Category Archives: Uncategorized

We’re moving!

Dear friends and readers,

Thank you for being loyal subscribers to Conservacion Patagonica’s blog thus far. Today, our blog moves to a new address:  The reason: we’re relaunching as an entirely bilingual blog, with Spanish and English content.  Unfortunately, we can’t automatically subscribe you to the new blog.  Please re-subscribe and choose your language when you visit the new site.


The Conservacion Patagonica team


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventure, Community, Ecosystem Restoration, Outreach, Uncategorized, Visiting the Park, Wildlife

A Conversation with Luigi Solís

It seems there’s hardly anything Luigi Solís doesn’t do. In his first three years working at the future Patagonia National Park, he has spearheaded trail construction, worked closely with everyone from former gauchos to international volunteers, and even caught pumas with his bare hands. And that’s not all. In a rare idle moment, Luigi sits down with Lily McKeage to talk about his life in Valle Chacabuco, his family, and his multifaceted role in creating a park.

What made you want to live and work in a future park?

I was raised in the country; my family is from the country. The city is not for me, with all the noise, the crowds, everyone always in a rush. Here we have the privilege of living close to nature and wildlife, free from the dangers of the city.

What are your hopes for the future park? Why is conserving this space important to you?

Above all, this project is important because, at the moment, it is one of the only attempts in Chile to conserve the lowlands steppe. Furthermore, my hope is to see Lake Cochrane and Lake General Carrera preserved together. The future park will connect the Tamango and Jeinimeini reserves: we will have one giant park with two of the greatest lakes in the Aysén region.

My wish, and that of all my colleagues, is that this will indeed become a park.  We want to see this land protected forever.  With all of the effort to make this a low-cost, sustainable operation, I hope that the parks service will treat it with respect for eternity, for posterity. Finally, I hope that my daughter Tamara, when she grows up and goes off to university, can come back and see the great park that it will be.

What is it like to raise children here?

Luigi with his son Joaquin

It’s a beautiful thing. I have two children, Tamara, who is six and Joaquin who is fifteen months old. Tamara is free to explore on her own. She rides around on her bicycle or on horseback whenever she wants, wherever she wants, because the only danger here is the chance of getting lost in this great expanse. For Tamara, her whole world is under the tree next to our house where all the children play together.

What made you want to get involved with this project?

I first heard about the Tompkins back when I was in school, and I started working here three years ago. What’s most important to me is the ideology behind everything they do. I used to get an earful from lots of Chileans, skeptics, saying I was only a part of this project for the celebrity. But when you come here and really look around, you suddenly realize that the Tompkins’ effort is genuine. It comes from inside them, it occupies one hundred percent of their time – this is true deep ecology, not some sort of mask, it’s of the mind, of the heart.

How would you describe your job here?

About eighty percent of my time is dedicated to researching and constructing the trail system because right now we are building the first trails for the future Patagonia National Park. During the summer, I help oversee the volunteers, who pull out fences and invasive plants, since I am also very involved in restoring the landscape here. But without a doubt, the best part of my job is tracking and capturing Pumas.

Much of Luigi's work involves riding around the future park on horseback

Could you explain the Puma project and your role in it?

We are a team of five, and each of us has particular responsibilities. When I was studying for my technical degree in forestry, I specialized in the collection and harvesting of seeds. I would climb trees using only my feet, wearing cleats and a harness, so that my hands would be free to gather seeds. I now use those skills to climb trees and rappel back down while carrying pumas – once they’ve been sedated, of course.

The process goes like this: we use a team of dogs and we work in the winter when there’s a bit of snow on the ground. We look for footprints and then we let the dogs go, following them on horseback as fast as possible. Once the dogs have found the puma, he usually tries to hide from them, maybe in a cave or up a tree. And this is where I come in; my job is to locate the best tree, get the dogs out of the way, and then shoot the puma with a tranquilizer dart. Not a bullet – we’re capturing, not killing. Then, I have about five or six minutes to climb up, tie the ropes, and bring him down.

Why is it necessary to track pumas in this area?

Basically everything our wildlife team does connects in some way to the protection of the endangered huemul deer. With the puma project, we seek to understand and control the impact of puma predation on huemuls.  For the most part, pumas do not hunt huemuls, but sometimes certain pumas will start specializing in hunting huemuls–that’s how puma predation patterns tend to work.  Through this program, we can find out if any pumas are hitting especially hard on huemuls, and can then determine if we should move it to a new location or make it move by itself. Each puma tends to occupy a big area on its own. Every time we capture a puma, we put a tracking collar around its neck, which is linked to a GPS and satellite system. Then we can receive all kinds of information about the puma’s activity: we learn how many other animals have died in the area – guanacos, foxes, hares, etc. – and we can know how many days they have food, what they’re hunting, and the exact place.

Setting up a camera trap to monitor a puma kill site

How did you come to be the supervisor of trail building?

I think I got into this work mainly because of my background in landscape restoration, which is inextricably tied to trail building here. In my first two years at Valle Chacabuco, I spent a lot of time pulling out fences and exotic plants, which allowed me to become very familiar with the area. Furthermore, as a native Patagonian, I have a solid friendship with the park guards who used to be the old gauchos, sheepherders, back when this was a ranch. These were the ranchers who stayed on when this land changed hands, because they were offered the chance to be a part of the conservation project. No one knows this land better than they do. Each of these former gauchos now specializes in monitoring a certain animal population. Working well with them is an integral part of constructing a successful trail system. [For more about the guardaparques, see article below.]

What’s involved in building a trail?

First of all, you have to know the whole area really well and, with the help of the park guards, where there is the most damage: from fires, and from sheep herding and grazing. Our job is to restore the area and improve the trail. Then there’s the ubiquitous guanaco, who is the perfect trail builder. Guanacos create and reuse the same paths, so they have trails through places you couldn’t even imagine. So the work of the trail builders here goes hand-in-hand with the restoration of the native ecosystems.

The hard thing about building trails isn’t really building them so much as finding the best paths that connect these distinct trails and turning them into a loop. Our greatest challenge is trying to imagine how it was before, so that we can faithfully restore it.  We want to build trails making the least possible new impact on the land.

What would you say to those who might be interested in visiting or volunteering at the future park?

For those who feel drawn to help, of course we welcome them to come and join us in the work that we’re doing for the world – not just for a few people here – to see wildlife, and the conservation of a truly natural space. This is for the whole world; anyone can come here and marvel at this place. I invite anyone to come fight with us to protect wild nature and restore the salvageable but damaged landscapes to health.  I hope they will come and lend a hand, because we need their help. There are too few of us who have dedicated our lives to healing the earth, and too many who are destroying it. This movement needs more and more people  so that we will be able to preserve a planet with clean water, air, trees, and wild animals.


Filed under Uncategorized

Park Rangers Tour Patagonia, Share Impressions

As believers in experiential education and learning through traveling, we encourage our team members to explore beyond the park borders to develop their skills at the park.  Last month, Cristian Saucedo, Wildlife and Conservation Director, organized a week-long trip for our park rangers and members of the trail crew to some of the most established and popular parks in Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, including Torres del Paine National Park, Monte Leon National Park, and Los Glaciares National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile

Many of the participants, such as Daniel Velasquez, Arcilio Sepulveda, and Delmiro Jara, were formerly ranch hands, or gauchos, on the Estancia Valle Chacabuco. Today, they are key players in our wildlife tracking, trail building, and guiding programs. Their knowledge of the land and its ecosystems is invaluable, yet they are largely unfamiliar with the context of the project or what constitutes a great national park. Educational field trips like this expose them to their region’s tradition of national parks, which will allow the park guards to have a stronger voice in the ongoing dialogue about the park’s future.

The idea behind organizing this tour was to show, rather than tell, what the national park system looks like. Trip participants visited with CONAF officials in Torres del Paine, and with ecotourism operators in El Calafate. They spent some time at Argentina’s Monte Leon National Park, the 155,000-acre coastal park that was Conservacion Patagonica’s first project.

Back in the Chacabuco Valley, we asked all participants to share their impressions, opinions, and feelings about what they saw in an anonymous survey. When it came down to picking a favorite park, there was no clear winner. But across the board, most reported that the infrastructure of information was the most impressive feature of all the parks. These comments ranged from observations about good signage to the knowledge, preparedness, and charisma of the park workers.

Ecotourism for all: many of the park guards were impressed that the Perito Moreno glacier, at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, was made accessible to children with disabilities.

Several respondents noted that, in general, they would have liked to find more attempts at sustainability and restoration, but appreciated the efforts they did see. All in all, it seems that the park guards of the future Patagonia National Park came to see the importance of their role in the big picture. As one wrote, “I feel like a catcher of information – what I’ve learned here will help me become an even better defender of the culture and landscape of my region.”

Monte Leon National Park in Argentina

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Species Profile: Pygmy Owl

Whether you’re hiking during the day or camping at night in Patagonia, chances are you might see (or hear) a Patagonian Pygmy owl along the way. Unlike other owls, they are not strictly nocturnal, frequently emerging from their nests during the day.  But you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to see them: these owls are small, weighing only a quarter pound or less, making them one of Earth’s smallest owls.  With their grey and brown coloring, they camouflage easily with the Patagonian steppe grasslands.

The Patagonian Pygmy Owl generally flies low and over long distances, alternating between rapid wingbeats and gliding. The owl then swoops up to perch and, quite often, to sing. In fact, these birds are quite prolific singers. When a Pygmy owl arrives in a new area, it imitates the song of local birds. When the birds hear this playback, they gather around the newcomer. Thus, it is not uncommon to see a Pygmy owl during the day, mobbed by such birds as the thorn-tailed rayadito, the white-crested elaenia, as well as other native Patagonian finches, wrens, and sparrows.

He might be social, but this owl is also clever. Some of the smaller birds around will likely become his prey, as well as insects and other small mammals. A grown female grows to be considerably bigger than the males: almost all females weigh more than males.  The females are also exclusively in charge of incubating their eggs, which they lay in a carefully chosen nest, most often on the inside of a tree trunk, but sometimes in another animal’s abandoned burrowing hole. In late November, the mother lays about three to five eggs at a time roughly every two days. After the last egg is laid, incubation lasts for almost a month. Then, when the fledglings are born, they remain in the nest for another month but still require care for yet another month after that before becoming independent.

Locally, the Patagonian Pygmy owl is not rare. But in more developed areas, these birds have become threatened by development – agriculture and industrial alike. Another reason to protect the wildlands of Patagonia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Species profile: Hairy Armadillo

Patagonia exudes a sense of timelessness, not only in the vast otherworldliness of its landscape, but also in the bizarre antiquity of some of its native species. Take the Hairy Armadillo, for one, one of the stranger looking residents of the Patagonian steppe for over 60 million years.

The word armadillo is Spanish for “little armored one, ” a fitting description for this mammal’s most distinctive feature. Their protective armor is made of dermal bone, which is covered in small overlapping scales. It resembles the armor of a medieval knight, defending the possessor against potential predators or enemies. The armor is the Armadillo’s main defense mechanism. The animal recedes into itself when threatened—but must take care not to expose its soft, fur-covered underside.

Besides their distinctive tough armor, the Hairy Armadillo’s other survival tactics include fleeing and digging. At first glance, the ‘little armored one’ doesn’t look built for speed, but they have been known to run away from most predators – usually into thorny bushes where their shells will protect them and predators can’t follow. In addition, the animals have extremely sharp claws, classifying them as prolific diggers who at times will dig themselves to safety. They also use these digging abilities to find foot–their diet consists of insects, grubs, and other invertebrates–and to build burrows for homes.

Surprising for an animal of the arid steppe, armadillos have a knack for swimming. They have a strong dog-paddle stroke and can swim deep underwater, holding their breath for 4-6 minutes at a time. Despite their armored backs, they make themselves buoyant by storing large gulps of air in their intestines, enabling them to float across streams and rivers.

Because water is not a barrier for Armadillos, they have expanded their territory to various regions throughout the Americas. They range as far north as Nebraska and as far south as Patagonia. Another factor that facilitates their broad home range is their ability to delay implantation of a fertilized egg during stressful events. A delay of up to four months is common. This reproductive tactic makes for easy colonizing in varying environments. A female has a litter from one to eight offspring, all with a mid-level survival rate. Parents must safeguard their young for their first weeks of life, when the infants’ armor remains delicate.

Prehistoric in appearance yet impressively resilient, armadillos frequently scurry and burrow in the eastern parts of the future Patagonia National Park. We often catch sight of one while driving, and stop to laugh at the antics of this graceless yet tenacious animal. We hope to see this 60 million year old species thrive in the Park—and, with luck, survive for another 60 million years.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized