SAO PAULO, March 10 – Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest hit its highest level for the month in February, preliminary official data showed on Friday, underscoring the challenges the new government faces in halting the destruction.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office on January 1, pledging to end illegal logging after years of increasing deforestation under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Environmental experts and officials have warned it could take years to drastically reduce deforestation after Bolsonaro cut funding and staff from key agencies.

“We have just left behind a government that supported deforestation,” Greenpeace Brazil spokesman Rómulo Batista said on Friday. “Until enforcement and control reach the whole region, illegal loggers can exploit this to increase this deforestation.”

Data from space research agency Inpe showed that 322 square kilometers were cleared in the region last month, 62% more than in February 2022 and well above the average of 166 square kilometers for the region. period.

It was also the highest since the Inpe data series began in 2015.

But thanks to below-average figures in January, deforestation fell 22% in the first two months of 2023 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Inpe.

In a presentation last week, an Inpe scientist attributed the sharp month-to-month fluctuations to cloud cover obscuring deforestation in satellite images in January, only to reveal it in February.

Environment Minister Marina Silva said last month, based on partial data from February, that it was unusual to have high deforestation so early in the year, when heavy rains make it difficult to work of lumberjacks in the forest.

“They deforest even during the rainy season. It’s a kind of revenge for the actions that are already taken, but we will continue to work to achieve our goal,” Silva told reporters.

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