The State Government of Mato Grosso, Brazil, has voted to drastically reduce
one of the Amazon's most biodiverse reserves. What is at stake is the strength
and permanence of protected status for ancient rainforests under Brazilian law.
The Cristalino State Park is a world-renowned ecotourism destination, whose
184,000 hectares are home to over 550 species of birds, and protects endangered
species like the white-whiskered spider monkey. Some 27,000 hectares of its
forest will now lose protected status; becoming vulnerable to logging, cattle
ranching and agribusiness. State Governor Blairo Maggi initially vetoed the
reduction of the park on the grounds that it would "be seen as endorsing illegal
occupancy and deforestation of public lands", and that it would suggest
Brazilian environmental law can be flouted. The veto was short-lived, however,
as members of the Mato Grosso House of Representatives immediately overturned
Mato Grosso lies at the heart of Brazil's deforestation crisis, yet its State Government seems hell-bent on removing what little forest it has left. The region where Cristalino State Park is situated is of the highest priority for conservation due to its high levels of endemism, diversity of vegetation and habitats, as it lies in the transition zone between the 'cerrado' (Brazilian savannah) grassland and the Amazon forest. This is all the more urgent as it is under unrelenting pressure from smallholders, logging interests and large cattle ranchers.
Environmentalists and tour operators say that the decision to reduce Cristalino sets a dangerous precedent. "If sections of a reserve such as Cristalino State Park can be removed with such ease, the prospects for other protected areas within Mato Grosso are bleak," said Mark Rose, Chief Executive of the conservation charity Fauna & Flora International. The decision will also sacrifice Cristalino Lodge, one of the best-known ecotourism businesses in the Brazilian Amazon, which has been working with the Cristalino Ecological Foundation (a local environmental NGO), and Fauna & Flora International to conserve the region’s precious biodiversity.
Individuals closely connected to the State Government are known to have private
interests in lands within the park. Mato Grosso has suffered the highest rate of
deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and yet it looks like the State Government
is manipulating this particular situation for political gain. Left untouched,
Cristalino State Park has the potential to act as a regional model for
ecotourism but it is being sacrificed for the short term benefit of a few
powerful individuals. And at a time when climate change is occurring faster than
predicted, conserving tropical rainforests and their unparalleled carbon
storage, biodiversity and ecosystem functionality is critical.
Please contact key players in Brazil's Federal and State governments, and let
them know that removal of protected status so easily from preserved Amazonian
ancient rainforests is simply unacceptable.
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The white-whiskered spider monkey, a species found nowhere else on Earth. Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones/FFI.
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