Monthly Archives: March 2011

New video: the team of Conservacion Patagonica

In the Chacabuco Valley, 46 people work to create Patagonia National Park.  Everyone is Chilean; the majority are from Cochrane, the closest town.  Along with volunteers and visiting experts, they are the ones building the trails and campgrounds, monitoring and protecting the wildlife, and restoring the damaged grasslands–the jobs you would guess land conservation encompasses.  But they are also the ones operating and maintaining the machinery, landscaping the park headquarters, and cooking for workers and volunteers–the “behind the scenes” roles that provide critical support for building the park.

This homemade video (in Spanish) gives an overview of the creation of the park, and then profiles many of these people.  Several festivals in the towns around the park showed it this summer.  Many of the people who speak in this video worked on Estancia Valle Chacabuco when it was a working livestock operation. They discuss the transition to conservation and their new roles within this project.  Towards the end, some of the kids growing up in the Chacabuco Valley discuss the animals they protect, their friends, and life at the park.

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Guest post: from Kristie at Elevate Destinations

We’ll be mixing in other voices on this blog, to share some more impressions from this future park.  Below is a posting from Kristie Gianetto, who works at Elevate Destinations, a company dedicated to responsive travel:

Kristie exchanges goodbyes with park guard Daniel Velasquez

I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel down to Chilean Patagonia to experience the immense efforts that Conservacion Patagonica is undertaking to create the Future Patagonia National Park. Conservacion Patagonica has been around since 2000 and has since protected over 460,000 acres of Patagonian land with the goal of creating a national park in the Aysen Region of Chile. Patagonia National Park will be a refuge for indigenous wildlife as well as an educational canvas for people to come and learn about this unique region of the earth. It will also benefit the local communities and surrounding areas through its ecotourism and responsible travel appeal.

While there, I visited a different area in the park each day, exploring many of the different habitats that the park protects. I spent time on neighboring ranches and listened to the stories of people who have lived in this remote, extreme environment their entire lives. The dedication to wilderness and wildlife among the staff and local community members is tangible. From their puma and huemul deer tracking programs to their grassland restoration projects, Conservacion Patagonica is doing everything that it can to return this once pristine natural habitat to the bountiful and species-rich grasslands that existed here pre-ranching.

One of the main issues looming over this region  is the proposed $4 billion hydroelectric project that Endesa (a Spanish electricity company) has planned for the near future. Imagine a series of dams spread across the river you see in the picture below and you will begin to envision the destruction that this could have on this natural wonder. There is a grassroots campaign throughout Chile opposing this project called Sin Represas. They are trying desperately to end this threat, but are finding it hard to garner the support needed to stop a large foreign company.

The spectacular Baker River, which HydroAysen proposes to dam

Despite this, Conservacion Patagonica pushes on with the support of volunteers, staff and locals to continue to protect and rehabilitate this amazing place. If you want to learn more about Conservacion Patagonica, the Sin Represas campaign, or the region in general, visit http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org . To get in touch with Elevate Destinations, email info@elevatedestinations.com.

Thanks to Kristie for letting us share this!


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Demonstrating by the Baker to Keep Patagonia’s Rivers Wild

Yesterday morning, we loaded up the big white dump truck with six lambs prepared for roasting, firewood, an axe, big picnic tables, and sacks of bread and potatoes—standard supplies for anti-dam demonstrators around here.   Conservacion Patagonica had taken charge of the afternoon’s asado on the banks of the Baker River.  The meat and other sundries would reinvigorate the 150+ protesters to continue the fight against HydroAysen’s proposal to construct five mega-dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers.  All of us would rally along and across the Baker to show support for this river-in-peril and to take a group photo in a spectacular spot for the campaign to use.

We set off to Pasarela El Manzano, a suspension foot & horse bridge near the confluence of the Baker and Neff Rivers, about half an hour north on the Carretera Austral from the future park.  An old 70-seater bus had brought protesters from Coyhaique down the night before. The maté circles around the breakfast campfire began to mobilize as numerous minivans from Cochrane and pick-up trucks from around the region arrived with more demonstrators.

Marcos Oliviera from the Neff River area rides to the demonstration

A group of men on horseback, with sheepskin chaps and wool ponchos, made a grand entrance riding across the bridge towards the group.  They had left their farms in the Neff River drainage six hours before to make the ride to the protest. Meanwhile, some hung banners across the bridge while others got to know new like-minded friends and took photos of the spectacularly beautiful (doomed?) river.

The crowd included numerous journalists, taking note of the proceedings.

Soon the speeches began, with various representatives from grassroots Sin Represas groups from Cochrane, Chile Chico, Coyhaique, and other towns in the Aysen region calling on demonstrators to continue the fights.  This campaign, now over five years old, has reached a critical point.  In a month, the government will issue a decision on the next phase of the environmental impact assessment.   The fate of the campaign largely hinges on mobilizing Chileans to pressure their government to oppose this project, which would inflict an enormous impact through a large area of the country’s most wild region.

One of the first speeches of the day

Conservacion Patagonica’s own Daniela Castro spoke to this point, declaring that only large numbers of people taking a stand and protesting would force the government to take a stand against the project.  Public pressure, she noted, has a strong history of shaping public policy here in Chile.  A local priest led a reading of a prayer written for the fate of the Baker and the Aysen region, marveling on its natural beauty and wild character and calling on its defenders to continue the struggle to protect it.

Intermingled with the speeches came numerous rounds of call-and-response chants:

“¡Patagonia—”

“—Sin Represas!”

“¡El Baker vive, vive—”

“—La lucha sigue, sigue!”

“¡Rios libres para ahora—“

“—Y para siempre!”

Finally came the moment to organize the assembled crowd for the annual photo in front of the river.  Some stood on the bridge behind the banners while others gathered on the bank, all holding hands and cheering.  The photo marked a high point for the group, as everyone saw the size and spirit of the local crowd who had turned out on a chilly autumn Sunday to support the campaign.

CP's Francisco Panichini, Fernando Muñoz, and Elbio Cumian prepare lamb for the crowd

Meanwhile, our lambs roasted away by the bonfire—ready just in time to feed the hungry crowd.  The food fest, music hour, and chat session lasted long into the afternoon, with activists from different communities in Aysen getting a chance to meet and catch up with each other.  At last, the big bus had to begin the long drive back to Coyhaique.  We put out the fire, cleaned up, and piled back into the dump truck to return to the park.

Some of the CP staff and volunteers in attendence. Daniela Castro, technical coordinator for the campaign, and her son Gabriel on right.

We at Conservacion Patagonica get asked sometimes: why do you park-builders take a stand as activists against the proposed megadams in Aysen?  Wouldn’t it be easier to not express an opinion, and steer clear of the controversy?

It’s true: none of HydroAysen’s five hydroelectric dams would directly impact the future park.   The reservoirs will not flood any of our land.  You won’t see the massive transmission towers or lines from the park headquarters.  We will keep doing exactly what we’ve planned to do whether or not the dams get built.  So why do we leave the safety zone of neutrality to join the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign?

At the heart of our work lies more than creating new national parks.  We seek to inspire a more sustainable mode of development and pattern of engagement with nature throughout the Patagonia region.  We believe that initiatives such as the future Patagonia National Park work most effectively towards achieving our larger mission: protecting and restoring wildlands, biodiversity, and healthy communities.  However, when far-way industrialists such as HydroAysen threaten to “mine” this region’s resources, we believe we must join the campaign as we continue our park-building work.

We offer what support we can to our neighbors and friends fighting this shortsighted project, be it bringing lamb or educating park visitors about the impacts of this project.  Doing so generates some controversy: this campaign has become the largest environmental battle in Chile’s history, and HydroAysen has spent millions on PR campaigns to convince Chileans that Aysen can be sacrificed to provide a solution to Chile’s energy shortage.  But as studies have proved, Chile has ample renewable energy resources, which when coupled with stronger energy efficiency efforts, could contribute to a more dynamic and sustainable energy plan.

The fate of the Baker and Pascua Rivers still hang in the balance.  You can send a message to three of the key politicians involved in this process here, and can learn more about the campaign here.  Meanwhile, we’ll press on as conservationist-activists, advocating for Patagonia’s wild future.

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News from Monte Leon NP, Conservacion Patagonica’s first project

While we’re working away here in the Chacabuco Valley to establish Chile’s future Patagonia National Park, travelers from around the world can enjoy the fruits of our previous labors at the spectacular Monte Leon National Park in Argentina.  This 165,000- acre park became Argentina’s first coastal National Park when we collaborated with the Argentine Parks Administration to donate it in 2002.  Home to one of the largest rookeries of Magellanic penguins, the park also contains substantial populations of guanaco, puma, rhea, grey fox, and various small mammals and birds.

The Monte Leon project differs from this project in that we donated the land with virtually no public access infrastructure.  The park remains a quiet sanctuary for the region’s native species.  Recently, however, AP reporter Thomas Watkins visited and wrote this great dispatch from the park. Here’s one quote we appreciate:

“Monte Leon is Argentina’s newest national park and it might not be here at all if not for private funding. The former sheep ranch was purchased in 2001 through a donation made by Kristine Tompkins, the ex-CEO of the Patagonia outdoor clothing company who is working with her husband, Doug Tompkins, to create vast swaths of conservation areas in both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.

The $2 million price tag to buy the land, strip it of its sheep fencing and clean it up seems like a paltry sum, considering how many animals are now protected.”

 

Check it out!

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Patagonia National Park: January / February Newsletter

Straight from Chile’s Chacabuco Valley: photo highlights from January and February at the future Patagonia National Park.

It’s been an exciting and productive time, and we’re pleased to share some updates with you.  Click the captions to read the full stories behind each image on our new blog. As always, we’re grateful to the staff members, supporters, volunteers, and friends helping to bring this park into existence.  If you’d like to support our work, please visit www.conservacionpatagonica.org or click here.

At the end of January, over 100 hikers joined us for the 6th Annual Ruta de Huemul, a two-day hike from the central park headquarters to Cochrane.

A different face of the future park: glaciers and high peaks. A couple of us did a bit of exploring the area north of the Chacabuco River.

A young huemul, spied while tracking these endangered deer with park guard Daniel Velasquez.

This season saw the establishment of the Lagunas Altas trail, a ~16 km loop around alpine lakes.
A month ago, we broke ground on the first campground, in a great spot a few kilometers from the main park headquarters.
Our stone quarry in the Chacabuco Valley provides local building materials for park infrastructure.
The Berkley Footbridge nears completion, and already allows hikers to explore the north side of the Chacabuco Valley.
School groups from Cochrane are visiting the park for nature hikes and introductions to conservation.

Creating the future Patagonia National Park:

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