Engaging Local Youth in the Reforestation of Torres del Paine National Park

Located in Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park is considered by many as the 8th wonder of the world. This will come as no surprise to those adventurers who have been lucky enough to gaze upon the park’s jagged peaks and turquoise lakes.

Of course, where natural beauty and adventure abound, people often do too. In the last four years alone, park visitation doubled, and in 2016 reached a historic record of 252,000.

Unfortunately, Torres del Paine’s soaring popularity has also been accompanied by an increase in man-made forest fires. Since 1985, the park has lost one-fifth of its 242,000 hectares to fires, all of which were started by tourists. These fires devastated native Lenga tree forests and the habitats of already endangered species.

An endangered South Andean deer, or Huemul, and forest fire damage in Torres del Paine National Park (Photos by Mariano MantelJulie Laurent, and Murray Foubister).

The Cost of Reforestation

Reforestation is no small task, particularly in Patagonia.  For starters, it’s a costly process. Each lenga tree (Nothpofagus pumilio) costs about $5 to plant. That might not seem like much if you’re only planting one tree, but multiply it by the thousands of trees that it will take to restore the devastated native forests in Torres del Paine and you’re looking at a hefty price tag.

But cost isn’t the only barrier. Lenga tree seedlings aren’t widely available and there are only certain times of year when they can be planted. And of course, once the seeds are finally in the ground, there’s still a long waiting period for the trees to reach maturity. The harsh Patagonian winds only extend this process. It can take 50 years for a lenga tree to grow 10 meters.

Finding sufficient resources to address these types of challenges can be difficult. This is exactly why we partnered with the Fink Family Foundation to develop and manage the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund. The Legacy Fund helps to mobilize resources to address these challenges, ensuring the long-term health of Torres del Paine and its surrounding communities. To help restore fire damaged areas of the Park, the Legacy Fund partnered with local conservation NGO, (AMA) Torres del Paine, on a lenga tree reforestation project.

Lenga tree seedlings

20,000 Lenga for Paine

To boost reforestation funding and involve local youth in environmental stewardship, AMA launched a school fundraising campaign in 2014. The campaign, titled 20 mil lengas para el Paine (or 20,000 lenga for Paine) engaged schools across the Magallanes region of Chile. Classes that raised the most money won a field trip to the national park and helped to plant lenga seedlings.

The campaign generated an overwhelming amount of interest and participation. More than 700 students from across Magallanes contributed over 16,000 lenga seedlings for reforestation. The field trips proved to be an effective way to engage youth in conservation efforts and inspire environmental responsibility.

Teaming up with the Legacy Fund to Expand the Impact

Based on this initial success, AMA decided to coordinate additional student reforestation excursions to the park, allowing more children – particularly those in the park’s gateway town of Puerto Natales – to participate. By teaming up with the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund to expand the campaign’s budget, AMA was able to make these trips a reality.

Thanks to support from Adventure Life, in April and May 2016, 68 high school students and 5 teachers from Liceo Gabriela Mistral and Liceo Politécnico Luis Cruz Martínez in Puerto Natales were able to journey to the park, many for the first time. In addition to learning about the park’s flora and fauna, they dug in and got their hands dirty, planting 3,800 lenga trees!

“They really got into it too,” describes project coordinator Nelson Bahamondes. “We were a bit worried at first that they might be exhausted after the first day. But the next day that were ready to go again, super energized. That was really fun to see. I think it was also important that they realized that reforestation is more than what they had seen on TV, it’s more than just sticking a plant in the ground and covering it up. It’s an entire process that takes a a lot of time and energy.”

Local students planting lenga trees during their school reforestation excursions to Torres del Paine National Park

These students will soon be those responsible for the park’s well-being. Involving them in addressing the challenges facing the park is an important step to ensuring the long-term health of this extraordinary destination. Without the support of the Legacy Fund, students from Puerto Natales would not have been able to participate.

The students were not the only ones who took something away from this experience. The campaign was also an important learning opportunity for its organizers. AMA discovered ways to expand their reforestation efforts by involving schools, and partnering with other institutions, like the Legacy Fund. The teachers also played a key role in getting the students engaged and excited —in fact, “you could say that they were the soul of this project, without them we never would have been able to do it,” said Bahamondes.

This campaign was just one of many steps along the long path towards Torres del Paine’s recovery. The Legacy Fund and AMA continue to work together to advance reforestation, establishing a new lenga tree nursery in 2016 to increase the supply of seedlings. Lengas from the nursery will be planted in burned areas of the park.

Help Restore Torres del Paine

We invite you to support this effort, or learn more about the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund’s other causes and projects. You too can help ensure a thriving Torres del Paine!

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