Vol 10 Num 4

The changes proposed in the Brazilian Forest Code do not have scientific support.

During the first week of July 2010, while most Brazilians were focused in the World Cup in South Africa, a Special Commission of the Lower House of Parliament approved an amendment to Brazil's 1965 Forest Code that can, significantly, reduce protection of Brazilian native vegetation. The approved amendment threatens not only large areas of the Amazon Forest, but also the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado (savannah), both classified as hotspots by Myers et al (2000). Fragile areas, like the Pantanal, the largest wetland of the world (covering an area estimated at between 140,000 to 195,000 square kilometers), and the rocky outcrops at high altitude along the Serra do Mar mountains, are known as centers of endemism of many species of plants (Fiaschi & Pirani, 2009) and animals (Vasconcelos & Rodrigues 2010) and will be severely affected by the amendments proposed.

Under the present Forest Code, riparian vegetation (ranging from 30m wide on each margin for rivers with less then 10m of channel to 500m wide on each margin for rivers with more then 600m of channel), as well as natural slopes with inclination higher than 45o and the top of mountains above 1.800 meters are classified as Areas of Permanent Protection (APP). This means that they must be fully preserved, and if destroyed for any reason they must be restored using only native species.

Another important chapter of the present Brazilian Forest Code deals with the percentage that any rural property must preserve of the original vegetation, named Reserva Legal (RL). The area designated by the land owner as RL must be so mentioned in the deed of the property, and the allowed economic activities within these areas must be sustainable, such as: sustainable forest management in accordance with technical and scientific criteria; ecotourism, using forest trails to attract tourists; production of honey by native stingless bees; etc… Private owners being obliged to preserve part of their property with native vegetation, therefore playing an important role in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use is one of the unique features of Brazilian environmental legislation.

In the Brazilian Forest Code from 1965, revised and amended in 1989, the size of RL ranged from 50% in properties in the Amazon region to 20% in the other Brazilian regions. Between 1996 and 2001 the code was changed by Presidential Decrees (Medidas Provisórias 1.511, de 25 de julho 1996. 1.605-18, de 11 de dezembro de 1997, 1.736-31, de 14 de dezembro de 1998., 1.885-38, de 29 de junho de 1999, 1.956-45, de 6 de janeiro de 2000 e Medida Provisória No 2.166-67, De 24 de agosto de 2001 which is the Brazilian Forest Code in force today), the protected area in the Amazon region increased to 80% in properties covered by forest and 35% in properties covered by Cerrado.

All the amendments proposed in the items related to the Reserva Legal aim at reducing not only the percentage of the property that must be assigned with this status, but also the activities allowed, which includes plantation of introduced Eucalyptus spp and Pinus spp. In the Amazon region RL reduction proposed may increase deforestation to above 40% of the forest cover, compromising forest connectivity in some regions. In the Atlantic Forest domain, a region with high human density, 90% of forest fragments are small (<100 ha) but, even so, are extremely important to reduce the isolation of the few larger fragments, functioning as stepping stones in the displacement of species across the landscape. Without these fragments, biological fluxes would be very badly affected, further accelerating the process of extinction. In these highly fragmented landscapes gene flow is at a tipping point, and any reduction in RL areas may trigger a mass extinction.

Contrary to the scientifically established importance of land-inland water ecotones, the new Code will reduce the legal protection of riparian vegetation. As stated by Michalski et al (2010) “the detrimental environmental and social impacts of brushing aside scientific evidence are exemplified by the proposed reductions in protected forest area requirements for riparian forest (buffer strips) located adjacent to rivers and streams.” In rivers with less then 5 meters in width, which are the vast majority of rivers in any watershed, protected riparian forest areas will be reduced from the present 30 meters to 15 meters, and for all other rivers the protected riparian forest is reduced by changing the reference for measuring river channel width. The present Forest Code uses the width of the river channel in the rainy season, when waters are high and the channel larger, while the new Code proposes to use the width of the channel in the dry season, when the waters are low and, therefore, the channel is narrower.

Furthermore if the amendments proposed are approved, wetlands will not be classified as APP anymore, becoming available to cultivate, for instance, rice. Wetlands are of extreme ecological importance, not only as wildlife shelter and its peculiar flora, including endemic species, but also because of the irreplaceable ecosystem services they provide. Considering that many countries are expending billions of dollars to recover natural wetlands and/or build artificial wetlands, due to their importance and the economic significance of their services to human wellbeing, it is absurd to think that Brazil is changing its Forest Code to allow the destruction of these fragile ecosystems. Moreover, removing the status of APP directly contradicts the international commitment the Brazilian government made in 1996 by ratifying the RAMSAR Convention, which requires the development of special programs to ensure wetland protection.

In this volume of Biota Neotropica features a Special Session Brazilian Forest Code, with papers focusing on the impact of the proposed changes upon fresh water fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals as well as on butterflies, a charismatic flag group, and bees, whose “services” are of paramount importance not only for native vegetation but also for crops like soybeans and orange. A summary of the points of view presented in these papers is available in the document produced by researchers of the BIOTA/FAPESP Program and Associação Brasileira de Ciência Ecológica e Conservação/ABECO.

Other authors have also recently published papers on groups that are already highly threatened by native vegetation fragmentation, like the 819 species of restricted-range fresh water fishes (Nogueira et al 2010), or questioning if the present Forest Code is scientifically sound (Metzger, 2010).

The Point of View of this Special Session shows clearly that YES “it is possible to combine modern tropical agriculture with environmental conservation” (Metzger et al 2010). Besides, it has been clearly demonstrated that Brazil is in a unique position of being able to expand crop production, as well as cattle production, without clearing new areas of forest or Cerrado (Sparovek et al 2010).

As said by Metzger et al (2010) “although opposed by the Ministry of the Environment and most scientists; the combination of traditional politicians, opportunistic economic groups, and powerful landowners may be hard to resist. The situation is delicate and serious. Under the new Forest Act, Brazil risks suffering its worst environmental setback in half a century, with critical and irreversible consequences beyond its borders.”

Fiaschi, P. and Pirani, J.R. 2009 Review of plant biogeographic studies in Brazil. J Syst Evol 47(5): 477–496

Metzger, J. P. ; Lewinsohn, T.; Joly, C.A.; Verdade, L.M. and Rodrigues, R.R. 2010. Brazilian law: full speed in reverse. Science 329 (5989): 276-277.

Metzger, J.P. 2010. O Código Florestal tem base científica?. Natureza & Conservação 8(1): 92-99. .

Michalski, F.; Norris, D.; Peres, C. A. 2010. No return from biodiversity loss. Science 329 (5997): 1282.

Myers, N., R.A. Mittermeier, C.G. Mittermeier, G.A.B. da Fonseca and J. Kent. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403: 853-858.

Nogueira, C.; Buckup, P.A.; Menezes, N.A.; Oyakawa, O.T.; Kasecker, T.P.; Ramos Neto, B. and Silva, J.M. 2010. Restricted-range fishes and the conservation of Brazilian freshwaters. Plos One 5(6): e11390

Sparovek, G., Berndes, G.; Klug, I.L. F. and Barretto, A.G.O.P. 2010 Brazilian agriculture and environmental legislation: Status and Future Challenges. Environ. Sci. Technol. 44 (16): 6046–6053

Vasconcelos, M. F. and Rodrigues, M. 2010. Patterns of geographic distribution and conservation of the open-habitat avifauna of southeastern Brazilian mountaintops (campos rupestres and campos de altitude). Pap. Avulsos Zool. 50(1): 1-29.

Carlos A. Joly

Department of Plant Biology, Biology Institute, State University of Campinas, CP 6109, CEP 13083-970, Campinas/SP, Brazil and Chairman of the BIOTA/FAPESP Program.

Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, Fapesp
Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq