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Brazilian Brotherhood


Amazon Rainforest - Juina MT, Brazil

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Brazilian Brotherhood


Amazon Rainforest - Juina MT, Brazil

 In a race to replace as much of the Amazon Rainforest as possible — all the while, conducting reforestation activities in a positive and valued manner.

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Cinta-Larga Tribe


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Cinta-Larga Tribe


The Infamous Tribe of Brazil's Amazon

Ray had no plans of spending an entire year in Brazil without directly meeting at least one of the indigenous indian tribes of the Amazon Rainforest. It took over 3 hours by vehicle to get to their location - on terrain so rocky that it might have been faster walking through much of it. Halfway through the trip, a stop was made to pick up the local owner of the only supply store in the region. Ray didn’t realize till later that the store owner was the key to his safe passage through indian territory. Before the thought of taking any photographs, Ray spent much of the day meeting different factions of the tribe. Initially, they were not comfortable with Ray's presence. His driver was clever enough to bring candy for the kids, which the adults also showed some interest in. As the day was coming to a close and time was nearing for departure, one of the elderly women of the tribe walks over to Ray and hands him a hand-woven basket. She then placed a handmade headband around Ray's head and thanked him for his kind visit (in portuguese). It was their way of accepting Ray as an honorary friend of the tribe.

Days later while going through the photographs he had taken, Ray was curious and wanted to know more about the kind people living so deep in the Amazon Rainforest. The hairs stood on the back of Ray's neck when he read a New York Times piece on the history of the tribe he visited. Here is a link to the article.

When asked would Ray had gone if he knew their infamous history? Ray responded, "No question.  Absolutely. I don't believe words in a newspaper or book tell the whole story of a group of people. Black history in America has some pretty good examples of that."

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Illegal Logging


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Illegal Logging


Ray with a convoy of Police Federal stuck in the heavy mud during a illegal logging raid.

Ray with a convoy of Police Federal stuck in the heavy mud during a illegal logging raid.

Illegal Logging: The Human Side

Illegal logging in the Amazon is usually a faceless event.  Authorities find out about it after the fact through satellite imagery, or get tips that lead them hours into the forest only to find the perpetrators – and the logs - long gone. With under-funded enforcement agencies monitoring a forest larger than the continental United States, the odds often seem stacked in favor of the criminals.

Ray Brown, the director of Colorado-based TreeViver, was recently part of a raid in Mato Grosso that ended differently, and caused him to reflect on the human side of the battle for the Amazon. TreeViver is a social venture reforesting degraded land in Mato Grosso, and Ray interacts extensively both with people destroying the forest and those trying to save it.

Brazil has reduced its overall deforestation rate dramatically in the last decade with improved satellite surveillance, better cooperation between environmental and law enforcement agencies, more effective laws regulating loans to landowners, and stricter enforcement of the existing forest protection laws. In the last two years, however, deforestation in Mato Grosso has reached an all-time high, causing it to be the epicenter of the fight to save the forest.

The Secretaria Estadual de Meio Ambiente (SEMA) – the Brazilian agency responsible for investigating environmental crimes - had gotten a series of tips from a reliable informer about an illegal logging operation near the town of Juina, in northwestern Mato Grosso. The nearly hourly updates, including details about vehicles, locations and more, made them realize that this activity was currently underway and that this might be a rare opportunity to actually catch the perpetrators in the act.
  
Ray was invited by a colleague and agent of SEMA, João Vitor Ceran, to document this raid, which was to be a joint operation between the state and federal enforcement agencies. The decision to join was not one to be taken lightly in a region where environmentalists often find themselves on the wrong end of a gun held by exporters of timber and minerals.
 
Working with SEMA is more than just a job for Ray’s friend João. This young man has a true passion for the forest. At 24 years old, he has worked for the government of Brazil for five years. He has a map of Brazil tattooed on his back, filled with several species of rainforest trees. This forest and this country are a part of him. If the rainforest dies, part of him will die with it.

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Even with his life dedicated to stopping illegal deforestation, he understands why people see it as their only option and believes that protection of the Amazon is a global responsibility:

“The goal of each and every person living in the Amazon is unique, having minimum conditions to support his family, and often they work to sustain their homes with land use. If the world does not want the forest destroyed, The World must pay for the Amazon to continue, because people who own farms require the use of these areas to survive.”
  
On the day of the raid, Ray, João, and the rest of the state agents loaded up in their pickup truck and headed to the meeting point at the edge of the forest where they would join up with the Federales. A turn took them into the forest on a road that was more like a horse trail than the paved road indicated on the map.

They soon encountered a man on a motorcycle. The Federales stopped and questioned him. While it was impossible to know what he was doing on this road, he was visibly nervous. Five minutes after allowing him to pass, they came across a big, ancient truck grinding along the road. While this type of truck in the Amazon is usually an open flat-bed, this particular one had wood sides so that a casual observer would not know what was inside.

As the agents questioned the driver of the truck, his eyes were open wide and his mouth was agape in a look of sheer panic. They asked him to move away from the truck as they inspected and catalogued the contents – three huge logs, chainsaws and fuel. His story was that he took the logs because he was very poor and needed to build a house for his mother. As they measured out the logs in the truck, one of the agents whispered to Ray “we never catch the people!”
 
The agents needed to continue on into the forest to find the actual site of the tree cutting, so they took down the driver’s information, gave him a ticket, and instructed him to report to the Civil Police in the nearest  town. These agents were not able to arrest the man, as the authority to arrest in Brazil is restricted to the Civil Police.
 
The trucks started up again, two moving deeper into the forest and one moving out, presumably, to the police station. Along the road they stopped to question two more men on a motorcycle and discovered more and more logs piled alongside the road. If this man was building a house for his mother, it would be a mansion. The agents told Ray that the trees had not been cut in a way to make them useful for building a home.  Clearly this was a large illegal operation, and multiple trucks would be coming to collect these logs.
 
As they left the forest and prepared to turn onto the main road, they looked the other direction and saw the wood from the truck they had stopped laying beside the road. These logs could not have been unloaded by the driver alone, adding to the suspicion about the men on the motorcycles. The truck driver and the men on the motorcycles were never seen again, escaping the $150 fine and possible prosecution in the legal system.

The man driving the logs out of the forest in his ancient truck might not have been doing it to build a house for his mother, but he was certainly telling the truth about being poor. Globally, the illegal timber trade is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Very little of that money makes it into the hands of the people risking their lives to cut the trees.
 
Agent Ceron believes that Brazil should be able to use the Amazon rainforest as a resource, but wants it to be used wisely:

“Just as countries that claim to be "developed" use their natural resources for income generation, Brazil has the same right, but should not repeat the same mistakes such as exterminating its native people, clearing the river banks, removing all vegetation to land use, making excessive use of agrochemicals, etc.”

Selective cutting of commercially-valuable hardwood species, as was happening on the day of this raid, is just one of the threats to the forest in Mato Grosso. Most of the destruction of the forest is a result of large-scale clearing for soya and beef production. In Mato Grosso alone, there are over 25 million cattle, compared to approximately 40 million in the entire United States. It is also the hub of Brazil’s soya industry, with over 15 million acres dedicated to the crop.

A bigger threat, however, might be a recent attack from the policy side. The agricultural and ranching lobbies have introduced new changes to the Forest Code that would open up an additional 20 million acres of forest to clearing. The changes would reduce the amount of land that landowners are required to keep intact from 80% to 50%, reduce buffers along streams, and allow clearing on hilltops, which are currently protected to prevent erosion. Even with no decision yet made on these proposed changes, their impact is being felt in the forest.

In response to a question about why deforestation is increasing in Mato Grosso, João Ceron says “There are several factors [causing increased deforestation] such as the high price of wood, people want to open up new areas for agricultural and livestock, and the main reason I believe is the political issue of having a vote on the new Forest Code. Those who deforested before the year 2008 will be pardoned the fine.”
 
Basically, people are seeing the potential amnesty for pre-2008 clearing as a “free pass,” as it will be difficult for authorities to prove whether land was cleared before or after the cut-off date.

Just last week, standing by a campaign promise to veto any bills that threaten the forest, President Rousseff vetoed 12 of the 87 proposed changes to the Forest Code. The Brazilian Congress now has thirty days to decide whether to accept or reject the President’s new revisions. 

The President is in a difficult position between two strong interest groups, neither of whom will be entirely happy if her line-item vetoes are supported. The agricultural and ranching interests control 25% of the Congress. They want the weakest possible Forest Code, and will be disappointed that the vetoes will keep many protections in place.  Local and international environmental groups are also powerful. They believe that the line-item vetoes will make the Forest Code too difficult to enforce, as opposed to vetoing all the proposed changes and keeping the Code in its original form.

Ultimately, the future of the Amazon will not be determined by the outcome of this debate. The rich world has an insatiable appetite for beef and tropical hardwoods. Until the demand for these products in wealthy markets like the United States, Europe and Asia is controlled, there will always be people willing to take the risks to meet that demand.

The man driving the logs out of the forest in his ancient truck might not have been doing it to build a house for his mother, but he was certainly telling the truth about being poor. Globally, the illegal timber trade is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Very little of that money makes it into the hands of the people risking their lives to cut the trees.
 
Agent Ceron believes that Brazil should be able to use the Amazon rainforest as a resource, but wants it to be used wisely:

“Just as countries that claim to be "developed" use their natural resources for income generation, Brazil has the same right, but should not repeat the same mistakes such as exterminating its native people, clearing the river banks, removing all vegetation to land use, making excessive use of agrochemicals, etc.”

Selective cutting of commercially-valuable hardwood species, as was happening on the day of this raid, is just one of the threats to the forest in Mato Grosso. Most of the destruction of the forest is a result of large-scale clearing for soya and beef production. In Mato Grosso alone, there are over 25 million cattle, compared to approximately 40 million in the entire United States. It is also the hub of Brazil’s soya industry, with over 15 million acres dedicated to the crop.

A bigger threat, however, might be a recent attack from the policy side. The agricultural and ranching lobbies have introduced new changes to the Forest Code that would open up an additional 20 million acres of forest to clearing. The changes would reduce the amount of land that landowners are required to keep intact from 80% to 50%, reduce buffers along streams, and allow clearing on hilltops, which are currently protected to prevent erosion. Even with no decision yet made on these proposed changes, their impact is being felt in the forest.

In response to a question about why deforestation is increasing in Mato Grosso, João Ceron says “There are several factors [causing increased deforestation] such as the high price of wood, people want to open up new areas for agricultural and livestock, and the main reason I believe is the political issue of having a vote on the new Forest Code. Those who deforested before the year 2008 will be pardoned the fine.”
 
Basically, people are seeing the potential amnesty for pre-2008 clearing as a “free pass,” as it will be difficult for authorities to prove whether land was cleared before or after the cut-off date.

Just last week, standing by a campaign promise to veto any bills that threaten the forest, President Rousseff vetoed 12 of the 87 proposed changes to the Forest Code. The Brazilian Congress now has thirty days to decide whether to accept or reject the President’s new revisions. 

The President is in a difficult position between two strong interest groups, neither of whom will be entirely happy if her line-item vetoes are supported. The agricultural and ranching interests control 25% of the Congress. They want the weakest possible Forest Code, and will be disappointed that the vetoes will keep many protections in place.  Local and international environmental groups are also powerful. They believe that the line-item vetoes will make the Forest Code too difficult to enforce, as opposed to vetoing all the proposed changes and keeping the Code in its original form.

Ultimately, the future of the Amazon will not be determined by the outcome of this debate. The rich world has an insatiable appetite for beef and tropical hardwoods. Until the demand for these products in wealthy markets like the United States, Europe and Asia is controlled, there will always be people willing to take the risks to meet that demand.

The man driving the logs out of the forest in his ancient truck might not have been doing it to build a house for his mother, but he was certainly telling the truth about being poor. Globally, the illegal timber trade is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Very little of that money makes it into the hands of the people risking their lives to cut the trees.
 
Agent Ceron believes that Brazil should be able to use the Amazon rainforest as a resource, but wants it to be used wisely:

“Just as countries that claim to be "developed" use their natural resources for income generation, Brazil has the same right, but should not repeat the same mistakes such as exterminating its native people, clearing the river banks, removing all vegetation to land use, making excessive use of agrochemicals, etc.”

Selective cutting of commercially-valuable hardwood species, as was happening on the day of this raid, is just one of the threats to the forest in Mato Grosso. Most of the destruction of the forest is a result of large-scale clearing for soya and beef production. In Mato Grosso alone, there are over 25 million cattle, compared to approximately 40 million in the entire United States. It is also the hub of Brazil’s soya industry, with over 15 million acres dedicated to the crop.

A bigger threat, however, might be a recent attack from the policy side. The agricultural and ranching lobbies have introduced new changes to the Forest Code that would open up an additional 20 million acres of forest to clearing. The changes would reduce the amount of land that landowners are required to keep intact from 80% to 50%, reduce buffers along streams, and allow clearing on hilltops, which are currently protected to prevent erosion. Even with no decision yet made on these proposed changes, their impact is being felt in the forest.

In response to a question about why deforestation is increasing in Mato Grosso, João Ceron says “There are several factors [causing increased deforestation] such as the high price of wood, people want to open up new areas for agricultural and livestock, and the main reason I believe is the political issue of having a vote on the new Forest Code. Those who deforested before the year 2008 will be pardoned the fine.”
 
Basically, people are seeing the potential amnesty for pre-2008 clearing as a “free pass,” as it will be difficult for authorities to prove whether land was cleared before or after the cut-off date.

Just last week, standing by a campaign promise to veto any bills that threaten the forest, President Rousseff vetoed 12 of the 87 proposed changes to the Forest Code. The Brazilian Congress now has thirty days to decide whether to accept or reject the President’s new revisions. 

The President is in a difficult position between two strong interest groups, neither of whom will be entirely happy if her line-item vetoes are supported. The agricultural and ranching interests control 25% of the Congress. They want the weakest possible Forest Code, and will be disappointed that the vetoes will keep many protections in place.  Local and international environmental groups are also powerful. They believe that the line-item vetoes will make the Forest Code too difficult to enforce, as opposed to vetoing all the proposed changes and keeping the Code in its original form.

Ultimately, the future of the Amazon will not be determined by the outcome of this debate. The rich world has an insatiable appetite for beef and tropical hardwoods. Until the demand for these products in wealthy markets like the United States, Europe and Asia is controlled, there will always be people willing to take the risks to meet that demand.