June 21, 2018 / 3:27 PM / a year ago

Deforestation in Brazil savannah ticked up in 2017 after 2016 drop

FILE PHOTO: A Calliandra flower, which typically grows in the Brazilian Cerrado savanna, is seen surrounded by smoke after a fire broke out in an ecological reserve near the airport in Brasilia, Brazil September 8, 2011. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File photo

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil’s vast savannah, which takes up 25 percent of the country, ticked up in 2017 after a sharp drop in 2016, the Environment Ministry said on Thursday, outpacing destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Destruction of native vegetation in the region known as the Cerrado rose to 7,408 square km last year after falling 43 percent to 6,777 square km in 2016, data showed.

The Cerrado’s plant life is a major carbon sink and its preservation is considered vital to Brazilian efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Revised data from the Environment Ministry showed that deforestation of the Cerrado rose 10 percent in 2015 to 11,881 square km. The ministry’s last report on the biome had found that Brazil deforested an average 9,483 square km per year in the region between 2014 and 2015.

The savannah, an area roughly the size of Mexico, is 70 percent covered in tree formations. The remaining grassland is knit through with deep roots likened to an “underground forest” that also locks large amounts of carbon in the soil.

“Despite these positive results, the Environment Ministry considers it necessary to reduce those figures even more,” Minister Edson Duarte said in a statement.

The deforestation of the Cerrado continues to outpace the Amazon, which fell for the first time in three years in 2017 to 6,624 square km.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Bruno Federowski; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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