Seeing the Forest for the Trees: The Firewood Trade in Southern Chile
Since the first settlers arrived in Aysén from the Archipelago of Chiloé, residents have depended on the abundant hardwood forests of the region to cook and heat their homes. Aysén’s continued isolation and recent battles over hydroelectric development on the Pasqua and Baker rivers have assured the continued importance of firewood as a heat source, even in the most modern homes, and today more than 700 families across the region work in the firewood trade. This chapter, based on ethnographic research in southern Chile in 2015–2016, examines the challenges faced by firewood traders (leñeros) throughout Aysén. Recent state involvement in the industry has ranged from efforts to regulate the quality of fuelwood to initiatives to subsidize its associated costs. New concerns about air quality in cities like Coyhaique are beginning to affect the trade, perhaps changing how Ayséninos think about firewood—and by extension, their long-standing traditions.
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