Restaurando la naturaleza salvaje de la Patagonia
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.
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