Rondônia, in the western part of the Amazon, is one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon region (Nelson 2009). The main factors responsible for the deforestation have been explosive population growth, logging, mining, small-scale farming and ranching (Pedlowski et al. 1997). Those who move to this area claim land along the road, and clear some of it for corresponding uses. As a result, the deforestation follows a “fishbone pattern”, arrayed along the edges of roads (figure 1) (NASA 2009a, 2009b). Over time, the landscape collapses into a mixture of cleared fields, settlements, and forest remnants (figure 2) (NASA 2009a).
Rondônia’s Deforestation Caused by Clearing along Roads
In the past three decades, there has been rapid clearing and degradation of Rondônia’s original 208,000 sq km of forest (NASA 2009a).
The deforestation in the state of Rondônia is increasing drastically, with 4,200 sq km cleared by 1978; 30,000 sq km by 1988; 53,300 sq km by 1998; and 67,764 sq km by 2003 - an area larger than the state of West Virginia in US (Pedlowski et al. 2005, NASA 2009a). The change of forested area between 2000 and 2008 is shown in figure 3.
In Rondônia, the main groups responsible for the deforestation have been small farmers, cattle ranchers, miners, and loggers (Pedlowski et al. 1997).
“Legal and illegal roads” penetrate remote parts of Rondônia’s rainforest, with small farmers migrating to the area, claiming land along the road, and clearing some of it for crops (NASA 2009a, 2009b).
Within a few years of the first clearing of the forest, heavy rains and erosion deplete the soil, and crop yields fall. As the land becomes less usable for agriculture, farmers convert the degraded land into cattle pasture, and deforest new sites for crops (NASA 2009a, 2009b).
In most cases, the small land holders who have cleared much of their land, sell it or abandon it to large cattle holders. These cattle ranchers in turn consolidate their plots into larger pasture areas, which further degrade the landscape (Lindsey 2007, NASA 2009a, 2009b).
Although tropical deforestation meets some human needs, it also has profound and often devastating consequences, such as biodiversity loss, soil erosion, climate change, atmospheric pollution, and social conflict. (Lindsey 2007, NASA 2009a).
Deforestation leads to the extinction of various plant and animal species. More than one third of all species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest, and they are in danger of destruction due to deforestation (NASA 2009a).
After farmers burn the forest and vegetation for crops, the “nutrient reservoir” is lost, and “flooding and erosion rates” become high. If the area is further turned into cattle pasture, the ground may become so compacted that it is difficult for the forest to recover (Lindsey 2007).
The deforestation is believed to cause climate change—challenges that affect the whole world (NASA 2009a).
Another consequence of forest clearing in the Amazon is the thick smoke that hangs over the forest throughout the dry season. Fire is “the primary tool for clearing land” in the Amazon, and it frequently escapes control and invades adjacent forest and pasture. The smoke is a common kind of atmospheric pollution in the region in August and September (NASA 2009b).
Deforestation can also lead to social conflict and thus human rights abuses due to the lack of resources (Lindsey 2007, NASA 2009a, 2009b).
In the northwest of Rondônia, it was found that the Bom Futuro National Forest had the highest rates of deforestation in the period from 1996 to 1999 (Pedlowski et al. 2005).An exponential increase in the amount of deforestation was observed in the region between 1992 and 2000. Should this trend persist, Bom Futuro National Forest could be completely deforested by 2017 (Pedlowski et al. 2005).
To deal with the deforestation problem in Rondônia, Brazil and international governments and aid agencies are trying to answer “what level of human presence”is compatible with conservation goals in Rondônia’s rainforests, and “how to balance” the needs of economic development and the requirements of environmental conservation (Lindsey 2007).
Lindsey, R. 2007. Tropical Deforestation. NASA’s Earth Observatory. 30 March. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Deforestation/ (last accessed 18 November 2009).
NASA’s Earth Observatory, 2009a. Amazon Deforestation. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/deforestation.php (last accessed 18 November 2009).
NASA’s Earth Observatory, 2009b. Fires and Deforestation on the Amazon Frontier, Rondônia, Brazil. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=38782&src=iotdrss (last accessed 18 November 2009).
Nelson, E. S. 2009. Rondonia. LBA-ECO. http://www.lbaeco.org/cgi-bin/web/sites/region_desc.pl?region_id=29 (last accessed 18 November 2009).
Pedlowski, M., V. Dale, E. Matricardi, and E. da Silva Filho, 1997. Patterns and impacts of deforestation in Rondônia, Brazil. Landscape and Urban Planning, 38, 149–157.
E. Matricardi, D. Skole, S. Cameron, W. Chomentowski, C. Fernandes, and A. Lisboa, 2005. Conservation units: a new deforestation frontier in the Amazonian state of Rondônia, Brazil. Environmental Conservation, 32 (2): 149–155.