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Sharing Lessons Learned in Chile

By Nick Miller, Director of Conservation Science
The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin

During the final month of my Coda Global Fellowship, my family and I decided to explore more of Chile before heading home to Wisconsin. So we left the green, rainy environs of Valdivia and traveled north to the crisp, dry climate of Chile’s Mediterranean region around La Serena and the Elqui Valley.

As we traveled across the country, the sharp contrast in Chile’s diverse landscapes became clear—contrasts between the dry, arid lands of the north and the lush rainforests of the south, and between the steep peaks and smoking volcanos of the high Andes and the rugged coastline, rife with sea life. So many different habitats and ecosystems in just one country!

And the way that people “fit” within this landscape came into focus for me, too – from mining in the stark landscapes high in the mountains and in the dry desert, through the abundant croplands of the Mediterranean region fed by glacial meltwater, to timber management in the south and fishing in one of the world’s most productive fisheries—the Humboldt Current on the Chilean coast.

The people of Chile are linked to the bountiful nature that surrounds and supports them. This is true everywhere in the world, but it became crystal clear to me as I saw more of Chile’s astounding landscapes.

A Roadmap for Conservation in Chile

During my time in Chile, I had the opportunity to work with some of The Nature Conservancy’s best and brightest staff—from Santiago to Valdivia and across the Southern Andes region—and to view the relationship between nature and people through the lens of conservation.

Together, the Conservancy’s Southern Andes staff and I created a plan – a roadmap – that envisions a future for Chile where nature supports people and people support nature in harmony.

By carefully considering how all of the parts—the economy and the environment, people and wildlife—interact, this plan points to key conservation actions the Conservancy and our partners can take to realize this vision for Chile.

And while my Coda fellowship presented me with the rare privilege of helping to develop a long-range conservation plan for a remarkable part of the world, it also taught me how to envision and achieve conservation at a huge scale—across an entire country.

I also got to see how a small group of dedicated conservationists—who know and love these landscapes—can rise to the many challenges of working at this massive scale. And be successful!

Creating a Fund for Clean Water
Even as we were identifying strategic actions for the plan, Chile Conservation Manager Maryann Ramirez Calisto was already completing them. By the time I left Chile, key partnerships with water providers and users were already being established to develop a “water fund” for the Santiago region. This innovative model for conservation, which is sweeping Latin America, involves water users paying a bit more for water in order to conserve not only the quality and quantity of their water but the plants, animals and habitats in their watershed.

While in Chile, my family and I gained new perspectives about our world through direct experiences with a different culture. We also came to realize that, although we’re a world away from Chile, we share so much in common.

Nature provides benefits to people no matter where we are in the world. The water fund model taking hold in Chile and other parts of Latin America is something that could work here in Wisconsin and other parts of the Midwest.

I look forward to taking what I learned in Chile, sharing it with others and helping people here at home use nature more sustainably.

Previous Stories
Wisconsin Nature Conservancy scientist Nick Miller arrives in Santiago, Chile, and experiences a water “blackout” caused by mudslides in the mountains. Click here

Nick and family settle into Valdivia and explore the coastal range, home to one of three of the world’s smallest deer and the “little mountain monkey,” a marsupial barely larger than a mouse. Click here

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