SAO PAULO, Brazil – Deforestation in the Amazon rain forest has declined to its lowest level since 1991 due to strict enforcement of environmental regulations, the Brazilian government said Thursday.
Preliminary figures released by the environmental ministry showed 5,057 square miles of the rain forest were destroyed this year — the lowest level since 4,258 square miles were lost in 1991.
"We aggressively increased enforcement of environmental laws in the past years and it has worked," said Joao Paulo Capobianco, the ministry's secretary of biodiversity and forests.
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The Amazon rain forest is the world's largest remaining tropical wilderness, covering 60 percent of Brazil, an area larger than Western Europe.
Scientists estimate about 20 percent of the forest has been destroyed by development, logging and farming.
The government last month announced the forest lost 6,450 square miles this year but the result was revised after additional data was analyzed.
The numbers released Thursday are estimates based on satellite images. The final results are expected before the end of the year.
Last year, the rain forest lost 7,250 square miles.
"It's the second year in a row there's a decline, so it's good news and we must applaud the government," said Paulo Adario, director of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign. "But our preoccupation is that the average of annual destruction remains high. More needs to be done."
The highest rate of destruction in the Amazon was in 1995, when 11,200 square miles of forest were lost.
"We are trying to repair, in a short period of time, the carelessness that existed for so long," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at a news conference. "For a long time we believed the Amazon was endless ... but if we don't take care of what we have, it's going to end."