Brazil's agents of the Amazon fighting loggers, fires to stop deforestation

25 PHOTOS
Operation Green Wave in the Amazon
See Gallery
Operation Green Wave in the Amazon
An agent of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, takes part in operation "Operation Green Wave" in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 26, 2017. The sign reads: "Careful with stray bullets." REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, check a man at in illegal logging camp during "Operation Green Wave" to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, check men in a forest during "Operation Green Wave" to combat illegal logging in Apui in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
Agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, check an illegal logging camp during "Operation Green Wave" to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Piles of wood are seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
A man reacts as an illegal logging camp is burnt during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
An environment police officer takes part in "Operation Green Wave" conducted by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 5, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Burning forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly? 
Burning forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An aerial view shows Santo Antonio do Matupi district, located near the Transamazon Highway in Manicore, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
A coach drives along the Transamazon Highway as it passes through deforested and burnt land during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
A burnt area in a forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Burning forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly? 
Agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, check a felled tree, found in a deforested area during "Operation Green Wave" to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Burning forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An agent of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, carries confiscated chainsaws during "Operation Green Wave" to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, walk through a burnt area in a forest during "Operation Green Wave" to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Burning forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
A man poses for a camera at an illegal gold mine during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 5, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
An aerial view shows deforested land during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
A burnt tree in a forest is seen during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Cows are seen on a plot of deforested land during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
An aerial view shows deforested land during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
Trees grow in the Amazon forest in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

APUI, Brazil, Aug 19 (Reuters) - The small town of Apui sits at the new frontline of Brazil's fight against advancing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, where vast forest fires belch jet black smoke visible for miles and loggers denude the jungle.

The home of 21,000 people in southern Amazonas state was long protected by its remote location from illegal loggers, ranchers and farmers who clear the forest.

Now those who would destroy the jungle are moving in from bordering states, following the Transamazon Highway, which is little more than a red-dirt track in this part of the rainforest.

They are looking for new land to exploit as they try to dodge the government's armed environmental protection agents carrying out "Operation Green Wave," the latest effort to tamp down spikes in ruination of the rainforest.

Agent Jaime Pereira da Costa, who is coordinating the effort to stem the destruction, said the area around Apui is witnessing the same pattern of deforestation that has been repeated in the Amazon for decades.

First come the loggers, who illegally extract valued lumber sold in far-off cities. The cattle ranchers follow, burning the forest to clear land and plant green pasture that rapidly grows in the tropical heat and rain. After the pasture is worn out, soy farmers arrive, planting grain on immense tracts of land.

Rising deforestation in previously protected places like Apui is reflected in government data.

Roughly 7,989 square kilometers (3,085 square miles) of forest were destroyed in 2016, a 29 percent increase from the previous year and up from a low of 4,571 square kilometers in 2012, according to the PRODES satellite monitoring system.

Then there are the fires.

Apui ranked first in the country for forest fires in the first week of August, according to the ministry.

At their best the environmental agents can slow but not stop the destruction. They raid illegal logging camps, levy large fines that are rarely collected and confiscate chainsaws to temporarily impede the cutting.

Costa acknowledges that the roughly 1,300 environmental field agents who police a jungle area the size of western Europe have a difficult task, at the very least.

The loggers disappear by running into the forest when the agents arrive at camps. They return days later after the agents leave.

Trusting that every effort will help to save rainforest, Environment Minister José Sarney Filho is looking to the next full PRODES data report, due in November, to show a decline in deforestation.

Without providing details, he said this week that the preliminary data showed a drop from last year.

"Everything indicates that the curve is falling," he said. "We're optimistic."

(Click on http://reut.rs/2v5kkU0 for related photo essay) (Reporting by Bruno Kelly; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Read Full Story