Patagonia is a wild ecological treasure, and the region occupied by the future Patagonia National Park occupies a particularly significant and critical area. The mission of Conservación Patagónica is to protect and restore wildland ecosystems, biodiversity and healthy communities in Patagonia through the formation of National Parks. In 2004 the “future Patagonia National Park” project was initiated with the purchase of the 173,000-acre Estancia Valle Chacabuco (Chacabuco Valley Ranch). The Chacabuco Valley and its surroundings contain a wide variety of habitats, including steppe, grasslands, wetlands, southern beech forests, high peaks, lakes and lagoons.
Unique within Patagonia, the Valle Chacabuco supports a wide array of native wildlife and plant species. Among the more prominent are the endangered Huemul deer, the guanaco, the Andean condor, the lesser or Darwin’s rhea (an endangered ostrich-like flightless bird), puma, armadillos and the mountain vizcacha (a threatened large and vocal rodent). Furthermore, the Chacabuco Valley represents a rare opportunity to study landscape scale processes within the Patagonian Steppe, and to share what is learned with interested scientists and surrounding communities.
While continuing this work with Conservacion Patagonica, Round River has also recently collaborated with CONAF, a division of Chile’s Ministry of Forests. Working at the western edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, students spend time in remote Fiordo Bernardo. While here they study the iconic and endangered huemul deer with CONAF biologists, assist with trail building, and learn about the Patagonian culture from the “guardaparques” (park guards).