Chile debuts national park to protect ancient alerce forests

Massive new park will conserve habitats home to the pudú, the world’s smallest deer, and others.

President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of a massive new national park in southern Chile on Friday, thanks in part to a large donation of 23,475 acres (9,500 hectares) of land from U.S. NGO The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
The Alerce Costero National Park in the Coastal Cordillera, which spans nearly 62,000 acres (25,000 hectares) to the west of Valdivia, now constitutes Chile’s largest protected zone for mainland temperate coastal forests, including the native alerce trees, which resemble giant North American sequoias and can live up to 4,000 years.
“Today we’re celebrating the creation of this new park that will help conserve the ancient alerce forests of the coastal cordillera and will strengthen the socioeconomic development of the neighboring communities,” said Francisco Solís, representative of TNC in Chile.
TNC donated land from their Valdivian Coastal Reserve, which the organization first acquired in 2003 from a bankrupt forest company, to conserve the temperate rainforests of the area, taking an important step in the public-private alliance between the TNC and Chilean authorities.
In addition to the lands donated by TNC, the park unites under a single conservation mission the National Reserve of Valdivia, the Alerce Costero Natural Monument and state lands in Quitaluto and La Romanza.
The park area is home to some of the world’s oldest alerce tree reserves, which can grow 165 feet tall (50 meters) and are among the planet’s longest-living tree species. According to President Piñera, “there’s one alerce [in the park] that’s known as ‘the grandfather’ and is thought to be 3,500 years old.”
Hundreds of endemic plant species likewise live within the park boundaries, as do foxes, pumas, otters, pudús (the world’s smallest deer), mountain monkeys, and one of the world’s largest woodpeckers.
President Piñera emphasized the new park’s potential to spur eco-tourism and development in the region, which currently receives most of its tourists in the nearby city of Valdivia.
“This park is not only an opportunity for us protect, rescue and conserve this unique ecosystem for future generations, it will also allow us to transform the Los Ríos region and the municipality of La Unión into a true sanctuary for eco-tourism,” President Piñera said.
Chile’s framework of environmental protection continues to grow, and the nation currently boasts nine biosphere reserves, 16 national monuments, 49 national reserves, 35 national parks and numerous nature sanctuaries.
The alerce forests protected by the new park were deemed an international “priority zone” by world experts in 2000, noted President Piñera, in need of strict protection due to their “unique and irreplaceable ecosystems or biodiversity.”