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ARGENTINA
Property speculation would be behind forest wildfire
Latinamerica Press
3/17/2015
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More than 34,000 Ha of land has been destroyed by the worst fire in the country’s history.

A fire in Patagonia, in southern Argentina, destroyed ancient forests between Feb. 15 and Mar. 6. According to news information, the fire would have begun with a lightning strike near Lake Cholila, province of Chubut, close to the border with Chile.

The area, which has important tourist attractions, will be affected by the smoke and dust, which will decrease air quality and health outcomes, experts say. In addition, the fire destroyed large grazing areas.

Forests of cypress, ñire, lenga, coihue, caña colihue and alerce trees were destroyed and the local fauna, such as pudúes (deer) and huemules (Andean deer) that are endangered, disappeared or had to migrate.

According to a report from biologist Silvia Oturbay published by the news bulletin Cholila Online, “in addition to the economic losses and social problems, wildfires cause environmental damage to the soil, wildlife and vegetation, and even the weather itself.”

“They change wind regimes, oxygen availability, lower humidity and evapotranspiration, increase temperatures, solar radiation, brightness and the greenhouse gas effect by increasing CO2 in the atmosphere,” she said.

The arrival of rains starting in April will bring other equally serious scenarios.

“Now that the protective vegetation cover is gone and the roots of trees that act as a natural barrier to retain water in mature forests with lenga, coihue, and ñire trees were burnt, the arrival of rains will increase erosion and loss of fertile soil and soil producing microorganisms in a process that will lead to soil impoverishment or complete loss, and in some places lead to desertification, by reducing water retention in the burnt areas, leading to a climatic aridity,” added Oturbay.
 
Intentional fire
According to the governor of Chubut, Martin Buzzi, the fires were intentional, and he blamed “land speculation.”
“There is no doubt that many of these fires are intentional and are linked to the real estate business,” he told reporters. “Because the landowners want to divide the land to build, and as they cannot do so because trees are State property, they make [trees] disappear.”

“This business has to do with historical settlers who the State gave precarious tenure of the land because they have been living there for 60 years, and the State has granted them grazing rights at cheap price, at 2 pesos [US$0.23]. That historic settler ends up selling the land to a trickster Argentine, at 4 pesos, not 2 pesos. That Argentine sells it to another wealthy Argentine or foreigner at $60,000 or $100,000 per hectare,” he said.

Senator Mario Jorge Cimadevilla said that in Cholila — where about 2,500 people live, including owners of large tracts of forest — “hectares were sold at less than 10 pesos and now transactions exceed thousands of dollars. And since there are people who refuse to sell, someone set fire to the land to beat them.”

The head of the Cabinet of Ministers, Aníbal Fernández, also believed that the fires were intentional.

“It’s a land that has certain dimensions and is very well located, and has certain groves that are worthless to the owner of that land because cannot use them and just has to wait for negotiations. Once these trees no longer exist, they become land subject to be sold”, he said.

For Oturbay, “outlining a post-fire restoration plan is a priority,” and should include soil protection.

For the next rainy season, “heavy erosion and runoff with imminent risk of flooding, accelerated erosion and sedimentation is expected. Restoration needs to happen wherever necessary and feasible, but it must be done urgently,” she said.
— Latinamerica Press.


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