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  PlanetArk 3 Mar 06
Brazil Opens Chunks of Amazon Forest to Logging
Story by Raymond Colitt

BRASILIA - Brazil's president on Thursday approved a measure offering huge chunks of the Amazon jungle to timber companies that comply with tough restrictions aimed at preserving the world's largest rain forest.

Under the law signed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the government will tender 40-year contracts allowing the highest bidder to log trees under a sustainable development plan.

Some 32 million acres (13 million hectares), or 3 percent of the Amazon rain forest, will be available to private Brazilian companies.

Logging is barred in nature reserves and territories for Indians and descendants of slaves. The law is aimed at undermining more destructive wildcat timber companies, government officials said.

"We are authorizing sustainable development, that is the opposite of deforestation," Tasso Azevedo, forestry undersecretary at the Environment Ministry, told Reuters.

Only five or six trees can be harvested over 10 years in an area the size of a football field, he said. Lula's advisers said the law's controls, frequent inspections, and an end to legal uncertainty over land rights would reduce deforestation.

The measure calls for the demarcation of public forests and should make private lands claims on them impossible. Speculators have used legal loopholes and graft to illegally buy and resell land to timber companies, cattle ranchers or farmers.

So far, the administration's policies have produced mixed results, including the second-highest deforestation rate ever in 2004, as well as rising land-related violence in the region.

Revenue from the contracts will help finance a new forestry service, which is to help enforce environmental regulations and concession contracts.

Several leading environmental groups and opposition parties supported the law. "It returns public forests to public hands and increases the chances of effective government control. We support the law," said Sergio Leitao, head of public policy with Greenpeace in Brasilia.

Under the measure, only Brazilian companies can bid for logging contracts. Nationalist hard-liners in Congress said they feared multinationals would set up legal fronts to participate in what they called the privatization of the Amazon to foreigners.

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