A New Beginning for Chile’s Protected Areas

Transitioning oversight of all sites to a newly created agency should improve conservation and funding

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A New Beginning for Chile’s Protected Areas
Under a brilliant blue sky, large chunks of glacial ice float in dark waters, framed by a glacier-topped rock wall in the background.
The Chilean government is transferring management of the country’s protected areas—including the 8.7 million-acre Bernardo O’Higgins National Park—to a newly created agency, a move that experts say will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of conservation of these places.

Administering protected areas in Chile is no easy feat. Many are remote, cast over a long, slender, sprawling amalgam of land and islands spanning 2,650 miles from north to south. Another challenge is Chile’s broad spectrum of climates—ranging from the planet’s most arid terrain to one of the largest glacial fields on Earth—and the fact that the country features an incredible 88 of the world’s 110 ecosystem types. And, until now, oversight of Chile’s protected areas has been dispersed among five agencies, each of which reported to a different government ministry.

But the management challenges at least should get easier after the Chilean government created a new agency—the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (or SBAP, as it is known in Spanish)—to manage all of the country’s biodiversity and conservation areas. Over the next five years, SBAP, which was formed under a new “nature law” that the government implemented Oct. 2, will gradually absorb the staff and duties of the current administrator of parks, reserves, and natural monuments—Chile’s National Forest Service and Protected Areas Agency (CONAF). In addition, the new agency will gain oversight of places that, until now, have been the responsibility of the Undersecretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture (marine protected areas) and the National Assets Ministry, among others.

After the transition, SBAP alone—under the Environment Ministry umbrella—will oversee the administration and management of Chile’s 342 marine and terrestrial public protected areas. In addition, SBAP will implement conservation tools and measures in areas that are not currently protected. These tools and measures will include management plans for threatened ecosystems; ecological restoration and wetland inventories; plans for threatened species and invasive exotic species; and economic incentives to promote sustainable practices. To cite just one consequence of the fractured management prior to the new law: 33 of the 108 protected areas currently administered by CONAF have no personnel to manage them.

By creating SBAP, the government took a tremendous step forward in conserving Chile’s biodiversity—a move that should strengthen protected areas through more efficient and effective management, as well as better funding. The new law increases conservation funding significantly, though it still leaves a substantial gap between what’s needed and what’s available. The changes are urgently needed in Chile: Although the government has safeguarded nearly 37% of its land and waters, the country is among those that have invested the least in their protected areas.

The Pew Charitable Trusts looks forward to working with its partners to support this transition in the coming years to ensure that Chile’s world-class park system gets the management and funding it deserves. This, in turn, will help conserve some of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems, endangered species, and breathtakingly beautiful nature.

Maximiliano Sepúlveda works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Chilean Patagonia project.

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