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Brazil arrests 'greatest destroyers' of the Amazon rainforest

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Criminal organization accused of causing environmental damages worth more than $220 million

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Neil Palmer (CIAT) / Flickr

Authorities in Brazil this week arrested members of a criminal gang that they described as "the greatest destroyers" of the Amazon rainforest. As the BBC reports, the organization allegedly logged and burned enormous swathes of the rainforest and sold public Amazon lands for farming, resulting in estimated damages worth more than $220 million, according to the Brazilian Federal Police. Eight suspects have been arrested so far, with another six still at large.

Most of the Amazon lies within Brazil's borders, and deforestation rates have increased alarmingly in recent months. Last year, deforestation increased by 28 percent, after four years of decline. That raises serious environmental concerns, as the Amazon is one of the world's most important defenses against global warming, and is home to a wide range of tropical species.

An alarming trend

In 2009, Brazil pledged to reduce deforestation rates by 80 percent by the end of this decade, though its efforts have been hampered by poor enforcement and widespread corruption. It is estimated that more than 2,250 square miles of rainforest were destroyed last year, up from 1,765 square miles the previous year.

The gang members arrested this week face a host of charges including money laundering, environmental crimes, and invading public land. They each face up to 50 years in prison, though Brazilian law limits individual prison sentences at 30 years.