Brazilians reject axing of forest protections

Posted on 18 June 2011

Nearly 80 percent of Brazilians want President Dilma Rousseff to veto proposed changes to the country’s Forest Law that would dramatically slash forest protection measures and offer wide-ranging amnesties for illegal deforestation.
Brasilia, Brazil: Nearly 80 percent of Brazilians want President Dilma Rousseff to veto proposed changes to the country’s Forest Law that would dramatically slash forest protection measures and offer wide-ranging amnesties for illegal deforestation.

The finding was contained in poll results carried out by the Datafolha polling institute in early June at the request of environmental organizations including WWF-Brazil.

At the other end of the scale, only seven per cent of respondents supported the proposition contained in the law passed by the National Assembly that illegally planted crops should be allowed to remain in permanent protection areas beside watercourses and on steep slopes.

The controversial law, anticipation of which has already lead to a dramatic upsurge in some Amazon states, is now entering a possible four month debate in the Brazilian senate. The survey found 77 per cent of Brazilians would like to see this debate postponed until the voice of science could be heard.

Overwhelming rejection

An overwhelming 95 per cent rejected the National Assembly bill’s proposal to forgive illegal deforestation without recuperation of the forest on the part of producers.

Datafolha interviewed ore than 1.2 thousand people in all parts of the country in early June, with a 95 per cent level of confidence that the findings are within plus or minus three percent of the nominated figure. Differences between regions, income brackets and importantly, between urban and rural Brazilians, were found to be insignificant.

“It is extraordinary to find out that such a large part of the population rejects the Forest Law Reform proposal that was approved by the House of Representatives recently,” said WWF-Brazil's Conservation Director Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza Scaramuzza.

“Now it is the responsibility of the Senate to hear the voice of the people and prevent this dismantling of the present Forest Law.

“The strong support shown by the public for the conservation of the forests gives the government a good basis for taking strong action to convince senators to improve and perfect the current legislation and guarantee its effective enforcement and the fulfilment of Brazil's commitments to emission reduction goals.

“Only in that way can we provide better protection for the forests, water for the cities and rural areas, habitat for biodiversity, soils and pollinators for agriculture, as well as making a proper contribution to ensuring a safer climate situation.”

Few buy the argument

Few Brazilians appear to be buying the agribusiness/ruralista grouping argument that Forst protections need to be cut back for the sake of agricultural productivity. In the framing question of the survey, 85 per cent of interviewees said they would give priority to protecting the forests (even if that eventually limits agricultural and livestock production) as opposed to just 10 percent who would give priority to production (even if that means limiting the protection of the forests).

Scientists and environmental and community NGOs have been arguing that Brazil’s low density of cattle means that there is ample scope to improve productivity through such means as pasture improvement without clearing forests.

Amnesties rejected

Several different questions approached the issue of amnesties for illegal deforestation. When three qualified options are offered, one intermediate between the other two, it can be seen that the population’s first choice is in favour of the more rigorous option offered, that is, to punish deforestation in every case in order to set an example, and 48% of interviewees selected it; the next option was an intermediate position (to punish only those that refuse to recuperate the forest) chosen by 45% while the option of pardoning even those that refuse to recuperate the forest they destroyed was only selected by a mere 5% of all those interviewed.

When the options were restricted to two, 79% declared that in general they were against pardoning the sanctions and fines (19% accepted that possibility) and 77% declared they were against the idea of lifting the obligation to restore the forest (while 21% found that possibility acceptable).

In the case of the illegal occupation of Permanent Protection areas (steep slopes, hilltops, várzea flood lands etc.) the intermediate option prevails, that is, to maintain only those crops or activities that are capable of anchoring the soil and that offer no risk of accident, to which 66% agreed.
A quarter of respondents (25 per cent of interviewees) agreed with the option that all crops should be removed from such areas, while only seven percent supported maintaining all crops already in such areas as they currently stand - the proposal passed by the House of Representatives.

Other results underlined the political implications. In addition to the 79% favouring an eventual veto on the part of the president should the Senate decide to validate the version proposed by the house, an even higher proportion, 84%, confirmed that they would not vote for representatives or senators that had voted in favour of pardoning illegal deforestation.

"We hope that the Senate will prove to be a space for qualified, coherent and unbiased debates. We are confident that Brazil will keep on track in fulfilling its commitments to Brazilian society in regard to environmental protection and to the international community in regard to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the conservation of biodiversity," said WWF-Brazil's CEO, Denise Hamú.

The questionnaire was administered by the Datafolha organisation at the request of Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira (Friends of the Earth - Brazilian Amazon), Imaflora, Imazon, Instituto Socioambiental (the Socio-environmental Institute), SOS Atlantic Forest and WWF-Brazil.

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The first FSC certified guitars have been produced in Brazil
The first FSC certified guitars have been produced in Brazil
© WWF / Edward Parker