The Patagonian Foundation
PO Box 29113 San Francisco, CA 94129 USA

April 23, 2018

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Current Challenges

Arbitrary Burning and Clearing

Chile has a long history of using fire to clear land. When the Spanish arrived and clashed with the native Mapuche indians, the Spanish burned vast expanses of native forests to prevent the Mapuche from taking refuge within them and attacking the Spanish.

In the 19th century, forest land was burnt to create pasture and crop land. Indeed, Vicente Perez Rosales (Chile's Chief of Colonization in the late 1800's who explored Chile's south and founded Puerto Montt), once paid his Mapuche guide 30 pesos to burn all the forests between Chau Chau and the Andes mountain range. Rosales' description is telling: "That terrifying bonfire, whose flames could not be contained by the trees' greenery nor their always-shaded and covered bases, its devastating work had lasted three months and the smoke that it generated, pushed by the southern winds, covered the sun continuously."

This practice of burning forests has continued to the present day. Many local farmers throughout Patagonia arbitrarily burn native forests to make space for their livestock. These fires, which can occur on public or private land, threaten native forests.

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From 1985 to 1995, Chile lost 4.5 million acres of native forest. Ninety percent of the species in Chile's native forests are found nowhere else in the world, including the araucaria tree (the world's oldest surviving tree species at 200 million years) and the alerce (whose life span of 3 to 4 thousand years is second only to the California bristlecone pine).

These forests were destroyed largely to make way for industrial tree farms to generate wood chips to sell to the United States, Europe and Japan. As a result, Chile now has the world's largest expanse of radiata pine tree farms and some of the world's most endangered native forests.

Chile's forests face increasing danger as Chile's wood products industry continues to grow.

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Tourist Infrastructure | Overgrazing | Threatened Habitats and Endangered Species | Salmon Farming | Deforestation | Pet Overpopulation | Waste Management | Industrial Development