26 January 2008

Creating the future Patagonia National Park

The bleakness of the Patagonian plains enchanted Darwin, who asked himself [1], "Why...
...have these arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my memory? Why have not the still more level, the greener and more fertile Pampas, which are serviceable to mankind, produced an equal impression? I can scarcely analyze these feelings: but it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination. The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarcely passable, and hence unknown: they bear the stamp of having lasted, as they are now, for ages, and there appears no limit to their duration through future time. If, as the ancients supposed, the flat earth was surrounded by an impassable breadth of water, or by deserts heated to an intolerable excess, who would not look at these last boundaries to man's knowledge with deep but ill-defined sensations?"
Conrad Martens (1833) The Wake[?], Port Desire. This and other images from Conrad Martens sketchbooks are online at Cambridge University Library.

These "deep but ill-defined sensations" captured in notebooks by Darwin and in sketchbooks by Martens will be familiar to anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in wilderness.

Soon after the publication of Voyage of the Beagle, the beginnings of the wilderness conservation movement began in the United States. Explorers, scientists and writers like the Scottish expatriate John Muir were moved by their experiences in wilderness, by their power to remind us, even briefly, that we are but specks in a boundless universe, to seek legal protection for such places from the incursions of industry and development.

John Muir, naturalist, writer, explorer and father of U.S. national park system.

Flash-forward to present-day Patagonia, where wild landscapes like those that lodged themselves in Darwin's memory are threatened by overgrazing, erosion, invasive species and not least a massive hydroelectric project that will install five dams on the Rio Baker and the Rio Pascua in Chilean Patagonia.

To counter these threats, Conservacion Patagonica was established as "a non-profit organization dedicated to protection of wildland ecosystems and biodiversity in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, is working towards the goal of creating Patagonia National Park, a world-class park similar in size to Yosemite National Park in California."

The proposed site of Patagonia National Park.

To make Patagonia National Park a reality, Conservacion Patagonica needs both donations and volunteers. If you can't manage either of these, then why not at least spread the word? I've made a little Support Patagonia National Park button for our sidebar. Feel free to copy and paste.

Finally, don't miss this video, which makes a moving case for protection and restoration:


1. Darwin, Charles Robert (1845) Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world. 2d ed. (this, along with are of Darwin's published works, is available for free at Darwin Online)

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