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Forestry plan of Uruguay

Extracts from a Report Presented by the Delegation of Uruguay

URUGUAY is primarily a country of grassy plains with natural forests forming a link between the Brazilian forests and the pampas. The forests have always been limited to these three types: mountain forests; strips of woodland or "corridor woods" growing in the alluvium deposits of the rivers and streams; and savannah woodlands comprising isolated clumps of vegetation and palm groves. The forests have never extended far from waterways because their expansion has been checked by the unfavorable ecological conditions of the pampas where the soil is dry and contains much clay but little humus.

The soil of the pampas, rich in fine natural pasture lands, is consequently used for livestock raising. Excellent breeds of cattle and sheep have been developed, and the livestock reproduction rate is one of the highest in the world.


Forests were never a predominant natural feature of Uruguay and, although they previously covered a larger area than they do now, they were never of major importance. The size of the original forest area, in its state of natural equilibrium, has been estimated at approximately 10 percent of the total land area. It should be the aim of Uruguay restore and even improve this equilibrium, for the destruction caused by mankind has created problems of erosion which can to a great extent be remedied by reforestation.

The forest area of the country is estimated at 339,793 hectares of indigenous species, and 66,738 hectares of species of foreign origin, totaling 406,531 hectares, or 2.215 percent of the total area of the country (1946 agricultural census). The forest area now under State reforestation is about 0.072 percent of the total.

The area which is considered most favorable and satisfactory for forests, meeting both the climatic and ecological requirements, is estimated at 12 to 15 percent of the total area of the country, or 2,160,000 hectares at the minimum figure of 12 percent. This figure compares unfavorably with the 406,000 hectares now under forests.

There is a long way to go, and action must be initiated immediately. Afforestation should be carried out in appropriate locations, on land which cannot be used economically for stock breeding, crop farming, or general agriculture, i.e., on the following types of land:


340,831 hectares

Mountainous and stony lands

947,000 hectares

Sand dunes

62,670 hectares


1,340,501 hectares

These areas should be afforested because:

a) the cost of the land is lower than elsewhere;
b) the land is unsuitable for any other types of profitable exploitation;
c) these areas are particularly suited to the development of forests;
d) the land requires afforestation for soil conservation (following the denudation of mountain slopes by erosion or alluvial invasion), for the elimination of swamps by land reclamation, etc.


Various isolated agencies are working in a somewhat tentative manner and without any great support:

The Forest Service of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Industries is carrying out forest management on the islands of the Uruguay and Negro Rivers, the Island of Gorriti, Andresito Park, Cape Polonio, etc., with an aggregate area of more than 10,000 hectares under its jurisdiction.

The Toledo National Tree Nursery of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Industries is responsible for the production of forest trees. Average annual production amounts to 2 million trees.

The Highway Tree Conservation Service, Highway Division, Ministry of Public Works is in charge of forest management and administration in national parks, which cover a total area of 2,145 hectares.

The National Commission for the Parks of Santa Teresa and San Miguel, Ministry of National Defense, is responsible for the management and administration of the National Parks of Santa Teresa and San Miguel, which cover 800 hectares.

The National Insurance Bank supervises the 270-hectare Joaquín Suarez Park.

A.N.C.A.P. (National Administration of Alcohol and Petroleum Fuels) takes charge of a 250-hectare forestry project at Joanicó, Department of Canelones.

The total area coming under the responsibility of these agencies is approximately 13,465 hectares.


A Forestry Plan, constituting part of the National Plan for Agriculture and Livestock Breeding, the purpose of which is precisely to improve the present conditions indicated above, has recently been drawn up with the assistance of some of Uruguay's greatest experts. Another extremely interesting plan which supplements the one mentioned above has been prepared by the National Parks Commission.

The first step in the consolidation of Uruguay's forestry effort should be the unification into a single agency of all existing services and the improvement of their working conditions. Thus, a Forest Department, a Forestry Institute, or a Ministry of Waters, Forests, and Wildlife Resources should be created. The latter type of organization is especially to be recommended in this field of work because these three natural resources are closely interrelated.

Once this union is accomplished, work assignments to intensify all present activities will be distributed as shown in the chart.

Administrative Body

¬ Forestry Section®

Technical Staff

Secretariat and Administrative Section

¬ Director®

Technical Services Section

Division of Forest Management and Conservation: Specialized Services

Division of National Parks: Specialized Services

Division of Roadside Tree Planting and Conservation: Specialized Services

Division of Regional Nurseries: Specialized Services


The proposed Forest Department would study and plan the country's reforestation program on the basis of an over-all plan for a specified number of years. It would also make detailed studies of such a reforestation plan for those areas where the work is most urgent, such as mountain regions, sand dunes, etc.

The most economical way of putting this into practice would be by direct or indirect planting of trees (the latter being known as natural afforestation), utilizing to the maximum the natural agents of seed dissemination, such as wind, for strip regeneration of dunes (partial afforestation); and for waterways, by the establishment of seed-bearing forests at the sources of the main rivers and streams, etc.

The Department would study and distribute the tree species most readily adaptable to conditions in Uruguay and commanding the highest values in local and foreign markets.

It would arrange for rotation in forest exploitation, replanting with quick-growing species in some areas, so as to recover short-term capital investments, and would combine this method with planting of slower-growth species of greater value in rotation systems ensuring sustained yield - the fundamental principle of modern forestry.

It would organize the importing and sowing of species of foreign origin on the basis of similarity between climatic and ecological conditions in Uruguay and in other areas or countries, replacing the practice of haphazard importation of species, which, except in a very few cases, has been the usual procedure up to the present.

Finally, it would formulate a large-scale management and development plan as the beginning of a coordinated, organized forest policy. The work would be distributed among its subsidiary bodies.

The Division of Forest Management and Conservation would build up the forest of the country for commercial purposes, creating timber-producing forests to supply raw materials for telegraph poles, fence posts, railroad ties, wooden boxes, pitprops, furniture, wood pulp and cellulose, pine resin and its by-products, etc. The Division would also deal with forests as influencing factors, e.g., in causing rainfall, maintaining an even climate, and controlling waterways, river level, floods, and erosion. Of these, floods and erosion are major problems in Uruguay. Arable land is greatly reduced by erosion, which carries away 25 million cubic meters of agricultural soil yearly to the ocean-bed, where it remains.

In addition, the Department would have the task of conserving timber-producing forests by directing, supervising, and inspecting the exploitation of natural forests. Even though private forest property would not be under the jurisdiction of the Department, the destruction of privately owned forests by persons ignorant of proper technical forestry methods, or by negligence or wantonness, should be prohibited and made punishable by the State, because the natural forests of today are the foundation of the national forests of the future.

With respect to the legal phase of the problem, a forest law is most urgently needed. Although five projects have been put forward by various institutions, the country still lacks such a law. It may be mentioned that Uruguay is one of the few countries which do not yet have a forest law, while it has the lowest index of forest lands in the Americas and consequently is in great need of forest legislation.

The Division of National Parks has the function of studying, organizing, and managing five types of recreation areas, namely:

1. National Parks. Because of their size, area, scenic beauty, forest value (natural or artificial), potential utilization, etc., these constitute attractive sites for the Uruguayan people - a place of recreation and rest in natural surroundings, a source of inspiration, and a cultural center.

2. Natural Monuments. These include areas noted for certain salient features of their botanical, geological, or geomorphological structure which make it desirable to preserve and develop them as centers for recreational and educational purposes; and smaller areas of unusual character (sand dunes, mountain regions, palm groves, thermal springs, etc.).

3. Historic Sites. These are true national monuments, commemorating historic events fundamental to the evolution of Uruguay's national sovereignty. These solemn memorials of the historical past (Agraciada, Sarandi, Las Piedras, etc.) are sources of education and inspiration, stimulating and inspiring in present and future generations love and respect for national history and for those who made Uruguay a free nation, and contributing to the revival of the patriotic fervor of the nation's independence.

4. Natural Reserves. Small areas which are still virgin should be preserved to remain as vestiges of the original land, giving due prominence to the labors of a progressive people whose passage upon this earth shall not have been in vain. These are virgin sites, kept in their excellent natural state - places of refuge, rest, and meditation.

5. Wildlife Sanctuaries. These are areas in which typical specimens of native fauna now threatened with extinction can be concentrated in natural habitats where small birds, rheas, coypus, and other animals may live in complete freedom and pursue their natural pattern of life. It is possible in these areas to conserve and promote the breeding of birds and animals for later distribution throughout the country. Here would be zoological parks without barriers, moats, or cages, for the education of the public.

It will be seen from the above that the work of the Division of National Parks is of a very complex character in its technical, social, administrative, and educational aspects. This work has great future possibilities, which should be studied with the utmost care.

The Division of Regional Nurseries would be charged with the task of producing the trees required for the national afforestation plan, with a minimum annual production of 16 million trees. Its organization would be radically different from that of the existing body.

Instead of only one National Tree Nursery at Toledo, there would be need for eight or nine specialized regional tree nurseries, with a minimum annual production of 2 million trees each. The location of the nurseries should be such that seedlings would never have to be moved more than 200 kilometers and, if possible, they would be located at the center of the area to be afforested.

These nurseries should be specialized in the production of particular species and types of plants for well-defined ecological zones. Specialization permits standardization of production, hence lowering production costs considerably. Each nursery should be equipped with a modern watering system (overhead sprinklers) and adequate machinery for potting, treatment, packaging, etc., thus permitting large-scale production with less manpower.

Various types of nurseries are contemplated to specialize production and ensure economical afforestation:

1. Sand stabilizing nurseries, producing mainly large numbers of cluster pine, Acacia trinervis, and eucalyptus, as well as other species on a smaller scale.

2. Mountain tree nurseries, producing conifers, such as Pinus insignis, Pinus pinea, Pinus canariensis, araucaria, cypress, eucalyptus, etc.

3. Lake tree nurseries, producing willow, poplar, and bald cypress trees.

4. Riverside tree nurseries, producing oak, ash, elm, willow, poplar, bald cypress, white acacia, etc.

The Division of Regional Nurseries would entrust to its seeds branch the collection, classification, and packaging of seeds of tree species to supply the needs of the entire country. Seeds classified and certified (for purity, germinative power, etc.) are needed. Current prices for such seeds are very high.

The Division of Roadside Tree Planting and Conservation would be entrusted with the task of caring for trees along roadsides, in order to improve the landscape and to protect road foundations and road structures. Planting should be tastefully carried out, avoiding monotonous rows, insofar as possible, alternating trees of different species and allowing for long vistas. Parks will be laid out at road crossings of the major rivers and streams, with smaller parks alongside the highways, as places of rest and enjoyment for the traveler, at points of scenic interest.

Attention should be mainly concentrated upon roads having the largest tourist traffic. Wide, tree-lined avenues, on the model of the German Autobahnen and the United States parkways, would be developed along the highway routes (road from Colonia to Chuy and the Pan-American Highway).

Roads and highways are the "front garden" of the country and deserve to be studied intensively in order to improve the already beautiful landscapes of the countryside.


Uruguay has undertaken to solve the problem of training personnel for forestry work. There is a course in silviculture at the College of Agriculture of the University of Montevideo, supplemented by courses in related subjects such as botany and tree classification, geology, geomorphology and ecology, land measurement, hydraulic engineering, drawing, etc. The creation of specialized training for the functions of agronomist and forest engineer, involving an intensive one-year post-graduate course, is under consideration.

A training course for forestry experts is already under way, under the auspices of the Labor University of the Ministry of Public Education. A program is being prepared for a School for Forest Rangers. for the supervision and application of forest law


In Uruguay the stimulation of public interest is begun in the primary schools by the celebration of Tree Day in September and of Tree Planting Day in May. The children of all primary schools throughout the country participate in these celebrations and learn to love trees and forests. The object of these special days is to make the people forest-conscious from childhood up, and to arouse interest in trees. Similar activities are continued among adolescents in high schools.

An Honorary Forestry Committee has been set up under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Industries. Its function is to carry out a forestry publicity program by means of publications, organization of forestry exhibitions, and publicizing of current research work over the radio and in the press. This Committee is also in charge of the free distribution of seeds to those who request them. In 1947, 1,500 kilograms of seeds, obtained from official institutions which assist in this work, were distributed.

The College of Agronomy, through its Forestry Department, publishes extension courses which are mailed out to individuals for their instruction and guidance in silvicultural work.

There is a great deal of interest in forestry matters in this country and the problem of the forests has become a popular one. There is no doubt that the reorganization of the forest services will have the support of the Uruguayan public.

To stimulate this interest further, it will be necessary to increase material for publicity by means of motion pictures, a medium which has proved very effective, as the Uruguayan public is much attracted to this means of diffusion of knowledge. A useful activity would be the making of national films to present forestry problems more directly.

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