The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has been a problem that has spanned over decades, with everything from clear cut farming to human expansion contributing to the destruction. Now, the first comprehensive study of mining deforestation shows that increased mining operations in Brazil are a big factor in the continued deforestation of the Amazon.
Published in Nature Communications, the study finds that mining-related forest loss contributed to about 10 percent of all Amazon deforestation between 2005 and 2015 – which is much higher than previous estimates. Interestingly, the report details that 90 percent of deforestation related to mining occurred outside the mining leases granted by Brazil’s government. In fact, mining-induced deforestation was 12 times greater outside the mine lease areas than inside them.
“These results show that mining now ranks as a substantial cause of Amazon forest loss,” says Laura Sonter of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment. “Previous estimates assumed mining caused maybe one or two percent of deforestation. Hitting the 10 percent threshold is alarming and warrants action.”
The deforestation itself is caused by mining companies building transportation routes and worker housing. The transportation routes also enable other forms of deforestation, such as agriculture – the leading cause of Amazon forest loss.
“Our findings show that Amazon deforestation associated with mining extends remarkable distances from the point of mineral extraction,” says Gillian Galford of UVM’s Gund Institute and Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.
This report is extremely timely, as it comes during a time in which the Brazilian government is considering legislation that would roll back environmental regulations and cut restrictions on mining in protected and indigenous areas. As it stands right now, mining companies that apply for leases do not need to account for any damage their operations cause offsite.
Hopefully the government will be able to see the destruction being caused and reconsider easing environmental protections. “We hope these findings help government, industry and scientists to work together to address this issue,” says Sonter.