Chile to lose 1000 ancient Prumnopitys andina trees
At a time when we need to conserve all natural areas of forest in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, the flooding of Chile's San Fabián de Alico valley (Maule Region) is to go ahead with the loss of 1720 ha of important canopy forest. So important is this area for biodiversity, that it was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011 and forms part of the “Corredor Biológico Nevados de Chillán Laguna del Laja”
The planned hydroelectric projects – Embalse Punilla and Central Ñuble de Pasada are due to go ahead and the installations are in development. The valley is now deserted - the families who lived there for generations have been encouraged to move out. The valley has one of the biggest populations of the Chilean endemic conifer lleuque (Prumnopitys andina) with over 1000 old-growth trees happily growing adjacent to the Río Ñuble and the Río los Sauces, as they have done for 1000s of years. The valley is also a site for ciprés de la Cordillera(Austrocedrus chilensis) and other threatened trees and shrubs. Notably, it is also a sanctuary for the highly threatened huemul – the South Andean deer.
Knowing what we do today, destroying a uniquely beautiful river ecosystem such as this, is clearly an act of extreme environmental destruction, effectively losing ecosystem services, eradicating genetic resources of important tree species, in the shade of which, people and wildlife have lived and thrived over millennia. This permanent flooding will destroy rural communities that call this beautiful Andean valley home and have depended on the river for livelihoods, agriculture and happy days of camping. At a time when renewable energy can be generated efficiently from wind and solar, it is unsurprising that the world sees hydroelectric schemes as completely unnecessary and in this case a crying shame for generations of Chileans and the wider world.