Potential increase of legal deforestation in Brazilian Amazon after Forest Act revision


The Brazilian Amazon rainforest is protected largely by command and control regulation of public and private land. The Brazilian Forest Act requires private landholders within the Amazon to set aside 80% of their land as legal reserves for nature protection, but this requirement can be reduced to 50% if more than 65% of a state’s territory is protected public land (for example, public conservation units and indigenous reserves). In the ongoing land designation process in Brazil, some Amazonian states may cross this 65% threshold. We assess the potential reduction in the legal reserve requirement from 80% to 50%, through spatially explicit modelling of scenarios concerning land tenure consolidation, employing up-to-date databases on land ownership. Depending on the outcome of land designation processes and political priorities, some 6.5–15.4 million hectares of private land previously protected as legal reserves may become available for legal deforestation. While protection of public land is crucial for safeguarding the Amazon, revisions of federal and state legislation may be needed to avoid the further extension of protected public land triggering increased legal deforestation on private lands. Zero-deforestation commitments and other initiatives may mitigate impacts in the absence of such revision.

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Fig. 1: Spatial distribution of properties that qualify for Article 12/§5 reductions in LRs, for CON and WC scenarios.
Fig. 2: Unprotected forest (Mha) in the states of Amazonas, Roraima and Amapá.
Fig. 3: Distribution of Article 12/§5-qualifiable and consolidated rural properties with regard to land suitability and market access indicators, for the CON and WC scenarios.

Data availability

All input datasets used to conduct our analysis are publically available from the cited references. Raw data associated with figures in this manuscript as well as intermediate files are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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We would like to express our appreciation to L. Fernando Guedes Pinto and V. Guidotti, who revised this manuscript, providing comments and suggestions that helped us improve the article. We are also grateful to the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPQ, grant no. 249404/2013-3) and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP, grant no. 2016/17680-2) for financing this research.

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F.L.M.F., G.S., G.B., M.P. and U.M. conceived and designed the study. F.L.M.F. carried out data processing, data analysis and prepared the first draft of the manuscript. O.E. and A.B. provided support in the elaboration of the indicators of market access and land suitability. All authors contributed to results interpretation and paper writing.

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Correspondence to Flavio L. M. Freitas.

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Supplementary Tables 1–3, Supplementary Figures 1–2, Supplementary References 1–9

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Freitas, F.L.M., Sparovek, G., Berndes, G. et al. Potential increase of legal deforestation in Brazilian Amazon after Forest Act revision. Nat Sustain 1, 665–670 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0171-4

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