Economic and political forces are rapidly transforming the forests of the Amazon basin, precipitating one of the worlds greatest environmental crises. Through an inter-discplinary modeling project known as Amazon Scenarios, scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (Brazil), and the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Brazil), with colleagues at several other institutions, are simulating future trends in deforestation, forest fire, rivers, fauna, and climate, providing glimpses of plausible futures for this region. A study of deforestation responses to different policies will be published in the March 23, 2006, issue of Nature. It shows that simply implementing existing laws and proposed protected areas would spare the Amazon one million square kilometers of deforestation (one fifth of the entire forest area), avoiding 17 billion tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere, the elimination of several forest formations, and the degradation of several major watersheds.
According to Britaldo Soares-Filho, the papers lead author, "For the first time, we can examine how individual policies ranging from the paving of highways to the requirement for forest reserves on private properties will influence the future of the worlds largest tropical forest. Our model shows that several unique forest ecosystems and entire watersheds will be badly degraded over the next 45 years if we dont rapidly increase our capacity to govern this dynamic region.
By developing the first empirically-based, policy sensitive model of Amazon deforestation to assess forest losses within major watersheds, eco-regions, vegetation types, and the geographic ranges of 382 mammal species, two extreme scenarios were developed, encompassing the likely range of future trajectories of deforestation through 2050. The first of the two futures discussed is a business-as-usual scenario in which the forces of destruction continue unopposed. Specifically, this scenario (abbreviated as BAU) assumes that the network of parks and other protected areas remains at 31 percent of the regions forests, that up to 40 percent of these protected areas are subject to deforestation, and that nearly 85 percent outside of protected areas are subject to deforestation. This translates to a loss of nearly 2 million km2, leaving only 56 percent of the original forest area. The second is a frontier governance scenario in which society and government, together with the scientific and environmental communities, work to control frontier expansion and insure the ecological integrity of the basin. Within the governance scenario, protected areas (parks and reserves) are expanded to 41 percent of the regions forests (as currently planned by the Brazilian government), protected areas are fully enforced, and only 50 percent of the forests outside of protected areas are subject to deforestation. Furthermore, the deforestation rate, although rising initially due to road paving, declines over time, simulating the effects of emerging markets for carbon retain in native forests. Under this scenario, 73 percent of the original forest would remain in 2050.
Elizabeth Braun | EurekAlert!
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