The group of organizations managed to cover seven of the nine states that make up the Brazilian Amazon, that account for most of Brazil’s rainforest timber production. More than half of the logging happened in the state of Mato Grosso, followed by Amazonas and Rondônia. The area covers 10 municipalities in those states along with Roraima, Acre, and Pará.

It’s difficult for researchers to discern which activities are legal and which are not, but they did observe logging operations in undesignated national parks and indigenous territories. The ongoing political climate led by President Jair Bolsonaro has defunded departments and organizations that work to protect those areas.

The largest continuous area of deforested Amazon rainforest

Imazon found that of the 50,139 hectares deforested in Pará, a state with intense logging, that 55% of the activity happened without any authorization.  To verify legality, Imazon obtained data from the Environmental Licensing and Monitoring System (Simlam-PA) and cross-referenced it with the satellite imagery.

A further investigation by InfoAmazonia identified the location of the largest continuous area of deforestation in the Amazon, confirmed by another satellite imagery platform MapBiomas.

The deforested area is in Altamira, Pará and covers 6,500 hectares (16,062 acres) that disappeared in 18 months between 2019 and 2020. A satellite image of the area with the outline of Manhattan superimposed. They are similar sizes.
Image: Imagery via Planet

“Illegal logging is the first activity that happens. It opens the frontier and makes it available for future actors,” said Marco Lentini, project coordinator at Imaflora.

The investigation found that the deforestation in Altamira was carried out in a large part by Augustinho Alba who was fined $4.16 million for logging without authorization. It is estimated Alba’s crew cleared 60% of what was cut down and did not stop even after being fined by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama).

What is wood from the Amazon used for?

While timber from the Amazon is sold at high prices abroad, only about 10% of the wood is exported. The other 90% is sold on the cheap within Brazil for domestic construction. Development is on the rise and cities within the Amazon itself have greater demand for the wood to build homes and industries.

“A lot of the timber from the Amazon is for civil construction, very basic pieces like flooring, decking…it’s pretty much going to housing with very little value added,” said Lentini.

According to Imaflora, it is possible that illegal Amazon timber could be sold for half the price of farmed timber because the costs exclude labor fees, taxes, and other costs authorized producers usually pay for. When management plans authorize felling more trees than exist in an area it allows illegal loggers to conceal a tree’s true origin—known as tree laundering. Licenses can be faked easily and put on the books as legal, and rates can be overestimated to convert logs into sawn wood by timber industries.

“What we are sure of is that 10% of the production comes from concessions in certified areas. The other 90% is gray,” continued Lentini. “How can we influence Brazilians to ask for proof of legal production? I think that’s probably the greatest challenge that we have in the timber market.”

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