Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a presidential decree Monday creating the Network of National Parks of Patagonia in Chile’s southernmost region. The network comprises 40,500 square kilometers.
The decree signed by Bachelet increases Chile’s protected areas by 81.1 percent, a move that seeks to preserve native flora and stimulate tourism. In a public statement, Chile’s president claimed the decision is impressive “because Chile is still a developing country, with a large history of development and resource exploitation — in most cases overexploitation. If Chile can take this gigantic environmental measure, there are few reasons why developed nations cannot act as well.”
The creation of the network was preceded by the largest donation of private lands in Chile’s history. Four hundred thousand hectares were donated by the wife of U.S. businessman and philanthropist Douglas Tompkins, founder of clothing brand The North Face. Tompkins had been buying vast areas of the Chilean Patagonia and turned them into private conservation area, a move criticized by locals who claim it reduces productive lands, affecting people’s livelihoods.
The mayor of the city closest to the newly-formed network, Patricio Ulloa, didn’t attend the celebratory inauguration event, saying “they’ve erased our history and there is no way to forgive that.” “They’ve never shown an evaluation that really shows how this will benefit the community,” Ulloa added.
However, environmental organizations have praised the decision, signaling future challenges such as “the creation of a financing mechanism that will allow the future sustainability of the network and the effective management of the parks ... with active participation by local communities,” said the World Wildlife Fund in Chile.
This is not Bachelet’s first environmental protection measure.
In December, she successfully ended a five-year negotiation process with the inhabitants of Easter Island to form one of the greatest-protected Marine Areas of the world, which covers 720,000 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean.