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No chip off the old block.

Some of the earth's finest old-growth forests are found in southern Chile, where they blanket steep coastal mountains and the countless islands of the Chilean archipelago. Comparable to the great ancient forests of North America's Pacific coast, the Valdivian, North Patagonian and Magallanes forests of Chile are similarly threatened by multinational timber operations.

Yet few people outside Chile are aware of this vanishing ecosystem and the extent of its complexity and aged grandeur. The international media focuses on South America's tropical rainforest, not its temperate fringe which is but a narrow sliver down the western slopes of the Andes from central Chile to Tierra del Fuego. Even with the high-profile struggle to save North America's old-growth forests, the ancient forest of Chile remains nearly as obscure as when Charles Darwin first journeyed to this windblown coast in 1832.

Three expeditions (in February 1989, 1990 and 1991) have sought to study this temperate rainforest habitat and target prime areas for conservation and outright purchase as wilderness reserves. The expeditions are co-sponsored by the Santiago-based CODEFF (Comite pro-Defensa de la Fauna y Flora), a Redway, California-based conservation group called Ancient Forest International (AFI), and the newly formed Chilean group Bosque Antiguo.

CODEFF is Chile's largest and oldest environment conservation group. It has been involved in forestry issues for more than 20 years, working to protect native hardwoods (sought for export as wood chips), the unique araucaria or Chilean pine (Araucaria araucana, designated a national monument in March 1990 by President Patricio Aylwin), and the last remaining stands of alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides). This latter giant conifer is the largest tree in South America. The alerce grows up to 4.2 meters in diameter and is one of the three most long-lived species on earth, estimated to reach 3,300-4,000 years of age. In this, it probably edges out the giant sequoia but not the bristlecone pine, which lives up to 4,800 years. Virtually extinct in its accessible lowland habitat, the alerce has been protected by Chilean law since 1976. Today's main threat to this slow-growing species is the logging of native hardwoods that comprise the majority of the alerce forest ecosystem, as roads are gradually pushed through this previously inaccessible terrain by Japanese and other investors.

Because wilderness in southern Chile is priced at a fraction of an equivalent biomass in North America, AFI and the Chilean groups have been working to raise funds for the purchase of forest lands as international biosphere reserves. At present, purchase is pending on an 1,100-acre (480-hectare) largely untouched araucaria forest in Chile's Region IX near Pucon, located at the eastern end of the Cani range in the southern Andes. Although AFI coordinates fund-raising efforts in the United States, the reserves will be owned and administered by Chilean environmental groups.
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Title Annotation:Americas: !Ojo!; conservation of Chile's ancient forests
Author:Glass, Kathy
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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