Friday, April 06, 2007

Logging companies threaten Chile´s rainforest

In a recent report published by the World Wildlife Fund, the organization pinpoints the 19 most endangered areas in the planet and thatmust be protected within the next 50 years. In the list are such important zones such as the Amazon jungle that covers territory in Brazil,Colombia,Ecuador,Peru, Venezuela, and which contain huge reserves of what may be the most important commodity for future generations of human beings : water.
Another area on the WWF list that is in danger of dissapearing is the temperate rain forest in Valdivia, Chile. This forest(mostly found in southern Chile but also on Argentinean territory) has at present a total of 85 million acres and is protected to the east by the snowcapped Andes Mountains. The Valdivia forest contains the Chilean national tree, known as Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) many of which are approximately 3,000 years old. The environmental crisis has also endangered the existence of species as rare as the Pudu, the world´s smallest variety of deer, with a legth of only 40 centimeters and a weight of 10 kilograms.The Pudu is extremely shy and only dares to wander around at night to search for its food, mostly grass and other herbs. As Chile becomes one of the world´s leading exporters of paper pulp and wood chips, the Valdivia forest has been targeted by the powerful logging companies that have already covered large stretches of land in central Chile with non-native pine and eucalyptus plantations. The Valdivia forest has been for thousands of years the traditional territory of the Pehuenche ethnic group, a subdivision of the Mapuche Nation, the largest native group in southern Chile and Argentina. The Pehuenche´s main source of subsistence is the collection of nuts from the Araucaria tree, which they use as their main food supply. In recent years a conflict has begun between the Mapuche Nation and the logging companies backed by the Chilean government and politicians, many of whom are shareholders in the companies or receive cash donations for their election campaigns from the conglomerates. The logging companies plan to expand their operations into the Valdivia area, threatening the livelihood of the Pehuenches and also the existence of the Araucarias. It must be noted that in Chile a pine tree takes 20 years to mature, compared to an average of 40 years in Europe.Also the pine trees and eucalyptus consume a large amount of water from the underground reserves, and in recent years have caused droughts that had until now been unknown in the areas where these non-native trees have been planted. The Mapuche Nation has reacted by forming an underground resistance movement known as the "Council of All the Lands" that carries out acts of sabotage against the logging companies such as ambushes against their employees and burning trucks that carry timber out of the area. Also several Mapuches that work for the logging companies or collaborate with the Chilean police have been murdered by militants of the "Council of All the Lands". The Chilean police and Mapuche militants have had violent clashes on many occasions and there is a constant state of tension in the area,as the Mapuches have also attacked and burnt down homes belonging to farmers of non-Mapuche descent. In March 2007, the Chilean police arrested the leader of the military wing of the "Council of All the Lands",Jose Huenchunao, that had been acting undercover for the past five years. In an ironic twist of fate, the Bachelet goverment used the "Anti-Terrorist Law" (created by General Augusto Pinochet) to press charges against Huenchunao, that is today in jail in a city in the south of Chile.

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