Brazil's government has sent Congress a bill to open up 860,000 acres of a protected national forest in the Para area to logging, mining and agricultural use, according a statement from the Environment Ministry on Friday.
The bill reducing the size of the National Forest of Jamanxim came as a compromise after local residents protested over President Michel Temer's veto of similar legislation to reduce protections on a larger parcel of land.
If approved, the government’s bill would create a new protection area, APA, near the town of Novo Progresso, which is on the edge of the forest. About 862,610 acres, or 27 percent of the national forest, would be converted into an APA, the ministry said.
Carlos Xavier, president of a group in Para lobbying to reduce the size of the Jamanxim forest, said the APA would bring "economic progress" to the region.
According to the ministry, the bill includes measures to reduce conflicts over land, prevent deforestation and create jobs.
Environmentalists, however, claim fewer protections will lead to increased deforestation and open doors to land-grabbing, which in turn leads to illegal logging, clear-cutting and mining.
In 2016, deforestation of the Amazon rose by 29 percent over the previous year, the biggest jump since 2008, according to the government's satellite monitoring.
"The bill is seen as an amnesty for illegal occupation of the conservancy unit," said Observatorio do Clima on its website, adding that the government "yielded to pressure" from the rural lobby.
Mongabay, an environmental science and conservation website, reported that experts using satellite images had identified illegal logging activities to the east of the BR-163 highway, which runs next to the national forest.
Protesters blocked the the BR-163 highway on July 3, preventing trucks from unloading grains at the riverside location of Miritituba, where barges carrying crops are transported en route to the export markets.
They were angered over a recent veto by Temer of a congressional bill last month that would have reduced the size of the Jamanxim National Forest and open up more land to farmers and ranchers.
According to a statement from the Sociedade Civil Organizada group on Friday, protesters suspended the blockades after Temer sent the bill to Congress.
ATP, the Brazilian private ports association, calculated that the highway protests would result in losses of US$47 million, according to Reuters.