Monterey pine grows quickly and can be harvested in a matter of decades, rather than centuries. It grows well on desiccated land, typically lands that are highly depleted by agriculture, and requires little labor once planted. Homogeneity is easy to control and predict. On the other hand, plantations require two logistics to prosper: an initial investment in biotechnology and extensive land holdings, a commitment that suited industrialists with national signatures and the ability to wait decades for profits. It does not suit the livelihoods of small-hold farms, or seasonal economies. Thus, the initial arrangement was simple: Pine plantations enabled landowners to evacuate smallholders, squatters, and Mapuche who were creating unrest, and regain control of property from laborers who claimed it as their own. Planting trees quelled social unrest and met the desire for investors to engender a nationally supported capital economy.

Don’t Swim in the River

Water is ever present in the landscape, labeled hydrologically by flow and linguistically by names. When the flow is fast enough, we call this water a river. When it is forced up from the ground, we call it a spring. In this account, a forest is just a very slow river, calibrated to the speed of uptake in roots and shoots that grow into trees. This is where water code and forestry mingle.

The destruction of the temperate rainforests depends on the slippery slope of policy. The Chilean Water Code of 1981 enabled the exploitation to take on vast proportions, as the triumph of corporate interests overwhelms social formation. The water code separated water rights from land ownership, effectively treating water as property. Under the code, water is considered a replenishable reserve, rather than an increasingly scarce resource. As rivers like the Maule degrade, attention shifts from abundance to absence of water and the free-market incentives that enable the shift from an agricultural to a forestation landscape. Meanwhile, the less formalized extractive prac- tice of industrial forestry seizes water merely through the physiological activity of trees. Rainwater never seeps, or gets captured by the soils, encouraging flow in Maule River. The plantations are thirsty and desiccate the slopes.

There are more Acacia tree species in Chile than I could have imagined. These leguminous plants invite mycelium through the root system. This is such a simple way to start regeneration. But euca- lyptuses are such magnificent plants that they can outcompete the acacias even once they are felled. The response of the forestry companies is to use glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) not once, but twice or three times. The chemical journeys across the rivershed and makes its way to the river. The resulting toxicity is a form of environmen- tal violence that affects all the river’s inhabitants and all those who depend on them in turn.