In DepthTropical Deforestation

Who will watch the Amazon?

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Science  12 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6338, pp. 569
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6338.569

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Brazil's efforts to monitor deforestation in the Amazon are widely acclaimed, but the government now wants to share the job with a private firm. The move has already sparked a controversy that has led to the firing of a top scientist in the Ministry of the Environment and prompted more than 6200 researchers and others to sign a petition protesting the plan. Critics argue the ministry's move will waste scarce resources on duplicative efforts, because Brazil's National Institute of Space Research (INPE) already performs much of the requested work. Analysts note that the contract could eat up as much as 18% of the ministry's current annual budget, which was cut 51% in March to $142 million. The ministry says INPE will continue to monitor the Amazon, but that it needs outside help to strengthen DETER and other antideforestation efforts. In particular, the ministry said in a statement that it is looking to tap technology, such as synthetic aperture radar, not available from INPE. Experts worry that multiple data sources could create confusion over deforestation trends. Critics also say there's potential for conflicts of interest, if the ministry ends up cherry-picking the deforestation data that make its conservation programs look more effective.