July 3, 2019 / 1:43 PM / in 14 days

Brazil deforestation exceeds 88% in June under right-wing Bolsonaro

BRASILIA, July 3 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest soared more than 88% in June compared to the same month a year ago, the second-consecutive month of rising forest destruction under new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

According to data from Brazil’s space agency, deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rainforest totaled 920 square kilometers (355 square miles).

The data showing an 88.4% deforestation increase is preliminary but indicates the official annual figure, based on more detailed imaging and measured for the 12 months to the end of July, is well on track to surpass last year’s figure.

In the first 11 months, deforestation already has reached 4,565 square kilometers (1,762 square miles), a 15 percent increase over the same period in the previous year. That is an area larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

Environmentalists have warned that Bolsonaro’s strong remarks calling for the development of the Amazon and criticizing the country’s environmental enforcement agency Ibama for handing out too many fines would embolden loggers and ranchers seeking to profit from deforestation.

“Bolsonaro has aggravated the situation ... He has made a strong rhetorical attack,” said Paulo Barreto, a researcher at Brazilian non-government organization Imazon.

The rainy season through April appeared to have held off a spike in deforestation that subsequently came with the dry season starting in May.

Deforestation rose 34% in May compared to the same month a year ago.

“We are adopting all measures to combat illegal deforestation,” Environment Minister Ricardo Salles told Reuters. “This week we had 17 enforcement teams simultaneously in all of the Amazon from Ibama.”

The president’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon, which is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is seen as vital to the global fight against climate change.

Grains trader Cargill, the largest privately held U.S. company, said last month that the food industry would not be able to meet a pledge to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains globally by 2020 and committed to do more to protect native environments in Brazil.

Greenpeace forest strategist Paulo Adario said “all indications” are that deforestation will worsen under Bolsonaro, but he hopes news of a large increase will put pressure on the government to take action.

“When they have the final numbers, if it is really a lot, this will be a nightmare for Bolsonaro,” Adario said. “This is something that is really important from an international and Brazilian point of view because the Amazon is an icon.”

Reporting by Jake Spring Editing by Bill Trott

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