Chilean Patagonia is an international icon: it is one of the most remote places in the world and also one of the few remaining virgin areas on Earth. Much of its value comes from the interconnectivity of land and sea in its countless fjords and canals, the variety of its wildlife, and the communities that have not only thrived in the region for millennia, but also play a role. crucial in its protection.
Although the towns and villages of Patagonia have not historically been very visible, they are fundamental to any discussion of protected areas, where they serve as so-called gateway communities. These communities have a strong connection to the land, and maintaining that connection is a conscious decision that, for many residents, is rooted in their culture and family traditions. Their livelihoods and economic well-being also depend heavily on the land and its preservation: tourism in Patagonian protected areas begins and ends in these communities, whether through transportation to and from these remote locations or through information services, park administration, food and accommodation. .
Yet the communities of Patagonia differ from others in Chile largely due to their isolation. No other region of the country has such a high percentage of hard-to-reach communities, with such a low population density and such limited access to basic public services, including public education and health care. As a result, these places have a higher degree of social inequality than the rest of the country. According to the “Study of isolated localities” by the Chilean Under-Secretary for Regional and Administrative Development, 80.7% of towns and villages in the Magallanes region and 66.6% in the Aysén region are considered isolated.1
In addition, a recent study by the University of Austral Chile, which sought to describe the relationship between the urban dwellers of Chilean Patagonia and protected areas, found that throughout Patagonia, people strongly associate land with land. isolation, nature and a quiet way of life, which is lived with pride, some sacrifices and the feeling of “creating a homeland”.2 Tellingly, 79% of the urban population of Chilean Patagonia recognizes that protected areas contribute to the socio-economic development of their region,3 this is confirmed in countries as different as Ecuador and the United States, where analyzes show that every dollar invested in protected areas brings in $ 10 to the local economy.4
Activities associated with protected areas can boost a community’s economy by creating businesses and jobs related to responsible tourism, while preserving the local culture, history and ethnic identity of the destination.
If the link between a protected area and a gateway community is properly coordinated with the agency in charge of the administration of protected areas – such as CONAF (Chile’s National Forestry Corp.), the Ministry of the Environment or the Ministry of National Goods – accommodation, food service, and even park administration can be based in entrance communities, providing direct income to residents and relieving pressure to build expensive infrastructure in areas protected from Patagonia.
Chile made decisive progress in protecting this precious region four years ago by expanding its network of protected areas by more than 5,000 square miles, concentrating more than 90% of the country’s protected areas in Patagonia. Today, Gateway Communities can help save and build on these advances.
Developing bridging communities
Gradually in Aysén and more quickly in Magallanes, the towns and villages surrounding the protected areas of Chilean Patagonia are turning into gateway communities, places that not only provide access to these areas but also increasingly offer associated products and services. to ecotourism. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has halted the flow of tourists for more than a year, visitors now appear ready to return and enjoy the region’s natural wonders.
One of the emerging communities of Aysén is the Villa Cerro Castillo, where the Municipality of Puerto Ibáñez acquired the land next to the Paredón de las Manos, or Wall of the Hands, archaeological site and built a reception center and d ‘other infrastructure to protect the site while continuing to support tourism. Under an agreement between the municipality and CONAF, the administrative building of the national park will be located in the community, facilitating the management of the site and strengthening the bond of residents with the protected area. Meanwhile, the public high school, Liceo Rural Cerro Castillo, trains students in special interest tourism and takes them on field trips to more established host communities, like El Chaltén in Argentina.
These activities have inspired tourism projects of particular interest to Villa Cerro Castillo, including a climbing festival known as Roc’Fest and the winter Patagonian Ice Fest, which helps extend the tourist season while positioning the city as a leader among young bridging communities.
Residents of gateway communities are called upon to serve as hosts, beneficiaries and custodians of neighboring protected areas. Their involvement will determine, among other things, local and regional planning and management that integrate greater citizen participation in the conservation of natural and cultural treasures and in the management of protected areas, transforming these places into economic, social and cultural engines for them. promising communities.
For communities, this economic revitalization is particularly important as they begin to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
Establishing bridging communities helps ensure that effective conservation of protected areas also creates a better quality of life and greater development opportunities for the people of Patagonia. To achieve an ideal community gateway model, residents, officials and administrators of protected areas need to work together in a coordinated fashion.
Model without organized gateway community
Without a community as a gateway, there is no link between the inhabitants and a protected area, despite their geographical proximity. Thus, residents do not receive the social and economic benefits that flow from living near a protected area; and for economic development, they are abandoned to extractive activities that are not necessarily compatible with biodiversity conservation.
Visitors and tourists go directly to the protected area without interacting with the community. And infrastructure such as hotels and park administrative facilities are built within the protected area, often exceeding safety capacity levels and deviating from the main objective of the protected area: ecosystem conservation.
© 2021 The Pew Charitable Trusts
Model without organized gateway community
In an established gateway community, residents are connected to the protected area, participate in its management and receive socio-economic benefits by developing activities compatible with the ecosystems of the area.
Because the authorities are part of the strategy, which is supported by public policies, the roads to the park integrate the city and help lead tourists to the community. Services related to the protected area, including park administration, are provided in the city, supporting the local economy and freeing the protected area from the burden of creating and maintaining infrastructure, while allowing park wardens and administrators to focus on the management of the park and its effective conservation. .
© 2021 The Pew Charitable Trusts
- Chilean Under-Secretary for Regional and Administrative Development, “Study of Locations in Isolated Conditions (Estudio Identificación de Localidades en Condiciones de Aislamiento)” (2012), http://subdere.gov.cl/sites/default/files/documentos / zonas_aisladas2. pdf.
- C. Sepúlveda Luque, “Social Baseline of Protected Areas of Chilean Patagonia (Línea de Base Social de las Áreas Protegidas de la Patagonia Chilena)” (Austral Patagonia Program, Southern University, Chile, 2020), https: // programaaustralpatagonia .cl / wp-content / uploads / 2020/08 / Sepuilveda_LineaBaseSocial_ProAP-UACh-2.pdf.
- US National Park Service, “About Us,” accessed June 4, 2021, https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/release.htm?id=1821.