Valdivia, Chile - A history of deforestation and neglect comes officially to a close for a vast stretch of some of the most threatened and biologically rich temperate rainforest in the world. Today's inauguration of the new Valdivian Coastal Reserve, 147,500 acres of coastal temperate rainforest in southern Chile, marks a major advance in overcoming an era of clearcutting and forest conversion in the area, and makes way for new public access and cooperation for local community development.
The native forests of the reserve harbor an incredible wealth of wildlife, including one of the world's largest woodpeckers, the world's smallest deer, a "mountain monkey" (a small tree-dwelling marsupial considered by scientists to be a living fossil), at least 58 bird species and several rare carnivores, such as the southern river otter. The area is home to one of the planet's longest living tree species: the alerce tree, which resembles North American giant sequoias and can live up to 4,000 years. It also houses the olivillo tree, which is unlike any other tree species on Earth and is found only in the temperate rainforests of southern Chile.
The Nature Conservancy, working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), first acquired the Valdivian property for $7.5 million in late 2003 at a public auction following the bankruptcy of the forestry company Bosques S.A. The company's largest creditor, FleetBoston Financial Corporation, now owned by Bank of America, facilitated the land acquisition. The Conservancy and WWF are currently managing the reserve and are working with their Chilean partners to transfer ownership and management of the reserve into Chilean hands to ensure this treasure is protected for generations to come. WWF and the Conservancy have also been in constant contact with communities in the neighboring area to ensure that their traditional land uses remain part of the overall strategy of the new reserve, and to promote compatible local economic development.
"We are delighted that this previously threatened natural area now offers unexpected opportunities not only for conservation of Chile's natural heritage but also for public use and local community development," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, who attended the inauguration. "We hope that this project will serve as an example of how to create a park by working with local communities."
"This project protects an area of outstanding global importance, which until recently was considered by many as difficult or impossible to protect," stated Guillermo Castilleja, WWF's vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean. "The creation of this reserve shows the power of a big conservation vision combined with real on-the-ground cooperation between environmental organizations, governments and local communities."
The designation of the property as a reserve is part of a larger partnership among the Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, local organizations and the Chilean environmental agency (CONAMA). The partnership is working extensively on the management of the reserve and generating support for related local community development. CONAMA's interest in the area has galvanized a series of public investments and plans for a Global Environment Facility project in the area.
"Our hope is that society participates and contributes towards the protection of our environment, making the care of nature a daily and participative act that is compatible with the growth of our country," said Paulina Saball, Executive Director of the Chilean Environmental Agency (CONAMA). "The creation of the Valdivian Coastal Reserve represents a great achievement for Chile and gives concrete evidence of what it is possible to develop to preserve our natural heritage."
The reserve contains 9,000 acres of non-native eucalyptus trees and 4,000 acres of land that was previously clear-cut for another eucalyptus plantation. The Conservancy, WWF and local partners in Chile will harvest the eucalyptus in an environmentally-responsible manner and restore the entire 13,000 acres to native forest. Sale of the timber could ultimately help fund the conservation project.
"The preservation of this land is a boon for the Chilean people as well as for rare and endangered species," said Francisco Solis, project manager for the Conservancy's Chile program. "Conservation areas should not be locked away. We hope that neighboring areas will benefit by people coming here."