Weyerhaeuser owns 320,000 acres of timberland in northeastern and north central Uruguay. This land is located within the Pampas region of South America — a large, subtropical grassland seldom exceeding 600 feet in elevation. The climate in Uruguay is temperate to subtropical. Historically, less than five percent of this landscape was covered by trees, which occurred mainly along water bodies. The land is excellent for planting fast-growing eucalyptus and pine.
Our forest plantations in Uruguay were established through a process called afforestation — the practice of actively planting forests where none previously existed. We follow all applicable laws and use best management practices as defined by the forest conditions where we operate. We are committed to complying with legal requirements and to managing our forests in a way that is backed by science and that will protect natural resources for generations to come.
We began harvesting our lands in 2005 with our first commercial thinning operations. Our plywood and veneer mill began operation in Tacuarembo in June 2006. After five additional years of investment, the mill site now includes a bioenergy facility and a seedling nursery.
In many areas of Uruguay, grazing is the traditional use of the land. Many ranchers raised their cattle in the open grasslands where now there are trees. We lease this land to ranchers as soon as trees have reached a height that is able to withstand animal pressures. We support this traditional use by reducing the market price by half for small ranchers. We also encourage private beekeepers by leasing suitable land for their bee boxes. Each beekeeper keeps between 50 and 150 boxes per site and harvests and average of 60 pounds of honey per box per year.
Forests fires are not part of the natural system in Uruguay. We are part of a cooperative system among companies, local governments and national authorities to prevent forest fires. Our Uruguay plantations have been designed to ensure easy access through roads that are maintained and open for travel.
RESEARCH AND PARTNERSHIPS
To sustainably manage our forests, it's important that we continue to learn about how our activities affect both the forest ecosystem and surrounding communities. We frequently partner with other organizations to ensure that our practices are consistent with the best available science.
One example is our work with North Carolina State University’s Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department to quantify the impact of forestry and biomass crop production on hydrology and drainage water quality in both Uruguay and North Carolina. Although afforestation has many environmental and economic benefits, it can impact water yield due to higher transpiration rates of trees compared with grasses. This can raise concerns, especially in water-limited environments. The effects are important to understand because water availability and water-quality decline have increasingly become a worldwide issue as human population rises.
Specific objectives of this project are to:
- Determine the hydrologic and water-quality effects of afforestation of grasslands in Uruguay by conducting long-term, paired-watershed studies
- Determine the impacts of land use, including managed forestry, biomass crops for energy, and managed forests with inter-planted biomass crops on hydrology, water yield, and drainage water quality in Uruguay and North Carolina
- Develop and test models to predict the hydrology and water quality impacts of land use and management practices on lands that were historically in pasture, native grassland, or poorly drained agricultural lands
- Incorporate the information derived from this research into usable concepts and materials for stakeholders leading to improved management of forestland, biomass cropland, and pasture land