Thanks to its rich flora and fauna UPM’s forestry site Esteros y Algarrobales del Rio Uruguay (Mafalda) is a very special area in Uruguay. As the land owner UPM is actively promoting the protection of wildlife living on the site.
UPM started its forestry operations in Uruguay nearly 30 years ago. Since the very beginning the company has systematically developed methods for maintaining biodiversity in its Eucalyptus plantations.
In the first phase UPM conducted a biological survey at the beginning of the 1990s to discover and classify species in the regions where it was going to operate, initiative that continues to these days.
“In the survey, we found that the flora and fauna and some ecosystems were very special in our forestry site at Mafalda. Therefore, we saved that part of the site from planting and since then this has been an important target of our conservation work in Uruguay,” explains Ivan Grela, UPM Forestal Oriental’s Coordinator of Biodiversity and Conservation.
Increasing protected areas
UPM aims to preserve and protect the most important species and ecosystems in the areas where it operates through the “UPM Biodiversity Program”. In Uruguay, the company preserves areas with native forests, wetlands and natural fields thanks to its Network of Conservation Areas which includes 30 areas (Mafalda is the most extensive and diverse), covers more than 11,000 hectares and is home to hundreds of native species. Each area has management and monitoring plans.
In Mafalda the size of the protected areas has been growing steadily rising from 1,000 hectares up to 1,550 hectares nowadays.
As part of the contributions to conservation agreed with the Uruguayan State, UPM presented a proposal to the Environmental Ministry of Uruguay that Mafalda to be included as a part of the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP) in Uruguay. The agreement between UPM and the Ministry was finally concluded in October 2016 and the area was officially renamed as Esteros y Algarrobales del Río Uruguay (EARU).
“UPM became the first and so far, the only private company to manage a protected area within the SNAP. Other industrial sectors including agriculture and cattle grazing have not adopted such initiatives. UPM remains the owner of Mafalda but it is also responsible of protecting the area in the region,” says Grela.
“Mafalda is also an important showcase for us to demonstrate that it is possible to protect nature and run successful forest operations in the same zone. In one part of the site we are fulfilling high nature conservation values and standards while having wood production in the other part. This is an arrangement that people seem not to be very familiar with.”
Protection work in practice
Previously, this valuable natural site was over-exploited due to agriculture and cattle grazing.
“In the first phase, we had to cease these operations in one part of the site to allow the ecosystems to regenerate. After 10 years the region was recovering very well so we were able to proceed with our restoration work”, Grela explains.
There are approximately 700 species of flora living in the region that represent around 25% of flora found in the whole country. “This is a very high percentage accumulated in a small area of land that highlights the value of the region since similar values are also detected for other groups such as birds or mammals”, adds Grela.
"Over the years we have monitored the populations of flora and fauna to improve information about the biodiversity values of the area," he adds. Additionally, the monitoring and control of invasive exotic woody species (such as Gleditisia triacanthos) has been carried out as part of the conservation measures.
UPM also promotes a new working culture in Uruguay by collaborating with stakeholders and NGOs to professionally manage the conservation areas with the contribution of experts on the subject linked to these organizations.
“Since 2011 we have been working with Vida Silvestre to improve the management plan and monitoring programmes in the region. Vida Silvestre is very a respected environmental organisation in Uruguay.”
"At UPM Forestal Oriental we are proud of the management of this area so relevant for the conservation of Uruguay's biodiversity. We have made it for more than 25 years and the results can be seen in the maintenance, and in some cases increase, of the values present in it”, concludes Grela.