During the last Ice Age, the coastal rainforests of southern Chile served as a refuge, a haven free from the freeze. As a result, the Valdivian Coastal Range still harbors Chile's highest concentrations of species found nowhere else on Earth.
About 275,000 acres of what remains intact of the one-million-acre Valdivian Coastal Range are now protected in several sites, including the Valdivian Coastal Reserve.
The Valdivian Coastal Range, near the city of Valdivia, runs along southern Chile's Pacific coastline.
Considered a priority conservation site by the Chilean government and other organizations, the Valdivian Coastal Range harbors an astounding array of species. Many mammals, birds and plants are found nowhere else on Earth.
The temperate rainforests of the Valdivian Coastal Range are home to many unique mammals:
- The pudú (Pudu puda), one of the three smallest species of deer in the world, stands just 18 inches high at the shoulder and can only be found in the southernmost reaches of the South American continent.
- The monito del monte or "mountain monkey" (Dromiciops gliroides) is a marsupial that's barely larger than a mouse, considered a living fossil because it is the oldest marsupial in the world and the only representative of the Gondwana period. It lives in the dense, humid forests of Chile and Argentina. Closely related to the marsupials of Australasia, the animal's genetic makeup is a reminder that eons ago, Antarctica formed a well traveled land bridge between the continents of South America and Australia.
Approximately 58 bird species also inhabit the Valdivian Coastal Range, including:
- The red-legged cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi) and the rock cormorant (Phalacrocorax magellanicus), who use rocky outcrops to nest and raise their young.
- The Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), the largest woodpecker in the world, a species endemic to Chile and considered vulnerable due to the destruction of its habitat.
- The Elegant tern (Sterna elegans), a migratory bird considered Near Threatened due to its restricted breeding range, with more than 90 percent of the breeding population being restricted to a single island.
Rare and endangered flora flourish in the Valdivian rainforests as well, such as:
- Alerce trees, similar to North American sequoias, which can live up to 4,000 years.They are the second oldest living tree species in the world.
- Olivillo trees, which are endemic and can grow up to 65 feet. They can survive more than 400 years and are especially adapted to coastal saline condition. They represent relict populations that survived the breakdown of the Gondwana continent.
- Native murta bushes, which yield berries similar to blueberries that can be harvested to make jellies, jams and syrups.
Why the Conservancy Works Here
About half of Chile's endangered and threatened plant and animal species grow and live on privately owned land — not on land included in the public park system, which covers 19 percent of the country. The Conservancy has worked to preserve both public and private lands in Chile in order to protect the largest area and highest number of species possible.
The evergreen forests of the Valdvian Coastal Range once extended 250 miles down a long, slender slice of Chile, and it is one of the largest remaining contiguous areas of this once vast ecosystem. Conservation of this rainforest is essential not just for the plants and animals living there, but also because the forest protects critical freshwater lakes and rivers upon which many human communities depend. By establishing protected areas like the the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, the Conservancy has made critical advances towards protection of the temperate rainforests of Valdivia — the second largest in the world.
Successes in the Valdivian Coastal Range
- In November 2003, the Conservancy, with support from Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund, purchased 147,500 acres of biologically rich temperate rainforest in the Valdivian Coastal Range from a bankrupt forestry company. On March 22, 2005, this property, now the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, was officially opened to the public.
- The Conservancy, along with several partners, established a fund to finance conservation and sustainable development projects undertaken by neighboring communities of the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. Currently funded projects include sustainable beekeeping operations and organic tea production.
- In 2001, The Conservancy supported local partner CODEFF (National Committee for the Defense of Flora and Fauna) in the purchase of 200 acres to create the Punta Curiñanco Protected Area, located on some of the last unaltered coastline in southern Chile. The reserve, just north of Valdivia, is a promontory tracing the Pacific coast for almost three miles. Punta Curiñanco is a model conservation site because it protects a piece of private land that was once open to development. The property is currently owned and managed by CODEFF.
- The Conservancy created, analyzed and distributed a series of satellite images which chronicle the actual deterioration of the Valdivian Coastal Range over the last 20 years. Maps from the images guide scientists as they determine prime locations for both reforestation and carbon sequestration projects.
- To raise awareness about the Valdivian Coastal Range, the Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and other partner organizations helped finance the publication of a book about the history, biodiversity, and ecology found in coastal Chile. The book, which contains photographs of Valdivian landscapes and species, was written by a team of leading Chilean scientists and edited by Drs. Ceclia Smith Ramirez, Juan Armesto and Claudio Valdovinos.
- The Conservancy is currently working with the Chilean government to create a new, 75,000-acre national park in the Valdivian Coastal Range. The park would connect to the privately owned Valdivian Coastal Reserve, and the two protected areas would together form Chile's most important conservation hub.