Study finds Brazil isn’t counting all deforestation in official estimates

Brazil drew widespread praise for drastically lowering Amazon deforestation over the past decade and half. But as forest destruction in the country is on the rise once again, new research finds that Brazil’s official estimates are missing large swaths of deforestation.

News broke last November that deforestation had jumped 16 percent in the Brazilian Amazon for the year ending on July 31, 2015, with an estimated 5,831 square kilometres (about 2,250 square miles) of rainforest, an area half the size of Los Angeles, destroyed that year.

The Brazilian government revised that figure earlier this month, however, stating that some 6,207 square kilometres (about 2,397 square miles) of Amazon rainforest were actually destroyed in the year that ended on July 31, 2015. Though this represents a six percent increase over the previous estimate and the highest annual loss in the Brazilian Amazon since 2011, it is still well below historical levels of deforestation.

Now a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters finds that, between 2008 and 2012, close to 9,000 square kilometres (about 3,475 square miles) of the Brazilian Amazon were cleared without being detected by the government’s official monitoring system.

Brazil’s Monitoring Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by Satellite Project (known as PRODES) has played a key role in Brazil’s recent efforts to rein in deforestation. According to PRODES, 25,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest were lost to deforestation in 2003. That dropped to an average of just 5,300 square miles between 2009 to 2013.

But when researchers with Brown University compared data from PRODES with two independent satellite measures of forest loss — from the Global Forest Change project and the Fire Information for Resource Management Systems — they found that about 9,000 square kilometres of rainforest destruction, an area roughly the size of Puerto Rico, were not included in the PRODES monitoring.

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