on the Rise


Civil so­ci­ety takes the lead on con­serv­ing bio­di­ver­sity in Chile and Ar­gentina, the gov­ern­ments to fol­low.

Af­ter con­vinc­ing Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Mag­a­zine to pub­lish a story on the en­dan­gered alerce trees in Chile, Rick Klein wrote a let­ter to leg­endary pho­tog­ra­pher Galen Row­ell ask­ing him to be the pho­tog­ra­pher for the as­sign­ment. Row­ell agreed, telling Klein that he was about to fly from Cal­i­for­nia to Patag­o­nia any­way in two Cessna T206 planes to go climb­ing with his friend Doug Tomp­kins.

That was De­cem­ber 1990. Klein him­self had pre­vi­ously been in touch with Tomp­kins. The pre­vi­ous year, Klein, who founded the Cal­i­for­nia- based or­ga­ni­za­tion An­cient Forests In­ter­na­tional, had con­vinced sev­eral Amer­i­can and Chilean con­ser­va­tion­ists, in­clud­ing Tomp­kins, Yvon Chouinard ( owner of the out­door cloth­ing com­pany Patag­o­nia), and Alan Wee­den, to back his ini­tia­tive to cre­ate Chile’s first- ever pri­vate park. Called El Cañi Sanc­tu­ary, the pur­chase se­cured a 500 hectare ( 1,200 acres) for­est fea­tur­ing the rare, arau­caria “mon­key puzzle” trees just out­side the re­sort town Pu­con.

So Tomp­kins joined Row­ell and Klein on their trek to ex­plore and doc­u­ment alerces over three days in mostly un­tracked back­coun­try of Alerce Andino Na­tional Park. Tomp­kins, hav­ing re­cently sold his huge fi­nan­cial stake in the in­ter­na­tional women’s cloth­ing gi­ant Es­prit, was ea­ger to put his wealth be­hind con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. He had been an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist for a long time, and Chile was a coun­try he had grown to ap­pre­ci­ate ever since his first visit there in 1961 as a young 18- year- old to train for the United States Olympic ski tri­als. Tomp­kins was es­pe­cially fas­ci­nated by farm­land he had seen in over­flights of Palena prov­ince in Chile’s Lakes re­gion. Klein, mean­while, told him dur­ing the trek about plans he had been hatch­ing with the Chilean en­vi­ron­men­tal group Cod­eff to cre­ate a “world park” in north­ern Patag­o­nia, and par­tic­u­larly gushed about the beauty of Cahuelmo Fjord, an an­cient sa­cred site for the indige­nous Huil­liche with nat­u­ral hot springs and teem­ing with wildlife.

Af­ter the trek, Klein in­tro­duced Tomp­kins to a Chilean friend, Vi­cente Pinto, whose fam­ily was care­tak­ing a farm at Reñi­hue Fjord in Palena. Af­ter fly­ing there with Klein for an overnight visit to take a look on the ground, back in Puerto Montt, Tomp­kins faxed an of­fer for the 17,000 hectare ( 42,000 acre) farm to its owner in Lake Como, Italy. Sold. Some days later, af­ter fly­ing over Cahuelmo and other pris­tine wild coun­try near his newly bought property, Tomp­kins called Klein at 5 a. m. on New Years Day, 1991, to give him even big­ger news: he just put down US$ 7 mil­lion dol­lars to buy an­other 223,000 hectares ( 551,000 acres) ad­ja­cent to the Reñi­hue property, in­clud­ing Cahuelmo. Klein was over­joyed. “I was dancing on the rooftops. That’s ex­actly what this Alerce biore­gion ecosys­tem needed,” said Klein. “I thought our dream for a pub­lic- pri­vate park was go­ing to be a re­al­ity.”

It was the start of other land pur­chases for Tomp­kins over the fol­low­ing years. But Tomp­kins had his own vi­sion: to per­son­ally cre­ate a model pri­vate park that would set a global stan­dard on how to con­serve ecosys­tems. Thus was born Par­que Pu­ma­lin, the world’s largest pri­vate park.

A con­ser­va­tion boom

Tomp­kins and his Pu­ma­lin, though much crit­i­cized at the time by some Chilean politi­cians and oth­ers, were at the fore­front of a ma­jor land con­ser­va­tion move­ment now un­der­way in Patag­o­nia and the South­ern Cone. In the two decades since

Tomp­kins be­gan his con­ser­va­tion pur­chases here, nu­mer­ous other note­wor­thy large and small pri­vate parks have been cre­ated, es­pe­cially in Chile.

The list of the larger ini­tia­tives in the re­gion in­cludes Chile’s out­go­ing pres­i­dent Se­bas­tian Piñera, who in 2004 bought a 118,000- hectare ( 292,000 acres) property in Chiloe Is­land, and two years later opened it up for pub­lic vis­i­tors as Tan­tauco Park ( see Trekking: A Weekend at Piñera’s, page 58). In a in­ter­view I did with the pres­i­dent three years ago for Newsweek mag­a­zine, Piñera re­ferred to the park as a “slice of heaven” and has said it will be his first stop once his govern­ment ends in March. Man­aged by his Fundacion Fu­turo, and ad­vised closely by Tomp­kins and his staff at Fundacion Pu­ma­lin, the project’s main goal is to “pro­tect and con­serve vul­ner­a­ble ecosys­tems and species, and those at risk of extinction.” The park is also re­for­est­ing with na­tive species large swaths of the park dev­as­tated by a for­est fire in the 1940s.

We have enor­mous gaps in our leg­is­la­tion, but our civil so­ci­ety is very ad­vanced and is tak­ing the lead.

In Chile’s Los Rios re­gion, Chilean busi­ness­man Vic­tor Peter­mann orig­i­nally bought the 120,000- hectares ( 297,000 acres) that make up the Huilo Huilo na­ture pre­serve land in the mid- 1970s as a forestry in­vest­ment. But by the mid- 1980s, Peter­mann and his part­ners con­verted their hold­ings in­stead into a mas­sive eco- tourism project, in the process con­vert­ing not just the land into a park but tran­si­tion­ing the en­tire 5,000- per­son towns of Nel­tume and Puerto Fuy from lum­ber- de­pen­dent jobs to tourism jobs and businesses.

Sit­u­ated amid tem­per­ate rain­for­est, the project deftly com­bines suc­cess­ful tourism de­vel­op­ment with con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives led by the Huilo Huilo Foun­da­tion and Peter­mann’s ex- wife Ivonne Reif­schnei­der. In 2005, they flew by he­li­copter and plane a pair of huemuls from south­ern Ay­sen to the park in or­der to even­tu­ally re- in­tro­duce this en­dan­gered deer species to the ecosys­tems in­side the pre­serve, where they had long ago been com­pletely wiped out. To­day, there are an es­ti­mated 12 huemuls. Huilo Huilo is sim­i­larly re- in­tro­duc­ing gua­na­cos and mon­i­tor­ing Dar­win frogs and pu­mas.

In the far south, for­mer U. S. trea­sury sec­re­tary Henry Paulson, while pres­i­dent of the New York- based in­vest­ment bank Gold­man Sachs, helped cre­ate the 283,000- hectare ( 699,000 acres) Karukinka Park on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego. The bank pur­chased the land when the U. S.- based Trillium tim­ber com­pany de­faulted on some debts, and with the help of the in­ter­na­tional non- profit Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, the park for­mally launched in 2004. A true en­vi­ron­men­tal suc­cess story, the frag­ile tem­per­ate for­est ecosys­tem es­caped con­tro­ver­sial log­ging plans and is now pro­tect­ing the largest gua­naco pop­u­la­tion in Chile and abun­dant ma­rine wildlife, among di­verse other flora and fauna species. It’s also an ef­fec­tive pole of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search in the re­gion, of­ten col­lab­o­rat­ing with the govern­ment.

Yet, while Tomp­kins re­cently gifted 38,780 hectares ( 94,000 acres) on Tierra del Fuego Is­land to the Chilean govern­ment to form part

of the newly cre­ated Yen­de­gaia Na­tional Park, Karukinka park di­rec­tor Bar­bara Saave­dra says they are opt­ing for the ex­act op­po­site ap­proach. “We know the lim­its of the Chilean state,” said Saave­dra, a Chilean bi­ol­o­gist. “The govern­ment pro­tec­tion ar­eas sys­tem does not work. Its un­der­fi­nanced, does not have enough trained people, and it does not have the vi­sion and un­der­stand­ing needed to value the con­ser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­sity. Un­der such con­di­tions, to join such a sys­tem, it is not nec­es­sar­ily pos­i­tive in the short- term but maybe in the long- term.”

Ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust 2013 United Na­tions study, an im­pres­sive 308 pri­vate parks now ex­ist through­out Chile, cov­er­ing more than 1.65 mil­lion hectares ( 4 mil­lion acres), with more than half in the south­ern re­gions of Los La­gos, Ma­gal­lanes and Los Rios. More strik­ing, over 200 of the parks are led by in­di­vid­ual own­ers and some 60 per­cent are small pri­vate parks of less than 200 hectares ( 50 acres).

Ar­gentina ( and Chile) has no na­tional leg­is­la­tion to aid pri­vate con­ser­va­tion yet, but 11 of 23 Ar­gen­tine prov­inces have made ad­vances in de­vel­op­ing var­ied le­gal tools to sup­port pri­vate parks. Al­to­gether, ac­cord­ing to Fundación Vida Sil­vestre Ar­gentina, there are 156 pri­vate parks in the coun­try, ex­tend­ing over 701, 897 hectares ( 1.73 mil­lion acres).

“In most other coun­tries, gov­ern­ments are out front on land con­ser­va­tion, in Chile it’s the re­verse,” said Elisa Corcuera, a di­rec­tor of Asi Con­serva Chile, a new or­ga­ni­za­tion that formed two years ago to cat­alyze bet­ter pri­vate park man­age­ment. “We have enor­mous gaps in our leg­is­la­tion com­pared to other coun­tries, but our civil so­ci­ety is very ad­vanced and is tak­ing the lead.”

“The state can’t do it by it­self,” adds Ar­gen­tine lawyer Car­los Fer­nan­dez, who is the South­ern An­des con­ser­va­tion strat­egy man­ager for The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, an in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion with pro­grams in more than 35 coun­tries. “Just take a look at a map of Ar­gen­tine Patag­o­nia, for ex­am­ple. About 70 to 80 per­cent of the land there is in pri­vate hands. We need a mo­saic

We need a land trust model here that gives le­gal guar­an­tees for these ar­eas in per­pe­tu­ity. Nece­si­ta­mos un modelo de land trust aquí que de garan­tías legales para es­tas áreas en per­pe­tu­idad.

of strate­gies that in­cludes both na­tional parks and pri­vate con­ser­va­tion.”

Both Chile and Ar­gentina have most of their land un­der pri­vate own­er­ship, and both with much work to do to achieve ad­e­quate bio­di­ver­sity pro­tec­tion within their borders.

While Chile has nearly 20 per­cent of its ter­ri­tory in its na­tional pro­tec­tion ar­eas sys­tem ( SNASPE) as parks and re­serves, 84 per­cent is con­cen­trated in just two ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions ( Ay­sen and Ma­gal­lanes), and 24 per­cent is com­pletely ice and rock and void of veg­e­ta­tion. Ge­o­graph­i­cally, Chile is a long and thin coun­try with a high di­ver­sity of ecosys­tem types, but sci­en­tists say most are un­der­rep­re­sented among pro­tec­tion ar­eas. One telling in­di­ca­tor of the na­tion’s con­ser­va­tion deficit: nearly half of ver­te­brate species ( rep­tiles, am­phib­ians, birds, fish, mam­mals) in Chile are clas­si­fied as threat­ened or en­dan­gered.

Half of Ar­gentina’s 18 ecore­gions, de­fined as a " large unit of land or wa­ter con­tain­ing a ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­tinct as­sem­blage of species, nat­u­ral com­mu­ni­ties, and en­vi­ron­men­tal

con­di­tions" are at se­ri­ous risk, say ex­perts, par­tic­u­larly from de­for­esta­tion ( mainly due to clear­ing for soy­bean crops and live­stock graz­ing). One- third of the Patag­o­nian steppe is suf­fer­ing se­vere soil ero­sion from over­graz­ing by sheep. Al­though 8 per­cent of the coun­try’s land is of­fi­cially un­der some form of na­tional or lo­cal govern­ment pro­tec­tion, a 2011 World Bank re­port found that only about one- fifth of these ar­eas are “ad­e­quately man­aged.” The re­port con­cludes that, in ef­fect, “just over 1 per­cent of Ar­gentina’s nat­u­ral land­scapes were be­ing ad­e­quately pro­tected while the na­tional goal is 5 per­cent, and the in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion tar­get for con­serv­ing ter­res­trial ecosys­tems is 10 per­cent.”

World­wide, pri­vate con­ser­va­tion has taken var­ied forms, with di­verse own­ers, in­volv­ing in­di­vid­u­als, uni­ver­si­ties, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, com­mu­ni­ties, or businesses. Many pri­vate con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives are mo­ti­vated by gen­uine eco­log­i­cal con­cern; since the United Na­tions Earth Sum­mit in 1992, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism has seen an ex­po­nen­tial rise in so­ci­eties every­where. Oth­ers, how­ever, see grow­ing tourism rev­enue. Eco­tourism is the fastest grow­ing seg­ment of global tourism, by some es­ti­mates in­creas­ing by as much as 20 per­cent a year. In some coun­tries, gov­ern­ments pro­vide eco­nomic in­cen­tives to con­serve pri­vate land through tax re­lief or sub­si­dies for ecosys­tem ser­vices, such as clean wa­ter or car­bon se­ques­tra­tion. In Costa Rica, for ex­am­ple, more than 7,000 landown­ers re­ceive pay­ments for en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vices to con­serve land to­tal­ing over 400,000 hectares ( 988,000 acres).

In the United States, the first pri­vate pro­tec­tion area was formed in 1891. But in the past decade alone the amount of land in pri­vate pro­tec­tion ar­eas has more than dou­bled to over 116 mil­lion hectares ( 47 mil­lion acres) -- twice the size of the U. S. na­tional parks. There are more than 1,700 “land trusts,” non- profit or­ga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to con­serv­ing pri­vate land into per­pe­tu­ity. One im­por­tant rea­son for the con­ser­va­tion boom in the U. S. are con­ser­va­tion ease­ments: vol­un­tary le­gal agree­ments be­tween a landowner and a land trust or govern­ment agency that per­ma­nently re­stricts de­vel­op­ment on

Nearly half of ver­te­brate species in Chile are clas­si­fied as threat­ened or en­dan­gered. Cerca de la mi­tad de las es­pecies ver­te­bradas en Chile están en peli­gro de ex­tin­ción o ame­nazadas.

the land in or­der to pro­tect its con­ser­va­tion val­ues even if the owner sells or dies. Fur­ther still, there may be tax ben­e­fits for the landowner.

An his­toric bill cur­rently in Chile’s Congress, the Dere­cho Real de Con­ser­va­cion ( DRC), over­whelm­ingly passed the lower house in July 2012 and its mak­ing its way through the se­nate ap­proval process. The pro­posed law would es­tab­lish a mech­a­nism sim­i­lar to the con­ser­va­tion ease­ments used in the U. S. How­ever, the present ver­sion of the bill al­lows con­ser­va­tion ease­ments for 40 years, not in per­pe­tu­ity, and does not in­clude any tax in­cen­tives. Separately, Chile’s congress is con­sid­er­ing make changes to its do­na­tions law to al­low for tax de­duc­tions for giv­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal causes. Ad­di­tion­ally, the in­com­ing Michelle Bachelet govern­ment ( the 4- year term be­gins in March) has stated it in­tends to re­vive leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a “Bio­di­ver­sity and Pro­tected Ar­eas Ser­vice,” which in the­ory could im­prove man­age­ment at both pub­lic and pri­vate parks.

Fran­cisco Solis, the Chile rep­re­sen­ta­tive for The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, says they are push­ing for changes to the dere­cho real leg­is­la­tion to make it closer in style to the U. S. ap­proach. “Many of the 308 pri­vate con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives in Chile are far from be­ing truly pri­vate pro­tec­tion ar­eas,” said Solis. “Why? Be­cause their own­ers, when they die - or as well they may they change their opin­ion - there is no guar­an­tee that these parks will con­tinue long- term. We need a land trust model here that gives gov­er­nance, re­sources and le­gal guar­an­tees for these ar­eas in per­pe­tu­ity.”

Patag­o­nia Sur, a real es­tate and car­bon se­ques­tra­tion busi­ness based in San­ti­ago, has moved for­ward in the mean­time with­out the dere­cho real law, through an al­ready le­gal mech­a­nism in Chile called the servidum­bre volun­taria ( lit­er­ally, a “vol­un­tary en­cum­brance”). A sort of loop­hole with the sim­i­lar ef­fect of a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment, this is a per­ma­nent, en­force­able con­tract be­tween two ad­ja­cent landown­ers in which a landowner prom­ises in a legally bind­ing way not to de­velop his or her property. The servidum­bre volun­taria agree­ments are made with Fundación Tierra Aus­tral,

one of Chile’s first land trusts, which was ex­pressly cre­ated for Patag­o­nia Sur’s seven prop­er­ties ( about 22,800 hectares) in Chilean Patag­o­nia. These prop­er­ties are be­ing sub­di­vided and sold to in­di­vid­ual landown­ers, with 85 per­cent of the over­all land set aside for con­ser­va­tion.

War­ren Adams, founder of the Patag­o­nia Sur ven­ture, says in ad­di­tion to con­ser­va­tion ar­eas there are rules on de­vel­op­ment, such as how and what can be built. “It’s all very bal­anced with na­ture,” he said. “Our Valle Cal­i­for­nia property is the first property in Tierra Aus­tral. But we are also in con­ver­sa­tion with sev­eral other or­ga­ni­za­tions and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als in Chile that are in­ter­ested in hav­ing their prop­er­ties looked over by Tierra Aus­tral.”

In Ar­gentina, pro­pos­als for a law sanc­tion­ing con­ser­va­tion ease­ments has yet to gain trac­tion in Buenos Aires, but on the re­gional level some provin­cial gov­ern­ments rec­og­nize con­ser­va­tion ease­ments. The Mi­siones prov­ince, in Ar­gentina’s far north, even has a law rec­og­niz­ing pri­vate re­serves and of­fers an 80 per­cent re­duc­tion in property tax if na­tive forests are not ex­ploited. There is only one con­ser­va­tion ease­ment in Ar­gentina so far, at La­guna Epulfquen in the Ne­quen prov­ince, but two other prop­er­ties have given letters of in­tent to The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy for do­ing con­ser­va­tion ease­ment deeds with the or­ga­ni­za­tion act­ing as guar­an­tor.

Role of gov­ern­ments

Pu­ma­lin Park was to be the first of sev­eral pri­vate con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives for Doug Tomp­kins. He got the con­ser­va­tion bug, and spent al­to­gether more than US$ 20 mil­lion to buy more than 300,000 hectares ( 742,000 acres) of Pu­malín land, draft plans, hire rangers, build trails and other­wise or­ga­nize the park. Lo­cated at the north­ern end of Chilean Patag­o­nia, it em­braces a trea­sure trove of lakes, rivers, hot springs, moun­tains, vol­ca­noes and coastal fjords. There is lush tem­per­ate rain­for­est that in­cludes an es­ti­mated 35 per­cent of the world’s last re­main­ing alerce trees.

Early on, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups lined up solidly be­hind the project. But there were far more — and vo­cal— op­po­nents. Tomp­kins en­dured re­lent­less at- tacks by op­po­nents rang­ing from ex­trem­ist Nazi groups to na­tion­al­ist politi­cians, who called him a threat to Chile’s sovereignty, to sal­mon farm­ers, who claimed the park would strait­jacket the lo­cal econ­omy. The at­tacks spi­raled into false, dirty ru­mor mon­ger­ing, some­times death threats. The out­ra­geous tales in­cluded that Tomp­kins was plan­ning to build a nu­clear base, or de­vel­op­ing a se­cret gold mine.

To­day, Tomp­kins is mostly viewed as a con­ser­va­tion hero. To­gether with his wife, Kris, the for­mer CEO of the out­door cloth­ing com­pany Patag­o­nia, they have widened their net to in­clude nu­mer­ous other pri­vate donors to aid them in a sweep­ing pri­vate con­ser­va­tion strat­egy that has led to the pur­chase of about 1.1 mil­lion hectares ( or al­most 2.5 mil­lion acres) in the in­ter­ven­ing years since Tomp­kins first pur­chased the sleepy Reñi­hue farm in Palena. The land pur­chases have led to the cre­ation of three new na­tional parks in Chile ( Cor­co­v­ado, Yen­de­gaia) and Ar­gentina ( Monte León), and the goal is to trans­fer all of the land to the na­tional park sys­tems of these coun­tries. “Pri­vate parks are an ini­tial stage for us,” said Her­nan Mla­dinic, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Fundación Pu­ma­lin. “Pri­vate con­ser­va­tion ar­eas can play a com­ple­men­tary role, but ul­ti­mately con­ser­va­tion is the duty of the state.”

Still, though na­tional parks per­haps of­fer the best route for con­ser­va­tion over the long- term, its not al­ways the most vi­able op­tion. In Patag­o­nia, where so much land is in pri­vate hands, con­ser­va­tion nec­es­sar­ily re­quires a ma­jor role for pri­vate con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives. For in­stance, The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy Ar­gentina re­cently teamed up with the Patag­o­nia com­pany and Ovis XXI, a group of Ar­gen­tine ranch­ers, to build a mar­ket for wool from pro­duc­ers that are cer­ti­fi­ably con­serv­ing and restor­ing the Patag­o­nian grass­lands. “I am a big fan of Tomp­kins. He is do­ing a fan­tas­tic job,” said Car­los Fer­nan­dez of The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy. “But na­tional parks ought to be con­sid­ered among sev­eral tools to pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity.”

In­deed, the power of pri­vate con­ser­va­tion has been un­leashed and civil so­ci­ety can not – and will not - wait for gov­ern­ments.






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