Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rises for first time in four months

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon increased in October for the first time in four months, government data showed on Friday, as destruction of the world’s largest rainforest remains high under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows a river and a deforested plot of the Amazon near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

In October, deforestation rose 50% from the prior year to 836 square kilometers (323 square miles), according to preliminary data from government space research agency Inpe.

But monthly deforestation eased from its peak from July to September as the rainy season begins and makes logging difficult. Forest clearances are down 6% in the first ten months of 2020, compared to the same period a year ago, to 7,899 square kilometers, Inpe found. That’s roughly ten times the size of New York City.

Destruction in 2020 continues to be far higher than the years prior to Bolsonaro assuming office on Jan. 1, 2019. Bolsonaro has weakened environmental enforcement called for more farming and mining in the Amazon to lift the region out of poverty, which environmental advocates say is emboldening Brazilians to cut down the forest.

Brazil is expected to release its official measure of 2020 deforestation by year’s end, which is usually far higher than the preliminary figures. That measure, called PRODES, compares satellite images at the end of July 2020 to those taken at the beginning of August 2019 to detect forest clearances. There are fewer clouds in that period to obscure deforestation.

Researchers at the non-governmental Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) say that PRODES is predicted to show a dramatic increase to more than 14,000 square kilometers deforested for 2020 compared with 10,129 square kilometers for 2019. That would likely be the highest deforestation since 2016.

Separate Inpe data also show that fires, which are typically set to clear land for agricultural use after cutting down the trees, have increased 20% in the Amazon from Jan. 1 to Nov. 12, compared with the same period a year ago - the highest rate in a decade.

Continuing high destruction could draw the scrutiny of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, who repeatedly mentioned late in his campaign the need to protect the Amazon.

In the first presidential debate, Biden said that the world should collectively offer Brazil $20 billion to stop Amazon deforestation and threatened unspecified economic consequences if the country did not.

(This story corrects likely 2020 deforestation milestone to highest since 2006, not 2016 in paragraph 6; corrects highest number of fires in a decade, not highest rate in paragraph 7; adds missing word in paragraph 4)

Reporting by Jake Spring, editing by Louise Heavens