In a move designed to guarantee that the effective protection of national parks and reserves in Chilean Patagonia improves the quality of life—and provides increased development opportunities—for the area’s residents, local officials signed an unprecedented agreement in late January, in the windswept forest of lenga, coigüe, and ñirre trees of Chile’s Magallanes National Reserve. The pact, known as the Strategy of Gateway Communities of the Protected Areas of Chilean Patagonia, was signed by the governors of the regions of Magallanes and Los Lagos; mayors representing the associations of the municipalities of Magallanes and Aysén and the Palena Province; the rector of the Universidad Austral de Chile; and Francisco Solís Germani, the director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Chilean Patagonia project.
Patagonia’s unique blend of ecosystems, encompassing fjords, forests, coastal zones, and more, makes it one of the most important freshwater reservoirs in the world. Protected areas comprise more than half of Chilean Patagonia’s land and more than 40% of its waters, but management, conservation, and other challenges remain—including the fact that many people in gateway communities don’t feel a strong connection to the protected areas.
The agreement projects that, by 2030, local and regional governments will be actively working to simultaneously advance management and conservation of protected areas, community development, and the well-being of local residents. The strategy is designed to be implemented gradually, with stronger citizen participation in identifying needs in infrastructure, education, park management, and financing to sustain the initiative.
The collaborative plan, with a working model that its supporters hope can be replicated in other regions of Chile, began with an initial meeting of Chilean Patagonia’s mayors in August 2019, at which they agreed to begin building connections between the so-called “gateway communities” and the protected areas. Then, in December 2020, numerous stakeholders began the work to design the strategy. They included: the mayors of 26 municipalities in Chilean Patagonia; the regional governments of Los Lagos, Aysén, and Magallanes; and representatives of the nonprofit National Forest Corporation, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of National Assets. Technical assistance was provided by the Austral Patagonia Program of the Universidad Austral de Chile, the social entrepreneurship organization Balloon Latam, the nonprofit Round River Conservation Studies, and The Pew Charitable Trusts. This work took the form of 18 workshops between December 2020 and October 2021 that 380 people participated in, including governors and mayors and their staffs, representatives of civic organizations, and local residents.
Among next steps, an overarching governance body for gateway communities, made up of municipal and regional governments of the three regions involved, will begin the gradual implementation of the agreement, with actions ranging from drafting investment plans to the recognition of protected areas in documents produced by governmental planning agencies.
Once the agreement is fully implemented, the nature of Chilean Patagonia—and its communities—should be on its way to a better future.
Makarena Roa works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Chilean Patagonia project.