The defenders of Cochamo

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By Rodrigo Barria
Editors Note: The following is from Issue 25.
Established to protect the Cochamó Valley, a patchwork of private lands in southern Chile that has been dubbed “the Yosemite of South America” as it has drawn apt comparisons to the famed Yosemite National Park in the United States for the enormous granite peaks found there, the Organización Valle Cochamó (OVC) was founded in 2017.
Working to conserve an area that extends some 4,000 square kilometers, since its beginning, the OVC has been a community-oriented organization made up of business and property owners, friends, and so many others who seek to foster sustainable tourism development in Cochamó while at the same time protecting the local culture.
The initiative formed in response to the explosive growth of visitors to the area in recent years, as well as ongoing threats from hydroelectric, forestry, real estate and road building projects that put at risk one of the most beautiful places in northern Chilean Patagonia.
The OVC builds on the success of a previous organization. In the late 2000s, the citizen group Conservación Cochamó (2009-2012) battled against a hydroelectric project that wanted to exploit the rivers of the Cochamó Valley. The group was successful. During Michelle Bachelet's first government the Cochamó River watershed was formally set aside for only conservation and local development use.
Still, threats to the Cochamó and Puelo areas have not stopped for an impressive place home to 8,000 hectares of endangered alerce trees and endemic flora and fauna such as Darwin's frog, Patagonian viscachas, huemuls, pumas and other species native to the Valdivian temperate rainforest.
So, in 2017, representatives of Conservación Cochamó, members of Puelo Patagonia and new stakeholders interested in protecting the area met to form the OVC. Meantime, in the United States, a companion organization called the Friends of Cochamó group was also created by climbers who fell in love with Cochamó.
The visitor center. The visitor center.
Among their achievements up to now, OVC has established a visitor management system to reduce the environmental impact of the disorderly, burgeoning numbers of tourists that annually visit the area, which is not a formal park. The system, which calls for obligatory reservations, has moreover made it possible to hire park rangers and organize volunteers to provide information on hiking and sustainable practices in the area.
Significant progress has been made, there is now less trash on the trails and at campgrounds, they have implemented a recycling program, reduced the risk of forest fires and water pollution levels have decreased.
But the lands that make up the Cochamó Valley are not a formal national park or even a private reserve, which has meant that all of the financing for this protection effort have been made possible only through contributions from neighboring landowners, the community, and some companies.
Without the resources that the government provides to the cousins inside national parks, OVC has several challenges ahead, such as maintaining a Visitor’s Center, doing maintenance work on trails, securing rescue and first aid equipment, and creating environmental education programs and audiovisual material to support and enrich the visit of tourists to the Cochamó Valley.
They need more support. "Today, our work team is made up of 16 people and our partners number 25. The hope is we will get even more contributions to help us protect the Cochamó River watershed and an area of 33,000 hectares," says Tatiana Sandoval, president of OVC.

Visit the Cochamo Valley Oranization at for more information.