Round River initiated its conservation program in Chilean Patagonia in 2012. Chilean Patagonia is a wild treasure, an Eden of the far south where nature reigns in perpetuity, renewing itself through glacially-fed rivers and the indomitable spirit of its people.
Round River arrived to Patagonia at the invitation of Tompkins brainchild, Conservación Patagónica (CP), to support its efforts to protect and restore biodiversity 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), with the goal of connecting two existing national reserves (Jeinimeni and Tamango). Since then, CP has focused on habitat restoration, baseline biodiversity inventories, and the development of infrastructure within the park, as they prepare for its imminent turnover to the Chilean government. Over the past five years, Round River has assisted CP with biodiversity studies within the park, including a grassland inventory, bird surveys, vizcacha surveys, guanaco monitoring, and lesser rhea habitat surveys.
In Spring 2014, Round River partnered with Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF), the agency responsible for administering all Chilean National Parks and Reserves. This led to our first involvement in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park where, for the past three years, students have spent significant time collecting data on the endangered huemul deer, birds, and plants, traversing valleys and passes rarely if ever visited by humans, in support of a new management plan for the Park.
Using methodologies adapted in Bernardo O’Higgins, Round River in 2015 began conducting research expeditions in the Southern Patagonia Community Conservation Area (SPCCA), which encompasses the Park and large buffer areas to its north and east. On the shores of Lake O’Higgins, Round River has been collaborating with local people interested in micro-tourism development, completing a trail survey of the Los Glaciares Patrimony Route to assess its potential for eco-tourism. In the remote upper Pascua watershed area on the Lake’s northwest corner, Round River successfully executed a research expedition in collaboration with the Chilean Military, CONAF, and a local guide, which for the first time documented an important Huemul population here.
In Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, Round River ran 2 concurrent Patagonia programs (with 16 and 17 students, respectively) for the first time. This allowed us to expand our work into new areas, including Cerro Castillo National Reserve, where Round River searched alongside CONAF guardaparques for long-undocumented Huemul populations within the Reserve and surrounding private lands, and, at the invitation of their Fisher’s Syndicate, the isolated seaport of Puerto Edén. Here we’ve conducted field surveys to map stands of endangered Guaitecas Cypress, and pioneered an overland route from Seno Reindeer to the colossal Pio XI Glacier, a route once envisioned as the centerpiece of eco-tourism for Puerto Edén.
In October of 2016, Round River also partnered with Aysén’s Seremi de Agricultura (Department of Agriculture), who requested support with scientific monitoring of water table depth and biodiversity inventories on areas affected by commercial Sphagnum moss harvest. Sphagnum and peat harvest has occurred for more than a decade in the Chiloé and Magallanes regions of Chile, and has now come to the Capitán Prat province of Aysén. In February, 2017, Round River conducted its first round of field surveys on what is currently the only exploited sphagnum bog within Capitán Prat, on the main road between Tortel and Cochrane. A Sphagnum harvest technical report was delivered to SEREMI in May.
Students should be physically and mentally prepared for backpacking and camping in wet and windy conditions, and difficult terrain. Students will be rewarded with the incredible natural beauty for which Patagonia is renowned. Experiencing Patagonia as a Round River student will provide you with an enriching experience incomparable to traveling as a tourist. However, students should know that this is not a semester-long backpacking trip; it is an accredited program and priority is placed on academics, experiential learning, and research.
Academics are designed to support our field research. Round River instructors and senior staff deliver lectures, lead field-based learning, and guide discussions throughout the program. Students should expect two to four lectures per week along with readings, discussions, assignments and exams. At the end of the program, students analyze data collected and write a research report, which may be presented to CONAF staff and/or other partners.
In addition to biological fieldwork and academics, students will experience the ecological and cultural history of Chilean Patagonia first hand, guided by local gauchos, residents, and researchers.
All lectures and field activities will be conducted in English. Spanish language skills are not required, but are strongly encouraged. Having even a basic understanding of Spanish will allow students to interact more deeply with locals.