Spend days hiking through Patagonian steppe and rare temperate grasslands watching herds of guanaco (a llama-like camelid) and exploring the beech forests and high peaks of the future Patagonia National Park. Students will assist Conservacion Patagonica in various restoration efforts and baseline data collection in the future park. Students may learn from local residents and park guards how to track the local wildlife, survey critical habitat, and document the biodiversity of this ecologically rich and important region. Wander the landscape amongst snow-capped peaks and glacial rivers.
The Chacabuco Valley, the spectacular heart of the future Patagonia National Park, is located in a transitional zone between the semi-arid Patagonian steppe and temperate beech forests, thereby boasting amazing scenery and a span of habitats, from grasslands and wetlands to high alpine peaks. This habitat diversity supports the highest levels of biodiversity found in the Aysen region of Chile. While camped in Chacabuco, students, in addition to their fieldwork and academics, participate in experiential learning with local researchers and residents on the region’s ecological, cultural, and agricultural history. Spanish language skills are not required; all lectures and field activities are in English.
Students may participate in many of the following activities:
- Grassland surveys and inventories
- Bird surveys at alpine lakes
- Ecological restoration activities
- Habitat assessments at alpine lakes
- Amphibian, reptile, and/or aquatic invertebrate surveys at alpine lakes
- Aid Conservación Patagónica to document the biodiversity and prioritize their conservation actions within future Patagonia National Park
The Conservation Context
Patagonia as a whole is a wild ecological treasure, and the region occupied by the future Patagonia National Park occupies a particularly significant and critical area. The mission of Conservación Patagónica, founded in 2000, is to protect and restore wildland ecosystems, biodiversity and healthy communities in Patagonia through the formation of National Parks. In 2004 the “future Patagonia National Park” project was initiated with the purchase of the 173,000-acre Estancia Valle Chacabuco (Chacabuco Valley Ranch). The Chacabuco Valley and its surroundings contain a wide variety of ecosystems, including steppe, grasslands, wetlands, southern beech forests, high peaks, lakes, lagoons, and the famous Baker River.
Unique within Chile and Patagonia due to its diversity and healthly ecosystems, the Valle Chacabuco supports a wide array of native wildlife and plant species. Among the more prominent are the endangered Huemul deer, the guanaco, the Andean Condor, the lesser or Darwin’s Rhea (an endangered ostrich-like flightless bird), puma, armadillos and the vizcacha (a threatened large and vocal rodent).
Conservación Patagónica, has an 8-year timeline for Valle Chacabuco to be proposed as a national park. At present they are focusing on restoration and conducting critical field studies (e.g., baseline inventories or ecological research) to provide important information for the future management of the new park area. Ultimately, Conservación Patagónica, hopes to join Valle Chacabuco with two existing protecting areas contiguous to the valley – Tamango National Reserve to the southwest and Jeinimeni National Reserve to the North, whereby creating a new national park of at least 750,000 acres. Round River student researchers directly assist in these efforts.
For a map of the Chacabuco Valley and the proposed national park, click here.
Read about Stuart Pimm's Gigapan initiative he has set up in the future park here.
- Applied Conservation Biology (3 credits)
- Introduction to Biological Field Methods (3 credits)
- Natural History of Patagonia (3 credits)
- Humans and the Environment (3 credits)
- Restoration Ecology (3 credits)
- Spring semester: January 17th - April 11
- Fall semester: September 20 - December 13
What to Expect
This is a new program for Round River; we began up our very first program here in January 2012. The first program was spent conducting grassland surveys in order to help Conservacion Patagonia with restoration efforts in the future national park. The second program this fall has students conducting bird surveys, aquatic invertebrate and amphibian surveys, and habitat assessments at alpine lakes, as well and photo-documenting grassland survey sites and conducting vizcacha surveys. All of the research feeds directly into CP's conservation efforts, and Round River's field activities are guided by CP's research priorities. All field research is led by Round River instructors, however students will have opportunities to meet and learn from CP staff.
Students should expect to spend most of their time in the field, conducting research. Field work will be supplemented by academics: readings, discussions, lectures from program instructors, and guest lectures from visiting and local researchers and Conservacion Patagonica staff (as availability allows). Study sites will be accessed by vehicle and foot, and students should be prepared to spend much time hiking, in often windy or cold conditions. Temporary field camps will be set up, and students should also be prepared for backpacking trips (up to 7 days long). We cap the program at 12 students, and with 2 or 3 instructors, the group lives and works together for the entire program. Students are expected to help with tasks around camp, such as cooking and cleaning, pumping water, and maintaining field equipment.
Round River programs are unique; no one program is the same as the last. Because our research in Chile is tied to our partnership with Conservacion Patagonica, students will carry out various projects depending on their research needs. This means that students may spend an entire semester assisting with one research project, or they may have the opportunity to assist with a handful of different projects. Either way, students will be collecting data that will be used by Conservacion Patagonica in their efforts to establish Patagonia National Park. Students can expect to learn valuable field methods, species identification and field journaling skills, and by the end of the program should come away with a good understanding of conservation at a very local level.
Because of the nature of our programs, schedules will change frequently and students are expected to be flexible and adapt to ever-evolving semester plans. This is the reality of working in conservation at the ground level in a Latin American country. Students should arrive onsite with a positive attitude and the willingness to take advantage of each and every opportunity available.
for more information.
Read more on Conservacion Patagonica's Blog
Chacabuco Valley Grassland Study, by Kelly Davis, Tom Murphy, Brianna Rainville, Eli Gaucin-Fox, Ben Micek, Max Krieger, and Michael Lawlor