Brazil’s government has opened a reserve in the Amazon that is twice the size of New Jersey to mineral exploration and commercial mining by abolishing the protected area known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) that covered roughly 4.6 million ha (17,800 square miles).
The reserve straddles the northern states of Pará and Amapá was established in 1984, and is believed to be rich in gold, iron and manganese deposits, CNN reported.
Brazil said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands. An official report from 2010 said that up to two-thirds of the reserve is subject to such protections.
The government framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history.
"The objective of the measure is to attract new investments, generating wealth for the country and employment and income for society, always based on the precepts of sustainability," the mining and energy ministry said in a statement.
Brazil announced a plan in July to revitalize its mining sector, and increase its share of the economy from 4 to 6 percent. The industry employs 200,000 people in a country where a record 14 million are out of work.
But the elimination of the reserve sparked an immediate backlash from activists and environmental groups.
Opposition politician Randolfe Rodrigues called it “the biggest crime against the Amazon forest since the 1970s.”
The Rainforest Foundation estimates that about 1 acre is wiped out every second, and an estimated 20 percent of the rainforest has been destroyed over the past 40 years.
The Amazon covers 1.2 billion acres and produces 20 percent of the world's oxygen.