Amazon Deforestation: Earth's Heart and Lungs Dismembered

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Like the U.S.'s westward expansion

Cattle ranches will continue to replace forests in Brazil's Amazon as long as global demand for Brazilian beef and the profitability of cattle ranching persist. What's more, ongoing increases in global demand for soy and biofuels may convert former pastures to agriculture, pushing ranchers farther into the forest, explained Arima.

The population and cattle migration into the Brazilian Amazon resembles the westward expansion across the United States in the 19th century--"Brazil's Manifest Destiny," said Walker. The Brazilian government has promoted the development of the Amazon by sponsoring economic development programs, population relocation programs and the construction of dams, highways and a natural gas pipeline in the Brazilian Amazon.

Nevertheless, the Brazilian government is also heeding some of the lessons made apparent by America's destruction of its own forests. During the last 10 years, the Brazilian government has pursued aggressive policies on the designation of protected areas and on curbing encroachment in the Brazilian Amazon.

These policies have helped protect vast tracts of land that were previously up for grabs to whoever claimed them. In addition, enforcement of protections, particularly in indigenous reserves, has improved, said Arima.

Domestic and global forces will continue to drive both development and conservation in the Brazilian Amazon. It's now a question of how much of each will occur. "It's a two-edge sword in that there is this tremendous ecosystem that is largely intact but underneath that ecosystem and within it, there are riches that could be of great benefit to individuals and larger groups," explained Walker. "If you are in Brazil long enough you will see it both ways."