Good news, bad news for the Amazon

How is the world's greatest rainforest faring?  It very much depends where you look...

The world's biologically richest rainforests (photo by William Laurance)

The world's biologically richest rainforests (photo by William Laurance)

In the Brazilian Amazon, the rate of forest destruction has plummeted to historic lows.  For example, last year the deforestation rate was only about a quarter of what it was in the 1990s and early-mid 2000s, when 2-3 million hectares of forest were being felled each year -- comparable to a country the size of Belgium.

And this year the news is even better.  The current rate of deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia is 18% lower than it was last year

Long-term Amazon watchers can scarcely believe it.  The falling deforestation rate in Brazil is being chalked up to better enforcement of environmental laws, new protected areas, a moratorium on forest clearing for soy, and an important role for indigenous lands in limiting forest loss

International carbon funds -- led by Norway's contribution of up to $1 billion to Brazil -- have also helped.

The heartening decline in forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon (from Mongabay.com)

The heartening decline in forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon (from Mongabay.com)

But elsewhere the picture is lot uglier. 

Peru is clearing large expanses of Amazon rainforest for oil palm, and gold miners are wreaking havoc in large areas, in part because of increased access to forests via the new Inter-Oceanic Highway.  And much of the Peruvian Amazon is being opened up for oil and gas leases.

The blight of illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon

The blight of illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon

In Bolivia, the government has announced that it intends to expand the agricultural frontier by nearly 1 million hectares per year between now and 2025.  Few believe such wildly ambitious plans are realistic but it speaks to the prevailing government's priorities -- and the environment is clearly very low on its list.

In Guyana, which has historically had low rates of deforestation, aggressive Chinese logging corporations are rapidly moving into the country.  A single Chinese corporation, Bai Shan Lin, now controls 1.4 million hectares of Guyana's forest and has been accused of widespread bribery in acquiring timber concessions.

Deforestation is also high in the Colombian Amazon, where cattle ranching and illegal coca production are major causes of forest lossMining activity is also exploding in the country.

The list goes on an on -- almost everywhere you look in the Amazon, there's more roads, more dams, more mining, more mega-projects

While the story in Brazil is heartening, there's no time for complacency elsewhere.  The threats are multiplying dramatically, and the fate of the world's greatest rainforest is hanging precariously in the balance.