Amazon deforestation 'halted' after key arrests

A sharp reduction in deforestation in the northern Brazilian state of Pará has been reported following the arrests of key figures linked to illegal logging businesses, the state public prosecutor told the Anadolu Agency (AA) on Wednesday.

Operation Chestnut Tree began in late August, and has sought to apprehend central gang members behind illegal logging operations, including so-called "grileiros," or land-grabbers, who forge land ownership documents, clear and sell on areas of forest and chemically treat it for farming uses.

The investigation is part of a coordinated crackdown on illegal logging operations that has seen arrests in four states, including Mato Grosso and São Paulo.

The Pará public prosecutor told AA that eight key figures that championed the destruction of the Amazon rainforest region have been arrested and remanded in custody so far in the state alone, but six others were still sought and the joint operation is set to issue warrants for further arrests. Additional detentions have been made in the other states involved.

This week the public prosecutor requested recent deforestation data for the state from the Brazilian Environmental Institute (Ibama), which monitors and inspects the sensitive rainforest region, and the results showed a marked decline.

"The operation started on Aug. 27, when the rate of deforestation was over 3,400 hectares [13.1 square miles] a week. The week after the arrests, the number fell to under 900 hectares, and in the first week of September, 'Deter' recorded zero deforestation - an extremely rare event," the public prosecutor's office said in a statement.

"Deter" (Deforestation in Real Time) is a satellite monitoring system that alerts authorities when visible deforestation has occurred, although the system has been circumvented by loggers selectively cutting trees that do not disrupt the canopy - which is harder to detect by satellite.

Officials say achieving zero deforestation is particularly impressive given the fact that the Amazon is in a season when the rate of logging is usually high.

Approximately 33,000 hectares (127.4 square miles) of Amazon forest were deforested in August.

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