The Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, north of Goiás, concentrates one of the largest continuous areas of preserved cerrado in the country, but it is currently experiencing one of the worst moments since its creation in 1961.
Beset by arson, on the one hand, and by legislative pressures that seek to reduce its size, on the other, Chapada is one of the last strongholds of the Brazilian cerrado, a biome that has lost about 50% of its vegetation cover since the 1970s. More than double the deforestation in the Amazon, for example, which lost 20% of the original forest over the same period.
Considered a World Natural Heritage Site by Unesco since 2001, the park has more than 1,200 water springs and plays a central role in protecting dozens of species of flora and fauna in the cerrado that are threatened with extinction.
Since last Sunday (12), a forest fire in the place known as Vale da Lua, a famous tourist attraction located on the edge of the park area, has gained large proportions and has already spread to areas more than 20 kilometers (km) from distance, according to the Military Fire Department of Goiás (CBM-GO).
In the latest update, this Tuesday afternoon (14), the corporation reported that the flames have so far consumed an area of eight thousand hectares, the equivalent of eight thousand football fields, and has not yet been controlled.
“The flames first spread through the Pouso Alto Environmental Protection Area (APA), which is located in the buffer zone of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. On Sunday afternoon, around 100 tourists were stranded in Vale da Lua and needed to Vale da Lua was closed on the day of the fire and the Waterfall of Secrets closed today.
The Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park continues to function, as does the State Park,” said the Military Fire Department of Goiás, in a publication on social networks. A task force with more than 150 professionals has been working at the site since the weekend.
The workforce includes 65 military firefighters from Goiás, firefighting specialists, 75 civil servants from the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), nine firefighters from the National Center for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires (Prevfogo/Ibama), in addition to dozens of volunteers from the region. Two planes and a helicopter are also being used to fight the flames.
Although there is no completed investigation into this fire, professionals working in the area take it for granted that the fire must have been started.
“Because it started near the path of the sidewalk and always when it is close to the trail, we suspect it is a criminal, or a cigarette butt, or even a malicious person,” said Cícero Iago Eneas da Silva, one of the brigade members involved in the combat. to the fire, in an interview with TV Globo shown in Jornal Nacional this Monday (13).
It will not have been the first time that Chapada dos Veadeiros has suffered from arson. The most tragic episode in the park’s history is recent, it took place in 2017. It was precisely in the year that the conservation unit was expanded to the current 240,000 hectares. A series of arson fires, which began on the margins of the GO-118 highway, which connects Brasília to Tocantins, passing through Chapada, quickly spread, destroying more than 66,000 hectares of cerrado, almost 30% of the park’s area.
For two weeks, hundreds of firefighters, firefighters and volunteers did a monumental job to control the fire. At the time, the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) concluded that the fire was, in fact, criminal.
Created in 1961 with 625,000 hectares, the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park underwent successive reductions in size, reaching 65,000 hectares, approximately 10% of the original area.
In 2001, the expansion to 240,000 hectares was decreed by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, but was overturned by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) due to flaws in the process and the failure to hold public hearings, provided for in the Law on the National System of Nature Conservation Units (SNUC), which entered into force in 2000. It was only in 2017 that it was finally implemented.
: Read also: Brazil is the 4th most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists
Now, however, a Legislative Decree Bill (PDL) that is being processed in the Chamber of Deputies intends to reverse this expansion. The proposal was presented by deputy delegate Waldir (PSL/GO), an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, to suspend the 2017 park extension process.
What would be behind the arsons and the attempt to reduce the size of the park are precisely the land interests that were contradicted by the expansion of the preserved area. This is what environmentalists heard by Brasil de Fato point out.
“It’s all intertwined with the current government’s environmental policy. One of the people who coordinated setting fire to the park in 2017 was a supporter of Bolsonaro. It is of interest to ruralists in the region, to large landowners,” says Ivan Anjo Diniz, environmentalist who lives in Alto Paraíso.
Sought by the report to explain the PDL initiative, deputy Waldir stated that rural producers were removed from the park area, in the process of expansion, and would not have received compensation.
“The idea is very simple. The federal government, at the time of Michel Temer in the presidency, and Marconi Perillo in the state government, expanded the park, expropriated the areas, took away the rural producers and did not pay compensation,” he said. .
“Building a park on the backs of others is easy. Producers are in need. They are rural producers, plus 500 families,” he added.
General Director of the Association of Friends of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park (AVE), environmental manager Julio Itacaramby directly contests the deputy’s argument.
“The deputy’s allegation is unfounded. A technical study contracted specifically to analyze the land tenure situation in the expanded area was carried out, using satellite images and overflights, and it was found that there were less than ten buildings in the entire expanded area, part of which was abandoned”, he explains.
: Read more: Forest fires cause the hospitalization of 47 thousand Brazilians per year
Itacaramby reports that only two interested people have gone to court, since the expansion of the park, to claim ownership of the area. In both cases, the request was denied by the Supreme Court (STF).
“It is an area with very low population density because it is not suitable for any type of agricultural activity, even because it is terrain with rugged topography”, he adds.
Also according to the environmental manager, there is a movement in the country to dismantle the environmental policy based on preservation.
“It is a widespread movement in Brazil to dismantle the environmental policy, reducing the conservation units”, points out Julio Itacaramby.
For the environmentalist Ivan Anjo Diniz, there is a real danger for the cerrado from these attacks on the Chapada dos Veadeiros.
“It is the largest reserve of the Brazilian cerrado that still exists. To reduce this is to decree the largest pocket of the cerrado to die in the future. For us, this issue is very worrying”, he observes.
Source: Federal District BdF
Edition: Marcia Silva