By Cristian Frers
The tremendous rate of transformation of our native forests in the north of Argentina for the expansion of the agricultural area, is unprecedented in history. If there is no immediate action by the National State and the provinces involved, in a short time we will lose important and irreplaceable areas of our natural heritage.
Deforestation is the large-scale destruction of forests by human action. Million hectares are degraded or destroyed annually. These are cut down or burned, roughly the equivalent of the surface of a soccer field every two seconds. Currently continuous logging has reduced the area covered by forests to an estimated 40 million km² of which 12 million are open forests.
Deforestation is not just about the loss of trees. It also has a big impact on the environment. Many living creatures depend on trees so when trees disappear, so do animals. Potentially valuable medicines and materials are lost, as are clean air and water. Indigenous people suffer and, eventually, national economies as well. The future of people and forests are interconnected.
Deforestation is not the same as forest degradation, which is a reduction in the quality of the forest. The two processes are linked and cause various problems. They can cause soil erosion and destabilization of the water table, which in turn favors floods or droughts. They reduce biodiversity, which is especially significant in tropical forests, which are home to much of the world's biodiversity.
From the forests we not only obtain a series of goods and services essential for human survival: plant and animal food, wood, medicines and many other products. Forests play a fundamental role in climate regulation, maintenance of water sources and flows, and soil conservation. For this reason, the jungles and other forests are possibly the most important natural heritage but also the most threatened and predated by the hand of man.
Latin American governments' plans against indiscriminate logging have made progress, but still clash with strong economic interests.
Never before has Latin America fought so hard against deforestation as it does today, say experts and governments. But logging in the region increased to the highest in the world.
There was an increase in the international prices of products such as soybeans, which promoted the occupation of forested areas, especially in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Deforestation is already one of the main problems in Argentina, even the most conservative admit, and it seems to be accelerating more and more. The social, economic, climatic and even strategic consequences are of a considerable dimension.
For decades, forest ecosystems have been absorbing the pressure of man, as a consequence of the extraction of wood for different applications. It is clear that such propensity has been strengthened in recent years due to the advance of the agricultural frontier, thus reaching our days, when the situation demands urgent solutions.
According to data from the National Secretariat for the Environment and Sustainable Development, between 1998 and 2002 almost 800,000 hectares of forests were lost. In the following four years the problem worsened: one million one hundred thousand hectares were deforested. This means that in eight years the country lost ten percent of its forested area, and that almost a thousand hectares of forest are destroyed per day. Furthermore, the growth in the annual rate of logging in Argentina is six times higher than the world average.
In the world, the annual deforestation rate is around 0.23%, while in Africa it is 0.78%. In South America, the rate went from 0.44% in 1999 and 2000 to 0.50% between 2000 and 2005. Argentina is above the continental average: 0.85%, with extremes such as Misiones (1.33 %), Santiago del Estero (1.18%) and Santa Fe (0.95%).
The tremendous rate of transformation of our native forests in the north of Argentina for the expansion of the agricultural area, is unprecedented in history. If there are no immediate actions by the National State and the provinces involved, in a short time we will irretrievably lose important and irreplaceable areas of our natural heritage.
It is known that all types of forest in the country are subject to enormous pressure to clear land to replace them with annual crops, especially oilseeds and coarse grains in general, the production of biofuels, extensive extra-pampa cattle ranching and, to a much lesser extent, plantations.
The use of resources should be orderly and sustainable, involving the participation of local communities. Protecting representative samples of each ecosystem, using natural resources responsibly and restoring destroyed and degraded forests and jungles, is what is proposed to correct the land uses that are affecting the last great natural reserves.
Fortunately in Argentina, citizen pressure and the creation of a monetary compensation fund were decisive in the enactment of a national law that suspends the felling of native forests in Argentina until each province orders its territory and defines untouchable and development areas. This law was enacted at the end of November 2007.
For one year the provinces will not be able to grant logging permits, and if they fall behind with the territorial ordering - whose strict guidelines were established within the framework of the law - the suspension will be extended.
The project was strongly resisted by legislators from provinces in the north of the country, such as Salta, Misiones, Chaco and Santiago del Estero, who defend the right to intervene in the forests, including in areas of natural reserves or in which native peoples who live They supply the resources of the forest.
The territorial ordering to which the provincial governments are obliged must establish three categories of protection: red for forests of very high conservation value that will be intangible, yellow for those that tolerate sustainable management, and green for those that can be totally or partially transformed. .
The ordinance must be approved by the provincial legislature in order for the National Environment Secretariat to lift the embargo. Thereafter, each person interested in exploiting forest resources must submit an environmental impact study to the competent district authority.
The standard recognizes the environmental services that forests provide, such as the conservation of biodiversity, soil and water quality, water regulation and the fixation of greenhouse gases, such as carbon.
To compensate for the loss of activity that the cessation of deforestation would imply for the provinces, the legislators approved the National Fund for the Enrichment and Conservation of Native Forests, which will be distributed 70 percent to owners of wooded land and the rest to provincial conservation programs.
The protection of the native forest is not a mere ecologist, postmodern or backward demand that does not see progress. Instead, it aims to help maintain the countless environmental services involved and safeguard resources, for the full use of current and future generations.
* Cristian Frers He is a Senior Technician in Environmental Management and a Senior Technician in Social Communication.