Riverside (riparian) forests play a vital role in conserving biodiversity, maintaining ecological connectivity and assisting the delivery of key ecosystem services (e.g. maintenance of water flows). Nevertheless, these forests are particularly threatened across the tropics, not least in Brazil where there has been widespread forest clearance to make way for pasture and cropland.

Despite the landmark Brazilian Forest Code, which provides the basis for environmental protection on private property, its effectiveness in protecting riparian vegetation in so-called permanent preservation areas has been very poorly assessed. This article provides the first fine-scale estimates of the total riparian permanent preservation area distribution and deficit for the 1.25 Mkm2 Brazilian state of Pará, which has had the highest deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon in recent years, using the available property boundaries.

The authors demonstrate how coarse-resolution mapping data (e.g. used for landscape mapping) consistently underestimates the extent of permanent preservation areas, complicating implementation of the Brazilian Forest Code. Other key findings include:

  • Following a legal amnesty only a fraction of the degraded riparian forest falling within permanent preservation areas is required to be restored. This suggests that some catchments in Pará may not recover fully functioning hydrological and ecological services.
  • Deforestation within permanent preservation areas is greater than outside them for most municipalities in Pará, indicating that implementation of the Forest Code has not been sufficient to protect riparian forests to date.

The authors argue that their findings suggest that under the current enforcement regime regulatory measures on their own are insufficient and incentive-based mechanisms are needed to encourage restoration – even within the existing legal framework.