A critical review of the Chilean biodiversity offset policy
Human land use may adversely impact many natural habitats. In Chile, large-scale development activities require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). To achieve meaningful sustainable development, projects should avoid net losses of biodiversity and associated values. Biodiversity offsetting—compensating for actual or potential losses of biodiversity at an impact site by generating ecologically equivalent gains elsewhere—therefore places substantial faith in restoration practices to recover biodiversity. Land developers must present a proposal to offset potential impacts to threatened species and native vegetation during the planning process; the government agency reviews and approves or rejects the proposals on a case-by case basis. Here, we characterize the status and trends of compensation programs already in effect in the Mediterranean region of Chile (33 – 38 S). We analyzed 55 proposals affecting native forest ecosystems and approved by the EIA system between 1994 and 2014. We collected data on the type of development project, place where the offsetting activity took place, area affected by the offsetting action and the land area subjected to compensation, plant species used in restoration work, and provenance of the plants used.
We show that about 30% of the land development proposals carried out compensatory activities. Mining and electric power companies were the main activities affecting forest ecosystems and compensating their impacts. Most of the compensation programs were carried out in the same areas or nearby the impacted area of the project, using only a reduced number of native plant species, generally trees. Most of the programs do not identify from where the plants were obtained. There is a lack of guiding procedures regarding plantations and there is no standard method for assessing whether impacts are compatible with offset requirements. The current system does not measure the success of reforestation linked to compensation, and thus we do not know whether the location and timing of activities truly compensate for the biodiversity lost. Public information about the compensations implemented, or describing successes and failures is nonexistent. Such data can inform the design, execution and long-term management of offsets, to establish precedents, promote good practices and avoid repeating errors. Government authorities have a key role to play in building such a resource base, and the mechanisms to feed it.