Researchers have discovered evidence that many of the Brazilian government’s efforts to protect the Amazon are working.
Bob Walker of Michigan State University and two fellow scientists were the first research team to travel a 1,120-km stretch of the Transamazon Highway in the western Amazon basin.
They found massive areas of undisturbed forest in the form of nationally protected areas and indigenous reserves - as well as examples of where the government had halted unofficial road building.
“We were kind of amazed by the number of good stories we saw. The environmental enforcement agencies in Brazil often seem to be doing what they are supposed to do,” said Mr. Walker, a veteran Amazon researcher whose work is funded by the National Science Foundation.
However, in some places, they confirmed the existence of illegal logging and gold-mining operations that threaten further damage to the world’s largest rainforest.
Due to a government crackdown on illegal logging, Mr. Walker suspected loggers were moving such illegal operations westward - deep into the Amazon - but he needed to confirm it.
An estimated 17 percent of the Brazilian rainforest has been destroyed, much of it in the more developed eastern Amazon basin.
In late June, he made the 10-day National Aeronautics and Space administration (NASA) funded study trip along the western Transamazon Highway with Brazilian colleagues Eugenio Arima, assistant professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Ritaumaria Pereira, Michigan State University doctoral candidate.
That section of the highway, from Itaituba to Labrea, is unpaved and uncharted - a wild stretch of jungle that Mr. Walker had assumed was becoming the new logging frontier.
The researchers witnessed fairly sizable logging operations, including sawmills and semi-trucks hauling out sawn wood, according to a Michigan State release.
Many experts believe too much deforestation could trigger a catastrophic change - or tipping point - that will change the Amazon from tropical forest to dry scrubland.