Just outside Chile’s outdoor adventure capital in Pucón, there appear several large, imposing peaks covered with lush forest. Located amidst three lakes – Villarrica, Caburgua and Colico – this spectacular mountainous area now contains one of the most important conservation sites in the Valdivian temperate rainforest.
The protected forest has been the joint effort of Chile’s government forestry agency, CONAF, and the NGO Parques para Chile. Together they have worked for several years in the vicinity, collaborating to create a large conservation area within what has been denominated the Namoncahue Biological Corridor, part of one of the many UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Chile. The initiative constitutes the largest and best-preserved northern reaches of the temperate rainforest in Chile – an ecosystem characterized by heavy year-round rainfall and dense fern understories.
The initiative was created to address significant environmental degradation in some areas. For many years, some landowners have employed destructive and unsustainable practices, felling large trees – including native species – and removing the wood by driving their animals through the area during the summer.
In recent years, private individuals have gathered together in an effort to support this larger government-NGO conservation project, acquiring land to restore damaged areas with a high biodiversity value and conserving them for the future.
The most recent of these efforts in the Namoncahue area is called Carhuello, named after the beautiful river that runs through the area. Located about two miles (3 km) from the Playa Blanca shore of Lake Caburgua, the Carhuello project will eventually encompass almost 700 hectares of native forest, where the predominant species include coigues, tepas, mañios and araucarias.
An important part of the area contains pristine “primary” forest, also known as a “cathedral” forest because many individual trees are gigantic specimens over 500 years old. The Carhuello initiative also boasts a stand of Araucaria trees, which is the species that serves as the symbol uniting the Araucanía region in a general conservation effort.
Numerous brooks and waterfalls grace the site, supplying abundant fresh water that feeds into the Carhuello River. The forest is also a habitat for the most important endemic species in need of protection, including pumas, pudú, huiñas, foxes, and many species of amphibians, birds and temperate rainforest flora.
While the primary purpose of the Carhuello project is biodiversity conservation, the initiative’s founders envision a community where shareholders can also build cabins within the area so that they, their families and friends can enjoy the spectacular area year-round.
Carhuello board member and spokesperson, Rodrigo Calcagni, sums up the goals of the conservation project this way: “We want to protect this site and to coordinate actions with our neighbors, with Parquespara Chile and CONAF, while creating networks of sites and of people determined to conserve locally and act globally. “
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