Cape Froward: 121,000 hectares of conservation in the southernmost national park in America

Cape Froward: 121,000 hectares of conservation in the southernmost national park in America
Cape Froward: 121,000 hectares of conservation in the southernmost national park in America

In the last corner of America, right where the continent ends, a national park of more than 121,000 hectares is being created that could be the first to be created under the Administration of the left-wing president of Chile, Gabriel Boric. Two weeks ago, on March 28, Kristine Tompkins and Carolina Morgado, representing the Tompkins Conservation and Rewilding Chile foundations respectively, signed a protocol with the Chilean Government to create this new protected area in the southernmost continental area of ​​the country and the world, before Antarctica: Cape Froward.

It is an area located on the Brunswick peninsula, in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic region, 90 kilometers southwest of the city of Punta Arenas. A floor conceived by the American millionaire Douglas Tompkins, founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing brands and conservation philanthropist, who dedicated an important part of the end of his life to working for important conservation projects in this part of the planet. At the age of 72, in 2015, he died when the kayak in which he was sailing on Lake General Carrera capsized.

This area is characterized by its coihue, cinnamon and elder forests, its ancient peat bogs and its steep hills that flow into the Strait of Magellan. In these waters it is possible to observe humpback whales, penguins, sea lions, albatrosses and some species of dolphins such as the dolphin. It is also the last continental habitat of the huemul – the Chilean deer whose figure is on the national coat of arms and which is in danger of extinction – and of the red canquén, a bird, also in danger of extinction, whose nesting area adjoins with that area.

The first step to transform this territory into a park occurred at the beginning of 2023 when President Boric accepted the donation of a 93,492 hectare land from Rewilding and Tompkins Conservation, with the commitment that the State would deliver another 28,132 hectares for the creation of a new national park. It is an agreement that was closed with the signing of the protocol on March 28, which the Chilean president could not attend due to scheduling problems. Now the joint work between the foundations and the various levels of the Executive Branch begins so that Cabo Froward can definitively join the other 43 national parks that Chile has. Of the total, in nine the Tompkins family has played a central role, either by donating the land or helping to expand its surface area.

A dolphin jumps in the waters of the Magallanes region.EDUARDO HERNANDEZ (Rewilding Chile)

“After President Boric committed, when we arrived with the idea of ​​creating this new national park, we formed working groups. And what the protocol does now is that it triggers all the following administrative acts that will lead to the creation of the national park decree,” Carolina Morgado, the executive director of Rewilding Chile, explains to EL PAÍS.

The first step, he says, is to start the donation to the Ministry of National Assets so that it can work on the official plans that must then be reviewed by the National Directorate of Borders and State Limits (Difrol). The procedures must also go through the Ministry of Finance, and then the Comptroller’s Office. But, in addition, the creation of the park will require indigenous consultation, especially considering that the Cabo Froward area is inhabited by representatives of the Kawésqar culture, a people native to the southern part of Chile. The National Forestry Development Corporation (Conaf), for its part, is in charge of preparing the technical report that must justify the creation of this protected area. Once these stages are completed, the decision will pass to the committee of ministers for sustainability, the body in charge of giving the final approval.

Although Rewilding has a schedule that works with the Government, Morgado prefers not to anticipate the dates on which the park will be established. “We are working to create it as soon as possible,” he says.

The Chilean Government signed the protocol for the creation of the new natural park together with Rewilding Chile and Tompkins Conservation, on March 28, 2024. Eduardo Hernández (Rewilding Chile)

At first, the conversation with President Boric included the idea of ​​creating a protected marine park mirroring the terrestrial protected area, but ultimately this was left out of the protocol. “When we met with the president, it was always with the idea of ​​exploring that possibility, but the truth is that it was much more expeditious to work alone in the national park, because there was not the time to do so in marine conservation,” explains Morgado, who, in any case, says that they continue making expeditions and seeing other places to work on protecting coastal marine areas, not only in Magallanes.

A land corridor

It was in 2020, when Rewilding Chile was in the process of separating from Tompkins Conservation to operate as an independent foundation, when property broker Hernán Passalacqua, executive director of Fitzroy Turismo & Real Estate, contacted Morgado to tell him that this land was up for grabs. the sale. It was familiar territory: Tompkins Conservation had worked in Magallanes on the creation of the Yendegaia national parks in 2013 and Kawésqar in 2018. “We had always looked at the Brunswick peninsula as this incredible green lung and he opened our eyes to this opportunity and there We got excited,” says Morgado.

The property, which was in the hands of former Magellanic deputy and businessman Miodrag Marinovic, was then purchased with the contribution of nine philanthropists, including Kristine Tompkins. Two Chileans also participated, Lucy Ana Avilés, founder of the Viento Sur foundation and the Drake foundation, linked to the former owner of Líder supermarkets in Chile, Nicolás Ibáñez.

In conservation work, 150 hectares of degraded subantarctic forest have been identified, for which a reforestation project is being implemented.Eduardo Hernández (Rewilding Chile)

Cabo Froward then became Rewilding Chile’s first national park project and a key piece of the park route, a scenic path that goes from the city of Puerto Montt, the capital of the Los Lagos Region, to Cape Horn, the most extreme point of the American continent where the coastal islands end, under the vision of turning tourism into an engine for local economies. It is an initiative that also seeks to establish a National Huemul Corridor (CNH).

“This possibility arose and we saw the potential it had, because when you look at that territory you see a wonderful green corridor between Yendegaia National Park, Agostini Park, Kawésqar, Bernardo O’ Higgins and up,” says Morgado.

“Many people say that conservation is overrepresented in the region, but I do not believe in that concept, because for the times we are living in with these great crises, these climate corridors are a natural solution. There are about 8 million hectares and when you see this corridor, the Brunswick Peninsula, it fits perfectly,” adds the conservationist, who adds that they remain interested in including new territories in the region as protected areas.

Cape Froward has an area of ​​more than 121 thousand hectares located on the Brunswick peninsula.Eduardo Hernández (Rewilding Chile)

Conservation work in Cabo Froward includes species monitoring, for which they are already installing camera traps in various areas of the park to observe the movement of the local fauna. In addition, 150 hectares of degraded subantarctic forest have already been identified, and a reforestation project is currently being implemented.

Work with the community, particularly with representatives of the Kawésqar people, is a key piece of the project. A door-to-door visit to the entire Brunswick peninsula has already been made to meet its inhabitants and socialize the different stages of the creation of the park and now comes the construction of the master plan. “We hired a local team of marine biologists, anthropologists, and people who have a close relationship with the Kawésqar people, and we did a biocultural study of the territory, in order to identify the places that are sacred and important in their traditions, so that everything that is in the master plan, not only identified, but also enhanced, respected and included,” Morgado points out.

It is a dream that will become the southernmost point in America, a milestone that is marked by the Cross of the Seas, first raised at the summit of the cape in 1913 and then rebuilt three more times, in a protected area for humanity.

The protected natural area is located 90 kilometers southwest of the city of Punta Arenas, where it is possible to observe humpback whales.Eduardo Hernández (Rewilding Chile)

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