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US$100M tree harvest at Tucurui

Lumberjacks in diving gear are harvesting dead trees inside Brazil’s Tucurui reservoir. The trees within an area of over 2800km2, were submerged when the hydroelectric reservoir was filled in the early 1980s.

The 106m high dam on the Tocantins river, a major tributary of the Amazon, started storing water about 16 years ago. The volume of harvestable timber of Amazon hardwoods (Brazil nut, mahogany, ipe, angelim, jatoba and massaranduba) submerged within the reservoir is estimated to be worth at least US$100M. Although a contract to log the reservoir area was in force from 1964-85, prior to the impoundment of the dam, most of the forest was still standing when the dam started storing water in 1984.

At the time of construction ecologists had warned that the reservoir would adversely affect the environment, and that rotting organic matter would produce greenhouse gases. For the Brazilian government this was an acceptable price to develop the eastern Amazon. The massive 4325MW hydroelectric plant not only boosted the area’s export-oriented aluminum in-dustry but has also provided energy to nearly every village in the region. According to government estimates Tucurui has saved Brazil US$30B in oil imports alone.