Crucial illegal road threatens Amazon rainforest

An illegal dirt road ripping through protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon is now just a few miles shy of connecting two of the worst areas of deforestation in the region,

according to satellite images and accounts from people familiar with the area. If the road is completed it will turn a large area of remaining forest into an island, under

pressure from human activity on all sides. Environmentalists have been warning about just this kind of development in the rainforest for decades. Roads are significant

because most deforestation occurs alongside them, where access is easier and land value higher. On the east side of the new road is a massively-deforested area where

Brazil's largest cattle herd, 2.4 million head, now grazes. This municipality of Sao Felix do Xingu is the country’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, thanks to

deforestation, according to Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups. It is roughly the size of Maine and has a population of 136,000. To the west is an area

where three years ago ranchers coordinated the burning of several swaths of virgin forest in an episode famously known as the Day of Fire. This municipality, larger than Maryland,

is Brazil’s eighth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. Wedged in between is the Xingu basin. The Xingu River that runs through it is one of the main tributaries of the Amazon

River. It begins in the drier Cerrado biome, surrounded by tens of thousands of square miles of protected areas.