Why Create National Parks?
We believe in the enduring value of wildness. Our conservation work aims to conserve big, wild landscapes with their full complement of native species, including keystone species such as pumas and jaguars. We strive to inspire others to recognize the value in doing so, and to do the same themselves. The means to these ends? National parks.
National parks represent the pinnacle of protected areas, providing the strongest guarantee of long-term conservation. They offer an unmatched set of ecological attributes, cultural value, and economic benefits to local communities. Parklands are among the oldest and most durable conservation tools, and certainly the best known and loved.
National parks and other protected natural areas don't solve every environmental problem, of course. But they are a crucial element in a landscape-scale approach to conservation that seeks to sustain the natural processes that create and shape life's diversity.
With protected areas, scale matters. Small, isolated parks may provide great recreational or spiritual benefits to people, but are likely to lose native species over time, and provide less ecological services than larger protected areas. We take inspiration from the current thinking in conservation science: strictly protected natural areas should serve as the crucial "core areas" in systems of conservation lands, with the cores buffered by well managed agricultural and timberlands, and interconnected by wildlife movement corridors. "Cores, buffers, and connectivity" is the shorthand phrase for this idea.
The Tradition and Opportunities of Parklands
National parks are ideal for core protected areas, and Chile and Argentina have two of the world’s oldest and strongest national park systems. The genesis of Argentina’s national parks stretches back to 1904, with a land donation to the State from legendary conservationist Francisco P. Moreno for what would become Nahuel Huapi National Park. Chile’s first national park was established in 1926, and every full-term Chilean president since then has expanded the park system. Through changes in governments, revolutions, and economic crises, national parks have remained well protected and beloved by their citizens, proving the enduring value of these institutions. Chile and Argentina provide similar strong legal protections for national parks as found in the United States, Canada, and other countries throughout the world. National parks foster patriotism, pride in country, and a sense of civic responsibility. We know that national parks are the most secure, effective, and responsible way of protecting land in these countries. Citizen advocacy to protect and maintain national parks is critical to their continued success. We strive to build a dedicated activist constituency that will fight for protected areas long into the future.
Judging from numerous examples throughout history and across the globe, we see that dedicated individuals can shift the needle on global conservation. As North Americans who have chosen to live in South America, we recognize that there are tremendous opportunities—and needs—around the world. Fellow conservationists in Latin America, Asia, and Africa have critical, large-scale projects where conservation dollars go far and make a huge impact. Without running billion-dollar foundations, we ourselves have managed to leverage up a lot of conservation land for relatively little money.
Our Plans for Park Creation
Ultimately, we intend to donate all of the conservation lands our foundations have acquired to the Chilean or Argentine national park systems—for the benefit of wildlife and people. Few conservation organizations are dedicated to building new national parks, but we are committed to this conservation strategy and have had excellent success so far. In Chile, The Conservation Land Trust along with philanthropist Peter Buckley, partnered with the Chilean government to establish the spectacular 726,000-acre Corcovado National Park. In Argentina, Conservacion Patagonica played a key role in establishing Monte León National Park, protecting 25 miles of Atlantic coastline and 155,000-acres in the country’s first coastal continental park. In the next decades, we aim to create Pumalín, Melimoyu, Patagonia, and Alacalufe National Parks in Chile, and Iberá National Park in Argentina. We will donate land toward the expansion of Hornopiren, Corcovado, Isla Magdelena, and Padre Agostini National Parks in Chile and Perito Moreno National Park in Argentina.
Creating national or provincial parks inherently involves working with regional and national authorities, as only they can declare new parklands. National parks are just that—lands declared protected areas by the national government. No private entity can create a national park independently of the nation. We act as catalysts and partners in establishing new protected areas, working in partnership with surrounding communities, other NGOs, and many supporters.
Land Acquisition for Conservation
All of our park projects begin with land purchases in strategic locations, where additional protected habitat will significantly advance biodiversity conservation. We uphold strict standards for land acquisition, only buying land from willing sellers with good titles. Property owners, even small landowners, have strong rights in Chile and Argentina. Even occupational rights for those without legal titles are strong, and we respect all legitimate claims to land when we consider conservation purchases. Given that we work in “frontier” areas where the process of granting land titles is often slow and difficult, we have helped sellers and neighbors alike gain title to their property, to give them security and clarity about their ownership.
In buying properties, we consider it essential to maintain excellent relationships with sellers, so that they feel proud of the conservation effort they have joined. At times, we conduct land swaps, so that sellers can move to a preferable piece of property and we can place critical land under protection. One sometimes hears arguments about conservationists forcing people off of land. Although this may have happened elsewhere in the world, we are unaware of any such example in either Chile or Argentina. Landowners, and even those without formally recognized titles have considerable occupancy rights; any conservationist wishing to acquire land from even those with questionable titles will find it counterproductive to attempt to pressure them to sell. This results in unpleasant relationships with potential sellers and often results in the seller raising the price of the land, or in an extreme case, refusing to ever sell to that person. Furthermore there is nothing to be gained by “buying” land without titles. While perhaps this unfortunate practice of pressuring sellers has occurred or been attempted in some places at certain points in history, we never purchase land except from willing sellers and with good titles. We also have helped many a landowner, whether we are interested in purchasing their property or not, to get their titles in order because when a community’s members have their land titles in order, they tend to be much more consolidated, tend to care more for the land they occupy. Landowners will sleep happily with good titles under their pillows. We consider this a form of conservation activism to help all our neighbors put their titles in order or get them in the first place. Our experience has proven this to us over and over.
The Process of Creating a Park
Buying the land, however, is just the first step. Most of our project areas have experienced some level of ecological degradation and thus require active restoration, focused on habitat and/or key species.
To survive and flourish, a park needs strong connections—economic, social, cultural—to the surrounding communities. Establishing parklands may engender a certain amount of controversy: most changes in land use do. Historically, all over the world, the creation of a new protected area often prompts some resistance at first, followed by acceptance and then support from its neighbors. Again national park history all over the world on every continent, the pattern has remained the same and local communities near parks have become the fiercest defenders of “their” parks once the parks are established. Local communities then see themselves as “owners” of those parks.
The People of Parks
Our conservation projects employ over a hundred Chileans and Argentines, most of them from the same region as the project. We develop training programs to provide them and other community members with the skills needed to succeed in conservation and ecotourism-oriented jobs. Beyond direct job creation, we work with towns to hold events, host park visits, sponsor eco-education programs, and promote local pride and tourism.
At our flagship park projects, our vision is to welcome thousands of visitors to spectacular landscapes with minimal impact. With that aim, we’ve put tremendous effort into designing park infrastructure. Campgrounds, visitor centers, road and trail networks, signage, and other facilities have been designed to use local materials, be durable and energy efficient, and minimize impacts on the landscape’s natural qualities while offering a first-class visitor experience.