Rewil­d­ing Patag­o­nia

Res­tau­rando la nat­u­raleza sal­vaje de la Patag­o­nia

Patagon Journal - - EDITOR'S LETTER -

We of­ten hear that Patag­o­nia is abun­dant in wild places, but is it re­ally? True, there are sig­nif­i­cant pock­ets of pris­tine wild­ness re­main­ing in Patag­o­nia, like Madre de Dios Is­land and the Patag­o­nian Ice Fields, but much of the rest has been in­ter­vened by fire, in­va­sive ex­otic species like pine trees and beavers, and, of course, hu­man de­vel­op­ment.

Take Patag­o­nia’s iconic sheep in­dus­try, the re­gion’s most suc­cess­ful ex­port over the past cen­tury. Over­graz­ing by the sheep ranch­ers has driven ram­pant de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion of grass­lands: to­day, 30 per­cent of Patag­o­nian land is suf­fer­ing from se­vere de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, while more than 90 per­cent of the re­gion has de­graded soils to vary­ing de­grees due in part to un­sus­tain­able land prac­tices. That has cas­cad­ing im­pacts on the rest of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. For one, gua­na­cos, once the real icon of Patag­o­nia, saw their num­bers de­cline by more than 90 per­cent dur­ing the rise of the sheep. Hence, puma, with less of their main prey within their sights, moved on to at­tack the sheep with the re­sult­ing con­flicts with the ranch­ers.

Au­thor and wildlife bi­ol­o­gist Jim Wil­liams says the con­cept of rewil­d­ing is about three main things: “core habi­tat, con­nec­tions be­tween habi­tats, and car­ni­vores play­ing their nat­u­ral role in the sys­tem.” Cores means es­tab­lish­ing large-scale protected ar­eas to re­store and con­serve bio­di­ver­sity and nat­u­ral pro­cesses. Still, be­cause so many birds and other fauna mi­grate over great dis­tances be­yond a park border, we need nat­u­ral cor­ri­dors be­tween the “cores” to en­able con­nec­tiv­ity. The fi­nal el­e­ment of rewil­d­ing is pro­tect­ing and restor­ing the car­ni­vores, the apex preda­tors, which bi­ol­o­gists also call key­stone species be­cause they have a vi­tal role in main­tain­ing the nat­u­ral equi­lib­rium of the en­tire ecosys­tem.

Patag­o­nia is a global trea­sure, but if we are to pro­tect the re­gion’s ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture we must go be­yond cre­at­ing parks and rewild Patag­o­nia by, among other things, sus­tain­ably man­ag­ing and restor­ing grass­lands, rein­tro­duc­ing gua­naco, and learn­ing to live with the puma.

The mis­sion of Patagon Jour­nal is to build a greater un­der­stand­ing, ap­pre­ci­a­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion of the world’s last wild places, Patag­o­nia in par­tic­u­lar. Please con­sider sup­port­ing us as a sub­scriber, spon­sor or donor. Thank you.

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