The Amazon Rainforest

Feature story - November 21, 2004
The Amazon is thought to be the most diverse ecosystem on earth. It is home to about 20 million people, as well as approximately 60,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species and more than 300 mammal species.

Greenpeace discovers an illegal logging operation with at least 200km of roads serving the operation. Greenpeace activists paint the loggers' barge with the message CRIME, then use it to blockade access to the sort yard.

But the Amazon is under attack. Fifteen percent of the Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed. In 2000 alone, more than four million acres of rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon were lost to illegal and destructive logging, mining, industrial agricultural plantations and other human industries such as road building. One of the greatest dangers to the Amazon rainforest is illegal and destructive logging.

Logging is one of the principal causes of the destruction of Amazon rainforest. By building logging roads into pristine rainforest, the logging industry also opens the door to further devastation of the forest ecosystem through clearing for cattle ranches and soy plantations, over-hunting, fuel wood gathering, and mining.

Fuelled by the demand for cheap supplies of tropical timbers for both the Brazilian domestic market and the international market, the illegal timber trade represents a major factor in forest degradation. The Brazilian government itself estimates that 80 percent of all timber produced in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal in origin.

Yet, despite the publication of these figures by Brazil's national government in 1997, importing nations such as the U.S., Italy, France, UK, China and Japan have taken few steps to ensure that the products they import from Brazil come from even legal, let alone ecologically responsible, sources.

Highlights of Our Work in the Amazon

Since the late 1990s, we have documented illegal logging in the Amazon in Brazil and have shared our findings with IBAMA, Brazil's environmental law enforcement agency. Our work to stop the illegal harvesting of mahogany in Brazil became so threatening to logging enterprises that in October of 2001, Paulo Adario, our Amazon Forest Coordinator, began receiving death threats. These threats were so serious that Brazilian authorities decided to provide him with around-the-clock protection.

In the U.S., our campaign gained fame in 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department endicted our entire organization for the peaceful activities of its members during a mahogany protest in Miami. Two of our activists climbed onto a commercial ship off the coast of Florida to protest the importation of illegal mahogany from Brazil.

Read about our work to stop illegal trade in mahogany and Brazil's moratorium.

We have also identified the U.S. companies that help to fuel violence and rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon by buying and/or distributing wood from Grupo Madenorte, a logging company that engages in corrupt practices in Brazil's conflict-torn Para State.

Read our report State of Conflict (pdf).

In conjunction with our efforts to stop illegal and destructive logging, we have worked with local residents to demarcate indigenous lands and help promote sustainable and traditional uses of the forest, such as rubber tapping.