World Rainforest Movement

Chile: The Ñielol forest – witness to lies on forests and plantations

The Ñielol hill located near the city of Temuco in Chile’s Ninth Region, is a faithful witness to the numerous lies circulating both in this region and in many others in the country as well as in other countries, regarding forests and plantations.

The first lie refers to the fact that the intention is to confuse people by speaking of forests when in fact it is monoculture tree plantations that are involved. The forestry companies, the most interested parties in this confusion, use various expressions: forests, planted forests, artificial forests, production forests. However, the difference between forests and plantations is evident to any person who, after visiting the region’s monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations, reaches the Ñielol forest.

On observing its beauty and biodiversity, one is able to confirm the fact that this is a forest. Numerous species of native trees can be found such as Quillays, Oaks, Coihues, Lumas, Temus, Nirres, Lleuques, Raulís, Cinnamons, Maiténs, Hualas, Hualos, Olivillos, Peumos, Boldo and Copihue (the national flower), which in turn harbour an infinity of other plant species and animals.

At the entry to the Ñielol forest we find further proof of the major difference between a forest and a plantation. A notice indicates that fire hazards in this forest are low. Generally the notices near plantations announce the contrary: High fire risks. The reason for this difference is that forests by generating water are able to store humidity from the ecosystem and therefore tend to eliminate the possibility of fires. On the other hand, plantations, that are well known for their capacity to deplete water resources and dry up soils, increase the possibility of fires and this has been demonstrated on numerous occasions.

The Ñielol forest is also a testimonial for the inhabitants of Temuco and for all those who visit it (at least for those who can pay the entry fee), of all the wealth that is no longer at community disposal, despite the fact that it is precisely the communities that have known how to use it, preserving it for future generations.

Forestry companies usually affirm that it is they with their plantations that alleviate existing pressure on forests. Nothing is further from the truth. The local people affirm that it is not true that the plantations have lessened deforestation; on the contrary, deforestation has been stepped up. One of the reasons is that the timber from the plantations is expensive and inaccessible for domestic use; firewood supplies are made at the expense of the scant forest areas that have not yet been destroyed by the forestation companies to install their plantations.

This means that the plantation companies are not only directly responsible for past deforestation but that they are also responsible for present deforestation. In fact, the local people say that when the companies are “cleaning the forest” to replace it with plantations, they do it quickly and with heavy machinery. They are able to make hundreds of hectares of forest disappear in a short while. One person affirmed that he had seen this happen in the commune of Cunco, near to Temuco. This is not an exception, it has taken place and been denounced since 2003 by various organizations. Most of the complaints in this region are made against the Forestal Millalemu Company. It is therefore hard to believe that this company has been certified by FSC and nominated as a candidate to a prize by the Regional Advisory Council of the National Environmental Commission, CONAMA.

For their part, various social organizations from different regions of the country gathered on 28 July in the city of Temuco. Aware of the fact that the Chilean forestry model is being promoted in many other Latin American countries and in the rest of the world as an example of development, in an open letter they describe the negative impacts caused by monoculture tree plantations to the communities in their territory:

“Our rich forests, where our communities obtained food and where they lived for hundreds of years, have been replaced in their great majority by monoculture tree plantations that do not provide benefits to the communities.

Monoculture tree plantations have affected the water level of our rivers and streams and have led to a reduction in tree species and in associated flora and fauna. They have also caused other environmental damage, such as erosion and soil degradation, the appearance of pests and diseases and brought health problems to communities from the use of poisons to counteract them. Research on transgenic trees already being carried out in these regions will only worsen negative environmental impacts.
Monoculture tree plantations have not increased sources of employment. Nor have they improved the standard of living of the neighbouring communities as promised by the promoters for decades, but have increasingly impoverished them, generating high risk slave labour, increasing labour instability and rural to urban migration. The two most forested regions of the country have the highest poverty rates.

Most of the community lands have fallen into the hands of large transnational corporations and powerful economic groups that have benefited from Decree Law 701 subsidising tree plantations, promulgated in October 1974, a year after the installation of the military dictatorship and still in force today. To this subsidy were added special credits for plantations and the elimination of taxes both on land and on plantations. The total liberation of the market for forestry products further promoted the expansion of these projects as it eliminated quotas, duties and standards that established minimum requirements for exports of such products. For some years now the companies have achieved new strategies so that State bodies have even more public funds available to involve small farmers in tree plantations. Furthermore, the population permanently subsidises the companies, as the State must take on economic costs related to highways, roads and bridges, social costs related to health deterioration, more excluded communities and increased delinquency and the socioeconomic costs derived from the elimination of native forests, changes in traditional land use and food deficiencies.
The installation of pulp mills in our territory has generated greater socio-cultural, environmental and economic problems in the communities where they have been installed.
The Chilean forestry model has also left a trail of hundreds of people arrested, prosecuted and sentenced, dozens of people injured, thousands of people mobilized, seeking to recover their encroached on territories – in their great majority the Mapuche people – and attempting to curb monoculture tree plantations and installation of pulp mills.”

At the top of the Ñielol a big poster transcribes two poems by Selva Saavedra. In one of them called “Ex-trees”, already in the last century the Chilean poet asked, “Logging … until when?” It is a very good question. We should add “Tree monocultures … until when?”

By Ana Filippini, World Rainforest Movement (WRM), e-mail: You can see this article in Spanish with photos at:

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