The town of Constitución lies on the banks of the Maule River (El Maule) and claims a deep affiliation with paper and pulp produc- tion. Parcels are couched in an east-west grid, aligned with Orrego Island. The North end of the town grid turns towards the Pacific coast, where a major pulp and paper mill rests on a slip of landfill. The residents of Constitución either work directly or indirectly with the timber company, felling trees, driving trucks, operating the mills, or supporting commercial nurseries. While the economic base of the region is located in Constitución, timbering unfolds within the entire- ty of the Maule River watershed, on lands privately held by industry or administered by government. The region is so marked by intensive and extractive forestry, it might appear as an anomaly of industrial claims on forested regions.
The Maule River is neither an anomaly nor an exception. Rather, it is emblematic of the entire coastal range of Chile, where forestry companies replaced small-hold farmsteads, deforested native Nothofagus forests and established high-yield plantations to satisfy the global demand for disposable paper. Paying attention to history yields an appreciation of the precarity and contingency of settlement along the estuarine coast.
Prior to industrial activity, Constitución was a tourist town, driven by seaside resorts and the pursuit of endless horizons, sandy beaches or coastal recreation. The forested backdrop provided an idyllic setting for the urban elite wishing to escape the capital city. The combined lineage tells a story of Constitución that is only a memory: a village set in a rich coastal forest adjacent to an estuary abundant with restorative winds and tides teeming with fish. In this context, the Mapuche and Chango peoples also lived seasonally along the coastline, mainly occupying the forests and fishing in Maule River, a kind of mutual understanding before the Spanish arrived, before the Maule region chased tourism, and before the rise of engineered wood and extractive forestry.
Unlike the banks of Maule River that are lined with homes and small shops, Orrego (La Isla Orrego) is a public island where locals meet for camping and recreation. Orrego is embedded in the landscape as the Maule parts and swirls around it to meet the salty cold Pacific waters. Most of the loss to human life was due to the overtopping of Orrego Island.