gains ground in nature conservation
Two new park projects and a year of conservation
progress are signs that Chile may become an eco-tourism attraction.
BY JIMMY LANGMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
SANTIAGO, Chile - Chile's two new privately
owned giant nature parks are the latest conservation successes for
a nation that has long resisted such efforts, prompting forecasts
of a coming eco-tourism boom.
''All Chile lacks now to become a major tourist
mecca . . are international quality trekking trails,'' said Rick
Klein, director of the U.S. environmental group Ancient Forests
Last month, the government signed an agreement
clearing the last hurdles toward making Pumalin Park, owned by Doug
Tompkins, an American multimillionaire and former owner of the clothing
chain Esprit, a legal ``nature sanctuary.''
At about the same time, New York-based investment
bank Goldman Sachs announced it was turning into a park its vast
landholdings on Tierra del Fuego island, in the southernmost area
of Chile. The bank took over the lands recently as part of a settlement
with Trillium, a financially troubled timber company based in Washington
The two developments topped off a year of
extraordinary nature conservation gains in Chile.
A year ago, the government announced it would
reroute a planned highway to spare coastal temperate rain forests
in Chile's lakes region, and agreed to work with environmental groups
to design a conservation plan for those forests.
In November, Chile's two biggest timber companies
-- CMPC and Arauco --prodded by Home Depot, the Atlanta-based home
improvement company, agreed to stop both logging native forests
and buying lumber from tree farms created out of logged forests.
The government also announced plans for a
new, 210,000-acre national park in northern Patagonia and a marine
sanctuary to help protect endangered blue whales, the largest mammal
on Earth. Scientists have recently discovered that among the fijords
of the Patagonian coastline, numerous blue whales are breeding and
feeding their young.
''All this just proves what we were saying
all along,'' said Adriana Hoffmann, former head of Chile's environment
agency and president of the Santiago group Defenders of Chilean
Forest. ``To conserve forests is the best business possible for
Chilean native forests.''
Pumalin Park, which Tompkins began to form
with land purchases beginning in 1990, encompasses 742,000 acres
in northern Patagonia, making it the largest park in Chile, and
possibly, the largest private park in the world.
Pumalin encompasses an extensive mountainous
region interspersed with snow-capped volcanoes, lush temperate rain
forests, and numerous lakes and rivers. It also includes Chile's
largest remaining stand of alerce trees. This endangered, giant-sequoia-like
species is the planet's second-oldest tree, reaching up to 4,000
To reach an agreement, Tompkins gave in on
a number of demands by the government, which signed an accord with
him in 1997 but the government held up its implementation because
of opposition from, among others, politicians concerned about lost
opportunities for salmon farming in the area and residents with
land claims within the park's boundaries.
Twenty-eight senators, a majority of Chile's
Senate, nevertheless want to set aside 1,100 acres for road construction
through the park as a matter of national security, arguing that
because Pumalin stretches from the Pacific coast to the eastern
border with Argentina, it effectively cuts Chile in half.
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos opposes the
senators' proposal, however, and the government official who negotiated
the latest accord with Tompkins said there is no need to revise
the agreement. ''The government has the authority to build a road
anywhere it wants, whenever it wants,'' Francisco Huenchemilla said.
In Tierra del Fuego, Goldman Sachs has provoked
far less controversy with its plans to protect 680,000 acres that
include some the world's last undisturbed forest of hardwood lenga
trees, endangered wildlife such as the red fox, and wetlands and
rivers on land once owned by Trillium.
Goldman Sachs has said it will select a U.S.-based
environmental group this year to manage the land in much the same
style as Pumalin. Later, ownership of the land will be transferred
to a private, Chilean-led foundation.
Trillium's $200 million Savia logging project
on Tierra del Fuego was repeatedly thwarted beginning in 1994 by
environmental groups in Chilean courts. Ultimately, though, the
company's own financial troubles shut down the enterprise in 2000.
Trillium owed $30 million to Goldman Sachs, and in October it agreed
to settle the debt with its Tierra del Fuego lands.
''This was the socially responsible
thing to do,'' said Peter Rose, director of media relations for
Goldman Sachs. ``It was decided at the highest levels of the bank
to forgo short-term maximization of profit and instead do what's
best in the long-term.'
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