© Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans)

Editor’s note: This post was updated on Tuesday, September 26, 2017. A Brazilian judge has reversed President Temer’s controversial decree to abolish the Renca reserve. The decision  “restores the conditions of the area, according to the document that instituted the reserve in 1984,” The Guardian reports.

Brazil last week announced that it had opened a strategic mineral reserve in the Amazon to mining, the BBC reported. The area, spanning the states of Amapá and Para in the northern heart of the Amazon rainforest, is massive — about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined — and is believed to be rich in gold, iron and other minerals.

Amapá, explained Rodrigo Medeiros, vice president of Conservation International (CI) Brazil, is one of the conservation states of the Amazon. “Removing restrictions on mining in one of the richest areas of the Amazon, without proper discussion with society, is quite foolhardy. It is putting nature and people at risk.” There are several other activities suited to this region, he continued, such as agro-extractivism and sustainable forestry management. “These other activities have economic potential as great as industrial extractive activities, but they do not receive the attention and investment they need.”

While the reserve was set aside in the 1980s to provide mineral wealth for the nation, the plans were never executed, the website MongaBay reported. Today, the area includes nine conservation and indigenous areas, which will remain protected.

Experts cautioned that Brazil’s decision could have ill effects regardless.

“While it’s important to know that the decision doesn’t affect protected areas or indigenous territories, it does allow for exploration in areas outside and adjacent to protected areas and indigenous lands where exploration was previously not allowed,” said Sebastian Troeng, executive vice president at CI. “This could lead to more migration and illegal activities that could spill into nearby protected areas and indigenous communities.”

“The big question is, Is it worth the risk?”

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon represents a growing threat to conservation. (© luoman)

Brazil’s move comes at a critical time for conservation in the Amazon. The forests of Amazonia — the Amazon River basin and the Guiana Shield — are rapidly vanishing; nearly 6,000 square kilometers (3,600 square miles) of forests were lost in 2015 in the Brazilian Amazon alone. Wednesday’s announcement, experts say, is likely to accelerate deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest.

“We know from numerous studies that deforestation in and around protected areas and indigenous lands in Amazonia is much lower than in unprotected areas,” Troeng said. “Encouraging extractive activities in intact forest areas has the potential to increase deforestation with negative impacts both for local people and for the planet’s climate.”

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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