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Native Temperate Rainforest Crisis

A third of the world's large untouched temperate forests are in Chile. Most will be gone in twenty years if current trends continue -- the victims of the rapidly expanding export woodchipping and exotic plantation industries. The following summary of a paper by the Chilean NGO, Defensores del Bosque Chileno, concludes with eight ways you can help to stop the destruction on these unique forests.

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"If you haven't been in a Chilean forest, you don't know this planet".
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda

"We must not let the environment stand in the way of economic growth."
Chile's President Eduardo Frei

Chile's Native Forests

One-third of the world's threatened temperate frontier forests are found in Chile. Southern Chile is home to one of the world's last two extensive temperate rainforests. Some scientists estimate that up to 90% of plant and animal species in Chile's forests are endemic.

Forest ecologists estimate that 30 million ha., or 45% of the country, was originally forested. There are 7.5 million ha. of "commercially productive" native forests left, according to official government studies. Some of these forests are near rivers, steep slopes and other inaccessible places considered protection forests and prohibited from cutting, so there are about 6.3 million ha. of native forest that are potentially available to cut. Half of these forests are degraded. Only 1.4 million ha. of native forests are protected in Chile's national system of protected areas (SNASPE), which represents just 11% of SNASPE's overall 13.8 million ha.

According to the FAO, Chile is the second most deforested country in Latin America. The pace of destruction of native forests has more than doubled since 1984 and Chile's unprotected native forests may be gone in 20 years, yet Chile's government and timber industry continue to argue that Chile's native forests are actually increasing because of tree plantations and new growth forests.

Exotic Forestry

The roots of Chile's modern forestry industry began in 1974 when the Pinochet dictatorship began its free market reforms which concentrated ownership of the forest industry in a few large companies. Pinochet also encouraged tree planting by providing subsidies, which have been used almost entirely for establishing the forest industry's exotic tree plantations. Exotic-species tree plantations grow more than twice as fast in Chile as in their native lands. This, and the generous subsidies have led to an increase in the area of tree plantations, from 200 thousand ha. in 1974 to 2.1 million ha. today. Plantations now supply 90% of the wood for Chile's forestry industry. Chile's wood products association (CORMA) projects that in twenty years the land area of tree plantations will double.

More than 80% of the wood from plantations is to meet an increasing global demand for logs, pulp and wood chips. Forestry products are Chile's third largest export at 11.8% of total exports. The main buyers are Japan, the United States, South Korea, and western Europe.

Roots of Destruction

Despite the timber industry's attempts to blame fuelwood collection, the biggest sources of native forest destruction are overexploitation for wood chips and clearcutting for tree plantations. The Central Bank report estimates that between 40 to 90 thousand ha. of native forests destroyed each year are converted to exotic species tree plantations. Timber companies have more than 3 million ha. of already deforested land available in southern Chile for planting, but Chile's native forests are an attractive investment: they can be bought cheap, clearcut for wood chips, and then converted to tree plantations.

It is estimated that more than 35,000 campesino families are threatened with displacement by tree plantations. Thousands have already been forced to migrate to cities.

The Chip Trade

Demand for wood chips is increasing pressure on Chile's native forests. Chile's wood chip sector has grown fast and is now the third largest exporter of wood chips in the world after the US and Australia. Japan imports more than 80% of the total volume of wood chips produced worldwide.

No Value Added; Plenty Subtracted

Chile's wood chip export industry is temporarily depressed and this is a good opportunity to re-evaluate its value. Defensores del Bosque Chileno (DBCh) recently commissioned Marcel Claude, the Central Bank of Chile's former Chief of Environmental Accounting, to do an economic study of Chile's wood chip sector. He found that while native forest wood chip exports have experienced tremendous growth and profits since its inception, it has no importance to Chile's economy and, in fact, over the long-term is damaging the economy, society and environment.

In 1995, the native forest sector was only 0.05% of Chile's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the forestry sector 3.05%. Societal benefits of the native wood chip industry are also marginal. It is responsible for 593 direct industry-related jobs, and another 2,076 indirect jobs, out of Chile's total national labour force of 5 million.

Tourism and furniture manufacturing are jeopardised by the continued destruction of native forests for wood chips. The tourism sector earns a whopping 66 times more than native chips. Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of tourism. Claude's study estimates that ecotourism revenue can be 7 times more than native chips.

Chile's furniture industry also has a much greater contribution to society than native forest wood chips, the GDP is 5.7 times more, the sector re-invests 5 times as much, and employs 15 times as many people.

Finally, the production and export of native forest wood chips leads to clearcutting and extensive deforestation which causes severe impacts to soil. Soil erosion is affecting 45.5% of Chile. Only 5.7% of the land area is suitable for agriculture, and water quality of many lakes and rivers is poor. Claude's study found that in order to begin restoring soils damaged by exploitation of native forests to supply wood chips, it would cost 90% of the revenue earned by the wood chip companies from 1988-94. Allowing for this cost, the contribution of native forest wood chips to Chile's economy is 0.016%.

Eight Ways We Can Save Chile's Native Forests

A new development model is needed here. Our challenge is to build a conscience in all aspects of Chilean society, from the small native forest owner to the Presidents of corporations to President Eduardo Frei. Defensores del Bosque Chileno believes international support for its campaign can be part of the solution. Here are eight ways we can save Chile's native forests:

1) Wood Chip Economic Conversion Program.

A global campaign is needed to persuade Japan to eliminate its use of native hardwoods for paper and cardboard products. Chile needs to to ban, or put a sustainable limit on the amount of wood chips from native forests, strengthen its enforcement of forest management laws, place a high tax on wood chips and other unprocessed natural resource export products, and develop a sustainable forest management program for high value-added wood and non-wood forest products to give native forest owners new sources of income.

2) Native Forest Law and Institutions.

A Native Forest Law should be developed with participation from all sectors of society. The emphasis of the new law needs to be a ban or sustainable limit on wood chips from native forests, preservation of primary old-growth forests, a larger investment in sustainable management of secondary forests, and a ban on substitution of native forests with exotic-species tree plantations.

3) National Conservation Strategy.

Chile is a signatory to the UN Convention on Biodiversity and urgent action is needed by Chile to meet its commitment. CONAF for example has already identified more than 30 sites that urgently need protection, while 35% of known ecosystem types are not represented in SNASPE. A National Conservation Strategy (NCS) is needed.

4) Sustainable Energy Policy.

While it is not a primary cause of destruction, extraction of firewood does exert tremendous pressure on native forests. The government should assist the use of alternative, energy-efficient technologies and institute a program for utilising tree plantations to supply fuelwood.

5) Environmental Protection in Free Trade.

Chile is making a great effort to enter into free trade agreements all over the world. Free trade agreements must be crafted in a way that safeguards and even strengthens environmental protection.

6) Southern Hemisphere Gondwana Forest Sanctuary and a Park at the End of the World.

In 1994, Defensores del Bosque proposed a forest sanctuary similar to the whale sanctuary established by international treaty for south of Parallel 40 degrees. We are now helping form an international alliance of NGOs to help establish a Southern Hemisphere Gondwana Forest Reserve System, a system of parks and reserves for all temperate forests south of Parallel 40 degrees in Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. We propose that by international treaty, a Gondwana Forest Sanctuary is created to reunite these forests, preserving all the primary forests in parks and allowing only sustainable uses in secondary forests of public reserves and private lands.

As a first step toward a Gondwana Sanctuary, DBCh and Greenpeace Chile have launched a campaign for a Park at the End of the World. This park would, like the Gondwana Sanctuary, include all the old-growth forests of Trillium's Rio Condor property and the entire Magallanes region south of Parallel 55 degrees, while allowing careful, sustainable forestry in all secondary forests.

7) Support Defenders of the Chilean Forest.

Defensores del Bosque Chileno is a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to mobilise and educate the public for the protection of Chile's native forests. Please support us.

8) Write Letters To The Following:

A letter could only help! Please write letters expressing your various concerns about Chile's native forest crisis, and also urge that: 1) the government enact a ban on wood chips made from native forests, and 2) they re-write the draft Native Forest Law by soliciting and listening to input from all sectors of society. Send your letters to the following Chilean political leaders and then please fax or send us a copy.

Sr. Juan Villarzu
Secretary General
La Moneda
Santiago, Chile

Sr. Carlos Mladnic
Ministerio de Agricultura
Teatinos 40
Santiago, Chile

Senador Sergio Diez
Presidente del Senado
Congreso Nacional
Valparaiso, Chile

For more info write: Defensores del Bosque Chileno, Los Laureles 1025, Vitacura, Santiago de Chile, tel. (56-2) 228-0238 or 263-0802, fax 777-5065, email:

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