Monthly Archives: May 2011

March and April Newsletter from the future Patagonia National Park

Straight from Chile’s Chacabuco Valley: news, views, and updates from the Patagonia National Park project. April in Patagonia is one of our favorite times: new snow accumulates by the day on the park’s high peaks, and lenga trees have  turned deep red. In the past two months, we’ve made extensive progress on our trail network, on the first official campground, and on the park headquarters.   We’ve gathered new information on pumas through using camera traps, developed educational partnerships, and more. Click the links to read the full stories on our blog.  As always, we’re grateful to the staff, supporters, volunteers, and friends bringing this park into existence.  To contribute, visit or click here. 

Patagonia Sin Represas! In the upcoming weeks, the Chilean government will issue a decision on HydroAysen’s proposal to construct five mega-dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers.  Our team helped organize protests, including one on the shores of the Baker.

Through our new partnership with Round River Conservation Studies, starting in January 2012, college students from the US and Chile will spend a semester focusing on restoration ecology in the future park.

As a continuation of our puma monitoring project, our wildlife recovery team set up camera traps near puma kill sites and gathered new footage and data about their predation patterns.

Our volunteer program, revamped and reorganized this season, achieved great success in ecosystem restoration.  After over a month with us, Katie Heineman gives the inside scoop on life as a volunteer.

To show at local festivals, town halls, and community events, we created a short video about our team creating Patagonia National Park, highlighting their transitions to conservation and new roles at Conservacion Patagonica.

An Interview with New Park Superintendent: Dagoberto Guzman, along with his wife Alejandra and children, has joined our team at the future Patagonia National Park, bringing  years of experience managing Pumalin Park.

 An Associated Press feature story about Argentina’s Monte Leon National Park, Conservacion Patagonica’s first initiative, ran in newspapers across the U.S., presenting it as a wild destination and inspiring conservation story.

Conservacion Patagonica presented at Harvard University on April 18th, packing the auditorium and inspiring the young crowd to join in the Patagonia National Park project specifically and conservation in general.

Species Profile: Old Man’s Beard Lichen


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Species Profile: Old Man’s Beard Lichen

You won’t meet many lichen-watchers, with binoculars focused on tree trucks and rock faces.  The Discovery Channel rarely profiled lichens alongside footage of lions and tigers stalking their prey.  Most of us probably don’t remember the name of a single species of lichen. Nonetheless, lichens are some of the most unique organisms on the planet, and Old Man’s Beard (Usnea barbata) represents one of the most prevalent and characteristic species in Patagonian forest ecosystems.

This name fits the lichen’s appearance—if the Old Man in question had a greenish tint to his tangled, tufted beard, and dangled his beard-hairs from every tree truck around.  When walking through the forests of the future park, you see more beard than leaves.  Some branches have so much lichen coating and hanging from them that the bark is scarcely visible. Curious about the relationship between Old Man’s Beard and the trees it grows on, we wrote to Rodolfo Gajardo, a leading Chilean biologist and member of our Scientific Advisory Board.  He assured us that the lichen covering the tree trunks and branches do not harm the trees.  Rather, the lichen increases the biodiversity that the forests can support, through adding another ecological niche in which other species can thrive.

All lichens are products of a symbiotic association between a fungus and photosynthetic partner, usually an alga, which have evolved together to behave and look like an entirely new being, baring almost no resemblance to either a fungus or an alga.  Usnea lichens, found all over the world, arise from a symbiosis between fungi from the Ascomycota phylum (often known as Sac fungi) and green alga of the Chlorophyta division.  Although widespread, these lichens are highly sensitive to environmental disturbance, especially to air pollution such as sulfur dioxide.

Recent studies in the Patagonia region have tested a potential scientific use of Old Man’s Beard as a biomonitor of air pollution in seemingly pristine environments.  The researchers established a control site, testing the Old Man’s Beard found there for a wide range of chemical compounds. They transplanted lichens from the control site to over locations throughout Patagonia.  After several years, they took samples of these lichens and conducted the same chemical tests as they had conduced several years earlier to gather data on air quality in these different locations. These studies demonstrated both that air pollution in Patagonia remains very low compared with other regions of the world and that this lichen can serve as a valuable indicator species.  Because it has an exceptionally high sensitivity to airborne particles, it can offer a more detailed and precise record of air quality than simple atmospheric testing can achieve.

This recent scientific use of Old Man’s Beard is just the latest chapter of a millennia-old history of human uses.  Usnea lichens contain Usnic acid (C18H16O7), a potent antibiotic and antifungal agent.  Combined with its hairlike texture, this meant that it lent itself well as a bandage and treatment for wounds in the years before sterile gauze and modern antibiotics.  More recently, these antibiotic traits have led people to use Usnea to treat lung and upper respiratory tract infections, whooping cough, and dropsy.  Moreover, the lichen is edible and high in vitamin C.

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Conservacion Patagonica Presents at Harvard University

One of Kris's key messages of the evening

On April 18th, Kris Tompkins gave a slideshow and talk at Harvard University about the creation of Patagonia National Park.  The event, co-sponsored by the Harvard Mountaineering Club, the Environmental Action Committee, and the Women’s Leadership Project, drew an enthusiastic crowd of 120 people.  Although undergraduates made up the majority of the audience, the event attracted adventurers and environmentalists from almost every school and graduate program.

After a lively introduction from the event’s undergraduate organizers, Kris narrated her trajectory from the business world, as CEO of Patagonia, Inc, to conservation and environmental activism.  She explained how the different elements of her environmental work—park creation, ecosystem restoration, activism, and sustainable farming—fit together to work towards the preservation of biodiversity, the creation of meaningful work, and the development of alternative economic models.

Eliza Lehner, Peter McCarthy, and Tucker Pforzheimer introduce Kris to the assembled crowd.

Then she dove into the creation of Patagonia National Park: why build a park there, how a non-profit can actually create a park, and what audience members can do to get involved.  Large slides of the park’s landscapes, wildlife and people reinforced her points and gave the crowd a taste of Patagonia’s spectacular beauty.  After she concluded, Katie McCann, Conservacion Patagonica’s Vice President, joined her for a spirited and thought-provoking question-and-answer session.  Many students lingered after the presentation concluded, eager for a chance to meet Kris and Katie and discuss opportunities to get involved.

Chatting after the presentation

The idea to bring Conservacion Patagonica to Harvard began in January, when the Mountaineering Club President and Librarian, Peter McCarthy and Tucker Pforzheimer, visited the park to climb, explore, and learn about what “making a new national park” actually means.  When they met Kris, her story of connecting a passion for outdoor adventure with saving wild places resonated with them.  Along with Eliza Lehner, who spent several weeks at the future park in 2010, they invited Kris to speak about her work to create Patagonia National Park on her next trip to the U.S..

Drawing a larger-than-expected crowd, the presentation succeeded in engaging audience members of all ages in Conservacion Patagonica specifically—dozens of people expressed interest in lending a hand volunteering or interning with us—and in wilderness conservation in general. Recent Harvard graduate Jo Henderson-Frost, a alumna of both the Mountaineering Club and the Environmental Action Committee, noted: “Kris did an excellent job highlighting the elements of the Patagonia National Park project that would interest and inspire each member of the diverse crowd.  She left us with a powerful message: no matter who you are, if you have a vision of something you want to create, you can jump in and get started.”

More questions and conversations. Ana Brown, Volunteer Team Leader from this season, describes her five months in the Chacabuco Valley.

Peter McCarthy praised Kris’s ability to captivate her audience, noting that “few of us had much of an idea of what goes into creating a national park, so Kris’s discussion of acquiring land, restoring ecosystems, and working with local people and the government left us with plenty to think about.   The Harvard Mountaineering Club feels proud to have hosted Kris and Katie; their presentation motivated us to go climbing in unexplored places and investigate how we can get involved in conservation in the process.”

The enthusiasm generated at the event left us at Conservacion Patagonica eager to continue making presentations to new audiences.  Hearing their questions and insights stimulates our discussions about this project, while increasing the number of people aware of our work enables us to create a larger impact.  Please get in touch with us at if you are a college student or involved with an organization or interest group that might be interested in hearing a similar presentation on the future park!

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College Semester Program in the Chacabuco Valley for 2012

Big news! The Chacabuco Valley becomes a college lecture hall. The focus: bringing its ecosystems back to health.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a semester of college camped out in the Chacabuco Valley, studying the ecology of the streams you drink, the history of the grasslands under your tent, and the biology of the wildlife you watch every day—all for course credit?  Through a collaboration with Round River Conservation Studies, a dozen or so university students from the United States and Chile will get the opportunity to do just this, beginning in January 2012.  These students will complement their studies with research projects in restoration ecology, designed to expand Conservacion Patagonica’s base of knowledge about bringing overgrazed Patagonian grasslands back to health.

The Round River student program will focus student research on restoration ecology

Round River Conservation Studies, founded in 1991 by a collection of conservation scientists, artists, and wilderness activists, has established itself as a leader in the environmental education field. Round River has twenty years of experience working with local communities to protect ecosystems, and shares our commitment to protecting the planet’s last wild places.  Their field-based programs in Ecuador, Namibia, Botswana, British Columbia, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming immerse students in large, intact wilderness areas, where they have an opportunity to see and contribute to conservation in action.  Like us, they believe that the natural world represents the most effective teacher and classroom to train and inspire the next generation so that they may tackle the myriad issues threatening biodiversity and ecosystems.

Round River student program in Namibia

As we explored collaborating with Round River, we grew increasingly enthusiastic about joining forces with this respected group that shares our philosophy and passion for conservation.   A group from Round River spent a week at the future Patagonia National Park in February for a site visit, meeting with our management team to develop plans for a student program.

Conversations and a field trip with Cristian Saucedo, our Conservation Director, led to Round River focusing their student research on restoration ecology.  Six years of grassland restoration work in the Chacabuco Valley has produced major improvements in plant and soil health, but knowledge about Patagonia’s grasslands remains minimal.   Despite the vastness of this region—substantially larger than Texas—the restoration of its almost-universally degraded grasslands has received little scientific attention.  Through overseeing the work of volunteer student conservation scientists, Round River will increase our ability to study and analyze restoration techniques.   We’re looking forwards to a productive  partnership that will build on our pioneering efforts in Patagonian grassland restoration.

In 2012, Round River will run two student semesters: one from January 17th to April 11, and another from September 20 to December 13.  Students will spend almost all their time camped out in remote areas of the future park, where they will complete courses in applied conservation biology, biological field methods, natural history of Patagonia, and human ecology.   Although fluency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for applying to the program, U.S. students will take a Spanish course—in addition to learning from their Chilean peers.  Small (under 10 students) course size will insure that the group can work easily with our staff and live in the field with minimal impact.   Round River is currently accepting applications for next year; please look here for more information.

Investigating the symbiosis between nineo and grass species as land recovers from overgrazing

We believe in parks as centers of learning: for visitors, community members, and employees.  The Round River student semester will represent one of the many modes in which the future park educates and inspires people to protect the natural world.  Our volunteer program, almost as old as the Patagonia National Park project itself, provides conservationists with hands-on restoration experience as well as presentations and lessons about the region’s ecology and restoration. Our newly-created intern program immerses participants in the day-to-day operations of a large-scale conservation project, giving them a rich understanding of the complexities behind such projects.  Programs with local schools and communities invite our neighbors to experience the wildlife and scenery of the park.  As we build more of the infrastructure of the park, expanding our capacity to accommodate visitors, we look forwards to developing these initiatives further.

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