Human Pressure on the Brazilian Amazon Forests assesses a variety of human activities in the region as of 2002, and preliminary numbers from 2005 show that such activities have increased as much as 8 percent since 2002. Most importantly, the report offers a set of original maps that will prove invaluable in helping conservation and development planners understand the true extent of human activities in the region.
“These incomparable maps paint a stark and compelling picture,” said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and current WRI board member. “The area that appears to be free of human pressure is large enough for the federal government to meet its goal to expand and consolidate the protected areas system by 2010. However, the government must act quickly because the opportunities are diminishing rapidly.”
The report is the first comprehensive compilation of indicators of human activities in the region, and it breaks down the various human pressures into two main categories:
- 22 percent of the areas are under pressure from human settlement, a 3 percent increase from WRI and Imazon’s 2002 assessment. In these areas, human presence is fully established, settlements are permanent, and land use tends to be more intensive. Deforested areas, mainly for the purpose of cattle ranching, cover about 11 percent of the Brazilian Amazon. Other human pressures of this type result from nearby urban populations and agrarian reform settlements.
- 34 percent of the areas are subject to “incipient” human pressure, or emerging pressure that is not planned. This number is a 7 percent increase from the 2002 assessment. These areas are generally clustered and adjacent to areas of human settlements, indicating frontier expansion. The major contributor is fire zones – defined as the 10 kilometer radius around forest fires – and accounts for nearly 30 percent of the incipient human pressure on the Brazilian Amazon. Between 2000 and 2002, the number of annual forest fires nearly tripled from 16,000 to 42,000, showing a marked acceleration of incipient human activity.
The report and accompanying maps also analyze other factors such as policy decisions, logging, mineral exploration, and roads. The maps show individual indicators such as deforestation, population, fires, logging and others; one map shows all the indicators together.
“It is vital that we all continue to recognize the value of ecosystems like the Amazon basin and the critical services they provide to the global community,” said Jonathan Lash, president, WRI. “The recent effort by Brazil’s federal government to design a sustainable-development plan, which includes the creation of protected areas, is a commendable example.”
The importance of the maps is underlined by a need to continue improving data gathering and analysis in the region. For example, there exists no comprehensive map of informal roads. Likewise, accurate and complete maps of logged forests and other forms of forest degradation are unavailable. Investments in this type of research are crucial to improve conservation and development decisions.
“Despite these limitations, our analysis provides a more complete picture than formerly available of the dimensions of human pressures in the Brazilian Amazon and the diverse forms these pressures take,” said Paulo Barreto, senior researcher, Imazon. “As such, it can help guide strategic actions to improve forest conservation until better information becomes available.”
The Brazilian Amazon harbors about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical forests, an area covering some 4.1 million square kilometers. However, land-use conversion is occurring at unprecedented scales and in a complex manner. Mean annual deforestation rates from 2000 to 2005 were 18 percent higher than in the previous five years. As in other humid tropical forest regions worldwide, negative consequences include losses of biological and cultural diversity, changes in the regional and potentially global climate, and an increase in social conflicts.
The World Resources Institute is an environmental think tank that goes beyond research to create practical ways to protect the earth and improve people's lives.
For more information on WRI events, publications, research projects and experts, contact: