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Monte Alto: Steward of Patagonia

In celebration of the International Year of Forests, we are highlighting those individuals, communities and businesses actively safeguarding the lungs of the planet.

Federico Hechenleitner: Steward of Monte Alto in ChilePatagonia. The very name of this storied South American region conjures up images of spectacular mountain peaks and lush temperate forests, of natural treasures demanding to be conserved. In Southern Chile, one forestry company has risen to the challenge, making a major investment in the sustainability of its land, an area rich with high-conservation value forests or HCVF -- a designation given to forests that are particularly significant for environmental or cultural reasons.

Headquartered in Punta Arenas, Chile, Monte Alto has achieved Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®)/Rainforest Alliance certification for the 145,000 acres (59,000 hectares) of forestland it owns and manages as well as for its sawmill and its drying and processing facility. The achievement proves that the company has complied with the FSC’s comprehensive standards for social, environmental and economic sustainability -- a feat that is particularly impressive in an area as ecologically complex as Patagonia. “For Monte Alto, achieving certification was a major challenge,” explains the Rainforest Alliance’s Freddy Peña, regional manager for the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program in South America, “because it required a management plan that reconciles the use and harvesting of wood with the maintenance of the forest and its environmental values and resources.”

The company’s forests predominately grow lenga, a broad-leafed deciduous tree species native to South America. Dry lenga forests are home to pumas, foxes, condors, woodpeckers and some 20 other species of birds. Outside of Chile, lenga is often called Chilean or Patagonian Cherry, due to its resemblance to American Cherry, in terms of its color, streaking and density.

Monte Alto’s land is home to Chile’s most researched native forest. Over the past 30 years, the company has collaborated with the Universidad de Chile on studies of local flora and fauna as well as research on the environmental impacts of various forestry practices -- all in an effort to determine how best to manage its natural resources.

Its managers understand that the conservation of the HCVF forests affects more than just the company’s economic interests. “Aside from improving its productivity,” says Federico Hechenleitner, Monte Alto’s general manager, “we want to maintain all of the environmental services that the forest provides.” Among them, he cites the protection of soil and water, the production of oxygen and the buffering of wind. Without the trees, wind erosion would be a huge problem in the area. “We want to maintain the landscape component of our forests,” adds Hechenleitner.

The company is also currently developing a biomass energy program and exploring the possibility of establishing ecotourism and carbon sequestration projects.

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