Last month, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil lost trees at the fastest rate in 10 years. And experts blame activity by illegal loggers, who are helped by the easing of environmental protections under President Jair Bolsonaro.
The Amazon is the world's largest rainforest covering parts of eight South American countries. Nearly two-thirds of the forest lies in Brazil.
The Brazilian space research institute, INPE, said the DETER early-warning satellite system registered deforestation of 739 square kilometers of the forest in May. It happened at the start of a three-month logging season following the area's rainy season.
The numbers are up by about 200 square kilometers from last May. And more than two times the deforestation found two years earlier.
If this upward trend continues, we could have a bad year for the Amazon forest, Claudio Almeida warned on Tuesday. He heads the INPE's satellite monitoring program. Almeida added, It will depend on how much policing there is in the next two critical months.
Environmentalists said Bolsonaro's five-month-old government has taken apart agencies that support conservation, or protecting the environment. The country's environmental protection agency lost authority when Bolsonaro took office in January. The forestry commission was moved to the Agriculture Ministry, which is run by farm industry supporters.
Marcio Astrini works for the environmental group Greenpeace in Brazil. He called the new government "anti-environmental." He said it has pushed to lower forest protections without a plan to fight deforestation.
With Bolsonaro, people who destroy forests feel safe and those who protect forests feel threatened, Astrini said.
Bolsonaro's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles told Reuters that Brazil remains as committed as ever to protecting the forests.
Salles disputed the numbers from DETER satellite system as misleading. But he denied a newspaper report this week that it could be replaced by one run by a private company. He said, We are not going to remove anything. We are going to add more.
Salles said the government will hire a company that can do high resolution images in real time, or as they take place. He said that will help enforcement operations be more effective.
Officials will watch to see if the early numbers from DETER is confirmed later this year by a more accurate satellite program called PRODES.
PRODES imaging for the 12 months through July 2018 showed that 7,900 square kilometers of forest were cleared in Brazil's Amazon.
Still, deforestation remains well below levels in the early 2000s, before Brazil launched a campaign to fight logging. In 2004, for example, more than 27,000 square kilometers were cleared, an area the size of the nation Haiti.
I'm Anne Ball.