The Nature Conservancy Bosques de Zapallar
An overview of private lands conservation work in Mediterranean Chile.
"This is a huge achievement, because these lands have an extremely high market value."
Victoria Alonso, the Conservancy’s Private Lands Coordinator in Chile.
By Marcela Torres
What could motivate 22 landowners to donate properties to create a park? The love of nature! The launch of El Boldo Park, in Zapallar, is a dream come true for many people who live in this beach retreat at the heart of the Mediterranean habitat, in central Chile.
The unusual mix of an arid coastal desert surrounded by hills covered by a lush forest that grows thanks to the fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean has made Zapallar a highly attractive place for hundreds of Chileans in search of rest and inspiration. Where does the danger lie? In the increasing demand for urban development in one of the planet’s most fragile ecosystems.
The Conservancy, with its partner organization Parques para Chile, has worked with the local community for years to attain this achievement. In 2009 they supported the establishment of the Corporación Bosques de Zapallar, Chile’s first land trust, and in 2010 they celebrate with the neighbors the creation of El Boldo Park, which protects almost 173 acres of a unique and highly threatened forest.
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Orchids, hummingbirds and more
Climbing the trail that leads from the beach in Zapallar to El Boldo Park is like traveling to southern Chile in just an hour’s walk. As you go up, you can see the change in vegetation. The cacti and puyas give way to shrubs and trees until you reach a sclerophyll coastal forest adapted to dry environments.
Trees such as the Olivillo (Aextoxicon punctatum) and the Canelo (Drimys winteri) are proof that millions of years ago, when rainfall was more abundant than now, the area was covered by the same type of temperate rainforest that currently occurs in Chile’s Lake District.
Several species make the Zapallar hills their home, including:
- Small Chagual (Puya venusta), a typical plant of Mediterranean Chile considered vulnerable due to the reduction of its habitat.
- The Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas), which is the largest in the world and likes to nest on plants close to the shore.
- Chilean orchid (Bipinnula fimbriata), which seeks protection from the forest to grow.
The danger of urban development
“The Mediterranean ecosystem was transparent to Chileans until now,” says Marcelo Ringeling, Board Member of Parques para Chile and one of the advocates of the new El Boldo Park. “Human settlement and agricultural activities in the benign climate of our central regions made this habitat almost disappear, just like in other similar places in the world — the European Mediterranean, California, Australia, and South Africa.”
The warning had already been given in 2005 when Chile’s National Environment Commission (CONAMA) — now the Ministry of Environment — included the Zapallar forests among the 68 priority conservation sites it identified at the national level. Something needed to be done immediately…
A private initiative
“The first step to protect this unique ecosystem was the establishment of the Corporación Bosques de Zapallar, where a group of private landowners organizes to cooperate with other private landowners, with properties of high environmental value, to ensure these natural resources are protected and conserved in perpetuity or at least in the long term,” explains Federico Ringeling, Marcelo’s brother and Board Member of the Corporación.
According to Victoria Alonso, the Conservancy’s Private Lands Coordinator in Chile, “this is a huge achievement, because these lands have an extremely high market value and their owners have decided to set them apart and forbid any type of building in them. What’s most important is that they do it without obtaining any economic benefit in return — such as tax exemptions, for example — because the Chilean law, as opposed to that of other countries like the United States, does not offer this possibility.”
One of the Conservancy’s strategies to support this process is the coordination of technical exchange trips to observe similar experiences in other countries. In May, 2010 Victoria traveled with representatives of the Corporación Bosques de Zapallar and Parques para Chile to learn about the private lands conservation movement in California’s Mediterranean region.
In the long term, the Corporación Bosques de Zapallar — together with the Conservancy and Parques Para Chile — intends to create a biological corridor that will unite the Zapallar forests from El Boldo Park to El Roble hill, in La Campana National Park, the only public protected area in Chile’s Mediterranean habitat.
“This biological corridor will require connecting area with an important biodiversity, but with diverse owners, in order to stop habitat fragmentation in this ecosystem,” explains Karl Yunis, Executive Director of Parques para Chile.
Juan Carlos Johow, President of the Corporación Bosques de Zapallar and grandson of one of the founders of this beach retreat, says that “for now we’ll concentrate on implementing El Boldo Park to receive visitors. At first the hikes will be with a guide, but eventually we’ll have interpretive trails. We have a lot of work ahead, but also plenty of energy and enthusiasm for this huge achievement that is the result of our profound love of nature.”