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A deforested plot of the Amazon rainforest in Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on July 8.BRUNO KELLY/Reuters

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest reached a record high for the first seven months of the year, preliminary government data showed on Friday, as the region approaches the traditional peak of the annual burning season.

Government satellite data showed 5,474 square kilometers (2,113 square miles) were cleared in the region from January to July, up 7.3% from the same period of last year, equal to an area seven times the size of New York City. It was the heaviest deforestation for the period in the data series begun in 2015.

In July alone, deforestation totalled 1,487 square kilometers, roughly in line with the same month of 2021.

Environmentalists and experts blame President Jair Bolsonaro for rolling back environmental protections, opening room for loggers and ranchers to illegally clear more of the Amazon.

“The figures shock, but don’t surprise,” said Marcio Astrini, head of local environmental group Climate Observatory, adding that “out of control” deforestation in the Amazon was a consequence of government policies reducing protection.

Bolsonaro’s office forwarded a request for comment to the Environment Ministry, which did not immediately respond to the inquiry.

The latest figures come as Brazil approaches the worst of the annual burning season in the Amazon, when ranchers and farmers often set fire to areas deforested earlier in the year. Data from national space research agency Inpe show that fires in the region tend to spike in August and September.

In July, Inpe fire alerts increased 8% from the previous year to a total 5,373, though remaining below an average 6,213.

Last month, Brazil’s environmental authority granted an initial permit that will allow a major highway to be paved through the centre of the rainforest, in a move that threatens to further increase deforestation.

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