SAO PAULO – A Brazilian judge on Wednesday suspended a presidential decree issued last week that opened a vast Amazon reserve to mining, a precautionary ruling issued on a day in which a non-governmental organization announced the discovery of 381 new species of flora and fauna in the Amazon region.
The decision by a federal judge in Brasilia to suspend “any and all administrative acts” that would bring about the dissolution of the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) is a further setback for Brazil’s government, which had already modified the decree amid a wave of criticism.
President Michel Temer’s controversial move to strip away the protected status of Renca – which measures 47,000 sq. kilometers (18,147 sq. miles), an area bigger than Denmark – cleared the way for private mining companies to develop the area.
“Renca is not a paradise, like some erroneously want to make it seem,” Temer said last Thursday in a statement justifying his decree.
But widespread criticism of the decree – including from environmental groups and celebrities such as singer Caetano Veloso and model Gisele Bundchen – forced the government to modify, although not abolish, the decree.
Renca, which straddles the northern states of Para and Amapa and was created in 1984 by Brazil’s then-military dictatorship, is considered to be a promising area for gold, iron, manganese and tantalum exploration.
The government said Wednesday it would appeal the judge’s ruling.
Amid the controversy, a new report released Wednesday in Sao Paulo by the World Wildlife Fund revealed that scientists discovered 216 new species of plants and 165 new species of animals – including 93 fish, 32 amphibians and 19 reptiles – in the Amazon region between 2014 and 2015.
But Ricardo Mello, coordinator of WWF Brazil’s Amazon program, said many of those species were discovered in areas subject to great anthropic pressure,” whether due to agricultural activity or the construction of hydroelectric dams and highways.
“Brazil is losing very large swaths of rainforest every year ... We’re risking losing (those areas) even before knowing what we’re losing,” Mello said.