DixPix Photographs

     

SOUTH CORDILLERA

 
     
  Problems : LAND USE & CONSERVATION  

 

The high mountains of the Cordillera and the great deserts can still shrug off the hand of man, but the rivers, lakes, ocean, and above all the forests and wildlife are under attack, here as elsewhere.  And in most cases the question remains whether our changes are an improvement on the natural state, or simply an ecological disaster.  And on what do we base this judgment?

 

It's called silvaculture, the replacement of native vegetation over huge areas with a monoculture of trees, usually radiata pine with lesser eucalyptus.  Much of central Chile has undergone this metamorphosis.  Not many of the local fauna can live with this sort of change and lack of diversity, so the areas are pretty dead. Click to see big picture (635x480 pixels; 145 KB)
Another problem is that the native vegetation is first stripped, and periodically the areas are harvested by clearcutting and laid barren again. Click to see big picture (640x461 pixels; 125 KB)
This leaves the land open to rapid erosion, especially in regions that have not been scraped by glaciation, and in which weathering can be deep. Click to see big picture (640x453 pixels; 159 KB)
Not only is the formation of gullies such as this destructive in itself, the sand and silt eroded tend to choke local streams. Click to see big picture (640x449 pixels; 127 KB)
And the more rapid run-off can lead to floods. Click to see big picture (338x471 pixels; 109 KB)
There are also many "informal" loggers that will tackle forests, whether planted or native, sometimes legally. Click to see big picture (640x365 pixels; 108 KB)
They tend to carry out their wood on conventional trucks as short saw-logs. Click to see big picture (640x381 pixels; 140 KB)
While the giant silvaculture companies use logging trucks and pile up logs whole. Click to see big picture (447x480 pixels; 107 KB)
Although lumber mills and cardboard or paper plants are on the increase, much of the wood winds up at cellulose mills such as Celulosa Celco, on the beach at the town of Constitucion, Click to see big picture (640x414 pixels; 82 KB)
Here is the final product for much of Chile's forests, softwood chips, most of it for export to foreign paper mills.  Hardwood chips are also produced from the native "southern beech" species (Nothofagus). Click to see big picture (640x407 pixels; 154 KB)
Switching to eastern Peru and Bolivia on the rim of the Amazon Basin, logging and forest destruction is on a much bigger scale. Click to see big picture (634x480 pixels; 140 KB)
What is not worth taking as timber is slashed and burned to make way for settlers and other enterprises. Click to see big picture (640x381 pixels; 84 KB)
At the entrance to the Peruvian town of Pucallpa, there stands this huge statue, glorifying those who came with axe and shovel to clear the forest. Click to see big picture (575x480 pixels; 102 KB)
And yet, in San Ignacio, another Peruvian town on the rim of the Amazon basin, another statue glorifies harmony with the environment.  Perhaps things are changing. Click to see big picture (392x480 pixels; 60 KB)
When it comes to major burns, Chile has a skeleton in its southern closet. Click to see big picture (640x421 pixels; 145 KB)
In southern Chile, the bamboo actually climbs trees.  It is known locally as quila or colihue (Chusquea sp.) and forms dense thickets. Click to see big picture (299x480 pixels; 68 KB)
Bamboos tend to live for some decades, and then flower and die at the same time across large regions.  This happened in the Lake District and Osorno region in 1992.
Click to see big picture (640x391 pixels; 125 KB)
The resulting fire hazard was obvious, but precautions were taken.  ( Actually, forest fires are a constant threat in parts of Chile due to silvaculture.) Click to see big picture (640x400 pixels; 72 KB)
But when the bamboo died farther south in Chile in the 1940's, the few settlers used the opportunity to set what must have been some of the largest fires ever, burning out the valleys through several degrees of latitude. Click to see big picture (640x445 pixels; 111 KB)
The forests never grew back, despite copious rainfall, and it is a tribute to the quality of the wood that many of the skeletons are still standing 60 years later. Click to see big picture (640x437 pixels; 90 KB)
Was this an ecological disaster or an opportunity?  The south Chilean bush is extremely thick, and where sheep now graze there would have been little hope for settlement without the fires. Click to see big picture (640x362 pixels; 129 KB)
Hunting is much in the tradition of the rural populations of the Southern Cordillera, but through most of he territory there is little left to hunt.  Here in a native community in northern Peru it is still viable. Click to see big picture (529x480 pixels; 105 KB)
Gutting a pregnant deer in Bolivia.  The concept of conservation is generally reserved for gringos and city-folk. Click to see big picture (640x449 pixels; 116 KB)
In fact where the logging camps are rolling back virgin forest in eastern Bolivia, they are expected to hunt their own food, and in such areas game is surprisingly abundant. Click to see big picture (640x352 pixels; 56 KB)
In theory certain animals are protected, but here in La Paz their skins are displayed openly for sale. Click to see big picture (640x464 pixels; 116 KB)
And indeed there are plenty of conflicts between wildlife and settlers. Here a dead fox is hung on a fence in the theory that it well scare other foxes off. Click to see big picture (277x480 pixels; 68 KB)
And in this scene from the Lago Ghio region of southern Argentina, herds of wild guanaco are consuming the projected summer grazing range of a rancher's livestock, while his animals are in their higher summer pastures.  In theory, guanaco (huanaco) are a protected animal. Click to see big picture (640x361 pixels; 99 KB)
How many of the skeletons littering the Argentine pampas are a result of that conflict is hard to say.  There are rumors that at one time the armed forces tended to use guanacos for target practice. Click to see big picture (640x475 pixels; 138 KB)
Few animals can match the devastation caused by certain imported plants.  The classic case in Chile is gorse (Ulex europeaeus), a thorny terror.  When this photo was taken in the mid 1990's, it had already strangled much of the island of Chiloe.  By 2008 I noticed it had progressed, at least along the main highway, half way to Santiago. Click to see big picture (374x480 pixels; 103 KB)