Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon Largely Occurring on Private Lands, Study Finds

Forest cleared for farming in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

Forest cleared for farming in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Ramon Felipe Bicudo da Silva / Michigan State University

Since 2012, more than half of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon has occurred on private lands, according to a new study highlighting the impact of Brazil’s landowner-friendly policies.

For decades, Brazil’s 1965 Forest Code required landowners to grow native vegetation on up to 80 percent of their property, but a 2012 update weakened these requirements and granted amnesty to landowners who had cleared forest illegally, freeing them of their obligation to replant deforested lands.

The new study found that granting amnesty discouraged the restoration of more than 26 million acres of farmland, an area larger than Greece. This land could have sequestered some 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon, more than the annual emissions of India.

With weakened regulations and lax enforcement, since 2012 private lands have accounted for more than half of all forest lost in the Brazilian Amazon, according to the study, which analyzed data on land use reported by property owners. The findings were published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

“We’ve been able to pinpoint whether private properties were in compliance with national rules,” lead author Ramon Felipe Bicudo da Silva, an environmental researcher at Michigan State University, said in a statement. “We’ve found that enforcing Brazil’s Forest Code and demanding landowners comply would greatly increase the Brazilian carbon stocks which it needs to offset emissions.”


How Indigenous People Are Restoring Brazil’s Atlantic Forest