Deforestation and Soil Conservation
According to Conaf, the country possesses 13.4 million hectares of native forest, 3.9 million of which enjoy government protection as part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas (Snaspe, or National System of Protected Wild Areas). The remaining 9.5 million hectares are in private hands, 80 percent of whom are small or medium-sized landowners. Most of these forests are in southern Chile.
Native forest conservation is a hot-button issue for Chilean activists, who have led successful opposition to the Cascada Chile wood chip project in Region X (Los Lagos), which was canceled in early 2001, and a similar effort by the U.S.-based Trillium Corporation in Region XII (Magallanes).
According to the industry-oriented Corporación de Madera (Corma), 90 percent of the wood arriving at Chilean factories comes from forest plantations and only 10 percent from native forests. This figure is misleading, though, in that eucalyptus and Monterey pine plantations have often replaced heavily logged native woodlands. Moreover, 70 percent of the 10 million cubic meters of wood used annually for heating and cooking in Chilean households comes from native forests.
Some foreign environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, question free trade agreements as they believe Chile’s environmental legislation, particularly on native forests, to be weak. A proposed Ley de Bosques Nativos (Native Forest Law) would offer economic incentives for owners of native forest properties, promoting sustainable harvest with subsidies and discouraging nonnative plantations, but progress has been slow.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition