A new direction for the Valdivian rainforest
BY DARREN GUYAZ
Our group of 13 ecologists and biologists gets off the 1970s 4WD Mercedes school bus. We heave our packs onto our shoulders for the trudge northward through the Valdivian Rainforest along the southern Chilean coast. For the next four days, we will visit three isolated villages and trek miles of untouched land. We are here to bring attention to this vast wilderness and the indigenous communities that would be directly affected by two potentially devastating encroachments: large-scale forest conversion projectswhich would turn native forests to tree farmsand a proposed highway stretching from the coastal town of Valdivia south towards Puerto Montt.
The Coalición para la Conservación de la Cordillera de la Costa (CCCC), a federation of more than a dozen Chilean organizations, began the fight against the coastal highway proposed by the Chilean government. Francisco Solis, coordinator of the CCCC, assembled environmental groups and indigenous leaders to work to reroute the road inland.
In March of 2002, international and Chilean groups formed the Chile Native Forest Campaign (CNF). Guided by Aaron Sanger, director of ForestEthic’s Chile program, the alliance drew public attention to the sale of endangered forest products and worked directly with US corporate customers to stop doing business with Chilean suppliers until they changed their forest practices. I gaze out over the boundless Pacific blue at Bahía San Pedro, the end of the road and the beginning of our trek. The wilderness and water stretch far beyond my vision. Rain is commonplace, but today I am lucky and the sun shines.
We plod along the narrow dirt track winding its way upward through the forest. Except for an earlier solo trip taken by American David Teklen, director of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Valdivian Ecoregion Project, we are the first gringos to visit the Huillichelocal members of the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous nationon their turf. And though we each bring individual perspectives and skills to this venture, our group of five Chileans, four Americans, an Australian couple, a Swiss, and a Canadian share a common vision: to preserve this breathtaking and unique area.
The biodiversity is astounding. The forest and its rivers harbor wildcats, monito de monte (tiny marsupials), river otter, pudu (the world’s smallest deer, at 18 inches high), Darwin’s frog, and many plant species. This southern temperate forest is referred to as siempre verde (forever green) due to the many broadleaf evergreen species.
The forest holds two conifers as well: the manio and the alerce. Known as the “redwood of the south,” the alerce is a gargantuan tree that is exceeded in lifespan only by California’s bristlecone pine.