The Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest

Basic Amazon Information

The Amazon Rainforest covers parts of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana, Bolivia, Colombia, and Guiana in South America. (Butler, Amazon) Although the Amazon Rainforest stretches over nine countries, the largest portion of the Rainforest occupies almost half of Brazil. (Butler, Amazon) The total surface area of the Rainforest is estimated to 8,235,430 square kilometers, or most of the surface area of the United States of America. (Save the Amazon Rainforest) The visual below illustrates the vast nature of the Amazon Rainforest quite well, showing the lowland moist forest that is very characteristic of the region. The Amazon Rainforest is also home to the Amazon River, which is the second in length only to the Nile River. (Butler, Amazon) The Amazon River has over 1000 tributaries and 17 of them are longer than 1000 miles! (Butler, Amazon) Without the Amazon River basin the Rainforest would not thrive as it has for so long.
Beyond being the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon Rainforest provides a home and refuge for over 200 different indigenous groups. (Indigenous Tribes) These groups have stayed in the Amazon for so long because the Rainforest had no immediate appeal to the first colonizers. (Indigenous Tribes) The Amazon Rainforest is very thick and not suitable for the type of settlements the first colonizers were looking for without a substantial amount of work. The region is very culturally diverse as a result and there are "at least 50 groups that still don't have regular contact with the outsides and keep away from them." (Indigenous Tribes) Because the Amazon Rainforest is so vast, it has protected the indigenous groups within it for many years. This situation allowed for the lack of contact with the outside world. As we will discuss further on in this wiki, the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest threatens this way of life.
Vampire Bat

Scarlet Macaw

Poison Dart Frog

Red Howler Monkey

Just as the Rainforest is home to a multitude of diverse indigenous groups, many different species also call the Amazon home. In "a typical four square mile patch of rainforest" (Rainforest Fauna) there are hundreds of different species. The National Academy of Sciences reports there are over a hundred different species of mammals, reptiles, and butterflies, and about 400 species of birds in the Amazon Rainforest alone! (Rainforest Fauna) Some of the different species are: Tapir, Vampire Bat, Anaconda, Jaguar, Leafcutter Ant (Rainforest Fauna), Poison dart frog, Scarlet Macaw, and Howler monkey. (World Wildlife Fund)

Basic Deforestation Information / Context of issue

Deforestation worldwide has become a major issue in today's society. Much of the forests including primary forests, which are forests that have yet to be inhabited or touched by humans, are disappearing. Nigeria, Congo, the Sudan, South American countries such as those containing the Amazon rainforest, and countries within Tropical Asia are a few of those nations under pressure due to deforestation. All hope though is not lost in the battle against deforestation. North America, Europe and China are using plantation of newer plants to expand the forests worldwide. This will help minimize the size effects of the tropical deforestation.jpgcountries diminishing forests. Most of the attention on the deforestation is in South America, Africa, and other tropical regions of Asia. Nations such as Canada and the United States are adding to deforestation, however at a lower level. This is due to their pro-active reforestation programs. In the United States despite having the seventh highest deforestation rate in the world according to FAO, they compensate by initiating plantation projects which results in a gain in forestry. In British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, the boreal forests are cut down and sold to overseas logging companies in Japan. The effects of deforestation in Canada can be compared to that which is happening within the Amazon Rainforest. These effects are erosion, pollution of water and indigenous populations being relocated. One major concern by ecologists is that the timber exported to Japan must have no knots or scars. Unfortunately the tree is harvested before it can be deemed fit. If it does not meet requirements it is thrown away and therefore the resources are being wasted. According to Rhett Butler, "Industrial logging, clearing and forest conversion for agriculture, fuelwood collection by rural poor, and forest fires -- often purposely set by people -- are considered the leading causes of deforestation". Deforestation worldwide has sky rocketed within the past few decades. Fast growing nations with big populations are left with no other choice than to urbanize forested areas. Europe has deminished their forested land by 90%. Approximately 80% of the worlds forests have now been torn down, leaving mysteries behind about what was offered in terms of medicines, cultures, and wildlife. Through constant research scientists have discovered medicines that can cure or prevent human disease. Some of these ancient medicineamazon.jpgs and remedies have been passed down through indigenous traditions such as the rubber tree where native peoples ate the rubber seeds and dipped their feet in liquid latex to make shoes, therefore preventing any injury. Periwinkle (image to the left), is one plant that is found in forests of Madagascar. At first Periwinkle was used to control diabetes in Jamaican cultures but has recently been discovered to kill cancer cells. Yams, grown within forests of the world, are used in birth control and steriods. At the rate of deforestation, the chances of losing these vital resources are high. At current rates, the resources, along with others that have yet to be discovered will slowly disappear. Although resources are being lost it is not the only concern we should have. Cultures that are hidden within the forests of the world are diminishing slowly. This is an important issue that has taken over the news within the past few decades.

Causes of Deforestation

The foremost activities that are contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon are the following:

1.Clearing for cattle pasture

This is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and has become significantly worse in the past 20 years (Moran). Factors that have spurred Brazil’s recent growth in the export of beef are:
a) Currency Devaluation – because the real is devaluated compared to the dollar, the price of beef doubled and created an incentive for ranchers.
b) Control over Foot-and-Mouth Disease – the eradication of this disease in Brazil has increased price and demand (Amazon Destruction)
c) Infrastructure – provides access to previously inaccessible forest land as well as can reduce the cost of shipping and packing the beef
d) Interest Rates – during high inflation, the appreciation of cattle prices outpaces the interest rates
e) Land Tenure Laws – cattle are a vehicle for land ownership in the Amazon, as the developers only need to clear the land and place their cattle on said land to delcare ownership.
Recent figures released in February 2009 have confirmed that beef continues to be the largest contributor to the Brazilian deforestation, consuming a total area to 214,000 square miles (Amazon Destruction).
2. Colonization and subsequent subsistence agriculture
Within Brazil, a huge portion of the deforestation is caused by subsistence activities of poor farmers. The government, through land policies, encourages impoverished farmers to settle on forest lands. After five years of ‘squatting’, the farmer acquires ownership (Amazon Destruction).
However, after logging and burning the land to clear it, the soil is only good for a few crops before the farmers are forced to push further and further into the forest in the hopes of fertile soil. Small-scale agriculture seems to be more of an issue within the Peruvian Amazon, with 20% of all individual farms are within this region (Moran).

external image deforested_roadway.jpg3. Infrastructural Improvements
By improving the roads, they are providing further access to logging and mining sites as well as opening the inner depths of the forest to the exploitation of the land by poor, landless farmers (Moran). The strongest example of this lies in the Trans-Amazonian Highway project, which was supposed to connect the Upper Amazon to the southern areas and it failed. The contributing factors to the failure are as follows:

-Amazon Basin sediments rendered the highway unstable
-harvest yields were dismal from the quickly exhausted soils
-the new forest had to be cleared annually
-logging was difficult
-rampant erosion
After the highway was constructed, deforestation levels skyrocketed and vast amounts of land were cleared for subsistence farmers and cattle-ranchers (Amazon Destruction).

4. Commercial agricultureexternal image amazon1.jpg
Recently, soybeans have been the crop that is one of the more important contributors to the deforestation. Brazil is currently in second place for the world’s leading exporter of soybeans (Amazon Destruction). The largest impact from soybeans is that they consume the cleared land, savanna, and transitional forests, thereby forcing ranchers and farmers further into the forest. They also stand as a key economic and political impetus for new roads and infrastructure into the Amazon rainforest (Amazon Destruction).
5. Logging
Logging and infrastructure are closely linked together because of the convenience of the already-there logging roads. These roads give access to the rainforest, where the exploitation of fuel, game, building material and temporary land are occurring. Other issues of forest loss are hydroelectric projects and mining (Amazon Destruction).

Social Impacts of Deforestation

The impacts of deforestation are felt in more ways than simply how it affects the environment and eco-systems existing in the Amazon Rainforest. Deforestation leads to drastic changes in the rainforest and is starting a complete upheaval of lifestyle and social practices in the region. The indigenous groups residing in the rainforest have done so for generations as in the majority of cases it is their traditional home. Forced removal of the indigenous groups from the rainforest also causes acculturation which is leading to a noticeable loss of cultural diversity. Further consequences can be examined in the loss of traditional knowledge about the land.

One of the consequences of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is the displacement of indigenous groups from their traditional areas of residence. Lauren Mitten writes that "global demands help fuel the timber industry's continued destruction of the forests." (550) But it isn't only the demands of the timber industry that are to blame for these type of negative results for the Amazon Rainforest. As explained previously, the soybean production has also contributed to a significant clearing of the rainforest. Environmental changes such as the clearing of the rainforest for different reasons, truly has an enormous social impact as well. The destruction is a great cause in the movement of indigenous groups from their homes. The movement of indigenous peoples is disturbing because these are people who have been “happily living for thousands of years” (Rainforest Importance) without interference from outsiders.

When these indigenous groups come into contact with outsiders or leave their traditional regions of existence, humanity takes a risk. One web-source expresses “if you destroy the forest you also destroy all the indigenous people that are left.” (Rainforest Importance) The risk humanity is partaking in is the very real potential of losing valuable knowledge about the plants and land in the rainforest. Mitten points out that “indigenous groups also have considerable medical knowledge.” (552) This should be relatively obvious to people around the world, since each culture has its own traditional natural remedies unique to the culture that use them. These natural cures or herbal remedies may originate from one culture group, but are shared among the world’s cultures through the pharmaceutical industry. A great example of this is the work done by the pharmaceutical industry in Brazil with the Uru-eu-Wau-Wau people. Researchers looked to these people for their knowledge of the tikiuba plant to create a new anticoagulant. (Mitten 552) Another example cited by Mitten is the knowledge of the Punans in Indonesia in regards to the jileng plant in conjunction with a cure for tuberculosis. (552) Essentially, who better to tell the rest of the world about the intricacies of the land and all it has to offer, than the people who know it best? In the words of a leader of the Kayapo people in Brazil: “I am trying to save the knowledge that the forests and this planet are alive, to give it back to you who have lost the understanding.” (Mitten 552) The indigenous groups of the Amazon Rainforest are devoted to their land and the potential loss of knowledge

Another consequence associated with the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest is the process of acculturation or assimilation with outside cultures. When indigenous groups are displaced or forced to leave their traditional homes, they are forced to adapt and in most cases lose their own culture completely in the process (Mitten 550) of assimilating with a new culture group. A further concern is the health of indigenous groups when they come into contact with outsiders. Rhett Butler describes the meeting of miners with the Yanomani tribe in Brazil in the 1900s as wrought with diseases. Just as the Spanish conquistadores brought a disease fuelled demographic disaster to Latin America, the Yanomani tribe did not have immunity to the disease brought by the miners. As a result, the population of the Yanomani tribe suffered a decline. (Butler, People of the Amazon)

Ultimately the social impacts of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest are felt like the flap of butterfly wings across the globe. A small change in the way of life for an indigenous tribe deep in the Rainforest can cause a significant domino effect across the world.

Environmental impacts of Deforestation

external image amazon-river.jpgThe environmental impacts of the deforestation of the Amazon are extremely vast yet are able to be categorized together into four different aspects: that being loss of biodiversity and extinction, habitat degradation, modified global climate, loss of water cycling (Amazon Deforestation).

Probably the most publicized effect of deforestation within the Amazon is the loss of biodiversity. The Amazon rainforest is a diverse hub for many exotic flora and fauna. However, with the encroachment of industrialization and clearing of the forests, the species that reside in the affected parts either attempt to move deeper into the forest, resulting in crowding, or become highly endangered and oftentimes extinct. Extinction is a devastatingly frequent impact of the deforestation as many species are endemic and therefore localized clearing and logging can result in complete annihilation of that particular species (Amazon Deforestation). Due to the fact that there are so many species within the Amazon, competition for food and living spaces is high and therefore many species adapt to eating and living in particular areas that not all other species are adapted towards.

The loss of biodiversity works hand-in-hand with habitat degradation. Because of the effects of infrastructure, logging, and farming, the Amazon rainforest is becoming more and more fragmented. These fragmented landscapes are affected to species structure, composition and microclimate, and are extremely vulnerable to both drought and fires (Amazon Deforestation). All these factors contribute to the negative effects that the deforestation has on the many plant and animal species within the forest, causing over-crowding, competition, loss of habitat, and extinction.external image Granger_graph.jpg

On a local and global scale, the removal of the vast forest contributes to carbon dioxide levels. As trees are able to absorb this pollutant for photosynthesis (this is the release of oxygen and carbon), the deforestation of a large body of trees will contribute to globally increased levels of carbon dioxide, which eats away at the ozone (Amazon Deforestation). Further contributing to air pollution is the increased amount of carbon dioxide released from the burning trees and foliage as well as the emissions from the vehicles utilized to remove the logs from the cleared land, both trucks and ships.

An issue that seems to be less publicized is that water cycling and the process of evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the release of water by plants into the atmosphere and to the oceans and rivers (Amazon Deforestation). This process affects world climate and the circulation of ocean currents, yet it also contributes to sustaining the regional climate in which it occurs. Through deforestation, forests and woodlands are decimated and throughout the Amazon region the process of water cycling is hindered. These areas are no longer able to exchange the amount of water and energy with the atmosphere that they need to in order to maintain a steady climate, either local, regional, and global.

Increased flooding levels within Peru and Ecuador seem to be synonymous with increased deforestation levels in the upper Amazon. Deforestation leads to a loss of water retention capacity and more rapid runoff (Gentry). This is caused by the lack of trees and bush, as the soil is no longer tightly held together and acts as less of a barrier to the heavy water flow. This damage could obviously affect the Amazonian area through environmental, social, and agricultural factors (Gentry).

Current Deforestation Controversies

The news today is constantly flooded with stories of corporate companies and government officials with interests in cattle farming, logging, and mineral resources who are deforesting thousands of acres of rainforest over short periods of time. The actions taken by these people today, will have the ability impact the world for decades. Organizations like STARO, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation along with numerous online blogs, are quick to announce any external connections regarding deforestation. Products produced on land that was previously home to rain-forest face global scrutiny and have the possibility of be boycotted by huge multinational organizations. Not to mention, in many areas beneath the lush forest lies millions of tons of valuable natural resources whose extraction is continuously debated in todays high demand markets, and slowing supply of such minerals.

  • For most of 2006, one of the largest fast-food companies in the world, McDonalds, came under scrutiny regarding amazon deforestation. An investigation by the the organization, Greenpeace, found that meat used in McDonalds' chicken food items, came from animals that were fed soya products grown on deforested land in the Amazon, ( In July of 2006, after two months of public outrage against such details, McDonalds made formal announcement that it would be taking a closer look at where their feed was coming from and to be sure that their products would not be connected with "newly deforested" land (

  • Perhaps one of the largest controversies regarding Amazon Deforestation in the news right now is occurring in Ecuador, a country on the north-eastern side of the Amazon. Yasuni National Park, is an area of the amazon that is argued to be one of the most bio-diverse places on our entire planet. The park though, is also home to an estimated 846million barrels of crude oil beneath the ground, (Latin American Herald Tribune). It is believed that the extraction of such a vast supply of the resource would emit close to 420million metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere (Mongobay). In order to comply with enormous political pressure from the United Nations and countries throughout Latin America, the Ecuadorian Government has a agreed to leave the land untouched, if the international community is willing to pay Ecuador half of the estimated value of the crude oil. The money would be paid to a Yasuni ITT Trust Fund and funds would be administered by the United Nations. Unfortunately, Ecuador has said they will continue on with a "Plan B" to remove the oil if the international community fails to comply with the proposed Trust Fund, (Latin American Herald Tribune).
    News Links with further information on this current issue:> >

One of the many beautiful waterfalls within Yasuni National Park

Social Groups and Organizations

Deforestation mitigation has become a common agenda for many conservation and social groups around the world today, mainly due to the constant growing concerns of climate change and
environmental sustainability. Many groups throughout the globe have focused their attention and the majority of their funding on deforestations issues on the Amazon region. These groups work towards educating people around the globe to see an increase in the general understanding of the consequences of the issues currently in the news and hopes for a greater global respect for sustainability in the region.
Visual Evidence of Deforestation in Brazil
Visual Evidence of Deforestation in Brazil

Major Initiatives / Key Players

· Reducing Emissions from Deforestations and Forest Degradation (REDD): "The idea of REDD is to provide positive, performance-based incentives to support developing countries in reducing their national deforestation rates," (Pistorius). REDD is expected to be one of the major focuses on the world climate change agenda after the expiration of the Kyoto Accord in 2012. Perhaps one of the biggest supporters of the initiative, World Bank, has set aside almost $300million in funding for REDD projects in developing countries (Butler).

· World Wildlife Foundation (WWF): "Conserve the Amazon through local and national action in priority landscapes and aquatic systems; region-wide efforts in planning, leadership and coordination; and global influence of market forces," ( The WWF's primary agenda in the regions focuses primarily on the sustainability on the ecosystems of the rainforest and the protection of the thousands of species of animals that are constantly and unfairly affected by the actions of deforestation.

Save the Amazon Rainforest Organization (STARO): A charity working in the region that "proposes the development and execution of a plan for the sustainable Management of the Amazon region," ( STARO works closely with the Brazilian people on sustainable projects to help slow the rate of deforestation within that country's borders. The charity works hand in hand with the people living in Brazil to protect the precious ecosystems and to stop the illegal logging and deforestation occurring in the region.

These organizations are three of hundreds of organizations around the world working to save the Amazon from deforestation before it really is too late. Hopefully the success of such groups will continue to grow and people throughout the globe, no just Latin Americans, will gain a stronger appreciation for the rain-forest and the impacts of our industrial lifestyles on such a unique and diverse environment.

Future Goals / Outlook

Slowing the process of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has impacted societys views and caused conflicts amoung nations. The negative externalities that are accociated with deforestation outweigh the positive aspects in most cases. When comparing the positives and the negatives of the Amazon deforestation, we see multinational cooperations losing money because they cannot exploit the resources (as seen in the logging industry and industrial plantations), the farmers and the cattle ranchers loose the ability to obtain land. The negatives when looking at the issue in context would be the enivornmental aspect which includes pollution of the waterways and air, the animal kingdom, such afuture_amazon_rainforest.jpgs indangered species and the entire ecosystem being disrupted, and the indigenous populations being forced to relocate and leave behind hundreds of years of culture. Brazil, being one of the leading countries in the slowing process, has already decreased the deforestation by 64% since 2005 (ScienceDaily), and is planning on lowering the rates to "20% of its historic level by 2020" (ScienceDaily). So far Brazil has had government involvement in the issue due to illegal activities and has also imposed heavy environmental laws such as The National Environment Policy Law 6938, which discusses the ability for the government to create and protect certian places within the country, also this law imposes penalties if disobeyed. Many efforts have been put in by various organizations to slow the process of deforestation. These efforts have come in many forms such as protesting, donations, and planting of trees. Tremendous amounts of efforts have been put in by non-profit organizations and the Brazilian Government and ther is hope to stop the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest in the near future. The Brazilian Government along with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund, the German Development Bank, the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank have started a conservation program (Amazon Region Protected Areas) to help protect several areas in the Amazon. National parks, like that of the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park, have been well established. The World Wildlife Fund is looking to expand beyond Brazil's borders and help protect the Amazon Rainforest in other South American countries.

Textual Refe​rences

Butler, Rhett A. “Amazon Destruction: Why is the rainforest being destroyed in Brazil?” 6 March 2010.

Butler, Rhett A. "The Amazon: The World's Largest Rainforest." / A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils They Face. 7 March 2010.

Butler, Rhett A. "American Peoples of the Rainforest." / A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils They Face.7 March 2010.

Butler, Rhett A. "Are we on the brink of saving rainforests?." 26 March 2010. .

Gentry, A.H. and J. Lopez-Parodi. “Deforestation and Increased Flooding of the Upper Amazon.” Science 210.4476 (1980): 1-4. Web. 2 March 2010.

Gray, Clark L., Bilsborrow, Richard E., Bremner, Jason L., Lu, Flora. "Indigenous Land Use in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Cross-cultural and Multilevel Analysis."
Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal36 (2008): 97-109. Springer-Science + Business Media, LLC. Web. 7 March 2010.

Greenpeace. "McAmazon." 29 March 2010.

Mitten, Lauren. "The Human Cost of Deforestation." Peace Review 9:4 (1997): 549-53. Routledge. Web. 24 March 2010.

Moran, Emilio F. “Deforestation and Land Use in the Brazilian Amazon.” Human Ecology. 21.1 (1993): 1-21. Web. 7 March 2010.

Pistorius, T. “REDD from the Conservation Perspective.” Institute of Forest and Environmental Policy. (2009): 2-9. Web. 27 March 2010.

Unknown. "Ecuador says it has "Plan B" if Yasuni initiative fails." Latin American Herald Tribune. 30 March 2010.

Unknown. “Amazon Deforestation.” 5 March 2010.

Unknown. "Amazon Rainforest Indigenous Tribes." 23 March 2010.

Unknown. "Amazon Rainforest Fauna." 23March 2010.

Unknown. "Save the Amazon Rainforest Organisation". March 8 2010.

Unknown. “Effects of Deforestation.” 5 March 2010

Unknown. "Save the Amazon Rainforest." 7 March 2010.

World Wildlife Fund. "Amazon." 23 March 2010.

Butler, Rhett A. "World deforestation rates and forest cover statistics, 2000-2005". March 8 2010.

Miller, Jason R. "Disposable Chopstick Production" March 8 2010.

Unknown. "Amazon Conservation: How to Save the Amazon Rainforest". March 8 2010.

Unknown. "Amazon: Projects". March 8 2010.

Lindenbojm, Larissa Metne. "Environmental Law in Brazil". March 29 2010.

Unknown. "12.3 Earthly Goods Rain Forest Medicine" March 29 2010.

Unknown. "Amazon Rainforest". March 29 2010.

Visual References

Sources for 'Basic Amazon Information'

Impact Lab. "River in Amazon Rainforest." Photo. 9 Mar. 2009. 23 Mar. 2010.

Butler, Rhett A. "Map of the Amazon." Map. 2010. 23 Mar. 2010.

Caseâs, Verna. "Vampire Bat." Photo. 23 Mar. 2010.

World Wildlife Fund. "Scarlet Macaw." Photo. 23 Mar. 2010.

World Wildlife Fund. "Poison Dart Frog." Photo. 23 Mar. 2010.

World Wildlife Fund. "Red Howler Monkey." Photo. 23 Mar. 2010.

Sources for ‘Environmental Impacts’

Granger, Clive. “Annual Deforestation Rates in Legal Amazonia, Brazil.” Graph. Insights: Melbourne Economics and Commerce, 2 October 2007. Web. 26 March 2010.

Unknown. “Amazon-River.” Photograph. Bontraveller Ltd, 2008. Web. 21 March 2010.

Sources for 'Social Impacts'

Mega Resistencia. "Yanomani Child." Photo. 5 Nov. 2009. 23 Mar. 2010.

Sources for ‘Causes of Deforestation’

AlJazeeraEnglish. “Cattle industry continues to threaten rainforest – 09 May 08.” Video. 9 May 2008. Youtube. 20 March 2010.

Elsis, Mark. “Aggressive Deforestation.” Photograph. Lovearth Network, 1 November 1999. Web. 22 March 2010.

Unknown. “Bye-Bye Amazing Amazonia.” Photograph. The Whyfiles, 6 April 2006. Web. 22 March 2010.

Sources for 'Basic Deforestation Infor​mation'

Allianz. "Deforestation Worldwide." Photograph. 2009. Web. 29 March 2010.

Jerome, Louie. " Cannabis and Periwinkle May Revolutionise Cancer Treatment." Photograph. 24 November 2007. Web. 29 March 2010.

Sources for 'Future Goals/Outlooks'

Unknown. "2050". Photograph. 2006. Web. 29 March 2010.

Sources for "Social Groups"

Mwngallo. "07/12 Al Jazeera 07:08 GMT News Hour - REDD Amazon." Video. 07 December 2009. YouTube. 28 March 2010.

Unknown. "Image 1". Photograph. 2008. Web. 29 March 2010.