Valdivian Rainforests – a National Treasure to Protect

VALDIVIA – Urgent action is needed to protect the world’s forests from ever-increasing deforestation and degradation, according to the latest report of The State of the World’s Forests published on the International Day for Biological Diversity, May 22. The report was produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in partnership with the UN Environment Programme. World Environment Day, June 5, focuses on forest biodiversity this year.

Worldwide, temperate rainforests are rare and cover just 0.2 percent of the Earth’s land area. Today, most of those temperate rainforests have been destroyed. Southern Chile is home to one of the world’s five major temperate rainforests, the second largest in the world, and the only one in all of South America.  These are known as Valdivian temperate rainforests, and they extend from the west coast of southern Chile into parts of Argentina, covering an area of about 248,000 square kilometers.

The main threats to the Valdivian temperate forests include logging for commercial purposes and the replacement of the native forests with monocrops of exotic species (pine and eucalyptus). In Chile, six out of every 10 species of flora and fauna are either threatened or endangered due to logging and expanding timber plantations. Close to 50 percent of Valdivia’s native araucaria (Araucaria araucana) trees have been lost to illegal logging and fires.

Nevertheless, the temperate rainforests in south-central Chile remain outstanding, both in terms of biodiversity and endemism. They have large numbers of species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else on the planet. That is why these unique forests are included among the 25 global hotspots for biological diversity and selected by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Bank for conservation efforts.

World Wildlife Fund is Working to Protect These Rainforests

WWF is working to safeguard Chilean rainforests by developing conservation projects with local and indigenous communities, by promoting sustainable business practices through collaboration with the private sector, and by ensuring that government regulations are targeted at protecting people and nature. 

General public awareness is also growing for the conservation of the Valdivian rainforests in Chile and Argentina, and the need for a bi-national approach to this problem is now being felt in both countries. 

Unfortunately, international funding has subsided for NGOs in Chile and WWF is the single major international, non-government organization left working in Chilean rainforests. WWF has partnered with government agencies and private conservation parties for more than a decade. With over 40% of the native forest intact, there is still an opportunity to ensure the long-term preservation of this ancient natural heritage.

The Nobel winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once wrote, “Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet.” 

Foundations of Chile: The Atacama Desert

Great Biodiversity and Ancient Origins

These forests were once part of Gondwanaland, the ancient land mass, and closely resemble forests in Australia and New Zealand. 

They currently make up one of the world’s largest reservoirs of biomass, producing between 500 to 2,000 tons of organic matter per hectare. There are 122 different tree species, 57 percent of which are endemic. These mainly include native southern beeches, such as coihue and roble (nothofagus), manio (podocarpus), and broadleaf trees like the ulmo (eucryphlia) and laurel (laurelia).

These forests also have two of the world’s oldest tree species, the alerce (fitzroya cupressoides) and the araucaria (above). Both are protected as natural monuments in Chile. 

The alerce is the second-oldest living species with one of the trees reported in 1993 to have an age of 3,620 years. The araucaria generally lives for more than 2,000 years, and its origins date back 200 million years, to a time when dinosaurs roamed the planet.

These native forests also harbor an incredible wealth of wildlife, including the magellanic woodpecker (campephilus magellanicus), South America’s largest woodpecker; the pudu (pudu pudu), one of the world’s smallest deer; and the huemul, another native deer which is Chile’s national emblem.

Chilean temperate rainforests are home to a population of indigenous groups such as the Pehuenche and Huilliche, who have lived here for thousands of years.

There are more than 50 national parks, reserves, and monuments protecting more than 10 million hectares of the temperate rainforests of Chile. These are among the pioneer protected areas in Latin America, some established in the early 1900s.

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