ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A mixed report now from the world's biggest forest: the Amazon. First, the good news: The deforestation rate has fallen dramatically in Brazil. The bad news: 40 percent of the Amazon isn't in Brazil, it's spread across eight other countries and deforestation there is rising. The problem is especially bad in a country not known for its jungles: Bolivia. NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Ascencion.
JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: On the southwestern-most corner of Amazonia, a logging crew goes to work.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW)
FORERO: Two men, one chainsaw and plenty of gasoline. This is virgin forest covered by a canopy, a place rich in bird and animal life. But on this day, the chainsaw rules, and one by one, trees fall. There are silk-cotton hardwoods to fig trees to ceibas, some of them 80 feet tall and decades old.
They'll cut a path into the forest. This is about four or 500 yards off the main road. And then they'll pull this tree out, as well as all the other ones.
As chainsaws do their work, earthmovers create a makeshift trail used to drag out trunks.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
FORERO: And little by little, the jungle falls, giving Bolivia the highest rate of Amazonian deforestation, environmentalists say. Agustin Villa, the man handling the chainsaw, knows that firsthand.
AGUSTIN VILLA: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: There are areas here that have disappeared, parts that are fine, Villa says. He then ticks off many stretches of the forest that have been cleared of trees.
All across the non-Brazilian Amazon, in an arc of countries from Peru to the eastern shoulder of South America, trees are going down. And it's happening while Brazilian deforestation has fallen by a factor of four since 2004.
TIMOTHY KILLEEN: In the last five or six years, there's been a phenomenal change in Brazil with respect to the development process.
FORERO: Timothy Killeen is an ecologist who has worked for 25 years with major environmental groups across the Amazon.
KILLEEN: With Brazil's deforestation rate going down and the Andean deforestation rate going up, and there's probably more deforestation in the Andean Amazon than in the Brazilian Amazon.
FORERO: Every year in Bolivia, a swath of forest two-thirds the size of Delaware, is cleared of trees. It's logging and small-scale farming and also ranching and soybean production.
Diego Pacheco, a top environmental official in Bolivia's government, says the state is trying to better regulate land use. But he says a new forest policy is needed.
DIEGO PACHECO: I think we need to protect, but also we need to manage the forest. It's not only to protect what forests have to provide, a lot of services to the local people, so they need to use the forest for living.
FORERO: Martha Zotar and her husband are a perfect example, a family that has carved a farm out of the jungle.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKENS)
FORERO: On 170 acres, there are chickens and rows and rows of soybeans, the region's cash crop, says Zotar.
MARTHA ZOTAR: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Everyone wants to plant soybeans, she says. The prices are good and it's easy to grow.
Their land still contains a clump of forest.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CHILD)
FORERO: As she walks through with her little boy, Jonathan, she talks about how her husband wants to take down the trees.
ZOTAR: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: But she says she wants to protect the forest. We can't finish everything off.
Though known for its mountains, Bolivia's lowland forest is one of the world's most biodiverse.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS)
FORERO: There are more than 1,400 species of birds in these jungles, like macaws and toucans. And these forests are among the last where jaguars, pink dolphins and other rare species can still be found. But these days, they're increasingly sharing the forest with the likes of loggers who get to the trees with new dirt roads and use earthmovers to pile up tree trunks.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
FORERO: It's a 1,200-acre concession and this is tree-harvesting time: hardwoods for construction, which are the most valuable, and softwoods for paneling.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SAW)
FORERO: All of which are cut into sections that go to local sawmills. It's all perfectly legal but environmentalists say the logging - multiplied many times over across Bolivia - is taking a toll.
One of the loggers here, Juan Diez, says it's harder and harder to find the right trees.
JUAN DIEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: It's not like before, Diez says, because it's being finished off. I don't know what we'll do later.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SAW)
FORERO: He then returns to his work, sawing off limbs from downed trees.
Juan Forero, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.