Aysén Region of Patagonia Chile
The name “Patagonia” carries with it great mystique, but where exactly is Patagonia? It turns out that drawing exact boundaries of Patagonia is not that easy. Patagonia is neither its own nation nor a specific province of Chile or Argentina. Although some claim all of southern Chile and Argentina as Patagonia, most accept Patagonia as being the most southerly section of the Andes mountains – a high latitude region comprised of forests, steppe, and grasslands – between the Chilean town of Valdivia (39°S latitude) and Cape Horn (56°S latitude).
On the western (Chilean) side of the Cordillera, the wet climate supports one of the world’s few temperate rainforests. These dense forests consist mainly of three species of southern beech (genus Nothofagus): lenga, ñirre, and coigüe. Here, rainfall can reach 4,000 millimeters or more per year, generating dense forests full of nutrients. These forests are home to 370 vascular plant genera, and noteworthy mammals, which include the endangered huemul deer, puma, culpeo fox, guanaco, and several species of bat.
Chilean Patagonia is a region known for its incomparable beauty and reputation as one of the last wild places on earth. An Eden of the far south where nature reigns in perpetuity, renewing itself through glacially-fed rivers and the indomitable spirit of its people. This portrayal, while partly accurate, belies the reality of a landscape where human impacts and threats are pervasive. Human-wildlife conflict and overgrazing are on the rise, and industrial mega-development, notably hydroelectricity, aquaculture, and mining, once held in check by the sheer remoteness of the region, now lurk impatiently in the shadows. Tourism, which has skyrocketed by 20% in the previous annum, could be a boon for local people, but only if advanced in ways that conserve, rather than degrade, the region’s sensitive environments. A rhetoric of ecotourism, sustainable development, and biodiversity conservation is beginning to ring in Chilean Patagonia.
In its high latitude and absolute ruggedness, Chilean Patagonia exhibits characteristics that make it unique in South America, and the world. Its naturally low productivity and low population density (~1 inhabitant/km²) make it a land tailored for conservation. It is also a land of rapid environmental change, where receding glaciers, drought, and habitat change are shaping fascinatingly novel landscapes, and presenting land managers with formidable challenges. An exemplar is Chile’s XI region, Aysén, where approximately half or 5.2 million acres are under public management in National Parks, National (Forest) Reserves, and National Monuments. These include Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, Laguna San Rafael National Park, Patagonia Park, and many others. Due to financial constraints, these parks enjoy only limited state oversight, with the result being limited information about the species and ecosystems therein, and vulnerability to aquaculture, poaching, illegal timber harvest, and other threats.
Outside of protected areas, Aysén is primarily comprised of private lands situated in valleys and river bottoms at low elevation. These lands are relatively productive and contain some of the most critical habitats for wildlife in the region. It is, therefore, of utmost importance to continue to expand the conservation lands network in Aysén, specifically targeting underrepresented habitats such as floodplains, wetlands, and steppe, areas of extraordinary biological or ecological significance, and areas where corridors might be most successfully established to connect existing wildland areas. Round River – Patagonia is currently active in multiple areas, including several protected areas, fiscal lands, and private lands that lack formal protection of any kind. In these areas we have established protocols for gathering data on target species where often little or no data exists. We are thus laying the groundwork for broad-scale ecosystems analyses and integration of lands management across the region.
Protecting Patagonia’s natural treasures is necessary for sustaining both people and nature. Round River is exceptionally pleased to have initiated its conservation program in Chilean Patagonia in 2012, in partnership with Conservación Patagónica. We have since forged additional partnerships with CONAF, Seremi de Agricultura, and others. To date, Round River has successfully conducted more than a dozen student conservation programs in Patagonia.
Over the course of these programs, Round River has contributed to a wide range of conservation-based activities and initiatives. The following are descriptions of RR’s current conservation initiatives in Patagonia:
Patagonia National Park: support for the effective creation of the future PNP, through megafauna research and monitoring, and the development of multi-stakeholder alliances.
Huemul campesino: a social-scientific approach to the conservation of an emblematic species of wild Patagonia, examining its distribution and habitat use, and the potential for Huemul-based tourism and protected areas creation.
Sphagnum harvest: participatory research on the effects of sphagnum harvest, and the linking of beneficiaries with state actors and experts.
Southern Ice Field community-based conservation: engagement of local governments and community groups, with the aims of strengthening ties to protected areas, creating a citizen science monitoring network, and fostering sustainable livelihood activities.
In 2018, Round River looks forward to furthering these initiatives.