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Chapter 44. Non-tropical South America

Figure 44-1. Non-tropical South America: forest cover map

Only three countries, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay,[55] are part of the temperate so-called "southern cone" of South America. Falkland Islands (Malvinas) also fall within the subregion. Argentina is the largest country with a total land area of 2.73 million square kilometres, followed by Chile with 0.74 million square kilometres and Uruguay with 0.17 million square kilometres. The total land area is 3.66 million square kilometres. This region of South America, located on and south of the Tropic of Capricorn, is considered to have subtropical and temperate ecosystems. The climate of most of the subregion has four well-defined seasons, with the cool winters and hot summers typical of the temperate zone. The southern part of Chile and Argentina, across the Straight of Magellan, belongs to the Antarctic zone with large areas covered by permanent snow or ice (Figure 44-1).

Several coniferous and broadleaf tree species typical of temperate zones are part of the native flora, but intensively managed forest plantations established in the last three decades are replacing the natural forest formations. Human activity since colonial settlement, including huge ranches and farms established since the beginning of the twentieth century, has also changed the landscape of large areas originally covered by natural forest and shrub formations. Temperate steppe, mainly located in the southern part of Argentina, is the dominant ecozone of that country. Temperate oceanic forest is very important in the central-southern part of Chile. Some of the southern areas in Chile and Argentina are part of the polar forest ecozone. The northern parts of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are covered by subtropical forest and shrub formations.

In Argentina, four different climates and associated forest formations can be identified. The first is the temperate mountains of the southern Andes, very mountainous and cold. The second is the chaco formation on the border with Paraguay and Bolivia (a typically semi-arid subtropical zone). The so-called pampas is a very flat and treeless zone in the central part of the country where most of the big cattle ranches are located. The Patagonia zone has desolate steppes and poor soils.

Chile has three contrasting ecozones: in the northern part the Atacama Desert; in the central part the temperate southern Andes; and, in the southern part, boreal climes covered by boreal forest.

Grass prairies dominate the central and southern parts of Uruguay while the northern part is predominately covered by the so-called serranias with low mountains or hills. Almost 90 percent of the area of the country is occupied by agriculture or cattle farms.


The estimated total forest cover (forest and other wooded land) in 1990 was 68 453 000 ha, of which 43 283 000 ha were in forest (dense and open), representing approximately 12 percent of the total land. In 2000, the total forest cover was estimated at 51 476 000 ha. The subregion's natural forest cover represents approximately 5 percent of the total forest of South America and 0.85 percent of the world. It comprises 10 percent of the world's temperate forests, but natural forest is no longer the main source for timber in this part of the world where, as mentioned above, forest plantations are rapidly replacing the native forests. Nevertheless, in the poor rural areas of Chile and Argentina fuelwood from the natural woody vegetation still supplies about 35 to 50 percent of the energy consumed as fuelwood. The estimated forest plantations for the subregion total 3 575 000 ha. Chile has the largest plantation area, more than 2 million hectares (Figure 44-2, Table 44-1).

The forestry sector in Chile contibutes more than 10 percent of the GNP. Exports have totalled about US$2 billion per year during the last three years, mainly pulp, paper and sawn wood (pine). The national forestry policy in Chile aims to integrate forest plantations and management of native forests into productive systems as part of the natural patrimony of the country (FAO 2000).

Argentina is seriously concerned about the situation of its natural forest cover, which has been reduced to less than 13 percent of the total land area. A national forest inventory is being carried out to evaluate the situation fully and final results will be available by mid-2001. Forest plantations are receiving very strong support from the government through the recently approved Law No. 25.080 (FAO 2000) as well as the desire to reverse the current trade deficit in forest products (US$1 billion in 1999).

Uruguay has the smallest amount of forest cover in South America, only 5.72 percent of its total land area. The current forestry policy in Uruguay is similar to that of Argentina, i.e. to preserve natural forests while enlarging the reforested area of the country. In both cases, the government is providing some economic incentives or subsidies, especially for reforestation (FAO 2000).

Plantations are definitely the most important forestry activity in these three countries, supplying more than 90 percent of the wood for local consumption and export. Chile almost balances annual deforestation of natural forests with plantations, but plantations are established using exotic species such as Eucalyptus spp. and Pinus radiata, comprising 17 and 83 percent of the total planted area, respectively. Approximately the same percentage applies to Uruguay. Regarding Argentina, 50 percent of the plantations are conifers, 30 percent Eucalyptus spp., 16 percent Salix spp. and Populus spp. and 4 percent others. These three countries all have economic or fiscal incentives for plantations, subsidizing part of the cost of reforestation, pruning and thinning. Between 1992 and 1998, 220 000 ha of forest were planted, providing 35 000 new jobs and representing an investment of more than US$1.2 billion in the industrial forestry sector. When high-value and native species are considered in the reforestation plan, subsidies are granted with an additional 20 percent.

Table 44-1. Non-tropical South America: forest resources and management


Land area

Forest area 2000

Area change 1990-2000 (total forest)

Volume and above-ground biomass (total forest)

Forest under management plan

Natural forest

Forest plantation

Total forest

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha


ha/ capita

000 ha/ year




000 ha



273 669

33 722


34 648










74 881

13 519

2 017

15 536










17 481



1 292









Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

1 217












Total non-tropical South America

367 248

47 911

3 565

51 476









Total South America

1 754 741

875 163

10 455

885 618



-3 711







13 063 900

3 682 722

186 733

3 869 455



-9 391






Source: Appendix 3, Tables 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
Forest biomass per hectare is significantly lower than plantations, averaging 60 tonnes per hectare, while plantations are above 120 tonnes per hectare.


Uruguay was the only country in non-tropical South America to provide national-level information in the form of the area of natural forest under management, as reported at the year 2000 Meeting of the FAO Forestry Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Table 44-1). Uruguay reported that 99 000 ha, equivalent to 8 percent of its total forest area in 2000, were under management. Significant efforts have, however, begun to establish the framework for field-level implementation of sustainable forest management practices in the subregion and almost all the planted areas are considered to be under management monitored by the Forest Services.

Chile is initiating a very interesting programme for the management of natural forests. The plan foresees the establishment of 35 000 ha of natural forests under sustainable management within five years, starting in 1998. However, by the end of 1999, more than 30 000 ha and 640 management plans had been approved, representing 86 percent of the target. A special project called Bosque Modelo Chiloe was initiated in 1998 as a pilot project to promote forest conservation and sustainable use of natural forests and associated ecosystems. After finishing the national forest inventory, financed by the World Bank, Argentina is seriously considering the implementation of a programme for sustainable management of natural forests. Uruguay is planning to incorporate 20 percent of the total natural forest area under sustainable management in the medium-term plan. During 1998-1999, more than 16 000 ha were placed under sustainable forest management. The second phase of forestry mapping using TM satellite imagery is nearly finished (INFOR 1992).

Figure 44-2. Non-tropical South America: natural forest and forest plantation areas 2000 and net area changes 1990-2000

Another common characteristic of these countries is the ownership framework. Practically all the land is privately owned, including natural forests. Only national reserves and equivalent units belong to the State or are in the public domain.

Argentina will finish its first national inventory of forest plantations, together with a national inventory of natural forests formations, in 2001. Chile recently completed the National Forestry Cadastro, which gives very detailed information about natural and planted forests for the whole country by province, region, forest type, species, size, etc. (Universidad Austral de Chile et al. 1999).

Forest fire is a problem. In Argentina, more than 2 000 fires burned 171 277 ha during the period 1997 to 1998. The most seriously affected areas were natural formations (57 percent shrub-grass areas, 41 percent native forest and 2 percent plantations). Plantations of Populus and Salix species were also strongly attacked by insect pests. In Chile, more than 84 000 ha of natural forests were affected by fire in 1998 and more than 56 000 ha in 1999. There are no reports about forest fires in plantations. There have been no reported problems with forest fires or pests in Uruguay during the last few years (FAO 2000).

When soil conservation activities are not the main objective, conversion of natural or native forest to agricultural land, in these three countries, requires a special authorization from the forestry authority. In Chile, more than 10 000 ha were authorized for land use change from natural forest cover to agriculture during the last two years (1998 and 1999).

Total removals per year are more than 50 million cubic metres, mostly from plantations. Chile is cutting more than 15 million cubic metres and producing 4.5 million cubic metres of sawnwood, 2.2 million cubic metres of pulp and 0.64 million cubic metres of paper and cartons. Argentina is cutting approximately 10 million cubic metres of wood from forest plantations and producing 0.87 million cubic metres of sawn wood, 0.75 million cubic metres of plywood, 0.72 million cubic metres of pulp and, 0.98 million cubic metres of cartons. The total annual harvest in Uruguay is 1.1 million cubic metres of industrial wood and 1.7 million cubic metres of fuelwood.


The three countries in the temperate zone of South America have been very active in updating their forestry policy framework, especially in regard to the promotion of reforestation through economic incentives or subsidies to the private sector. This has resulted in the planting of more than 150 000 ha of new forests per year during the last decade. More than 90 percent of the annual removals and wood supply comes from planted forests, except fuelwood, which mostly comes from natural formations (FAO 2000).

Natural forest formations were drastically reduced during and after the colonial period, especially since the beginning of the twentieth century. Large areas of forested land, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay, were converted to agriculture and pasture. In Chile, conversion of native forest to agricultural land was prevalent and, in some cases, natural forest was partially replaced by forestry plantations. According to the newly adopted policies and legal frameworks in these countries, deforestation of natural forest is to be stopped or drastically reduced. High priority is to be given to the preservation of natural areas and remaining forest cover. Detailed forest inventories are proposed at the national level, both for natural forests and plantations. Sustainable management plans are to be implemented together with the private sector and with the active participation of local people and farmers. According to this new policy, forestry activities should be incorporated into agricultural systems (FAO 2000).

In terms of percentages, the deforestation rate is very low (Chile) or reforestation is higher than deforestation (Uruguay). This, however, is due to the fact that natural forests have been reduced to a minimal amount and forest plantations have become the primary activity in the forestry sector during the last three or four decades (FAO 2001).

The recent efforts by Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to evaluate their forestry resources at the national level and the development of sustainable management plans demonstrate the serious concern of these countries for the state of their forests. The adoption of criteria and indicators following the Montreal Process is also of high priority, together with strengthening the conservation of natural forests and ecosystems.


FAO. 2000. National reports of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission (LACFC), 21st session, September 2000, Bogota.

FAO. 2001. Forest cover assessment in the Argentinean regions of monte and espinal, by D. Altrell. Rome.

FAO. In press. Causas y tendencias de la deforestación en América Latina, by J. Malleux. Rome.

Instituto Forestal de Chile. INFOR. 1992. El sector forestal en Chile. Santiago.

Universidad Austral de Chile & Universidad Católica de Temuco. 1999. Catastro y evaluación de recursos vegetacionales nativos de Chile. Santiago, Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF)-Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente (CONAMA).

[55] For more details by country, see

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