On May 11, Brazil deployed 3,800 troops to protect the Amazon rainforest as deforestation surged ahead of the high season for forest fires. According to the country’s national space research institute, deforestation by illegal loggers and ranchers rose 55% in the first four months of 2020 (BBC, Reuters). Forest loss over the past 12 months has reached the highest level since monthly recording began in 2007 (Mongabay). Activists say Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental rollbacks and public rhetoric encourage illegal activity (BBC).


President Bolsonaro authorized the deployment of troops three months earlier than in 2019, when Amazon forest fires sparked global outcry. Environmental groups say that since the coronavirus pandemic, fewer enforcement agents have been monitoring for illegal deforestation. "The pandemic has not helped because there are apparently less agents out there and illegal loggers obviously don't care about the virus in remote areas of the Amazon," said Paulo Barreto, senior researcher for Imazon, a Brazilian conservation group (BBC).


Budget restrictions have prevented Brazil’s main environmental enforcement agency from hiring additional staff, resulting in the need for military support (BBC, Reuters). The military will be deployed until June 10, with the possibility of an extension as the forest fire season approaches. Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said each military base was assigned five chemical warfare specialists to help avoid spreading COVID-19 (Reuters).