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Chile's Native Forests: Globally Rare, Irreplaceable & Disappearing Fast

14 september, 2002

Chile's native forests include the world's second largest expanse of temperate rainforest, including the Valdivian Rainforest dominated by the siempre verde (“forever green”) forest type that is unique to Chile. More than one-quarter of the world's remaining temperate rainforests are in Chile.

Ninety percent of the native forest-dependent species in Chile are endemic. These include the world’s smallest deer (the pudu) and a hummingbird that builds its nest entirely from moss and spiderwebs. Tree species endemic to Chile include the alerce, whose typical lifespan (over 3,000 years) is exceeded only by California’s bristlecone pine, and the araucaria or “monkey puzzle tree” that represents the world’s oldest surviving tree species.

In 1995, Chile's Central Bank predicted that all of the country's unprotected native forests would disappear within 20 years if they continued to be exploited at the rate current then. That “exploitation rate” has increased since the time of the Central Bank’s report. And, based upon current industry plans, the rate of native forest destruction in Chile would increase dramatically. The Chilean wood products industry wants to increase forestry exports from approximately $2 billion (US) annually to approximately $4 billion (US) annually. Chilean analysts believe this would require twice the two million hectares currently devoted to plantations of pine and eucalyptus. Chile already has the world’s largest expanse of radiata pine plantations. Substantial, additional subsidies for the planned expansion of these plantations are available under the newly extended version of Public Law 701 that will be in effect for at least 12 more years. Most analysts believe that expansion of non-native tree farms is the biggest threat to the survival of Chile’s native forests.

Radiata pine, a tree that is not native to Chile, is now the most abundant tree in Chile. The only purpose for this tree in Chile is the production of wood products. Chile’s radiata pine harvest now exceeds the timber harvest from British Columbia’s coast. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, mills have turned to Chile’s radiata pine to feed demand for wood products such as moulding and fence posts.

The U.S. leads all other countries in the importation of solid wood products from Chile. The leading wood products imported are moulding, millwork, door and window parts and “cutstock” made from radiata pine.

Basic Facts About Chile's Native Forests

90% of the species in Chile's native forests are found nowhere else in the world.
One quarter to one-third of the world's remaining temperate rainforests are located in Chile.
The araucaria tree and the alerce trees are two of the rarest tree species on the planet. The araucaria is the world's oldest surviving tree species (200 million years). The alerce's life span (3 to 4 thousand years) is second only to California's bristlecone pine.
In one 10 year period (1985 to 1995), Chile lost 4.5 million acres of productive native forests.
Three million acres of the tree farms in Chile are radiata pine--the largest expanse of planted radiata pine in the world.
Every year another 300,000 acres of native forest is converted to non-native tree farms in Chile.
90% of all wood exported from Chile comes from its non-native tree farms.

Chile's forests may seem to be located "at the end of the Earth" - they form a biological island in the far reaches of the southern hemisphere, with the Pacific ocean to the west, Antarctica to the south, the Andes mountains to the east, and the world's dryest place, the Atacama Desert, to the north. Due to their biological isolation over hundreds of millions of years, Chile's forests include numerous plant and animal species unique to Chile. These species include the ancient araucaria tree that looks like something from the dinosaur age - and it should, since it is! Another native of Chile's forests is the world's smallest deer, the pudu, that looks almost extraterrestrial with its stubby little horns and glowing eyes.


Do not buy moulding, plywood, doors, windows, porch posts or other pine products from Chile unless they are certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
If you buy any products from the following companies—BMC West, Oregon Pacific Building Products (Orepac), Timber Products Company, American Pine Products, Woodgrain Millwork, Windsor Mill, Kelleher, Sierra Pacific Industries, and Weyerhaeuser—make sure they buy only FSC certified wood products from their Chilean suppliers.
Write the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (nawla@lumber.org) and ask them to inform their 650+ members about the need to stop the expansion of non–native tree farms into Chile's native forests.
Particulary avoid any non-FCS certified wood products made from radiata pine tree farms unless the company that made the products has promised in writing that no native forest was cleared to establish the tree farms.

Defensores del Bosque Chileno

Ancient Forest International

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