Brazil environment agency launches operation to combat Amazon deforestation

FILE PHOTO: Piles of wood are seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/File Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s environmental protection agency IBAMA on Wednesday launched its biggest-ever operation to tackle illegal logging that is accelerating Amazon deforestation amid a surge in tree-felling since President Jair Bolsonaro took office.

The environment ministry, which oversees IBAMA, said the agency has sent 165 agents to the states of Acre, Amazonas, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia and Roraima, backed by soldiers and police.

“The objective is to scrutinize the regions with the highest concentration of illicit activity to contain the expansion of environmental damage,” the ministry said in a statement.

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil sped up in May to the fastest rate in a decade, according to data from an early-warning satellite system. Experts say the reason is a surge in activity by illegal loggers encouraged by the easing of environmental protections under Bolsonaro.

In its first five months, Bolsonaro’s government has dismantled conservation agencies, cut the budget to enforce environment laws and generally shown skepticism about measures to fight climate change, environmental activists say.

After Bolsonaro took office, the forestry commission was moved from the environment ministry to the agriculture ministry, which is run by the president’s farm industry allies.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall