In a moment the world is unified in the largest effort ever to bring deforested and degraded land into restoration through the Bonn Challenge, this past summer a historically unprecedented forest fire scathed over 600,000 hectares of land in Chile. The Chilean NGP Participants Mininco and Arauco now facing the challenge of recovery, restoration and mitigation of future fires, called with WWF Chile, for an NGP study tour to see how they can learn from others and provide some new answers to these pressing landscape problems.
The fire started after 8 years of drought and record summer temperatures. According to estimates, 300,000 hectares of tree plantations and 200,000 hectares of natural forest have been destroyed. The flames were so strong that an entire town was destroyed, killing 11 and leaving over 3,000 people homeless.
Most of the tree plantations affected by the fires were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which has raised questions more broadly about certification. WWF considers FSC certification a powerful tool to improve forest management. FSC has proven to do that as well as yield positive environmental impacts, such as a decline in forest conversion, increase of protected High Conservation Value (HCV) and restored areas, among other conservation gains. In the last decade alone, FSC-certified tree plantations in Chile have increased from 13 per cent to 70 per cent. The issue is that the scope of FSC is at the scale of a forest management unit and the fires were at another scale: the landscape level.
As recuperation and restoration efforts get underway, one of the most important lessons we can take away is that we need to address the key drivers at the landscape level to prevent the type of devastation Chile has recently experienced. The key is to rethink the scale and how to meet expectations from stakeholders, not only at the local level but also more broadly. Forest landscape restoration is part of this thinking. Not only restoring burned areas but restoring to improve landscape resilience, creating landscape mosaics, wildlife corridors and increasing the provision of ecosystem services through the native forest are all necessary, especially because most plantation establishments happened without these considerations. Mosaics with native forest may even help provide discontinuities in vegetation that could help contain future forest fires. By all indications, climate change will increase the occurrence of these fires, but how we deal with them to reduce the amount of damage they leave behind and whether we take advantage of the opportunity they present to redesign the landscape, is up to us.
This study tour, co-hosted by Mininco, Arauco and WWF Chile, will be looking into how to incorporate the lessons learned and face the challenge of recovery, restoration and mitigation of future fires.