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Fire poses the greatest threat to the forests of Amazonia. The magnitude of this thr-eat is amplified by three positive feedback loops that drive the expansion of forest fire in the region: (1) Fire promotes drought, and therefore more fire, by releasing smoke into the atmosphere, thus reducing rainfall. Fire-assisted conversion of forests to pastures may also promote drought by increasing albedo and decreasing water vapor flux to the atmosphere, further inhibiting rainfall. (2) Fire increases the susceptibility of forests to recurrent burning by killing trees, thereby allowing sunlight to penetrate the forest interior, and increasing the fuel load on the forest floor. (3) Finally, fires also self-perpetuate by burning agricultural and forestry systems, discouraging landholders from making those fire-sensitive investments in their land that would allow them to move beyond their dependence upon fire as a management tool. The long-term reduction of Amazon fire, and its substantial costs to society, is most likely to emerge through investments and policy change that stimulate permanent agricultural and forestry production systems within existing frontiers while slowing the rate of frontier expansion. But the Brazilian government\'s plan to pave, recuperate or construct 6245 km of roads in the Amazon may have the opposite effect. We present research findings that the government plan would nearly double the area of forestland that is accessible by paved highways, including 192,000 km(2), of fire-prone forest. Our analysis finds that these roads will stimulate 120,000-270,000 km(2) of additional deforestation, and forest impoverishment through logging and understory fire, if the historical relationship between road paving and forest alteration by humans continues. Infrastructural investments are urgently needed in Amazonia to help integrate isolated urban centers into the market economy, to improve the quality of life for millions of rural Amazonians, and to improve the profitability of agribusiness in Brazil\'s agricultural belt. But as currently planned, these investments will have the ancillary effects of accelerating deforestation, logging, forest fire, smoke-related illness, and the displacement of small-scale farmers. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved

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