Category Archives: Outreach

Newsflash: HidroAysén announces the route of its power lines

Recently, HidroAysén (the multinational energy conglomerate planning to erect five mega hydro dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers) announced the route of their proposed transmission line, now estimated to cost USD$3.8 – 4 billion, although likely more: between Cochrane and Chaitén, a distance of about 1,200 miles, there would be 1,500-1,700 high tension towers over 160 feet high. The lines would pass through many iconic, ecologically sensitive, and previously untouched areas of Patagonia, including the General Carrera and Las Torres lakes and Cerro Castillo National Park, as well as countless private properties. Putting together all the data we now have about the projects, it is becoming increasingly clear how damaging these dams will be to the Chilean landscape and its people.

Short video of the Rio Baker, at its confluence with the Chacabuco, at the border of the future Patagonia National Park

The release of this new information came later than it should have. In August 2008, HidroAysén announced the results of its environmental impact assessment. According to standard protocol, the route of their transmission line should have been released in conjunction with this earlier report; yet, in a move that benefitted their chance of approval, the company presented these items for approval separately.

For a close-up look at the power lines and the route they will cover, check out this interactive map.

Upon releasing this information, HidroAysén also began talks with twenty communities along the Baker and Pascua rivers that will inevitably be affected or displaced entirely by the dams, in the hopes of minimizing the negative public response. The overwhelming response from citizen-led groups who oppose the dams is that these conversations are an empty gesture – that no amount of money or attention can compensate for the cultural loss. Patagonia “is Chile’s only piece of environmental heritage that remains intact,” says Patricio Rodrigo, executive secretary of the Patagonia Defense Council. “Even the smallest alteration will significantly degrade its value – in terms of both its beauty and our national identity.”

With this tough news comes a renewed sense of energy and urgency from the opposition, united around a common belief that Patagonia is a precious and irrevocable treasure for Aysén, for Chile, and for the world. This is why it’s now more important than ever that we preserve what we can. Knowing that the future of these rivers is uncertain, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But let us also focus on the possibilities in front of us and what we can do to protect this place that is currently under unilateral attack. In building Patagonia National Park, we are drawing a permanent line in the sand. Please join us as we redouble our efforts to safeguard this last unmarred piece of the planet.


For more background on the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, below is our update from November 15 (see full post here):

Just a few months ago, the proposed damming of Patagonia’s Baker and Pascua rivers made headlines worldwide. Patagonia Sin Represas, the campaign that began in Cochrane as a small grassroots movement to oppose HidroAysén’s plan for five mega-dams, had blossomed into a series of large-scale demonstrations that swept through Chile’s major cities in May and June.

At that time, momentum was at a fever pitch, and optimism was building as HidroAysén underwent a series of environmental impact assessments. A major victory came on June 20th when the court of appeals in Puerto Montt ordered that all permitting and initial construction be put on hold pending the outcome of their review. This unprecedented decision, though inherently temporary, will remain an important historical milestone; as NRDC’s Amanda Maxwell writes, it was “a rare victory for environmental law over big business interests.” Incidentally, one of the leaders in reaching this agreement was Macarena Soler, a lawyer with Conservación Patagonica.

Yet despite these legal advances and the outpouring of opposition to the dams, HidroAysén has managed to push its project forward through the impressive series of obstacles the opposition has thrown in its path.  And because the international media moves from one environmental hot topic to the next in a matter of months, it’s easy to have a false sense of security about what very well might happen to the endangered Baker and Pascua. The most recent development does not bode well for these beloved waterways: in October, the court of appeals overruled the injunction, thereby lifting the suspension order a lower court had imposed in June.

But the battle is far from over. From here, the case will go to the Chilean Supreme Court. So it seems there is still a chance to turn this roadblock into a dead end for the dams. For those who wish to stand in solidarity with the Sin Represas movement, the best advice is simple: don’t give up. From what we’ve seen so far, public opposition from both in and outside of Chile has been the strongest force in delaying HidroAysén’s agenda. Whether taking to the streets in Santiago, raising awareness about this unfinished story, or engaging in the growing dialogue around Chile’s need for alternative energy, the message must be loud and clear: these dams will be unhealthy for Chile’s communities, its wildlife, and its future.



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Ten Reasons to Donate to Conservacion Patagonica This Holiday Season

Our annual fund drive is about halfway complete, and while we’re on track for a fantastic year of giving, we need your help! If 100 more people make a donation, 2011 will set the record for the most fund drive donors ever.  Make a online donation here.

As our followers know, the park will open to the public at the beginning of 2012, and we have a busy year ahead of trail-building, campground-constructing, wildlife-recovering, and more.  Your help will launch us into our biggest summer season yet. Here are ten good reasons to support the Patagonia National Park project:

1. Wilderness for all

Times are tough, yes. but look at the big picture: now more than ever, it’s important that we protect these natural spaces and make them available to everyone. No one says it better than Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times op-ed: “Gaps between rich and poor have been growing, but our national lands are a rare space of utter democracy: the poorest citizen gets resplendent views that even a billionaire is not allowed to buy.”

2. Fight the clutter! Give in someone’s name

Know anyone who’s sick of all the stuff that piles up during the holidays? Who wants to turn away from, not embrace, overconsumption? A contribution to CP in his or her name could be the perfect gift. No matter the size, this is literally a gift that keeps on giving.

3. This land is your land

Once you’ve decided you want to donate to a worthy cause, you might find yourself wondering, why Patagonia, why not somewhere in our own country? Take a step back and see that the planet is yours, ours, everyone’s to protect. As CP board member Yvon Chouinard says, Patagonia is one of the few really wild places left on Earth, and we as a species must act to save it.

4. Your gift goes 100% towards the park

Unlike in many non-profits, charities, and other NGOs, every cent that you donate goes directly towards constructing the park, never to administrative or overhead costs.

5. Make history

Bruce Babbitt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Clinton, just visited the park and declared, “Patagonia National Park will be the Yellowstone of South America.”  And you can be part of creating it. We invite you to play a key role in this landmark project, which millions will visit in years to come.

6. Climate change is a reality; saving ecosystems is a must

As a recent New York Times article details, carbon emissions made their largest-ever jump in 2010, despite efforts to curb climate change.  Myriad natural disasters and changes in weather patterns make it clear that climate change is happening now.

So what can we do? Plenty–and saving wild places, where nature has a shot at coping, becomes increasingly critical.  Patagonia National Park will protect 650,000 acres, an area the size of Rhode Island, giving whole populations of wildlife a chance to thrive.

7. Recover endangered species

The future park protects one of Earth’s largest remaining populations of huemul deer, a rugged, sturdy animal well-adapted to mountain living but ill-suited to competition from introduced livestock.  On the Chilean national shield, the huemul represents a national priority for conservation.  Transforming Estancia Valle Chacabuco from a degraded sheep ranch to the heart of Patagonia National Park marks a key stride in changing the future of this species.

8. We’re restoring, not just protecting, wilderness

Truly a story for the 21st century: with a bit of help, nature can restore itself.  We’re learning this lesson year-by-year, as we witness how fast overgrazed grasses grow taller, thicker and healthier.  Herds of guanacos, formerly fenced out of all the best land in the Chacabuco Valley, are returning en force–any park visitor is guaranteed to see herds galloping and meandering along.  Ecological damage can be undone, but it takes time and money.

9. We’re building things the right way, not the cheap and easy way

A park needs visitors, and visitors need trails to hike, places to sleep, somewhere to learn, and maybe even a spot to eat.   We design and build our facilities to be elegant, comfortable, respectful to the natural beauty surrounding them, and ecologically low-impact.

10. You get what you give

Ultimately, this park will be for you and your fellow wilderness enthusiasts. The park pre-opens to the public this month and, with your help, will continue to grow into a full national park in the coming years. Your gift of any size will come back to you tenfold when you finally visit the unique and rugged landscape you helped to protect. We can’t wait to see you there!

So, are you convinced yet? If so, please do make a donation!

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Start planning your visit–Camping Los Alamos is almost complete!

Think you’ll be roughing it on your next trip to the future Patagonia National Park? Think again. (Unless that’s your thing.) The Westwind at Los Alamos campground, located a few kilometers from the central park headquarters, is well underway.  By this December, when the park pre-opens to the public, the first campers will be sleeping in its grassy meadows and  admiring its stunning scenery.

Last February: the design team (Doug Tompkins, Francisco Morunde and Matias Martinez) compares architectural plans to the site, and oversees the beginning of construction.

Construction on the new campground has moved rapidly, thanks to our seasoned construction crew and experienced oversight from our new park superintendent, Dago Guzman.  Working through the winter, the team made steady progress on bathrooms, paths, shelters, tent sites, parking areas, and landscaping.  Despite speedy construction, the area feels natural and undisturbed, thanks to careful planning of the impact of campground construction.

This October: construction almost finished on one of the covered cook shelters at the campground.

November: looking close to finished!

The new campground will include hot showers, car parking, cook shelters, and even flushing toilets.  Each cook shelter (or “quincho”) is unique, and provides campers with shelter from wind and weather.  When designing the campground, we wanted to create a family-friendly home base comfortable for car campers and tourists not interested in extreme backpacking.  Westwind of Los Alamos will enable up to 200 visitors a night to experience the future park in relative comfort.

But the best part is undoubtedly location.  Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this?

View from Los Alamos

When you’re ready to get the day started, you’ll find yourself on the 7 kilometer La Vega trail (affectionately know as the “granny trail”), which runs right through the campground. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, the trailhead to the 22 kilometer Lagunas Altas loop is just steps away.  At night, share stories of your adventures with fellow campers during a sunset asado.

The Westwind at Los Alamos campground earned its name one spectacular but windy evening last January, when a crowd of employees, volunteers, friends and supporters gathered underneath the namesake Alamos trees to share a celebratory asado. With a glorious sunset to watch and fresh lamb to share, the wind seemed less chilly and the spot seemed impeccable for camping.  Duncan and Ellen MacFarland, visiting from Boston, decided then and there to fund the construction and development of the campground that has become Westwind at Los Alamos.  Thanks to their love of Patagonian landscapes and commitment to making the park accessible to all, we will be able to welcome and accommodate thousands of visitors this summer.

We invite you to be one of them!

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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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