Forest Law: the text is good, for those that destroyed forests
The hasty timetable allows no time for adequate discussion of such an important issue and merely serves the interests of the ruralistas (agribusiness and large landholders) and their anxiety to see the bill passed by the senate and the house with as few alterations as possible, and forwarded to President Dilma for sanctioning before the end of this year.
There are very few situations specified in the legal text that demand recuperation of illegally deforested Permanent Protection areas or Legal Reserve (of natural vegetation) areas. As an example, areas of gallery forest vegetation that were illegally destroyed prior to July 2008 will now only need to be restored in a 15 metre wide strip while those that did not destroy such areas are legally obliged to maintain a strip at least 30 metres wide. That is not only a way of rewarding illegal actions but also seriously jeopardises the quality of our rivers and streams.
The Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science and the National Water Regulatory Board itself (ANA) were emphatic in declaring that there is no point in preserving a strip of less than 30 metres wide. For the bigger rivers the bill establishes that the Permanent Protection areas along the banks shall be at least as wide as half the width of the river itself and establishes a minimum of 30 metres and a maximum of 100 metres. The environmental legislation in force at the moment provides for strips of up to 500 metres wide. The exemption from the obligation to recuperate destroyed permanent protection areas, which will be defined by programs designed to promote the regularisation of proprietor’s environmental situations, will be a death sentence for river basins that are already serious affected and stripped of their vegetation in 80% of their extension, especially those in Brazil’s central and southern regions.
Furthermore, the draft bill that will be voted on by the Environment Standing Committee makes no provision for the recuperation of springs and headwaters thereby intensifying the vulnerability of areas that are essential for the maintenance of water resources. That is one of the most serious flaws embodied in the text of amendment 164 proposed by the House of Representatives and maintained by the Senate, giving to understand that there is no need to recuperate springs.
Another serious flaw in the bill is the exemption from the obligation to recuperate illegally deforested areas of legal reserve vegetation granted to proprietors of small rural areas of up to four fiscal modules - in some regions of the country that can be an area equivalent to 400 football fields. The call to restrict that exemption to proprietors engaged in family-based agriculture has been entirely ignored. In the terms of the text as it stands, even if an individual owns several areas, provided none of them is larger than 4 fiscal modules he will not have to restore the vegetation on any of them.
Another provision that has been maintained is that the process to authorise exemption from the obligation to restore vegetation is based on a simple declaration made by the proprietor and does not call for any objective form of proof. The proprietor merely has to declare that deforestation on the property was done before the current legislation requiring legal reserve preservation came into force, for him to be relieved of any obligation to restore the area.
There are additional negative features like that of including the Permanent Protection areas in the calculation of legal reserve vegetation, and permitting recuperation of up to 50% of legal reserve areas using exotic species. In view of all that it can only be concluded that the text under final discussion in the Senate will practically eliminate any possibility of recuperating areas that have been illegally deforested. That is in perfect alignment with all the demands of the ruralista parliamentary support group, which has always defended the total extinction of the legal reserve requirement, alleging that it prevents proprietors from using 100% of their areas for crop farming and livestock raising activities.
Among the positive points to be found in text are: a) maintaining the classification of natural palm swamps as protected areas (as they are in the current law but their protection had been removed in earlier versions of the bill); b) defining a maximum period of grace during which proprietors cannot be fined or penalised for deforestation carried out before 2008 – it was not defined in the earlier version; c) introduction of simpler procedures for family farmers to obtain permission to legally clear forest land, register rural properties, and register and license legal reserve areas; they will also enjoy certain facilities in terms of being able to make economic use of protected areas on their properties.
Any bid to re-introduce the obligation to restore vegetation in Permanent Protection areas will have to be made now in the Senate Committee because the chances of doing so in the Plenary Session are minimal. If the adjustments proposed in by the rapporteur in the form of amendments to the main text are not incorporated, then the only course left will be to pressure President Dilma Rousseff to fulfil the commitments she made during her presidential campaign to veto any measure designed to pardon illegal deforestation or reduce the size of protected areas.
WWF-Brazil is a Brazilian non-governmental organization dedicated to the conservation of nature aiming to harmonize human activity with biodiversity conservation and to promote the rational use of natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations. WWF-Brazil was created in 1996 in Brasilia and has several projects all over the country and is part of the International Network Environmental Organization WWF, which works in more than 100 countries and counts on the support of around 5 million people worldwide, including associates and volunteers.