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Big chunk of Amazon rain forest given protection

A swath of Amazon rain forest larger than Alabama, in a region infamous for violent conflicts among loggers, ranchers and environmentalists, was placed under government protection Monday.

The territory totals 57,915 square miles of the Guayana Shield region, an area of Amazon forest stretching across international borders. It contains more than 25 percent of the world's remaining humid tropical forests and the largest remaining unpolluted freshwater reserves in the American tropics.

The protected area will link to existing reserves to form a vast preservation corridor eventually stretching into neighboring Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. While the entire Guayana Shield corridor is not yet protected, portions of it in each country are now covered.

The Washington-based environmental group Conservation International put up $1-million to facilitate the expansion, which preserves much of the jungle's largely untouched north. Still, it's far from clear how much the new reserves will do to stall Amazon destruction, since most of the deforestation is taking place along the rain forest's southern border.

The Amazon region covers 60 percent of Brazil, and 20 percent of its forest - 1.6-million square miles - has been destroyed by development, logging and farming. Over the past four years, an area larger than South Carolina has been cut down.

Two of the new protected areas, covering 22,239 square miles, would place the land off limits to the public and only be accessible to researchers.

"If any tropical rain forest on Earth remains intact a century from now, it will be this portion of northern Amazonia," said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. "The region has more undisturbed rain forest than anywhere else."