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Armesto J.J.,Instituto Milenio Of Ecologia And Biodiversidad | Armesto J.J.,University of Santiago de Chile | Manuschevich D.,Instituto Milenio Of Ecologia And Biodiversidad | Manuschevich D.,University of Santiago de Chile | And 9 more authors.
Land Use Policy | Year: 2010

The main forest transitions that took place in south-central Chile from the end of the last glaciation to the present are reviewed here with the aim of identifying the main climatic and socio-economic drivers of land cover change. The first great transition, driven primarily by global warming, is the postglacial expansion of forests, with human populations from about 15,000 cal. yr. BP, restricted to coastlines and river basins and localized impact of forest fire. Charcoal evidence of fire increased in south-central Chile and in global records from about 12,000 to 6000 cal. yr. BP, which could be attributed at least partly to people. The subsequent expansion of agriculture led to much clearing of forests and the spread of weeds and other indicators of open habitats. The Spanish colonial period in America may have been followed by a transient expansion of forest cover into abandoned land, as indigenous population declined rapidly due to disease and slaughter. The 18th and 19th centuries brought about extensive loss of forests due to the massive impact of lumber extraction for mining operations both in central Chile and in western North America. Two centuries of intensive deforestation, coupled to grazing by cattle and extremely variable rainfall had long-lasting effects on forest cover in south-central Chile, which persist until today. The transition from a preindustrial to an industrial society brought about the "golden age" of timber harvest, assisted by mobile sawmills and railway transportation since the late 1800s. These advances led to the exhaustion of native commercial timber by the late 20th century in south-central Chile. In North America, harvestable stands were exhausted in New England and the Midwest around 1920. Settlement of the independent territories in the late 1800s and early 1900s implied vast burning and clearing of land and mounting soil erosion. Industrial forestry, based on government-subsidized massive plantations of short-rotation exotic trees, developed in the late 20th century, in connection with postindustrial displacement of exploitative activities from developed to third-world nations. In the last two decades, economic globalization and free trade promoted the expansion of new crops and further decline of woodlands, despite modest increases in forest cover. These patterns are repeated in many Latin American countries. To prevent further depletion of native forest resources and to provide an insurance against climate change, in the 21st century developing nations should aim at: (1) relocating subsidies from fiber farms to restoring diverse forest cover, (2) promoting ecosystem management of diverse forest and crops within landscapes, and (3) fostering diverse cultural relationships between people and their land. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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