Temperate forests of South America

Page - November 29, 2006
The temperate jungle of South America, which covers regions of Southern Chile and Argentina, represents the largest tract of essentially undisturbed temperate forest in the world.

Greenpeace activists, dressed as 'jaguars', used chains to immobilise bulldozers that have been destroying Yungas forest in north west Argentina. Argentina's forests are being cut down to grow Monsanto's genetically engineered soya for export as animal feed to Europe and China.

Valdivia ancient forest of Chile

Beyond the tropics, rainforests are a rarity, but the Valdivia ancient forest in Chile is the second largest temperate rainforest on the planet.

These forests have a unique spectrum of life and unusually high biodiversity for its temperate climate, including the Darwin Frog, the Pudú deer, the Chilote fox and the Chilean pine, or monkey puzzle tree. Some trees have been found that are more than 3600 years old.

These forests are also home to indigenous communities such as the Pehuenche community of Chile's Quinquen Valley, the Mapuche Indians of Huitrapulli and other local communities who have long depended on the natural wealth of the forest for their physical, cultural and spiritual way of life.

Despite its isolation, the Chilean jungle is not safe from destruction. Most of the forest has already been cut down or damaged, and the last intact areas are threatened by the timber industry. Only a quarter of the remaining forest is in a relatively undisturbed condition. These forests are at greatest threat along the coastal mountain ranges and in the northern region where only a few of the ancient forests remain, mostly unprotected.

Already over 10 percent of Chile's forest has been converted to plantations, most of which are dominated by exotic species.

The Great Chaco and Yungas Rainforests of Argentina

The Yungas Rainforest and the Great Chaco American forest are two neighbouring ecosystems. They are a 'hot-spot' of biodiversity and wildlife and home to the rare jaguar. Once, the jaguar population of Argentina extended as far as Patagonia but today these populations have been devastated by hunting and the loss of habitat due to deforestation and are close to extinction. The Chaco forest is home to the giant armadillo, which is facing extinction. The forests are also home to millions of indigenous people who live in the forests and depend on them for life.

However, these forests are being destroyed at one of the fastest rates in the world. The deforestation rate of the Chaco forest of northern Argentina, is up to six times higher than the world average.

When these forests are destroyed, any wildlife in the bulldozers' path is shot. Armadillos and other, smaller mammals, are frequently burned along with the groups of fallen trees, stacked up along the newly deforested fields.

Many varieties of precious hard wood trees grow in the Chaco forest, such as the Iron Wood tree, used to make 'sleepers' for railways around the world. When the forests are cleared to make way for soya, these trees are often burnt or illegally sold. This leads to huge economic losses. If the forest was properly managed, jobs could be created in sustainable forestry, and the environmental damage caused by deforestation and soya monoculture could be avoided.

Forests destroyed for soya crops

Soya expansion is the latest threat to native forests and jungles in South America, sustained by the increased demand for soya based animal feed from both the European Union and China. Forests are being converted for soya production in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and southern Brazil. These areas are considered to be some of the most biologically diverse forest ecosystems in the world.

The rate of destruction within the Yungas Chaco forests has accelerated since 1996, when Monsanto introduced genetically engineered soya beans into Argentina. Since then, the country has extended its agricultural frontiers to grow genetically engineered soya for export as animal feed, at the expense of its threatened forests, wildlife and the homes and livelihoods of many people. It is illegal to log the forest's valuable tree species, but police and local authorities in the region are doing nothing to prevent the biotech industry clear-cutting the land.

Initially, biotechnology industry spokespeople and even some Argentinean authorities said that higher yields of genetically engineered soya would avoid the need to deforest Argentina. However, the forests are still under threat and it's clear higher yields of soya have only been achieved through cultivating more land and deforestation.

Greenpeace wants the forests saved

The solution Greenpeace is campaigning for is a two-year moratorium on forest conversion in Argentina while the problems caused by land conversion are addressed:

  1. Land Planning: A New Land Planning Programme must be established so that Argentina's forests can be saved and become productive areas again under sustainable regulations for both people and biodiversity.
  2. Land Tenure Regulation: All indigenous people and 'campesinos' must be given the right to legally own sufficient land to enable them to work and feed both themselves and their families.

For the full story we recommend you visit the Greenpeace International website

copyright 2002 Greenpeace/Global Forest Watch

Potentially intact ancient forest, >50,000 heactares

Other forests

Sources: Based on information generated by the project "Official Land Register and Evaluation of the Native Vegetative Resources of Chile", Conama. Birf. Uach. Puc. Uct 1999, University of Maryland 2000