The letter followed a meeting earlier this month between top government officials and 12 forest residents – also known as extractivists -- whose lives depend on local natural resources in those regions. Proposals to create the protected areas have lingered for the last two years in the President’s Chief of Staff Office and the residents so far have received no response following this month’s meeting.
About 750 families live in the three proposed ‘extractive’ reserves (or Resex) up for approval, which include Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi (in the states of Roraima and Amazonas), Renascer (Pará state) and Montanha Mangabal (also in Pará state). Residents in those three areas have worked to receive federal protection for the areas since 2000.
IUCN defines extractive reserves as sustainable use protected areas, given in concession to traditional dwellers living on the exploration of natural resources and subsistence level agriculture. The creation of extractive reserves is a conservation concept that emerged from work to protect Amazon forests by famed environmental activists Chico Mendes and Mary Helena Allegretti. Extractive reserves are protected areas for sustainable use that allow the local population to live off the areas’ natural resources – for example by tapping for rubber-- while protecting the reserve from environmental damage from commercial interests, whether legal or illegal.
On May 6 and 7, 12 representatives from the proposed reserves traveled to Brasilia and with the help of WWF-Brazil asked federal government to take action on the reserves. For years, the residents’ way of life has been threatened by loggers, land squatters, commercial fishermen and illegal hunters.
But despite promises made for an urgent solution at those meetings, the residents so far have received no official response from the federal government.
“The slow track of the creation proceedings is undesirable and it apparently reflects a preventive attitude on the part of some federal government organs whose position is against the creation of protected areas whenever there is any possibility that they become an obstacle to tap natural resources,” the letter to President Lula states.
Recently, the Brazilian environment has become threatened by several decisions from the federal government. The Brazil Forest Code is presently under criticism and the government signed a decree limiting to 0.5 per cent the environmental offset payments made by large enterprises impacting the environment, which goes against a ruling by the Brazilian Supreme Court.
The federal government also has issued several MPs – Medidas Provisórias – which are presidential decrees which go immediately into effect and have the force of law with a temporary though renewable lifetime. For example, a recent decree on agrarian reform law implemented a predatory agricultural production model, which does not enough address environmental conservation. Another decree facilitated environmental licensing for new roads and encourages deforestation.
“We find it fearful that, close to the end of his term, Lula’s government has adopted a position which is contrary to environmental conservation,” WWF-Brazil’s conservation director, Cláudio Maretti, said. “It is our perception that a real attack is going on against the environmental issues, on all fronts, based on a development concept which is not sustainable at all. The lack of answers from the government on the Resex issue complements this scenario which worries us”,
The proposed reserve areas were assessed by the Ministry of the Environment as high priority for conservation because of their ecological and biological value.
The area designated for Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi (Lower Branco and Jauaperi Rivers) covers approximately 580,000 hectares in the municipal districts of Rorainópolis, in Roraima, and Novo Airão, in Amazonas. The area is inhabited by 150 families who live on artisan fishing and Brazil nut collecting.
The combination of Jauaperi River’s clear waters with the Branco River’s white waters and the Negro River’s black waters accounts for high diversity of plant and animal species. Among the ornamental fish we find Discus and Marbled Hatchet, besides commercial catfish species like “surubim” and “barbado”, as well as the peacock bass (tucunaré) and piranhas.
Forty two mammal species call the area home, including the spotted jaguar, the puma, the ocelot, the giant otter, the giant anteater and the giant armadillo. In addition, forest tree species include the Brazil Nut, the Rubber tree, the Taperebá (Amazonian plum), the Mauriti Palm (buriti), Massaranduba, the purple timber Roxinho, Açaí and Bacaba.
The proposed Renascer protected area is located in Prainha municipal district in Pará state. The area covers 400,000 hectares, and includes 600 families spread among 14 communities.
The Renascer area has great environmental relevance because it encompasses floodplain ecosystems and other areas that protect vulnerable aquatic ecosystems, which are important to local communities’ livelihood. Several fish species call the region home, such as the giant Arapaima or Pirarucu, the Black Pacu (tambaqui), Catfish like Surubim, Dourada, and Filhote.
The forests contain valuable timber species such as Mahogany, Ipê, Cedar, Jacaranda and Brazil nut tree. But efforts to create the Renascer protected area so far have been hampered by government interest in mineral exploitation and plans to build a federal highway.