We kayaked Maule River because—in order to overcome the lack of road access to the forestry economy—it felt necessary to experience the breadth of the plantations first-hand, outside of statistics and maps. As it turns out, the most effective counterpoint to the statistics of research lay in the slow, steady movement of the water as we rounded each bend, revealing yet another hillside of Monterey pine planted in regular grids and evenly spaced rows. This was not
a temperate rainforest. I had convinced myself that we might hike up one of the valleys and find a remnant forest, a piece of forest that didn’t make the cut. A leftover. We asked our guide Pablo if he knew of such a place, perhaps where even one nurse tree might have been left standing. Pablo was not only puzzled by the question, but even after running through all the translations of “remnant” he found it hard to understand what we meant by “forest.” To his mind, we were in a forest, a distinct attraction that encouraged tourism. But a plantation is not a forest.
Maule River bends and twists through gentle slopes traced only by thick bands of silvery eucalyptus and shadowy pine. Strips are miles wide, often covering entire hillsides in a moiré of singular logistics. Oftentimes, decimated traces mark the boundary of each band, revealing the destruction of felling, a brutal suggestion of the submission of the environment to industry. The demarcations between species are a map of global consumer trends, the shifting demand for short-fiber wood chips. Eucalyptus, the fiber that supplies high-grade paper products was replaced by pine, as human consumption shifts towards demand for lower grade pulp—newsprint and toilet paper. The pine economy now accounts for 95 percent of Chilean exports, which reminds us that supply chains must expand to include environmental practices. Individual pines are owned by Celulosa Arauco y Constitución, more commonly known only as Arauco Wood, yet they disown the excessive pollution created by growing and extracting each tree.
During our stay, we met with Daniela Ruiz at one of Arauco’s nurseries. The nursery is the heart of the supply chain in the plantation economy. At present, Arauco plants 45 million pine trees and 20 million eucalyptus trees per year. These statistics are all taken from free manuals and advertising, the scope of the issues are in plain sight. At the nursery, Daniela is eager to discuss the “native planting” program as part of Arauco’s sustainability initiative. She offers us four native plants: Maitén, Quillay, Pelu, and Maqui, and asserts that under the program, Arauco now plants 100,000 natives each year. Daniela gifted us saplings, arranged in the center of their plastic pots, and described that it is frustrating for the scientists to work with native species, because it can take up to a year just to germinate seed, time that slows the working investment strategies. Further, because propagation is mostly achieved by seed, which makes it difficult to breed by clone. Clonal breeding emerges from a selection process that targets a single, individual plant and propagates artificially by asexual reproduction. In other words, it is a breeding strategy that ensures pure and stable lines that retain their original traits. Due to asexual reproduction, clones are immortal, and can be maintained indefinitely. The nursery supply has been reduced through technological prowess, such that only the best individual, selected by phenotype and cellulose production is clonally reproduced. A clone is a perfect object that can be analyzed by cost estimation and the logic of corporate culture. The achievements of Arauco are found in just two clones. Despite millions of hectares of coverage, the plantations in Chile are composed of only two plants.
Visiting the Arunco company greenhouses and nursery—
the epicenter of commercial forestry—a variety of ecological scales seem to converge here, as threads that tie together trade, ecology, nation, city,
niche, economy, and relations; a commodified multispecies display of how the local and the global unite.