SAO PAULO, Brazil, Feb 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A
bill to reduce the size of four Amazon conservation reserves in
Brazil and eliminate another may be related to proposals by
mining industries to begin work in those areas, investigators
from a conservation organisation say.
“We noticed that the majority of those exploitation requests
are within the limits of the conservation units that the new
bill wants to cut,” said Mariana Ferreira, the science
coordinator for WWF-Brazil, a non-governmental environmental
The national bill, proposed by legislators from Amazonas
state, aims to eliminate the Campos de Manicore Environmental
Protection Area and reduce the size of Acari National Park, the
Manicore Biological Reserve and the Urupadi and Aripuana
The protected areas were created last year, before the
impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in August.
But “even after the creation of those conservation units in
2016, the mining industry didn't stop requesting official
licenses to exploit minerals within the protected areas”, said
Ricardo Mello, coordinator of the Amazon programme at
The more-than-20-page bill describes the conservation areas
proposed for reduction or elimination only as geographic
coordinates, without maps, and does not provide a reason for the
change, WWF-Brazil said.
But maps created from the coordinates by the conservation
organisation show that proposals to begin mining – particularly
for gold, but also for diamonds and niobium, used in steel and
superconductors – have been filed with the government in all
the areas, the NGO said.
The mining proposals are available from a national database
of requests by industry for mineral prospecting and extraction.
In Acari National Park alone, about 40 requests for
prospecting or mining minerals, mainly gold, have been filed,
WWF-Brazil said. Some have already been authorised, according to
According to President Michel Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu
Padilha, the proposed cuts to conservation areas are being
analyzed within the Ministry of Environment.
However Jose Sarney Filho, the country’s environment
minister, has indicated he is against the changes.
“The minister is against the project because any change in
conservation units demands technical advice from the Chico
Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, an agency linked
to the Ministry of Environment,” the ministry replied via email,
when asked for comment.
Brazil’s forests are under pressure not only from mining but
also expansion of agriculture, creation of large dams and timber
Data from the National Institute for Space Research shows
that the amount of forest lost in the five locations in the
proposed bill has jumped from 27 percent in 2011 to 36 percent
The new protected areas were designated last year to create
“shields” on the frontline of expansion of timber cutting and
agribusiness industries in the Amazon. All contain endangered
species, researches say.
"There are worrying signs of a movement to reduce protected
areas in the Amazon,” climatologist Carlos Nobre, of the
Brazilian Academy of Sciences, told the Thomson Reuters
"The increase in deforestation over the last two years is
part of this worrying trend of diminishing forest protection,”
Philip Fearnside, who has been studying the Amazon for more
than three decades, said it is clear mining companies want to
limit the area that is put off limits.
"There are bills under discussion that aim to block the
creation of protected areas where ores could also be found. We
are talking about the interests of a very powerful group, which
involves a lot of money,” said Fearnside, who works at the
National Institute of Amazonian Research.
A reduction of protected areas in the Amazon may also
jeopardize commitments made by the Brazilian government to
reduce climate change as part of the Paris Agreement, Nobre
"These commitments demand a continuous effort to cut
deforestation. And this will not happen if the shield of
protected areas is weakened, as they were created to curb the
disorderly expansion of the agricultural frontier," he said.
(Reporting by Nadia Pontes; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.