What is the SNUC?

The Federal Constitution of 1988 ensures to all, in its article on the environment (art. 225), an “ecologically balanced environment” and imposes upon the Government the duty of defending it and preserving it. One of the instruments that the Constitution points to for fulfilling this duty is the “definition of territorial spaces and their components to be especially protected,” or rather, it indicates that Government must create protected areas and guarantee that they contribute to the existence of an “ecologically balanced environment.”

PARNA do Pico da Neblina (AM) 1994  / ROBERTO LINSKER/www.terravirgem.com.br

From this constitutional base, the country has conceived the National System of Units of Conservation (SNUC), or rather, a type of protected areas. The process of development and negotiation of this System has lasted more than ten years and generate a great controversy among the environmentalists. The result (Law No. 9.985/2000) – an attempt at reconciliation among very distinct visions – despite not entirely pleasing none of the parties involved in the controversy, signified an important advance in the construction of an effective system of protected areas in the country.

The SNUC originated from a request by the Brazilian Institute of Forest Development to the Pro-Nature Foundation (FUNATURA), a non-governmental organization, in 1988, for the development of a draft project of law instituting a system to units of conservation. One of the difficulties, already evident at the time, was to define the categories of management, excluding equivalent figures and creating new types of units where gaps were identified.

PES do Jalapãp (TO)  - Pôr do sol na beira do rio  / Rosimeire Rurico

The draft was approved by the National Council of the Environment (CONAMA) and in May of 1992, already in the quality of a Project of law, was delivered to the National Congress. In 1994, Deputy Fábio Feldmann Gabeira, presented a substitutive to the SNUC Law Project, introducing significant modifications to the original text and initiating the controversy centered on the question of the presence of traditional populations in the units of conservation that would last for another six years.

In 1995 a new substitutive was presented, this time by Deputy Fernando Gabeira, deepening the divergences among the environmentalists and feeding, to a greater degree, the controversy.

Following innumerous meetings, public audiences, versions, and modifications, the project was approved in Congress in 2000, but had some devices vetoed by the president, such as, for example, the definition of traditional populations. See below the different categories of units of conservation of the SNUC and their definitions.

Categories of UC’s in the SNUC

RESEX Verde Para Sempre, Porto de Moz - PA 2006  / Leonardo F. Freitas

The SNUC divides the categories of federal units of conservation into two large groups: Full protection and sustainable use.

Each of these groups contains divers categories of units; the full protection group is formed by five different categories, which are Ecological Station, Biological Reserve, National Park, Natural Monument, and Wildlife Refuge. In the sustainable use group the categories are: Environmental Protection Area, Area of Relevant Ecological Interest, National Forest, Extractive Reserve, Fauna Reserve, Sustainable Development Reserve, and Private Reserve of Natural Heritage.

However, as the SNUC presupposes complementarity by means of the State and Municipal Systems of Units of Conservation, in some situations there can be UC’s of categories different from those listed above. Read more about the differences among the categories by clicking here.

Read more

Brasil 2000. Lei Federal Nº 9.985 de 18/07/2000. Regulamenta o artigo 225 da Constituição Federal e institui o Sistema Nacional de Unidades de Conservação e da outras providências.

Brasil. 2002. Decreto Federal Nº 4.340 de 22/08/2002. Regulamenta a Lei Nº 9.985 de 18/07/2000 (SNUC) e da outras providências.


  1.   Brazil 2000. Federal Law Nº 9.985 of 07/18/2000. Regulates article 225 of the Federal Constitution and institutes the National System of Units of Conservation and other provisions. Available by clicking here. (in Portuguese)