Saturday, July 5, 2014

Amazon Logging Town Struggles Amid Tough Crackdown on Deforestation

'Gold mining stopped, logging stopped, everything stopped. I don't have anybody to sell to.'

A team from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the government's environmental law enforcement agency, monitors property near Novo Progresso, Para, for illegal logging and other activity. Many residents there have yet to make their peace with the law to curtail deforestation, or the government seeking to enforce it. Credit: Jeff Tollefson, InsideClimate News

Jeff Tollefson is reporting from the Brazilian Amazon for eight weeks and exploring Brazil's efforts to protect the world's largest rainforestand the earth's climate. 
The situation was still a little tense when I arrived in Novo Progresso, Para, a frontier town that serves as the regional base for the federal government's environmental law enforcement agency, known as IBAMA. Two weeks earlier an IBAMA team had burned three large logging trucks and a tractor that were operating illegally outside a neighboring city; protesters rioted, briefly trapping agents in a hotel and later blocking one of the main highways into the Amazon. Everybody in Novo Progresso had an opinion on the matter, and many felt that a line had been crossed.

As an outsider, I could see many lines being crossed. I wondered why this one in particular triggered a revolt, or alternatively, why such tactics haven't triggered national controversy. After all, the nightly news was chock full of protests against government spending on soccer's World Cup rather than health, education, infrastructure and security for Brazilian citizens. A simplistic reading would suggest that the tradeoffs are the same when it comes to spending on trees, but I never saw anybody rioting in objection to government investments in forest conservation.

This tension drew me to Novo Progresso, a roadside town whose jurisdiction covers 25,000 people sprawled across an area larger than Maryland. My travels to the south in Mato Grosso had focused on regions where occupation of the land was more or less established, where the frontier had come and gone. Farther north, I had centered on areas that were turning a corner, where communities seemed to be buying into the government's battle against deforestation. By contrast, Novo Progresso is in a region where many residents have yet to make their peace with the law, or the government seeking to enforce it.  MORE

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