Amazon clearance 'at lowest level'
Annual destruction of the Amazon rainforest fell to its lowest recorded level this year, Brazilian authorities said, hailing an enforcement crackdown for the drop.
The destruction between August 2010 through July 2011 was about 2,410 square miles, according to the National Institute for Space Research.
The institute has tracked Amazon destruction since 1988 by analysing satellite images. The destruction peaked in 1995, when 11,220 square miles were destroyed.
Brazillian environment minister Izabella Teixeira said the government's fast action to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions led to the drop. "We'll continue with determination to reduce the illegal deforestation in the Amazon," she told a news conference in the capital Brasilia.
Brazil's government has stepped up enforcement of environmental laws in recent years, mostly by sending armed environmental agents into the jungle to carrying out large raids on deforestation hotspots.
The announcement of the drop comes as Brazil's Senate prepares to vote this week on changes to the nation's benchmark environmental laws that would loosen restrictions on how small farmers use their land in the Amazon.
Environmentalists fear the bill would bring increased deforestation and warn the current drop is likely due less to the government's crackdown and more to the global economic downturn. They say that has reduced demand for products, such as soy, cattle raised in illegally cleared pastures, and timber, that lead to the destruction.
The measure already passed Brazil's lower house and is expected to clear the Senate before going before President Dilma Rousseff, who's expected to sign it.
About 20% of the Brazilian rainforest has already been destroyed, and 75% of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to come from forest clearing as vegetation burns and felled trees rot. Brazil is estimated to be the globe's sixth-biggest producer of carbon emissions.