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.
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.
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.
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.