Monthly Archives: August 2011

Lager Beer, Born in Patagonia? Scientists Unravel Clues to a Mystery

Frequently found on southern beech trees in Patagonia, these galls harbor the variety of yeast that produces lager beer, scientists recently discovered

Patagonia may not have many micro-breweries to call its own, but scientists have discovered it has a bigger claim-to-fame in the world of beer.

For years, scientists have puzzled over the origins of lager beer–or, more specifically, the yeast used to brew it, which ferments at a lower temperature than the yeasts used to produce other beer.  Since lager beer originated in Bavaria in the 15th century, Europe seemed the obvious place to look for wild yeasts with similar DNA.  Even after gathering thousands of samples, none appeared a plausible ancestor for lager’s yeast.

So scientists started hunting farther afield, and in the cool forests of Patagonia, found a yeast that closely resembled the domesticated variety.  This yeast thrives in the sugar-rich galls of southern beech trees.  It turns out that Patagonian natives used to make a fermented drink from these galls.

But a mystery remains: Europeans did not reach Patagonia for centuries AFTER they invented lager beer.  How did this yeast make its way across the Atlantic?

To read the full story behind this remarkable discovery, see this recent LA Times article.

And who knows? When you visit us at the future Patagonia National Park, we might be serving up our own home brew.

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CP’s Honeymoon Heroes: Biking Across the US, for Patagonia!

Who bikes 5,500 miles cross-country to help save a place 7,000 miles away? When Dave and Erin Hughes started planning their honeymoon, they looked for a way to volunteer abroad and help preserve open space.  After researching the Peace Corps and other programs, they came across our volunteer program at the future Patagonia National Park.  As they explored our website and learned about our work, they grew more interested in contributing to this project.

At the same time, this active couple wanted to travel by bicycle as a slower, more personal, and lower-impact way to travel.  They thought about biking through South America, making a visit to Erin’s grandfather in Argentina and to the future park.  But as they began to plan their trip, they realized that they hadn’t seen much of their own country, and wanted to use this time to explore the US in depth.  Meanwhile, they’d gain bike touring skills for a future trip through more remote Patagonia.  They contacted us about raising awareness and support for CP through their trip, and we eagerly accepted their offer.  Their website features CP and describes why they chose to support us; it has received 8,000 views since they started their trip.  As they put it,

We may be leaving our northwest mountains behind for this trip, but our appreciation for the preservation of national parks and open space runs deep.   We have spent countless days and nights hiking, camping, snowshoeing, skiing, and storytelling in PNW parks and are excited to explore other national parks along our journey.  Continued preservation of existing park land is important, but so is the creation of more protected space.  An organization working in South America, called Conservacion Patagonica, is doing just that–buying up land that has historically been stripped for cattle and sheep production and converting it back to its natural state to be donated back to the government as protected National Park land.

Erin and Dave finished their trip last week.  As they put it, they “pedaled through 11 states, 3 time zones, from sea level up to 11,312 feet in elevation and everywhere in between, ate [their] way through 6 jars of peanut butter and too many bananas to count, patched and pumped 7 flat tubes and 2 worn tires, and sweated endless liters of life and love.” We spoke to them this morning about their experience, reflections on national parks, and connection to CP.

Erin and Dave's route on bike

Q.  Sounds like an incredible trip.  Can you describe your route for us?

A.  We started off taking the train south from Seattle, where we live, to San Francisco.  From there, we biked down the coast to San Diego, followed the border for a bit, cut north in Arizona toward the Grand Canyon, meandered around Colorado for some time, and headed east through Kansas and Missouri.  Then in Kentucky we turned more north, following the Ohio River for a ways.  We biked along the shores of Lake Erie before heading south to Pittsburgh.

We weren’t trying to take the most direct route.  Some cross-country cyclists just want to race from one coast to the other.  We thought about our trip more going from “home to home,” a true tour of the backroads and small places of this country.

Q.  Did you visit many national parks along the way? Which were highlights?

A.  We probably visited around 30 national or state parks along the way–we tried to camp as much as possible.  At all the parks in California, there’s a great hiker/ biker provision that states that anyone arriving by foot or bike cannot be turned away.  So even when we arrived late to a campground that been booked for car campers for month, we could stay in a special area for bike campers. That made visiting parks in California particularly easy, and the California coastline is spectacular. Zion National Park might have been our favorite park, or the Grand Canyon, where we spent some time backpacking.

Q.  After your trip, do you have any thoughts on what makes a park great?

A.  When you’re traveling by bike, you really notice the transportation issues at national parks.  We saw plenty of traffic and overcrowding that made us happy to travel by bike.  But we also saw examples of successful management systems: road closures, shuttle buses, regulations to encourage bikers, and more.  Most rangers were so helpful and accommodating, which made a huge difference. Accommodating alternative forms of travel is important now, and will continue to become more important.

We met many other cyclists on our trip, from all over the world, of all ages.  The California hiker/ biker provision definitely encourages people to access parks without getting in their cars, which seems like a great policy.

Q.  How did you get time off from work to do this trip?

A.  Both of our managers were very supportive of this trip, and excited we were taking on this challenge.  Dave works at an organic farm called Full Circle that runs a farm-to-table program, and Erin is a research scientist at the University of Washington.

Q.  What connections do you see between your trip and Conservacion Patagonica’s work?

A.  We see a big parallel between low-impact travel and conservation.  We spent four months living on our bikes, with very few possessions–just what we could carry in our saddlebags. And we lived very comfortably, and happily, which reinforced to us the importance of striving to live simply and more thoughtfully.  Conserving land fits into this ethos as well. Moreover, national parks are places where people experience how delightful living simply and less materialistically can be.

Q.  How do you plan to stay involved with CP in the future?

A.  We’d love to come down and volunteer, maybe even arriving by bike!

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The Patagonia/ Montana Connection: Cristian Saucedo, Conservation Director, Travels to Montana

Just last week, Conservacion Patagonica’s Conservation Director, Cristian Saucedo, made his way back to wintertime at the future park after several weeks of high summer in Montana.  Although perpetually opposite in seasons, the region of the future Patagonia National Park and the area of northern Rockies share similar landscapes, climates, and conservation challenges.  Many U.S. visitors have commented that the future park epitomizes their imagination of the North American West a century ago. Wide open spaces, herds of wild animals, weathered pioneers with extensive knowledge of the land but little need to talk much, unclimbed mountains, and few modes of communication…

But the parallels between these regions run deeper than first appearances.  Despite containing few of the same species, these ecosystems share histories of ranching and restoration, of predators persecuted, and of parks in creation.  Many of the lessons learned in one place can guide the conservation work in another.  Moreover, one key species DOES exist in both places: the majestic puma, one of the species we’re working to recover at the future Patagonia National Park.  So when Dr. Jim Williams from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, a leading expert on puma conservation, invited Cristian to visit, all of us were eager for the opportunity to learn from this “exchange.”  The financial support of Patagonia, Inc enabled him to take advance of the offer and fly north.

Cristian (left) during a day in the field with Dr. Jim Williams

Cristian spent over a week in Montana, with a full schedule coordinated by his hosts.  Meetings with biologists and wildlife managers from Glacier National Park provided an opportunity to share ideas and strategies for monitoring populations of key species, managing predator-livestock conflicts, preventing human-predator issues within parks (taking bears as an example), and establishing management plans.  For Cristian and his hosts alike, the chance to discuss these far-apart projects illuminated parallels and patterns not as readily noted when only working in one place.

Studying park management in Glacier National Park proved particularly compelling.  When established in 1910, Glacier received only 4,000 visitors a year.  In the century since, that number has steadily climbed to over two million as the park became known as one of the most spectacular and wild places in the U.S.  Accommodating this many visitors, however, requires careful management to minimize the impact on the ecosystem.  Through hiking many trails, visiting and documenting campgrounds and visitor facilities, and meeting with park officials, Cristian gained an in-depth understanding of potential management issues and innovative strategies to address them.

The chance to learn from both the successes and challenges of great parks throughout the world is a benefit of creating a new national park in the 21st century, when precedents for doing so abound.  We embrace opportunities to share our knowledge and learn from others whenever possible.

Cristian says of his time in Montana:

“Ha sido una experiencia muy valiosa el poder compartir y conocer el trabajo de a Jim y sus colegas relacionados a áreas protegidas y la vida silvestre en Montana. Espero que en un futuro cercano ellos nos puedan venir a visitar y compartir con nuestro equipo que se encuentra trabajando en el Parque Patagonia.”

(English: “It was a valuable experience to share and learn about Jim and his colleagues’ work on protected areas and wildlife in Montana. I hope in the near future they can come to visit us and share with our team  working in the future Patagonia National Park”.)

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We’re looking for interns!

After the success of our internship program in the future Patagonia National Park, we’ve decided to start an internship program at our U.S. office, in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco.  We’re excited about this opportunity to get to know and work with some enthusiastic and talented young environmentalists.  Two positions are available: a communications internship and a membership internship.  Descriptions below; please forward them on to anyone you can think of who might be interested!

View from our Ft. Cronkhite office

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Communications Internship

 Conservacion Patagonica (CP), a nonprofit environmental organization that protects and restores wildland ecosystems, biodiversity, and healthy communities in Patagonia, seeks a communications intern to work in the U.S. office beginning in early September.  CP’s U.S. office, located in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco, focuses on outreach, communications, and development; it also helps coordinate the volunteer and intern programs in the future Patagonia National Park, our current major initiative.

 The communications intern will play a key role in CP’s social media strategy through maintaining our presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Causes.  Writing blog posts will also be part of the position.  The internship will also include researching and writing about topics related to the creation of Patagonia National Park, including grasslands restoration, current environmental events in Latin America, and the development of national parks throughout the world. The intern will also help produce materials for visitors to the future park: information packets, websites, brochures, and the like.  Assisting in the production and mailing of the annual funding appeal will also be part of this position.  S/he will join the team of people creating this new Yosemite-sized park in one of the most beautiful areas of Patagonia and learn about wilderness conservation, nonprofit management, and communications.

 Our office in the Marin Headlands is located on Rodeo Beach, with excellent access to surfing, trail running, biking and hiking.  Interns will be given office space and use of our facilities, including showers and a full kitchen.  The ability to commute to this office, either by car or bike, is a necessity.   We ask interns to commit 10 hours a week for six months.

 Interest in environmental issues, organization, motivation, the ability to write quickly in a clear/ concise manner and internet researching skills are required.  A strong command of written and spoken Spanish is preferred.  Recent college graduates and current students are encouraged to apply.  We are willing to provide documentation necessary to help get students credit.  This internship is unpaid.

 To apply, please submit a resume and cover letter to info@conservacionpatagonica.org

Please use the subject line: Communications Internship—YOUR NAME

Application Deadline: Sept. 1

Rodeo Beach, right on our doorstep

Membership Internship

 Conservacion Patagonica (CP), a nonprofit environmental organization that protects and restores wildland ecosystems, biodiversity, and healthy communities in Patagonia, seeks a communications intern to work in the U.S. office beginning in early September.  CP’s U.S. office, located in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco, focuses on outreach, communications, and development; it also helps coordinate the volunteer and intern programs in the future Patagonia National Park, our current major initiative.

 The membership intern will help CP expand its membership base and keep in contact with existing members.  S/he will assist in developing a grassroots fundraising program to support the creation of Patagonia National Park, our current major initiative.  S/he will research existing contributors, help design and send communications to members, and reach out to new potential contacts.  Organizing presentations about CP and the future Patagonia National Park project will also be part of this position.  The intern will also help maintain our database of donor contact information.  S/he will join the team of people creating this new Yosemite-sized park in one of the most beautiful areas of Patagonia and learn about wilderness conservation, nonprofit management, and communications.

 Our office in the Marin Headlands is located on Rodeo Beach, with excellent access to surfing, trail running, biking and hiking.  Interns will be given office space and use of our facilities, including showers and a full kitchen.  The ability to commute to this office, either by car or bike, is a necessity.   We ask interns to commit 10 hours a week for six months.

 Interest in environmental issues, organization, motivation, the ability to write quickly in a clear/ concise manner and internet researching skills are required.  Recent college graduates and current students are encouraged to apply.  We are willing to provide documentation necessary to help get students credit.  This internship is unpaid.

 To apply, please submit a resume and cover letter to info@conservacionpatagonica.org

Please use the subject line: Membership Internship—YOUR NAME

Application Deadline: Sept. 1

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Film Review: “Patagonia Rising”

A shot of the Baker River from the collection of "Patagonia Rising"

As the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign continues to deal blows to HidroAysen’s plan to dam two of Chilean Patagonia’s wildest rivers, a new documentary is educating audiences in Chile and the U.S. about the complexities of this issue.  “Patagonia Rising,” directed by Brian Lilla, and produced by Greg Miller and Scott Douglas, illuminates the many facets of the struggle to save Patagonia’s rivers.

While staunchly anti-dam, the film seeks to inform watchers about the impact and consequences of the mega-dam project without appearing excessively polemical.  In just over an hour, “Patagonia Rising” spans a broad range of topics: hydrology and glaciology of this region, Chile’s energy policy, the history and future of mega-dams throughout the globe, the culture of rural Patagonia.  Without a clear protagonist or central figure to connect the dots, the narrative feels somewhat scattered at points.  Yet the film manages to convey a large amount of information in a short time while remaining engaging and personal.

Through weaving in a series of interviews, the film gives complex and academic issues human faces.  Scientific, environmental, and political experts articulate the nuances of water rights, the life cycle of big dams, riparian biodiversity, and alternative clean energy. Members of the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign and representatives of HidroAysen appear in the film, explaining their position and responding to provocative questions from the filmmakers.  Scenes shot in a renewable energy lab in Santiago and of solar and wind technologies in use reinforce Chile’s ability to meet its power needs in other, more sustainable and forward-thinking ways.

Mountains and glaciers of this rugged landscape

Time-lapse photography and clever graphics support an examination of the hydrologic cycle of the Baker River from ice to ocean, underscoring the ecological importance and wild character of this mighty river.  Dams blockade this intricate cycle, affecting myriad species through a complex chain of cause and events that we cannot fully predict.  Moreover, the dynamic glacial landscape of the surrounding ice fields makes the Baker a risky river to try to tame.

Home life, on the shores of the Baker River

Most memorably, “Patagonia Rising” profiles a collection of Patagonians living in the impact zone of the dams.  With scenes of chasing livestock around muddy pastures and chopping firewood in the rain, this depiction resists glamorizing the lives of rural Ayseneños. Carving out a life in this remote region challenges even the hardiest of frontier people, as the weathered faces of the film can attest to.  Several wonder how some of the comforts of city life—television, electricity—might improve their daily life.  Yet all cherish the tranquility and unique culture that remoteness and harsh conditions allows to flourish.  One proclaims he will never leave, even if the HidroAysen-induced floods arrive at his door.

On the Baker River

With repeated cloud-filled shots of the Baker River and a slight blue tinge to many of its landscapes, there’s a melancholy note about the film’s portrayal of this stunning region.  Yet its outlook is positive: citizens can, and must, play a role in shaping the energy and environmental future.  As it reaches a more viewers, “Patagonia Rising” will make a contribution to the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign through arming its audience with numerous reasons why mega-dams make no sense as part of a dynamic future for this region.

Here’s the trailer of the film:

“Patagonia Rising” is currently on tour, screening at locations throughout the US and in Chile.  Check here for a full schedule: http://patagoniarising.com/screenings .  If you are interested in organizing a screening near you to help raise awareness of the Patagonia Sin Represas movement, contact producer Greg Miller: greg@patagoniarising.com . For those of you planning to visit the future Patagonia National Park this season, we’ll be holding several screenings of the film in the Lodge, open to all interested.

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