• 02.07.13

Brazil Attempts to Estimate the Number of Trees In The Amazon

The National Forest Inventory is a project to find out exactly what’s in the Amazon so we can better protect it.

Counting the trees in the Amazon may seem an impossible task. But Brazil has embarked on one of the world’s most extensive forest surveys turning the Amazon’s trillions of trees into data points that will ultimately help conserve them.


Home to about 60 percent of the Amazon’s rainforest, Brazil plans to gain “a broad panorama of the quality and the conditions in the forest cover” through its new National Forest Inventory, said Brazilian Forestry Minister Antonio Carlos Hummel according to the AFP. “We are going to come to know the rainforest from within.”

The massive tree census is scheduled to take place over the next four years. Teams sent across Brazil’s 3,288,000 square miles, encompassing about half of the world’s remaining tropical forest, will sample about 20,000 points at 20-kilometer intervals. Researchers will log the number, height, diameter, and species of trees, along with soil types, biomass carbon stocks, and even local people’s interactions with the forest at each site. Once completed, it will the most comprehensive national inventory in Brazil since 1983.

Brazil, once one of the world’s largest deforesters, is now among conservation’s greatest turnaround stories. Last year, Brazil reported the lowest level of deforestation in decades: 1,797 square miles of Amazon. That’s almost 80 percent lower than in 2004, reports Mongabay.

And the government plans to go lower still. The country has publicly committed to reducing deforestation by 80 percent below 2004 levels by 2020. It’s well on its way: the environment ministry said deforestation was down 76.27 percent compared to its baseline, well ahead of schedule.

The Inventory should help those gains stick. Just as the U.S. Census helps formulate social and economic policy, Brazil plans to shape its policies and planning around the forest data, says Minister of Environment Izabella Teixeira. “Brazilian society does not have enough information about the country’s forests,” said Teixeira in a USAID statement, a partner in the initiative along with the U.S. Forest Service. “This will be able to convince decision makers from different sectors to provide permanent resources for forests.”

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.