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Amazon roads may lead to peril for rainforest

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Brazil may call its plan to carve roads through the fragile Amazon rainforest "Advance Brazil," but a study published in this week's Science shows that the plan's long-term environmental impact could make it a leap backwards.

Using satellite data to paint detailed pictures of the impact of past development, MSU researcher Mark Cochrane and others have developed the first models of what proposed road construction would do to Brazil's rainforest.

In a policy forum in the Jan. 19 edition of Science entitled "The Future of the Brazilian Amazon," the research team uses history as a teacher to, for the first time, project the impact of "Avana Brasil" (Advance Brazil) - a program to fast-track infrastructure in the Amazon for economic development. Their findings: that the roads' most significant impact will be devastation of rainforest, and a clear path to more destructive forest fires, reduced wildlife resources and more release of greenhouses gases.

"We're basically talking about losing rainforest land the size of Rhode Island each year," Cochrane said. "We're trying to map out the implications to let them know what the consequences are. We feel it hasn't been looked at yet."

Cochrane, who is part of MSU's Basic Science and Remote Sensing Initiative, created satellite-based models with lead author William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, MSU doctoral candidate Christopher Barber, Scott Bergen of Oregon State University, Philip Fearnside of the National Institute for Amazonian Research Ecology Department and Patricia Delamnica, Sammya D'Angelo and Tito Fernandes of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project in Brazil.

The rainforest, Cochrane explains, exists in a delicate balance. Logging and mining may not immediately level a segment of forest, but can weaken and thin a tree stand enough that, over time, is more susceptible to fire or ot
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Contact: Mark Cochrane
cochrane@bsrsi.msu.edu
517-432-9205
Michigan State University
17-Jan-2001


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