When forests aren't really forests: the high cost of Chile’s tree plantations

Julian Moll-Rocek, mongabay.com correspondent
August 18, 2014



This article was produced under the Global Forest Reporting Network and can be re-published on your web site or blog or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.

Increased tree cover in Chile is due in large part to expansion of wood fiber farms

At first glance, the statistics tell a hopeful story: Chile’s forests are expanding. According to Global Forest Watch, overall forest cover changes show approximately 300,000 hectares were gained between 2000 and 2013 in Chile’s central and southern regions. Specifically, 1.4 million hectares of forest cover were gained, while about 1.1 million hectares were lost.

On the ground, however, a different scene plays out: monocultures have replaced diverse natural forests while Mapuche native protesters burn pine plantations, blockade roads and destroy logging equipment. At the crux of these two starkly contrasting narratives is the definition of a single word: “forest.”


According to Global Forest Watch, most of Chile’s forest change occurred in the central and southern regions of the country, with a loss of 1,088,102 hectares and a concurrent gain of 1,394,610 hectares between 2001-2013. These changes reflect cycles of logging and replanting in tree plantations. Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch. Click to enlarge.

The Mapuche people have been fighting for their ancestral land rights since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Chile in the 1540s. In 1970 it seemed they had finally found a benefactor in socialist president Salvador Allende, who promised major land redistribution. Their hopes were cut short when, at the height of the Cold War, General Augusto Pinochet came to power in 1973 with the help of the C.I.A. Pinochet’s wave of neoliberal reforms included Forest Ordinance 701, passed in 1974, which subsidized the expansion of tree plantations under the pretext of reducing erosion and gave the National Forestry Corporation control of Mapuche lands. This law set in motion an enormous expansion in fiber-farms, which are vast expanses of monoculture plantations Pinus radiata and Eucalyptus species grown for paper manufacturing and timber. Touted as creating a sustainable forestry sector and largely funded by foreign capital, these new plantations replaced native forests and further shrunk Mapuche land holdings.

According to a recent study in Landscape and Urban Planning, timber plantations expanded by a factor of ten from 1975 to 2007, and now occupy 43 percent of the South-central Chilean landscape. Co-author Dr. Cristian Echeverría predicts further deforestation and forest degradation in accessible parts of the landscape.

“We need drastic changes [in order to] attain a sustainable future for our forests,” he said. “State subsidies, payment for ecosystem services, improved education and national reforestation programs will all be needed.”

While the confusion surrounding the definition of “forest” may appear to be an issue of semantics, Dr. Francis Putz of the University of Florida warns otherwise in a recent review published in Biotropica.

“While I believe that high intensity, low diversity, industrial tree plantations have many roles to play, confusing them with forest is a fundamental problem of the highest order,” he said.


Vein-like networks of logging roads lace through this tree plantation near the town of Los Lagos, Chile. Small fragments of natural forest can be seen in particularly hard to access areas. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

The problem lies in the environmental services that these land uses provide. Monoculture plantations are optimized for a single product, whereas native forests offer a diversity of services such as water regulation, hosting biodiversity, and building soil fertility. Putz cautioned, “if plantations are accepted as forests, then there is nothing wrong with replacing natural forests with monocultures.” This murky definition of forest has robbed the Mapuche of their lands, and threatens to further endanger Chile’s remaining native forests.

Most of Chile's forest cover change has taken place in its southern temperate forests. Shaped by powerful climatic forces, prevailing winds and a rugged geologic history, the Valdivian and parts of the Magellanic forests of Chile and Argentina together represent the only area of temperate rainforest in South America. The World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International have recognized these forests as a priority conservation area due to their unique biodiversity, including the southern pudu (Pudu puda), which is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. Bounded by the high Andes to the east, and the frigid Pacific to the west, the area’s geologically isolated forests have extremely high levels of endemism, with some 90 percent of seed plants found nowhere else.


The southern pudu (Pudu puda) is found in the Valdivian forests of Chile and Argentina. Together with the northern pudu (Pudu mephistophiles), it represents the smallest genus of deer in the world. Southern pudu numbers have declined 30 percent in 12 years, a rate that scientists expect to continue due to habitat degradation. Photo by Jaime E. Jimenez.

Putz explained, “in the case of Chile, it's relatively easy [to distinguish between plantations and forests] because most of the plantations are of an exotic species.”

The future of Chile’s native forests remains unclear as the tense political climate remains volatile. The Mapuche continue in their struggle to reclaim their land from plantation owners, on occasion resorting to violent protest out of frustration with the cumbersome political process. Protected areas are few and far between, concentrated in remote parts of the Andes while leaving other areas, even those of high biodiversity, unprotected. Plantations continue to fragment the remaining stands of native forest into ever-smaller parcels.

For change to happen, according to Putz, the distinction between plantations and native forests needs to be made clear.

“Society, and certainly decision-makers, need to demand clarity on this issue, and the point that plantations are NOT forests needs to be made repeatedly,” he said.

Still, there has been a growing movement in support of a truly sustainable forest sector. In 2008, the law for the recuperation of native forests and forest promotion was passed with clear distinctions between “forest” and “native forest,” and called for the cataloguing of remaining all native forests. The polemic Forest Ordinance 701 expired in 2012, eliminating government subsidies for the expansion of tree plantations. With growing tensions surrounding the fate of Chile’s natural resources, the first steps towards a clearer understanding of seeing the forest beyond the trees have been taken. What happens next is a matter of politics.



Citations:
  • Putz, F. E., & Romero, C. 2014. Futures of Tropical Forests (sensu lato). Biotropica, 46(4), 495–505.
  • Nahuelhual, L., Carmona, A., Lara, A., Echeverría, C., González, M.E. Land-cover change to forest plantations: Proximate causes and implications for the landscape in south-central Chile, Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 107, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 12-20.
  • Tockman, Jason. 2005. Surviving the Chilean Economic Miracle. Cultural Survival Quarterly 29.2
  • Ministry of Agriculture. 2008. Law for the recuperation of native forests and forest promotion. Library of Congress of Chile.









    blog comments powered by Disqus



    The Global Forest Reporting Network is a joint effort between Mongabay.org and World Resources Institute (WRI) that sources data-driven, forest-focused stories from an international network of journalists.

    REPUBLISH THIS ARTICLE

    Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

    We strongly encourage anyone to republish this article online and in print, as long as you follow some simple guidelines:

    • You have to credit the author and Mongabay.org as listed in the original piece, ideally in the byline, with a link back to the specific article URL [in this case: http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0818-gfrn-moll-rocek-chile-plantations.html] on Mongabay's website.
    • This article is published under the Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) Creative Commons license. That means you cannot edit or change the material, except to reflect relative changes in time, location and basic editorial style (For example, "yesterday" can be changed to "last week," and "London, UK." to "London" or "here", and "organization" to "organisation"). To request material edits contact us.
    • You can print the first few sentences of the article and then say: “Read the full article on Mongabay.com” with a link back to the article page on our site.
    • If you are republishing online, you must link to us, include the original links embedded in the story, and embed our view counter in your republished version. See below for embed instructions.
    • It is okay to put our articles on pages with ads, but you cannot sell our material separately.
    • Pay attention to photo permissions. If a photo in the original piece is credited as belonging to either Mongabay or the author of the piece you are republishing, you have permission to use the photo as is, unchanged, with the same caption/credit as used in the original piece. If an image is copyright of another photographer or illustrator and you would like to reproduce it, contact us. Some sources don't allow their images to be republished without permission.

    Read more about our Republishing Guidelines.

    Instructions for embedding the required view counter.

    The view counter consists of a one pixel image, which is activated by using the following code in your page where the article runs:
      <img src="http://www.google-analytics.com/collect?v=1&tid=UA-12973256-1&cid=grn&t=event&ea=open&cs=news&cm=gfrn&cn=/2014/0818-gfrn-moll-rocek-chile-plantations.html">
    The pixel, which is hosted by Google, will not meaningfully affect your page load.

    ×




    Related articles



    Chile drops hugely controversial mega-dam project in wild Patagonia

    (06/12/2014) One of the world's most controversial mega-dam projects met its likely end this week when Chile's Committee of Ministers voted to cancel the permits for the HidroAysén project. Costing around $8 billion and expected to produce about 2.75 gigawatts, the project involved building five large dams on two wild rivers in Chile's famously-unspoiled Patagonia region.


    Chile turns to owls to combat fatal disease

    (04/01/2014) This year the Hanta virus has already caused 15 deaths in Chile, according to reports in The Santiago Times. It isn't always fatal—the 15 deaths were of a total of 36 cases over six months—but the symptoms are severe. Those affected experience flu-like symptoms, as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and trouble breathing. But now Chile is using a novel method to fight the disease: owls.


    Court orders logging company to clean up pollution disaster in Chile wetlands

    (01/17/2014) Chile is probably best known for its volcanoes, earthquakes and the formidable peaks of the Andes, but as a country that spans 4,300 km (2,670 miles) from top to bottom, it also boasts a huge variety of bird life. And, until recently, it was home to what was thought to be the largest population of black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus) in South America. Not long ago, these swans, as well as 100 other species of rare or vulnerable bird species, could be seen nesting in the Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary in Valdivia, a Ramsar site that covers 12,000 acres in the south of Chile. But in 2004 the swans began to die.


    Environmental groups: top secret Pacific trade agreement to sacrifice wildlife, environment

    (01/16/2014) Environmental groups have blasted draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) released yesterday by WikiLeaks as potentially devastating to the environment and wildlife. The massive 12-nation free trade agreement has been negotiated in secret now for almost four years, and the information release by WikiLeaks shows that key environmental safeguards in the agreement are being stripped away, including a ban on shark finning and illegal logging, as well as legally-enforced pollution regulations.


    Rewilding Chile's savanna with guanacos could increase biodiversity and livestock

    (01/06/2014) Local extinctions have occurred across a variety of habitats on every continent, affecting a gamut of species from large predators such as the wolves of North America, to tiny amphibians like the Kihansi spray toad of Tanzania. The long trek toward reversing such extinctions has begun, but it is not without its challenges, both ethical and logistical.


    Strange mouth-brooding frog driven to extinction by disease

    (11/21/2013) An unusual species of mouth-brooding frog was likely driven to extinction by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), making an unusual example of 'extinction by infection', argue scientists writing in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. Rhinoderma rufum has not been seen in the wild since 1980.


    Vocal-sac breeding frog possibly extinct

    (07/02/2013) Somewhere in the wet pine forests of Chile, a male frog is gulping-up a bunch of eggs. No he's not eating them, he's just being a good dad. Darwin's frogs are known for their unique parenting-style: tadpoles are incubated in the vocal sac of the father. First recorded by Charles Darwin during his world famous voyage aboard the Beagle, the amphibians were common in the native Chilean pine forests until the last few decades. Now, scientists believe that one of the two species, the northern Darwin's frog (Rhinoderma rufum), may have vanished for good. And the other is hanging on by a thread.


    Vanishing species makes astounding comeback under combined action of local government and conservationists

    (06/03/2013) The reemergence of the endangered Huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) marks a momentous achievement by local governments and conservationists worldwide. From the brink of extinction—with populations decimated to one percent of what they previously were—the Huemul populations have not only stabilized but are steadily increasing, according to a new study in Oryx.


    First strike: nearly 200 illegal loggers arrested in massive sting across 12 countries

    (02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL's first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.




CITATION:
Julian Moll-Rocek, mongabay.com correspondent (August 18, 2014).

When forests aren't really forests: the high cost of Chile’s tree plantations.

http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0818-gfrn-moll-rocek-chile-plantations.html