BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has dropped to its lowest level in 24 years, the government said Tuesday.
Satellite imagery showed that 1,798 square miles (4,656 square kilometers) of the Amazon were deforested between August 2011 and July 2012, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said a news conference. That's 27 percent less than the 2,478 square miles (6,418 square kilometers) deforested a year earlier. The margin of error is 10 percentage points.
Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said the deforestation level is the lowest since it started measuring the destruction of the rainforest in 1988.
Sixty-three percent of the rainforest's 2.4 million square miles (6.1 million square kilometers) are in Brazil.
The space institute said that the latest figures show that Brazil is close to its 2020 target of reducing deforestation by 80 percent from 1990 levels. Through July 2012 deforestation dropped by 76.26 percent.
George Pinto a director of Ibama, Brazil's environmental protection agency, told reporters that better enforcement of environmental laws and improved surveillance technology are behind the drop in deforestation levels.
Pinto said that in the 12-month period a total of 2,000 square meters of illegally felled timber were seized by government agents. The impounded lumber is sold in auctions and the money obtained is invested in environmental preservation programs.
Environment Minister Teixeira said that starting next year Brazil will start using satellite monitoring technology to detect illegal logging and slash-and-burn activity and issue fines.
"Over the past several years Brazil has made a huge effort to contain deforestation and the latest figures testify to its success," said Adalberto Verissimo, a senior researcher at Imazon, an environmental watchdog agency. "The deforestation figures are extremely positive, for they point to a consistent downward trend."
"The numbers disprove the argument that deforestation is necessary for the country's economy to grow, he said by telephone from his office in the Amazon city of Belem." Deforestation has been dropping steadily for the past four years while the economy has grown," he said
"But the war is far from over. We still have a lot of battles to fight and win."
For Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace coordinator in the Amazon region, said the lower figures show that reducing deforestation is perfectly possible, but he added that "the numbers are still too high for a country that does not have to destroy one single hectare in order to develop."