When you arrive in the southern Chilean city of Concepción by air,
magnificent views of pine stands stretch out beneath you in evenly spaced
rows, covering the undulating foothills of Chile’s coastal cordillera and
running down to the very edge of the Pacific Ocean. Although it is difficult
to discern from the window of an airplane, Concepción’s pine forests are
really not forests at all. They are, rather, plantations of the North American
conifer known as Monterey pine (radiata pine or, in Chile, pino insigne),
with none of the life that characterizes a forest. They contain no under-
brush, vines, or trees other than pine, none of the intermingling of tree and
plant species that characterizes forest ecosystems. The pine plantations bear
no traces of the native forests that held a multitude of species endemic to
Chile, such as the ancient araucaria pine, and covered much of the coastal
cordillera and its foothills just a century ago. They sustain as little diversity
of fauna as they do flora. This is true in large part because of the exertions
of the large forestry companies that own them. Systematic aerial spraying
has purged the pine plantations of all competing insect, fungal, or vegetable
species. Fences and forest guards keep out straying mammals that might
feed on young saplings. They are there, too, to prevent any denizen of the
countryside from entering the tree plantations to collect firewood or forest
products or, perhaps, to fell a tree or two. These are forests without people,
completely uninhabited.
Pine plantations now cover extensive stretches of eroded soil left by de-
forestation and intensive agriculture, replacing wheat and livestock on large
estates, as well as the cereals and garden crops cultivated on small peasant
plots, from the Bío Bío River south to the Valdivia River and Los Lagos (the
Lake Region). They also occupy land where Chile’s frontier forests, large
expanses of undisturbed native forests characterized by biodiversity, once
stood. A century ago, one might have found stands of araucaria pine and
different types of Chilean beech— both deciduous varieties such as raulí
and roble and perennial species such as coigüe— in mixed stands with a
wide variety of trees native to Chile’s temperate forests, intermingling with
vines, underbrush, and wild bamboo in the Andes and the coastal cordille-
ras and their valleys. Farther south lay stretches of the broadleaf evergreens
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