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Conservation & Restoration

Since the removal of the Estancia’s vast sheep and cattle herds, we have seen new life return to the region in an ecological blink of an eye. Rampant overgrazing had left the area vulnerable to wind erosion and eventual desertification, a process that has already affected approximately 30% of Patagonia. All native species historically present in the region still exist within Patagonia Park, which presents a pristine landscape and ecosystem.

 


Restoring Grasslands

Grassland restoration forms the foundation of rewilding Patagonia. The majority of the world's grasslands have been converted to agricultural use, causing massive habitat loss for wildlife, herbivores in particular. Rewilding begins the process of reaching a balance between human and natural uses of this type of ecosystem.

Although vast and rugged, Patagonia has suffered its share of ecological abuses. Intensive sheep ranching on sandy, arid soils has resulted in widespread desertification. Like most of the region, the Chacabuco Valley has experienced rampant overgrazing, stripping grasslands and enabling a collection of exotic species to move in. As we make the transition from sheep ranch to national park, Conservacion Patagonica aims to reverse these damages, restore productive habitat, and create a model of ecosystem restoration for Patagonia.

 


Shortly after purchasing Estancia Valle Chacabuco in 2004, we launched the grasslands recovery program. Eighty years of crowding sheep into the valley's fragile grasslands, poorly suited to raising livestock, had created a patchwork of invasive species, poor grass, and barren areas. We sold all but a few of the former estancia's 25,000 sheep and 3,800 cattle over four years so as not to distort the local livestock market. Virtually unprecedented in the region, removing the livestock was a crucial step toward preventing the collapse of the Patagonian ecosystem.

Over 400 miles of fencing—the remnants of livestock pastures—crisscrossed the Chacabuco Valley, fragmenting habitat and blocking important migration corridors. Hundreds of guanacos carcasses dangled from the barbed wire, gruesome reminders of animals who failed to jump over the fences. Volunteers from around the world have joined us in pulling out these fences—challenging but satisfying work. We recycle all salvageable materials for reuse. As of 2014, we have removed over 640 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) of the fencing, and the work continues.

 


Under the direction of a restoration ecologist, our grasslands recovery project has gathered soil samples to develop management plans for different areas and established research plots to test the effectiveness of reseeding and erosion control practices. Volunteer conservationists collect seeds from native grasses, especially the coiron species, for use in reseeding heavily damaged areas.

Since its purchase in 2004, the Chacabuco Valley has made impressive and visible strides towards recovery. Complete restoration will take decades, but project biologists are impressed with the speed at which these grasslands have regained their vitality. Park visitors can easily see the contrast between the future Patagonia National Park and surrounding properties where livestock remains. Lush grasslands, no fences, and herds of guanacos galloping free epitomize the transformation we've begun.

 


A Park in Progress

As we watch the land heal and transform at an astounding rate, there is still plenty of work to be done. There are more seeds to be planted, fences to be removed, trails to be built, and habitats to repopulate. If you would like to play a part in the restoration of the land and creation of the park, please continue to read more about Conservacion Patagonica's volunteer program or consider making a donation.

 

 
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