Since 2003, The Nature Conservancy has worked in southern Chile’s Valdivian Coastal Reserve not just to protect one of the world’s most biodiverse temperate rainforests, but to involve local communities in sustainable, economically profitable activities that benefit people and nature at the same time.
A Reserve Open to the Public
The Conservancy has made community access a top priority since establishing the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. The construction of trails, signposts, picnic areas, public restrooms and parking lots has made the Reserve accessible, safe, educational and enjoyable for locals and tourists alike. To enhance community and tourist understanding of the importance of the Valdivian Coastal Range, the Conservancy has also initiated a program to train local community members in becoming Reserve guides during the busy summer season. These guides share their unique perspective on the area with visitors interested in learning about the rainforest from the people who call it “home.”
Construction of facilities has attracted more visitors to the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, and between 2006 and 2009, the Conservancy recorded a 30 percent increase in tourism. Tourists often make stops in villages near the Reserve and represent a growing market for the sustainably produced goods, such as locally produced honey and herbal teas, being manufactured by neighboring communities.
A Reserve that Benefits the Public
The Conservancy has also initiated projects that directly benefit the local communities of Chaihuín, Cadillal, Los Liles, Huape and Huiro.
The Conservancy, in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program, established a $300,000 fund to finance community groups engaged in sustainable development projects. Several local organizations have already received financing and are creating and selling various products sustainably harvested from the Valdivian Coastal Reserve:
- The Kutralhue artesian group is collecting fruits from the temperate rainforests of the Reserve to produce herbal teas that can be consumed by their community or sold to tourists.
- The Huape community group has set up an apiary to cultivate and harvest organic honey. The group bottles and sells the honey to other communities or to visitors looking for local flavor.
- The Los Liles co-op is beginning to sustainably harvest native trees and carve them into furniture and sculpture for sale to tourists.
- Fishermen of Chaihuín are planting native trees alongside freshwater streams and rivers to help reduce erosion and improve habitat conditions for the native mussels harvested and consumed or sold by much of the community. The improved habitat conditions will increase mussel production so that fishermen will, in turn, have more mussels to sell.
The Conservancy and partners have also sponsored community exchange programs in which members of neighboring communities can visit one another to learn and share experiences with sustainable use of natural resources, tourism ventures, and income generating activities.
Preservation of the temperate rainforests of the Valdivian Coastal Range will benefit people everywhere by reducing greenhouse gases, providing habitat to species found nowhere else on Earth, and protecting the environment for local communities who have lived there for decades, but the Conservancy has also promoted programs specifically designed to benefit the youths growing up around the Reserve. For example, a new environmental education initiative has taken root in four local schools, enabling students to better understand and appreciate their natural surroundings.
If the natural environment in and around the Valdivian Coastal Reserve is protected and sustainably managed, current and future generations of fishermen, artisans, woodcutters, tea makers, honey collectors and tour guides will have access to all the resources they need to profit from their work — and they’ll always have a beautiful place to call home.