Protecting the Valdivian forests of Chile and Argentina

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Argentina

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Chile

Aerial view of deforestation of temperate rainforest near Valdivia, Chile.
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER

Summary

The Valdivian forests of Argentina and Chile are the only temperate rainforests in South America. They are home to the majestic alerce tree, which can reach heights of 115m and live for more than 3,000 years.

The forests are under increasing threat from intensive logging and the replacement of native forest with non-native pine and eucalyptus plantations. WWF is working to promote cross-border conservation, including the protection of key sites and wildlife populations.

Background

The Valdivian temperate rainforest of Chile and Argentina covers approximately 166,248 sq km. It is the 2nd largest of 5 temperate rainforests in the world and is the only one in South America. Of the estimated 141,120 km2 of original Valdivian forest existing at the time of European contact, only about 40% remains. Around 70% of these forests are found in Chile.

Biodiversity assessments indicate that the forests’ ecosystem is globally outstanding both in terms of biodiversity and endemism. The forests contain 122 species of vascular plants, over 70% of the woody species found in Chile. These forests contain the endemic monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), a tree existing since the time of dinosaurs, as well as the second oldest living organism on earth: the endemic conifer alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) that can live to 3,600 years and measure up to 5m in diameter and 60m in height.

These forests are home to a unique collection of animal species including the threatened Chilean guemal (Hippocamelus bisulcus), the small feline, the kodkod (Oncifelis guigna), the world's smallest deer, the Southern pudu (Pudu puda), the Southern river otter (Lutra provocax), and the rufous-legged owl (Strix rufipes), the cousin of the Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentailis caurina) of the US Pacific coast.

Land-use processes in Chile have resulted in severe forest fragmentation, with many of the remaining fragments in the hands of either small, rural farmers or large commercial forestry enterprises.

The threats to the remaining forest are significant and include intensive logging and replacement of native forest with plantations of exotic species of pine and eucalyptus. Argentina is engaged in a big push to copy the Chilean free market model, and Chilean investors are quickly buying up large tracts of cheaper land in Argentina including Valdivian forests, where they plan to install plantations.

Objectives

1. Mobilise conservation action on an ecoregional scale.

2. Protect key sites and wildlife populations.

3. Shape regional development to support conservation.

4. Lay foundations for lasting conservation.

Solution

Public concern for conservation of the Valdivian forests is growing in both countries and conservation planners now recognize the need for a bi-national approach to this problem. Unfortunately, international funding for NGOs in Chile has fallen as it is considered a developed country. WWF is the only major international NGO working in the Valdivian ecoregion. WWF has worked with government agencies and private conservation partners in the region for more than a decade, primarily on the Chilean side.

WWF believes that if comprehensive measures are not taken now these forests could become severely fragmented, as is the case with other coastal and highland forests elsewhere in South America. With 40% of the native forest remaining, there is still an opportunity to ensure the long term health of the region's flora and fauna, soil productivity, water quality, and other natural systems.

WWF will marshal support for ecoregional protection efforts with international organizations concerned with forest management, including IUCN, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as well as Argentine and Chilean government agencies and local communities.