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Illegal activity in the Brazilian Amazon stays mostly undetected

As one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest is an invaluable tool for global climate regulation. Despite an increase in protection over the last few decades, illegal activities continue to strip the forest of its assets. A new study used law enforcement data from 2010 to 2015 to gain insight into where the illegal use of natural resources is taking place.

4,243 police reports of illegal activities in this protected region were evaluated and mapped. The majority of the registered illegal activities related to the suppression and degradation of vegetation, closely followed by illegal fishing and hunting activities. These incidents generated over 220 million dollars in fines.

The researchers tested several theories on factors that could predict the occurrence of illegal activities in protected areas. These factors included the type of management category, the age of reserve, population density, and accessibility. The team found that population density and accessibility are the strongest predictors of frequent illegal activities in preserved regions.

Even though Brazil has been a global leader in the use of remote sensing to detect large-scale ecological changes in tropical forests, many disturbances happen “under the canopy” and remain largely undetected and poorly understood. There is not enough funding available to conduct the investigations that are needed on the ground to help prevent these illegal activities.

Study co-author Erico Kauano works for the Brazilian agency that is responsible for the management of federally protected areas.

“Our paper demonstrates that illegal activities within protected areas are still pervasive across the region and that much more work is required to understand their causes and find ways to prevent them,” said Kauano. “We hope that our article can highlight the urgency to shift the flow of the resources dedicated to forest conservation, from the well-maintained offices in cities far away from the actual problems to the frontlines where the fate of the tropical forests is going to be decided in the next decades.”

The research is published in the journal PeerJ.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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