Illegal logging has affected Chilean native forests throughout history. It is caused in part by a lack of knowledge and understanding of the value and ecological processes in native forest ecosystems among those involved in forest management as well as civil society in general. Another factor is inadequate funding of the government agencies responsible for implementing the relevant norms and regulations. It is illegal to fell trees in forests and plantations without prior authorization from CONAF. This authorization is given once a management plan including, among other things, management objectives, a timeline, and specification of logging practices– has been approved. According to a study carried out by CODEFF (Fernandez, 1993) in 27 administrative districts of Regions IX and X, the main violations concerning illegal logging are:
- Logging without an approved management plan
- Failure to fulfill the obligations set forth in a management plan CODEFF examined reports against individuals who violated forest regulations between 1989 and March 1993.
They found a total of 400 violations, the majority of which were for logging without an approved management plan. In this study, CODEFF points out the disparity in criteria for applying sanctions. This is due in part to judicial discretion in setting penalties, which leaves room for personal and political influences to come into play. The result sometimes is lackluster penalties or dismissal of cases (Wilcox personal communication, 2001). For example, 60 percent of the violations examined went unpunished, while the rest received fines much lower than those recommended by CONAF. The study also highlights the lack of followthrough by the government as prosecutor, indicating that there is no active defense of the public interest as it relates to forests. The study identifies a clear need for more enforcement, stricter penalties, and further assessments of compliance with forest legislation.
The main laws pertaining to native forests deal mostly with promotion of their exploitation (CODEFF, 1996), with the exception of a limited number of norms and regulations that aim to conserve certain species, either by restricting their use or prohibiting their exploitation. This is the case with forests found within protected areas, forests that are excluded because of their critical role in watershed protection and soil stabilization, and certain species of trees that are legally protected as natural monuments. According to CODEFF (1996), current forest legislation in Chile lacks both efficient tools to detect activities (such as illegal logging) that compromise forest conservation and incentives to promote activities that support forest conservation, including forest management and sustainable use. Many small landowners with native forests, as well as stakeholders interested in the responsible management of these forests have expressed the need for subsidies that promote the sustainable management of native forests in Chile.
The government’s response to this increased need was to draft a piece of legislation that loosely translates as “Recovery of the native forests and their promotion in forestry.” This piece of legislation would provide landowners with subsidies to manage native forests. This legislation would complement the Forest Development Law (Law 701) which already provides subsidies for forestry plantations. Unfortunately the proposed piece of legislation, which was drafted ten years ago, has not been approved, mostly due to lack of consensus among the different stakeholders. In addition, there is a government-led program supported by the German government that promotes the sustainable management of native forests among small landowners. This program counts with subsidies for financing some of the basic work and technical assistance required to set up this type of management. This program has demonstrated the importance of having this initial monetary aid and technical assistance to transform the management of native forests into a profitable activity both economically and environmentally.