In late 2007 came into force a law that sought to protect nearly 29 million hectares of forests that had Argentina at that time, especially the advance of the agricultural frontier and growing areas of crops of soybeans. The rule divided the country into six ecoregions, assigned varying degrees of conservation and banned the provinces from changing the categories. However, the General Audit Office (AGN, for its acronym in Spanish) found that Salta recategorized about 14 thousand hectares, allowing clearing tasks to be initiated.

The Law

The rule in question is the National Law 26.331 on Minimum Standards for Environmental Protection of Native Forests. Among other things, the text defines six eco-regions across the country: the Chaco Park, the forests of the Yungas and Missionary Espinal areas and the Andean-Patagonian, and Montes, spanning some nine provinces (see map). In turn, these extensions have, behind closed doors, three categories of protection: Red (I), with a very high conservation value, where there can’t be any logging; Yellow (II) with an intermediate level of care; and Green (III), which enables deforestation, provided that current regulations are followed.

For its part, each province should be responsible for this conceptualization, by creating their own Native Forest Land Management (OTBN), a sort of maps where farms may be located. The AGN adopted a report which analyzes how this law was implemented by the enforcement authority in May: the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Nation, from 2007 to June of last year.

The paper shows that, since the validity of the standard, "there is a downward trend in the rate of loss of the surface of native forests, albeit at a very slow pace." In this regard, the Audit explains that the advance of the agricultural frontier and new soybean undermine the conservation objectives of Law principles, and complete that "this situation was checked in Salta and Santiago del Estero, provinces that were selected for a spot check."

It’s that, as stated in those jurisdictions "category changes of conservation of land are allowed, without specifying the prohibition of modifications (i.e., going from a higher level of conservation to one of least concern)." In its report, the Watchdog exemplifies that "in the province of Salta over 14,000 hectares were recategorized, while the map of Santiago del Estero OTBN appear green dots (corresponding to Category III) in yellow zones (category II) resulting in deforestation."

Citizen Participation

In regard to citizen participation, the standard analyzed by the AGN is based on the General Environmental Law, which comes before, and calls for guaranteeing collective consultations to assess the ecological impact of productive enterprises. Despite this feature, the AGN detected both Salta and Santiago del Estero "clearing projects authorized without meeting the requirement of prior public hearing." About that, the report explores that "the Ministry of Environment received the corresponding complaints, but no action to resolve irregularities are verified," adding the claim of "indigenous communities", which were not called even for the preparation of the OTBN maps.

The Funds

Paralelamente, en el marco de la Ley investigada se creó Fondo Nacional para el Enriquecimiento y la Conservación de los Bosques Nativos (FNECBN), con el objetivo de compensar con dinero a las provincias que impulsaban tareas tendientes a proteger sus sistemas forestales.

On the funds, the AGN observed that "some regulation of some of its articles is missing." However, it is known that, by regulation, the amount allocated to the courts "may not be less than 0.3% of the national budget."

From this certainty and comparing with budget data, the audit found the delivery of "minor assignments legally established." For example, in 2011 the Fund allocated was for about $300 million, representing just over a third of the floor plans, because 0.3% of the national budget that year was $821.2 million. The trend not only repeated in subsequent years, but also the gap between what was due and sent effectively expanded.

So it was that in 2012, 0.3% of the national budget amounted to about $ 1,520 million, but the Forest Conservation Fund about $ 271 million, i.e., 17.8% was allocated. And last year were sent to this initiative $ 1,887 million, but what actually came accounted for only 12.1% of that amount, about $ 230 million.

Moreover, about the distribution of money, the auditors noted "delays in the allocation of annual amounts" which "harms the tasks to the provinces, because they cannot plan well their annual activities."

Aside from this, the report notes that the Ministry of Environment "has not developed procedures for measuring the performance of management tools" as the Forest Conservation Fund, and "there is no documentation on compliance with budget targets."

The decision of the AGN, to make spot checks in Salta and Santiago del Estero, was not taken at random: the two provinces were the most affected by the increase in deforestation between 2002 and 2006, and were the provinces that received the most money in 2013.

More on Money

Basically, with the funds, projects submitted by the provinces, for the protection of native forests were financed.

The AGN tells that every jurisdiction and presented initiatives that were approved for funding 113 ideas, "Among the provinces with the highest amount of assigned projects is Santiago del Estero 15 and Chubut 10. By visiting Santiago del Estero, it was observed that, to September 2011, there were only four monitored projects (out of 15) with certain difficulties, such as problems in land ownership by peasant communities, lack of labor and billing problems."

Territorial Ordenantes

As already mentioned, Law 26.331 established that each province should determine which areas could be exploited by drawing their Native Forest Land Management. Well, when the AGN closed its investigation, the standard was five years of operation and, by then, seven provinces had not yet submitted it’s OTBN.
And, because the Federal Government did not push a single criteria, those provinces that did draw the maps, were "heterogeneous."