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Almost 10 per cent of clearing in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest is being driven by unregulated development around mine sites, a new study has found.
Researchers analysed satellite data from 2005 to 2015, contrasting areas within a 70-kilometre radius of mine sites, with areas not proximal to mines.
In the study published today in Nature Communications, they found that an extra 11,670 square-kilometres of Amazon rainforest had been cleared where mines were within that radius.
“This is an unregulated source of deforestation, we didn’t know it existed and we assumed it was much smaller than what our results have shown,” said lead author Dr Laura Sonter of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute.
According to the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE), more than 190,000 square-kilometres of rainforest have been cleared in the Brazilian Amazon since 2000.
Environmental regulations in Brazil require mining operations to take into account the mine footprint and some direct infrastructure.
But the latest research showed the total area deforested as an indirect consequence of people moving into the area to capitalise on the mining development was nearly 12 times greater outside the mines’ lease boundaries.
And Dr Sonter said there have been moves to further water down existing regulations.
“There are plans to expedite the approval of what they call strategic projects,” she said.
Mining roads open up ‘last wild frontiers’ to exploitation
Environmental scientist Bill Laurance from James Cook University said it is a case of what he calls the “Pandora’s box” effect, and it’s a pattern he has seen in mining developments around the world.
According to Professor Laurance, roads built to service mines invariably act as arteries that open up untouched areas to first waves of incidental disturbance.
“What you’re seeing with mining operations is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Professor Laurance argues that the Pandora’s box effect results in much greater impacts from mining developments than are ever taken into account during the preparation of environmental impact assessments (EIA).
“I think a lot of the environmental assessments have to be compared to criminal negligence,” he said.
“The governments that have been setting the terms for the environmental assessments, and the terms they’ve been setting are way too narrow and way too short-term.”
Originally published by “Amazon Rain Forest Deforestation: “Almost 10 Per Cent” Due to Development Around Mines,” by environment reporter Nick Kilvert, http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-10-18/amazon-rainforest-deforestation-mining/9057268.