Patagonia is pure, dramatic nature–craggy peaks that seem to signal the end of the Earth (the tip of South America is nearby, after all); panoramas of grassy foothills, each topped with a single guanaco
on the lookout for pumas; waterfalls and glaciers seeping into lakes colored a startling blue. Every windblown inch of it screams “protect me!”
So to create another national park there–close to other established parks, such as Torres del Paine in Chile and Los Glaciares in Argentina–just seems…natural. And that’s exactly what Conservacion Patagonica is trying to do — protect 750,000 acres (and the endangered huemul deer) under the name Patagonia National Park.
But it’s not been a quick process for the nonprofit, which was founded by former CEO of the Patagonia clothing company, Kristine Tompkins. Six years into the project it’s about halfway done; they’re still busy collaborating with the Chilean government and national park service and soliciting donations and volunteers to reach their goal.
Alison Brick chatted with Jake Blaine, Executive Director at Conservacion Patagonica, to get an update on the project.
What was the impetus for creating Patagonia National Park?
This project to create Chile’s future Patagonia National Park has been the number one conservation priority of CONAF–overseer of Chile’s National Park Service–for the past 30 years, but they simply have not had the resources or the opportunity to do so. When Estancia Valle Chacabuco (a private protected area) came up for sale, it represented the perfect opportunity for Conservacion Patagonica to assist CONAF and the people of Chile in creating what we believe will become the premier national park in South America.
What protection would national park status give the area that it doesn’t currently have?
National Park status is the highest form of land conservation available in Chile and it offers the most secure form of preserving this critical biome, which contains all of its original species, in perpetuity. Currently, the land formerly held within Estancia Valle Chacabuco is being restored after more than 100 years of overgrazing by cattle and sheep.
Coupled with the neighboring preserves of Tamango and Jeinimeni, this future park will enable the Chilean government to permanently protect more than 650,000 acres that were previously under threat from overgrazing, desertification, degradation, mining and deforestation.
What’s necessary to finish the project? When is it scheduled to officially become a national park?
Currently, we are entering Phase II of the project, which is the consolidation of the park. We still need to complete the necessary infrastructure, including a network of trails and campgrounds, park ranger stations and employee housing, a visitor and natural history center, and the continuation of our wildlife recovery and grasslands restoration projects. We are also actively working on our local education and capacity-building programs, which will enable the neighboring residents to fully understand and utilize the resources associated with living next to a world-class national park.
The date for completion of the project is 2017, and at that point we hope that the donation and designation of national park status processes will be completed six to 18 months after that.
Through the removal of more than 150 miles of fences, the volunteer program has been critical to our wildlife recovery program by enabling the reopening of migration corridors. It is also an integral part of our local capacity building and education programs.
What do you hope for the park’s future?
I hope that Patagonia National Park is the catalyst for future protected areas and grasslands restoration projects, both foreign and domestic, and that it sheds light on the importance of preserving biodiversity. Beyond that, I hope that it allows all its visitors an intimate experience with nature in a way that either transforms or reaffirms their belief in the importance of land conservation in the form of national parks.
Read More: Volunteers looking to work with Conservacion Patagonica typically commit to a three-week stay. Contact Paula Herrera at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the projects and availability.