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Most Amazon fires break out on private properties and undesignated forests

This year’s record burning in the Amazon is closely associated with certain land use categories, with 33% of outbreaks so far concentrated on private lands. Areas with no specified land use came in second, accounting for 30% of hotspots. A staggering 20% of fires appear to have started on undesignated public forests, a strong indication that land grabbing is to blame.


The figures are part of a new analysis of the current Amazon burning season, now broken down by land use category by the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM). The survey is based on data from the National Institute for Space Research covering the period from January 1 to August 29, 2019.


Indigenous lands and conservation sites are the categories with the lowest incidence of fires this year, registering 6% and 7% of outbreaks, respectively. This analysis of areas under conservation excludes APAs, or environmental protection areas, which, despite the name, are regulated more like private property. APAs alone accounted for 6% of outbreaks in the period examined.


Rural settlements set up under Brazil’s agrarian reform programs accounted for 18% of cases; however, a preliminary analysis suggests a high concentration of outbreaks on a small number of projects.


The study reinforces another technical memo IPAM released on the Amazon fires earlier this August, which demonstrated that increased deforestation is largely to blame for this year’s intense burning season. “The primary trigger that set off this burning season in the Amazon was not drought but high levels of deforestation,” says the Institute’s scientific director, Ane Alencar, who has studied the topic for over two decades. “This year has not been particularly dry compared to previous years,” he added.


When comparing the 2019 burning season to the average number of hotspots recorded between 2011 and 2018, all land use categories registered a greater number of outbreaks. In particular, APAs showed an increase of 141% over the average of the previous eight years, and undesignated public forests saw a 126% increase.


“There are 67 million hectares of undesignated public forests in the Amazon belonging to all Brazilians that, for lack of effective governance, are now at the mercy of land grabbers and speculators. Deforestation and fire in these regions are totally illegal and should be the target of investigations as well as enforcement actions,” said IPAM senior researcher Paulo Moutinho.


Authors: Ane Alencar, Paulo Moutinho, Vera Arruda, Camila Balzani & João Ribeiro

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