Bolsonaro extends deployment of troops to curb Amazon deforestation

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s government has renewed for 30 days a presidential decree allowing the deployment of the armed forces to combat rising deforestation in the Amazon and protect the world’s largest rainforest.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/File/File Photo

The extension, signed by President Jair Bolsonaro, was published late Wednesday in the official gazette and gives the military authority over environmental agencies in the Amazon.

Brazil deployed thousands of soldiers to protect the rainforest one month ago as the government mounted an early response to a surge in deforestation ahead of the high season for forest fires.

Destruction of the rainforest, which traps vast amounts of greenhouse gases and is vital to slowing global climate warming, has accelerated since Bolsonaro took office last year vowing to ease environmental regulation to allow economic development of the Amazon region as a way to reduce poverty.

Last year, Bolsonaro waited until August to send troops into the Amazon, following international outcry over a wave of fires.

Forest fires are frequent in the dry season and land grabbers often use them as a quick way to clear the forest.

Environmental advocates and scientific researchers blame the policies of right-wing Bolsonaro for emboldening illegal loggers, ranchers and land speculators to clear the forest.

Deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was worse than previously reported in 2019, according to revised government data released on Tuesday.

Brazil’s space research agency INPE recorded 10,129 square kilometers of deforestation (3,911 square miles) for its benchmark annual period from August 2018 to July 2019.

That’s an area about the size of Lebanon and a 34.4% rise from the same period a year earlier. The 2019 data remains the highest level of deforestation seen in Brazil’s Amazon since 2008.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bernadette Baum