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The Effects Of Deforestation In the Amazon


Experts estimate the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years (Fearnside 2005). Little has been done in helping the problems within the Amazon region. Deforestation and forest fragmentation in the Amazon create habitat loss which leads to decreasing numbers in various species. There have been attempts at policies to help stop the damage happening to the forest, but unfortunately the decline rate has not improved enough to make a difference. The problem becomes the lack of knowledge and understanding on how serious of an issue this creates for our world. Not to mention, removal of forests means removal of opportunities for ecosystem services (Fearnside 2006). Logging is the direct issue of deforestation and it leaves the trees more susceptible to forest fires. The number of rainless days needed for the understory to reach flammable conditions is much less for a forest that has been logged than for one that has not (Fearnside 2005). Due to the logging, the fires within the Amazonian forest trees spread slowly and the bases of many trees are burned as the fire lingers. The trees are not adapted to fire, and mortality from a first burn provides the fuel and dryness needed to make the second and subsequent fires much more damaging. The temperatures reached and the height of flames in the second fire are significantly greater than in the first, killing many additional trees and clears the area (Fearnside 2005). The Amazon basin has a major impact on the planet and the more it’s neglected the worse it will be for our future as well as the forest’s future.

The Amazon Rainforest has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20% of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest (Butler 2008). Thus, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest jeopardizes one of the most essential pillars of our subsistence. Soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and soil compaction are among the most obvious impacts of deforestation. Agricultural productivity declines as soil quality degrades, although a lower plateau of productivity can be maintained by systems such as shifting cultivation (Fearnside 2005). Work is being done to help alleviate some of the damage persisting in the forest but it might be a long time until enough good is done to show any positive impacts. With many of the benefits of Amazon conservation accruing to humanity worldwide, developed countries must be willing to pay to make frontier governance politically feasible (Salati 1984). Getting more countries aware of the current state of the forest is important in helping alleviate the problems now before it becomes too late.



The Amazon had remained untouched for a long period of time until the European colonists ventured over to the New World and made new discoveries. There were indigenous tribes that had previously existed on the land but the colonists came over and had expanded their exploration by making the Amazon their own world market. Given that the indigenous population was decreasing from the sixteenth century onward and that the acquisition of metal goods was a powerful motive for the diversion of indigenous labor out of agriculture into extractivism, it is even possible that the transition from stone to metal involved an increase in forest clearance. With the opening of the main channel of the Amazon to ships of all nationalities by the Brazilian government in 1866, all the major preconditions for the rubber boom were in place, although it would not peak for another thirty years. Once it did, the boom set off a process of landscape transformation that fluctuated over the course of a century (Cleary 2001).

New European crops, livestock, and domesticated animals were also introduced to the Amazonian land. For instance, Europeans were introducing new forms of land use with increasing impacts: new forms of plantation agriculture, notably cacao, sugar, and coffee, as well as cattle ranching Cleary 2001). The location of these new land uses was determined by a combination of environmental factors and economic geography. Europeans realized at an early stage that many parts of the lowlands contained grasslands and savannas well-suited to cattle and horses. By the mid-eighteenth century, most of the large-scale enterprises in the region were cattle ranches. The discovery of the fertile Amazonian land allowed the European economy to expand and do very well with all the new products coming out of the land.

The Amazon did not have severe deforestation concerns until about 40 years ago when new advances were being made for society involving a highway. There was a case study that focused specifically on the Amazon in Brazil, but it highlights problems that were occurring in regards to the forest as a whole with this road construction. In 1970, Brazil’s military dictatorship launched the Transamazon Highway, bisecting the Amazon region from east to west. In the 1970s and 1980s BR-319 had little traffic, as industrial production from Manaus was more cheaply sent to markets in south-central Brazil by ship and even by air (Fearnside 2006). At the same time, a majority of new additional additional highways was announced. It was going to cost the government a lot of money to install the roads but the plans continued even though the country was not financially stable for this. In 1971, a ‘‘decree-law’’ (No. 1164) gave the federal government control of all land within 100 km of any planned highway, even if the ‘‘highway’’ was nothing but a line drawn on a map. The BR-319 Highway was originally built in 1972 (680 km) and 1973 (197 km). Government policy at the time required that all highways first be constructed as unpaved roads, only to be paved after a period of years had elapsed and if justified by the road’s traffic. In the case of BR-319, however, a special exception was made, and the highway was paved immediately at the time of construction (Fearnside 2006). These roads have lead to an increase in deforestation along the highway route. More and more people are drawn to areas along the road and their foreign presence is starting to spread and negatively impact the forest environment. Transportation infrastructure accelerates migration to remote areas and increases the clearing of already established properties (Fearnside 2005). Also, there has been talk of possibly repaving BR-319. This would bring in more machinery that would again destroy the balance of the Amazon atmosphere from its exhausts and increase the deforestation rates even more.


Current Status:

The current status of deforestation in Peru is shaky. The previous president of Peru, Ollanta Humalla, made it his primary goal to improve the economic growth the Peru at any and all costs. There was even a quotation from Mary Menton from Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), that stated, “much of this growth is happening — and is likely to keep on happening — at the expense of the Peruvian Amazon.” The government, however, claimed that the goal of the Peruvian Ministry of Environment is to have zero net deforestation by conserving 54 million hectares of the forest, but Peru’s forests cover about 67.8 million hectares. Overall, it seems that the priority of the government is more to emphasize the “neoliberal economic growth” (Doleac 2015).

The most recent policies took many years to implements with aid from the NGOs, Forest Trends, and the World Wildlife Fund. There are three major new policies. The first is to regulate and promote the public investment in the ecosystems services. The second is to diagnose the major threats to the Peru’s forest. The National Forestry and Climate Change Strategy has worked with the Peruvian government to develop plans to counter the threats. They aimed to produce more efficient land use for areas that have already been deforested. This was to help ensure more trees do not get taken down or fall. It also helps Peru communicate with international aid and implement international funds and forest conservation from other countries such as Norway, the US, and Germany. The third policy to aid in the control of deforestation is to provide an official guide on developing biodiversity in the Andean ecosystems. This policy is aimed to better control mining, road construction, etc.. To show the willingness of the government to participate in new efforts and policies, the Peruvian Minister of the  Environment hosted the UN climate summit in Lima a few years ago, and co-chaired the summit in Paris in last December (Catanoso 2016).

Currently, deforestation in Madre De Dios is a huge problem. Over 50,000 hectares have been destroyed, most of which is illegal. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the annual deforestation rate has tripled from 2008 to 2012, from 2,166 hectares to 6,145 hectares per year. There is a major socio-economic connection with deforestation, as deforestation is correlated to mining, logging, and the black market. A major problem in Madre de Dios is that the deforestation is producing toxic chemical residues that are in the soils which damage the natural regeneration process (Cornejo 2014).

In a case study, scientists studied Amazonian deforestation specifically around Madre de Dios, and found that the rates varied based on the region. The most deforestation in this area is found along the road sides, which really began around 1990. There is a constant deforestation on the riversides because of riverside farms. In Peru today, riverside farms have more land and produce more crops than roadside farms, as most roadside farms are pastures. Also, long-term farms had more forest on their land than new colonists, but proximity to urban centers was actually the biggest influence. The case study found, the closer to an urban market, the less forest cover. These scientists hoped that in the future, the reflection of the spatial patterns, specifically with development could help people understand the ecology and hopefully allow lands to recover (Alvarez and Naughton-Treves 2002).


Local/Global actions:

Some scientists and conservationists have used satellite data to determine the rate of tropical deforestation in Peru (Tucker and Townshend 2010). Remote sensing and field interviews do seem to be the most effective though. This remote sensing was able to inform scientists and help indicate what adjustments needed to be made. It was helpful with roadside deforestation as well as riverside farms. The future of this technology is to show spatial patterns of development and the vulnerability of the ecosystems, which will hopefully support the restoration of fallow lands and secondary forests (Alvarez and Naughton-Treves 2002). This is helpful in acknowledging the problem, but would be even better if it was linked to a program that could create consequences for deforestation.

On a larger scale, many organizations are attempting to spread an understanding of the deforestation issue. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has worked with the Peruvian government, the indigenous people of Peru, and even the UN to help raise awareness and provide help to the Amazon. They are helping by creating and improving REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) negotiations, which includes working with the UN-REDD and the World Bank FCPF. Indigenous peoples are also becoming more involved and vocal about policy making and even have alternative “indigenous REDD” proposals which emphasize indigenous stewardship of the Amazon forest and secure tenure rights to the land. These negotiations aim to stop “carbon cowboys” from scamming the locals for lands and tenure rights. This helps prevent large companies from continually taking over. Everything WWF, REDD+, etc, do is meant to support a more sustainable community forestry operation (Yale University 2017).

After the research and reviews of case studies, there many negotiations, like the ones with REDD+ with policies to help prevent deforestation. A novel idea could be to educating farmers and making new fields more difficult to create, which we think could ameliorate deforestation. That being said, it is difficult to change the lives of people in a struggling country. To add onto this, we could make more of a difference here in the United States as well. We could create more “eco friendly” labels that actually tell you in exactly where products were from. We could add to labels of food, especially, about whether they contributed to deforestation. There could even be a website created to give details about products in the United States that have contributed to deforestation in the Amazon and other places around the world. With more awareness and easy access to information about products that contribute to deforestation, we think it could raise more awareness and help end the excessive deforestation.


Literature cited

Alvarez N, Naughton-Treves L. 2002. Linking National Agrarian Policy to Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon: A Case Study of Tambopata. A Journal of the Human Environment. 32(4):269-274.

Butler, R. 2008. Deforestation in the Amazon. Mongabay. Accessed online 17 March 2017.

Cleary D. 2001. Towards an Environmental History of the Amazon:From Prehistory to the Nineteenth Century. Latin American Studies Association. 36(2): 64-96.

Catanoso J. 2016. Peru’s new environmental policies: What are they and will they work?.

Mongabay Series: Global Forests. Accessed online 18 March 2017.

Corenjo T. 2014. Stop Deforestation in Madre de Dios. Responsible Travel Peru. Accessed online 5 May 2017.

Doleac C. 2015. Deforestation in Peru: Building a dramatic future in the Amazon and the Andean Region. Council of Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed online 18 March 2017.

Fearnside P. 2005. Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: History and Consequences. Conservation Biology. 19: 680-688.

Fearnside P., Maurίcio Lima de Alencastro Graça P. 2006. BR-319: Brazil’s Manaus-Porto Velho Highway and the Potential Impact of Linking the Arc of Deforestation to Central Amazonia. Environmental Management. 38: 705-716.

Salati E. 1984. Vose P. Amazon Basin: a system in equilibrium. Science. 225: 129.

Tucker C, Townshend J. 2010. Strategies for monitoring tropical deforestation using satellite data. International Journal of Remote Sensing. 21(7): 1461-1471

Yale University. 2017. Forest Governance – Peru. Global Forest Atlas from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Accessed online 18 March 2017.

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