Vinhas was chosen in 2018 for a four-year term, but Marcos Pontes, Brazilian Minister of Science and Technology, decided to fire her after two years and three months of work. He did not explain why.
The timing of the layoff – following June data – sparked uproar from environmentalists who saw a parallel with another high-profile shot at the same agency last year.
Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, is a critic of environmentalists and defends the promotion of increased economic development in the Amazon, which many opponents see as a nod to illegal miners and loggers.
In August, amid international protests against forest fires in the Amazon, Bolsonaro accused the director of the Brazilian space research institute, Ricardo Galvão, of manipulating deforestation data by satellite in order to undermine his administration. Galvão publicly rejected the allegations and was terminated.Inpe figures released on Friday showed deforestation of 400 square miles (1,034 square km) in the Amazon in June, a new record for the month since data began to be collected in 2015.
Total deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from January to June was 1,890 square miles (3,069 km2), up 25% from the same six-month period last year.
Outside observers closely monitor Brazil’s environmental management just before the so-called fire season, during which landowners use fire to clear brush and forest.
Bolsonaro put the military in charge of efforts to curb deforestation in May after last year’s fires pushed destruction to the highest level in 11 years. Yet data from Inpe shows that it has continued to climb.
Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a coalition of civil society groups, said the government had previously expressed its willingness to intervene in Inpe.
“The dismissal of Lubia Vinhas could be an indication that the plan has never been abandoned. This happens as deforestation accelerates, when the administration has to end threats of divestment, “said Astrini in a statement.
Suely Vaz, the former head of the IBAMA environment regulator, said before the June data was released that the military was not using technical planning and required information, and that it was not trained to such methods to stop deforestation. She added that it costs more than $ 10 million a month for the military to operate in the Amazon – more than half of what IBAMA spends on surveillance in a year.
“Controlling deforestation is not done by sending a lot of inexperienced people to the field,” said Vaz. “They can help, but operations must be carried out by environmental authorities.”