Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon up in February

Drone footage shows deforestation in Brazilian Amazon
An aerial view shows a deforested area during an operation to combat deforestation near Uruara, Para State, Brazil January 21, 2023. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/

SAO PAULO, March 10 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose in February to the highest level on record for the month, preliminary official data showed on Friday, highlighting challenges the new government faces to stop the destruction.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office on Jan. 1, pledging to end illegal logging after years of surging deforestation under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

Experts and environmental officials have warned it could take years to significantly lower deforestation after Bolsonaro cut funding and staff at key agencies.

"We just left behind a government that supported deforestation," Greenpeace Brasil spokesperson Romulo Batista said on Friday.

"As long as enforcement and control do not reach the entire region, illegal deforesters may exploit that to ramp up this deforestation."

So far, there is limited data to indicate whether Lula's more aggressive conservation policies are working.

Space research agency Inpe's data showed 322 square km (124 square miles) were cleared in the region last month, up 62% from February 2022 and well above the average of 166 square km for the period.

It was also the highest since Inpe's data series began in 2015.

But thanks to lower than average deforestation figures in January, deforestation fell 22% in the first two months of 2023 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Inpe.

In a presentation last week, an Inpe scientist blamed the large month-to-month fluctuations on cloud cover that hid deforestation on satellite images in January, only for it to be revealed in February.

Environment Minister Marina Silva said last month, based on partial February data, that it was unusual to have high deforestation this early in the year, when heavy rains make it difficult for loggers to work in the forest.

"They are deforesting even in the rainy season. It is a kind of a revenge against the actions already being taken, but we will keep working towards our goal," Silva told reporters.

Reporting by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Jake Spring and Andrew Cawthorne

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Gabriel is a Sao Paulo, Brazil-based reporter covering Latin America's financial and breaking news from the region's largest economy. A graduate of the University of Sao Paulo, joined Reuters while in college as a Commodities & Energy intern and has been with the firm ever since. Previously covered sports - including soccer and Formula One - for Brazilian radios and websites.