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[SANTIAGO] The Chilean parliament has unanimously approved a law to preserve the country's forests, promote their sustainable use and foster related scientific research.

The Native Forest Law has been in negotiation for 15 years — the longest any law has taken to pass in Chile — and members of the scientific community, environmental organisations and government authorities have expressed great satisfaction with its approval this month (19 December).

"This law introduces an ecosystemic vision that does not consider the forest just as a wood source, but as a benefit for the community, since it sets funds for forest recovery and for its non-lumber management," says Antonio Lara, dean of the forestry science faculty at the Austral University in Valdivia, Chile, and involved in the negotiations since 1992.    

A key aspect of the law is the creation of an initial fund of US$8 million a year for forest conservation, recovery and sustainable management projects.

The text of the legislation mentions the establishment of an additional annual fund to "boost scientific and technological research related to the native forest and the protection of its biodiversity, soil, water sources, flora, fauna and the associated ecosystems".

The law will also protect water sources by banning the felling of native forests located near springs, rivers, glaciers, wetlands, and lands with steep slopes.

An advisory council will be set up — involving government authorities, forestry and biology academics, nongovernmental organisations and native forest owners — to advise on the law's application and propose modifications.

Lara says the contents of the law reflect "a country that during 14 years had a fearful and hesitant attitude towards the use of the native forest and today is convinced of its relevance for climatic regulation, water production and wellbeing of rural communities".

Chile has more than 15 million hectares of forest, 13.4 million of which are native. According to a press release from the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture, the law is likely to allow 500,000 hectares of native forest to be preserved over the next 15 years, the recovery of 600,000 hectares for productive use and create 38,000 new jobs in and around the forestry sector.

The ministry also suggested that biomass from forest waste could also provide a potential source material for biofuel.