RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Amazon deforestation jumped 69 percent in the past 12 months — the first such increase in three years — as rising demand for soy and cattle pushes farmers and ranchers to raze trees, officials said Saturday.
Some 3,088 square miles of forest were destroyed between August 2007 and August 2008 — a 69 percent increase over the 1,861 square miles felled in the previous 12 months, according to the National Institute for Space Research, or INPE, which monitors destruction of the Amazon.
"We're not content," Environment Minister Carlos Minc said. "Deforestation has to fall more and the conditions for sustainable development have to improve."
Brazil's government has increased cash payments to fight illegal Amazon logging this year, and it eliminated government bank loans to farmers who illegally clear forest to plant crops.
The country lost 2.7 percent of its Amazon rain forest in 2007, or 4,250 square miles. Environmental officials fear even more land will be razed this year — but they have not forecast how much.
Minc says monthly deforestation rates have slowed since May, but environmental groups say seasonal shifts in tree cutting make the annual number a more accurate gauge.
Most deforestation happens in March and April, the start of Brazil's dry season, and routinely tapers off in May, June and July: Last month, 125 square miles of trees were felled, 61 percent less than the area razed in June.
Environmentalists also argue that INPE's deforestation report wasn't designed to give accurate monthly figures, but to alert and direct the government to deforestation hot spots in time to save the land.
The Amazon region covers about 1.6 million square miles of Brazil, nearly 60 percent of the country. About 20 percent of that land has already been deforested.