Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Latin American History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 27 November 2022

Protected Environmental Areas across Brazillocked

Protected Environmental Areas across Brazillocked

  • Frederico FreitasFrederico FreitasNorth Carolina State University Department of History


Brazil, the fifth-largest country on earth, has almost a third of its territory classified as protected areas. They include nature reserves with the strictest level of protection and areas reserved for sustainable use. They comprise, in their majority, public lands, but contain a percentage of privately owned estates. They are regulated by a centralized national system of protected areas, but their management is fragmented at all levels of government—federal, state, and municipal. They are located in the sparsely inhabited Brazilian hinterland but can also be found close to the country’s large and densely populated cities. And throughout the years, they have appealed to a diversity of values and policy goals to justify their existence: protection of natural features, development of frontiers, preservation of endangered species and their inhabitants, conservation of biodiversity, sustainability, social justice. All in all, the protected areas of Brazil represent one of the most extensive and ambitious forms of territorial intervention ever implemented in the country.

It was not always like that. With a few exceptions, protected areas controlled by the state for the sake of conserving natural landscapes and resources were mostly absent before the 20th century. It was only in the 1930s that the Vargas regime established the first national parks in Brazil. They were followed by a dozen other parks in the 1950s and 1960s, but up until the 1970s, the establishment of protected areas in Brazil lacked proper planning, institutional support, and policy goals. This situation changed in the mid-1970s, during the height of the military dictatorship, when an alliance of Brazilian and foreign conservationists began pushing for the inclusion of protected areas in Amazonian development programs. The adoption of the language and methods of dictatorship-era territorial planning by the proponents of conservation set the basis for the development of a national system of protected areas. The system took twenty years to be passed into law, a period that coincided with the end of twenty-one years of military dictatorship and the return to democracy in Brazil. One of the novelties of this period was the appearance of groups, such as Amazonian rubber tappers, with a stake in defining conservation policy. They introduced ideas of social justice in the conservation debate, in what came to be known as socio-environmentalism. It was also during the post-dictatorship period that Brazilian conservationism adopted global standards of conservation, for example protection of biodiversity and sustainable development, as justifiable policy goals. In the early 21st century Brazil counts over 2,300 distinct protected areas distributed throughout all of its twenty-six states. They are part of a single, but diverse, national system of protected areas.


  • History of Brazil
  • 1910–1945
  • 1945–1991
  • Environmental History

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription