At the beginning of 2018, a series of decrees were signed establishing new protected marine areas and the National Parks network of Chilean Patagonia. As a result, about 38% of Chile’s geography is under some form of protection, aiming to improve the care of our particular natural heritage. This aspiration, however, is not new. In fact, about 150 years ago, a decree by President Abraham Lincoln transferred the valley of Yosemite and the surrounding area known as Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California, thereby granting these areas permanent and irrevocable status for public and recreational use.
Yosemite National Park is approximately 320 km from San Francisco, California. It extends over an area of approximately 3,000 km2 through the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. It has been part of the World Heritage of Humanity since 1984 and is internationally recognized for its scenic beauty, its imposing cliffs, its peculiar vegetation or, as established by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1864, simply for being considered “the greatest glory of nature”(1). Eight years later in 1872, Yellowstone in Wyoming was the first territorial reserve to be demarcated by a government as a territorial reserve, establishing its public use opened for the enjoyment of all citizens. More importantly, its designation was the result of the same report that Frederick Law Olmsted elaborated, aspiring to have it become a sort of manual for conservation, to establish parameters for land management and accessibility under the premise of causing a minimum impact on the natural space (2).
(1) In Frederick Law Olmsted: Observaciones sobre la Ideación, Construcción y Mantención del Paisaje (Frederick Law Olmsted: Observations about the Ideation, Construction and Maintenance of Landscape (Ediciones ARQ).
(2) Olmsted, “Yosemite and Mariposa Grove: a preliminary report, 1865” in Frederick Law Olmsted: Observaciones sobre la Ideación, Construcción y Mantención del Paisaje.
In Chile, it was not until 1907 that the country’s first natural reserve, the Malleco Fiscal Reserve, was established, later adding those of Alto Biobío, Llanquihue and Villarrica. All are located in the south of the country and were created to prevent the destruction of forest resources and carry out their exploitation in a rational manner. Twenty years later, the first national parks were created: Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna with Caburga Lake (1925) and Vicente Pérez Rosales with Todos los Santos Lake (1926), where there were not only forests but also other natural attractions such as rivers, lakes, and mountains (3). As Gabriela and Javier Simonetti have stated, “this protective action responded to a combination of two principles: utilitarianism and romanticism, characteristic of the conservationist paradigm that spread throughout the western world at that time. Through the creation of these parks, the aim was to develop the tourist industry and, at the same time, preserve certain spaces where contemplating nature could take place “(4). Thanks to this principle, by 1965 national parks had been created in Chile covering an area of approximately 11.5 million hectares, thus surpassing Yosemite’s total area.
(3) Simonetti, Simonetti and Espinoza, Conservando el Patrimonio Natural de Chile: (Preserving Chile’s Natural Heritage) El Aporte de las Áreas Protegidas (2015) (The Contribution of Protected Areas) p. 32.
(4) Simonetti, Simonetti and Espinoza, p. 32.
Then came the protected areas created after the decade of the 80s, governed by a new logic of conserving the biodiversity and representative ecosystems allowing as a result the consolidation of the national parks in the northern part of Chile. Thus, the policies of protection of our national heritage went from being governed by logics of logging and tourism to ideals of ecological conservation.
Faced with this panorama and returning to what Olmsted postulated in his 1864 report, the preservation of natural areas implied that the perception, configuration, and use of these areas considering the interests of the citizens’ well being would be put over and above the economic interests of the few. In the local context, although natural heritage is recognized as the main attribute of the country, the conservation and protection of natural areas has been complex; historically, the development of the country has been based on the economic exploitation of the same natural resources at the hands of the productive sectors such as mining, fishing, forestry and agriculture. The conflict then emerged in the need to sustain the national economy while conserving and/or preserving our national heritage for the common good.
Currently in Chile, there is a bill that creates the National Service of Biodiversity and Protected Areas, whose objective is the conservation of biological diversity and the protection of the natural heritage through the preservation, restoration, and sustainable use of genes, species, and ecosystems. In addition, it would provide the state with more administrative, economic and legislative resources for better institutional management of national parks and protected areas (5). For the time being, and while the project is in the process of being approved, the protected marine areas of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, Diego Ramírez Islands, Paso Drake, Rapa Nui, Admiralty Sound and Tortel have been created so far this year, along with the creation of the Pumalín National Park, making a reality of the Network of Parks of Patagonia, whose total area exceeds 4.5 million hectares (6). With this important increase in the area of protected areas, an entity that can manage and conserve these places becomes fundamental, and of course we are reminded of Olmsted’s brief text that, after 150 years, is still valid.
(5) “Comisión de Medio Ambiente del Senado aprueba en forma unánime proyecto que crea el Servicio de Biodiversidad y Áreas Protegidas” Ministerio del Medio Ambiente (25 Oct. 2017). (Environment Commission of the Senate unanimously approves project that creates the Service of Biodiversity and Protected Areas” Ministry of the Environment (25 Oct. 2017). In <http://portal.mma.gob.cl/comision-de-medio-ambiente-del-senado-aprueba-en-forma-unanime-proyecto-que-crea-el-servicio-de-biodiversidad-y-areas-protegidas/>
(6) “Conservación de la biodiversidad: una gran oportunidad para Chile,” El Mostrador (7 Mar. 2018). In <http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2018/03/07/conservacion-de-la-biodiversidad-una-gran-oportunidad-para-chile/>
Andrea Latrille is an Architect and holds a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (2017). She currently works as an independent architect in developing architectural projects, landscape architecture, and disciplinary research.