New conservation initiative launched to buy massive Cochamó property in Chilean Patagonia

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Photo: Rodrigo MannsPhoto: Rodrigo Manns

 
Five local and international organizations launch Conserva Puchegüín, a campaign to raise US$78 million to conserve 133,000 hectares of pristine wild lands in the Cochamó area of southern Chile.
 
By Jimmy Langman and Sofía Anich
 
This week, an ambitious campaign called the Conserva Puchegüín initiative was announced by five local and international organizations to purchase and conserve a big, key piece of wild nature in northern Chilean Patagonia.
 
Cochamó, located in the Los Lagos region of southern Chile, holds some of the most cherished and pristine wilderness areas of Patagonia. It is a veritable nature playground of mountains, rivers and forests for outdoor enthusiasts that has been famously dubbed the “Yosemite of South America” because its 1000-meter-high granite walls and awesome natural beauty appear the wilder twin of the popular Yosemite National Park in California.
 
Conservationists have long sought to conserve Cochamó ecosystems, but the land is in a patchwork of private hands and over the past decade have also been targeted by a large-scale hydroelectric project and real estate development schemes. However, nearly 133,000 hectares of the so-called Hacienda Puchegüín, about 30 percent of the entire district of Cochamó, were put up for sale in late 2022 by Chilean businessman Roberto Hagemann.
 
 

Climbers flock to the giant granite walls in Cochamo. Photo: Catalina ClaroClimbers flock to the giant granite walls in Cochamo. Photo: Catalina Claro

 

"It has been dubbed the 'Yosemite of South America' because its granite walls and awesome natural beauty appear the wilder twin of the popular Yosemite National Park in California."

 
At first, alarm bells went off for some environmentalists as the sale of Puchegüín was promoted with great fanfare by the Christie's International Real Estate firm. Soon, however, conservation groups seized it as an amazing green opportunity.
 
The southern Chilean environmental group Puelo Patagonia, together with the international conservation group The Nature Conservancy, two U.S. foundations, the Freyja Foundation and Wyss Foundation, and the eco-conscious outdoor gear company Patagonia, Inc., are seeking to buy the land and save it into perpetuity. This historic alliance has signed a purchase agreement with the owner of Puchegüín with a preferential option to acquire the property.
 
The alliance of organizations has an initial two-year period to raise the US$78 million (reduced from an initial price of US$150 million) that will allow them to purchase the land and implement a conservation and community development plan over a 7-year period. "We are confident about achieving the campaign’s goals. We have 20 percent of the total fundraising goal already committed, and we’re seeing high interest in the project from within Chile and internationally,” says Brady Robinson, director of philanthropy at the Freyja Foundation.
 
 
The alliance has two years to raise the money. Photo: Gerhard Hüdepohl  The alliance has two years to raise the money. Photo: Gerhard Hüdepohl
 

"We have 20 percent of the total fundraising goal already committed, and we’re seeing high interest in the project from within Chile and internationally."

 
Robinson says they are looking for donors mainly in Chile, Europe, and the United States, and believe that Chilean donors in particular will see the conservation of Puchegüín not only for its environmental value, but as an engine for economic development. "The Yosemite Valley is one of the most beloved places in my country, the U.S.; it’s a part of our national identity. Intuitively, I see the value Puchegüín and the Cochamó Valley could have for Chile as a driver of growth for an entire region, as well as a source of pride in the eyes of the world,” says Robinson.
 
Still, if they succeed, the crowning achievement would be for nature protection. The Puchegüín property contains 58,000 hectares of primary forest, of which 18,000 hectares are covered with alerce trees – an endangered species and the world’s oldest tree that can live up to 5000 years. In addition, the area has a hydrographic network comprised of 507 hectares of glaciers, 41 kilometers of lake and lagoon shores, 372 kilometers of riverbanks, and 150 hectares of wetlands and peat bogs. It’s also home to endangered fauna such as the huemul, the Patagonian viscacha, and the monito del monte, among others.
 
Conservationists also emphasize protecting this land would be invaluable from a regional landscape perspective. Says Robinson: “This is an opportunity to protect a key piece of land that can connect with 1,640,000-hectares of protected areas across Chile and Argentina, thereby unlocking one of the largest biological corridors in Latin America.”
 
 
The purchase would help create one of the largest biological corridors in Latin America. Photo: Benjamin ValenzuelaThe purchase would help create one of the largest biological corridors in Latin America. Photo: Benjamin Valenzuela
 
 
The next steps in this effort, according to Andrés Diez, executive director of Puelo Patagonia, which is taking the lead role in in the Conserva Puchegüín initiative, is to continue their work with the local communities to strengthen nature tourism and other traditional activities in the zone, organize a series of workshops with them to “co-create a conservation plan,” and coordinate a series of fundraising events and meetings with potential donors in the coming months.
 
As for government involvement, Diez says they have met with various public institutions, including the environment ministry, who "agree on the importance of this place for the conservation of biodiversity in the country.” Diez adds that Puelo Patagonia hopes that in the future Puchegüín can be integrated into Chile’s National System of Protected Areas. 
 
"In the meantime,” said Diez, “the Chilean government can contribute to this project from different areas, like, for example, the national property ministry could help with the legalization of land titles, the health ministry with the approval of tourist services, CORFO and Sercotec (economic development agencies) integrate economic initiatives in the area, or Sernatur (the national tourism ministry) through the training and promotion of tourist guides and services.”