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Environment

Nov 24, 2018

“Ruta de los Parques” Positions Chile as a Global Leader in Sustainable Tourism

Can tourism be community-inclusive, ecologically-sensitive, and economically advantageous? Chile consolidates 17 National Parks in an unprecedented commitment to conservation.

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The ex-Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s announcement of an unprecedented national conservation accord in March of 2018 marked a departure from several decades of assiduous federal promotion of extractive industry in favor of tourism.

Ruta de los Parques is a conduit to rugged adventure and diverse ecosystems.

Galvanized by the million-acre donation of private Parque Pumalín by American conservationist group the Tompkins Foundation, Bachelet pledged 9 million acres of new national parkland and created the framework for a consolidation of 17 total parks scattered along Chile’s ample latitude. The 1,500-mile link-up, officially established in September, is called La Ruta de los Parques, or Route of the Parks. It repurposes portions of the Carretera Coastal (Southern Highway), originally eked out of the landscape by 10,000 soldiers under the despotic command of dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s.

La Ruta de los Parques. Photo provided by Carolina Morgado

Ruta de los Parques is a conduit to rugged adventure and diverse ecosystems. The well-known Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Parks headline the nascent assemblage, but each park contributes its unique character to the distinctly Chilean experience. Foreign travelers will experience a dizzyingly diverse display of natural sensoria including glaciers, volcanoes, temperate rainforests, and turquoise rivers. Penguins percolate the coastal fjords of Pumalín National Park. The 7,500-foot Corcovado Volcano rakes the atmosphere above its namesake parkland. With pastel panache, flamingos patrol the craters that punctuate the lunar-esque lava fields of Pali Aike.

“This is an invitation to imagine other forms to use our land. To use natural resources in a way that does not destroy them. To have sustainable development – the only profitable economic development in the long term,” Bachelet announced in a speech.

“Local communities are the texture and context for Ruta de los Parques,”

La Ruta de los Parques. Photo provided by Carolina Morgado.

Environmentalists laud her vision of developing Chile through responsible tourism rather than extractive industry. As part of La Ruta’s establishment, the Chilean government will partner with the Tompkins Foundation for 10 years to oversee the project. The Tompkins Foundation is an activist conservancy headed by Kris Tompkins, wife of the late North Face founder Doug Tompkins. They’ve invested millions of dollars to protect and preserve land in Chile and Argentina since the 1990s and will play a salient role in La Ruta’s management.

“Local communities are the texture and context for Ruta de los Parques,” Kris Tompkins stated. Her words indicate that community-informed management and local economic growth are fulcrums of the mission. But not everyone is convinced; last year, local ranchers occupied one of the Tompkins Foundation’s parks to agitate for what they perceived as a barrier to productive land development by foreign conservationists. Moreover, many of the parks currently lack the infrastructure to handle a significant incursion of visitors. According to the official website, the Route of the Parks encompasses more than 2,800 kms, 24 distinct ecosystems, and 60 human communities. Management is a daunting task, given La Ruta’s latitudinal largess and limited budget. How will Chile obviate the problems of over-visitation and environmental degradation that have plagued, for example, popular mountaineering destinations in India, among many others? The striking scenery leaves little room to doubt the allure of La Ruta, but plenty to wonder about tourism’s potential impact on local communities and ecosystems.

Cerro Sombrero Sernatur. Provided by Tompkins Conservation.

“When the park explodes with visitors, we don’t have the time, resources, or money,”

Park ranger Juan Toro Qurilif of Torres del Paine National Park expressed his concerns about over-visitation. “When the park explodes with visitors, we don’t have the time, resources, or money,”. Torres del Paine, which sees 250,000 visitors every year, has a limited annual budget of $2.1 million and only 30 full-time park rangers. He’s not alone in budget concerns; Chile’s National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) manager Richard Torres Pinilla stressed the necessity of federal, regional, and international funding to provide the infrastructure and labor to manage tourism. Even in the U.S., officials are struggling to keep up with recent surges in visitation. Over-crowding has resulted in littering, traffic congestion, and an $11 billion backlog of upgrades. Granted, Chile’s isolated Parks see just a fraction of the crowds that descend upon Yellowstone or Grand Canyon, but they also lack the paved roads and other infrastructure in place at the U.S. locales.

CONAF and the Tompkins Conservation will meet the challenges head-on. “Nothing will be developed without a long-term vision,” executive director of Tompkins Conservation Chile Carolina Morgado assures. Four years ago, the foundation took to the countryside to survey local attitudes towards a possible link-up route. “We received a very positive response from local communities,” Morgado reported. “People were proud to think of themselves being leaders in protected areas.” The Tompkins Conservation also commissioned a feasibility study which suggested that the expanded park system could generate $270 million annually and employ 43,000 Chileans. In the U.S., conservation interests are often at odds with local development agendas. But according to Morgado, Chileans almost universally embrace their protected lands. “Our National Parks have never been seen as an upset to the economy—rather, they contribute to Chile’s world image as a conservation destination,” she says.

Capillas De Marmol Sernatur. Provided by Tompkins Conservation

“We will learn from Pumalín’s world-class infrastructure as a model for La Ruta’s other parks,”

To prepare the parks for an uptick in traffic, Chile will employ the Project Finance for Permanence (PFP), a long-term funding stratagem that has seen success in Costa Rica, British Colombia’s Great Bear Rainforest, and Brazil’s Amazon. PFP repurposes methods of private sector project financing for use in large-scale conservation projects. For example, the approach mobilizes all stakeholders (funders, NGOs, governments) simultaneously under a protection plan that stresses permanence. Enduring ecosystem health, sufficient long-term funding, proactive governance, and sincere community buy-in are crucial to a permanent conservation plan. Permanent protection of La Ruta’s parklands will necessitate substantial expenses for initial consolidation and ongoing funding for infrastructure projects like visitor centers and campgrounds. Project Finance for Permanence relies on government participants to secure public support, NGOs to tap their funder base, and lead foundations to accrue private philanthropy. The strata of stakeholders coalesce in a single all-or-nothing deal to ensure commitment by all parties to protection in perpetuity.

Ideally, Project Finance for Permanence will nourish the altricial Ruta with the necessary funds for development. Morgado says that the panoply of parks will look to Pumalín National Park as the apotheosis of responsible stewardship and sustainable infrastructure. Doug and Kris Tompkins labored for decades to piece together Pumalín, a million-acre swath of waterfall-laden forest. The Tompkins’ fastidiousness is evident in the hand-crafted park facilities, successful wildlife-rehabilitation programs, and established trail systems. “We will learn from Pumalín’s world-class infrastructure as a model for La Ruta’s other parks,” Morgado says.

La Ruta de los Parques promises a 28-million-acre taste of the tantalizing cultural and biotic endemism of the National Parks that speckle southern Chile. National Parks are participatory and enduring, making them arguably the highest form of ecosystem protection. They are the property of every Chilean; accordingly, conservation must operate under obligation to culture and community. Chile has emerged on the global stage as a preeminent champion of National Parks as a vehicle for tourism and sustainable development. La Ruta is a large-scale experiment in profitable conservation; the stakes are high, and Chile stands to reify its international image of a conservation leader. Should National Park tourism prove both economically advantageous and ecologically sound, Chile’s vision of profitable protection may inspire efforts to create new National Parks in the U.S. and internationally.

Cover photo: Guanaco at Patagonia NP. Provided by Tompkins Conservation.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 05, 2018

Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th WSL World Title and a Wave of Attention that is Bigger than the Men’s

Three months after announcing equal pay for men and women, the World Surf League celebrates Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th World Title.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

On September 5th, 2018, the World Surf League announced plans for equal pay in men and women’s surf competitions in the 2019 season. This announcement was a huge step forward, not only for women’s surfing, but for women’s sport in general. The WSL had set the standard for equal pay in athletics.

Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) the WINNER of the 2018 Corona Open J-Bay at Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Gilmore now wears the Jeep Leader Jersey after beating Lakey Peterson (USA) in the Final and takes over the Yellow Jersey from Peterson (USA). Photo: World Surf League.

This past year, the WSL had received negative feedback after a photo went viral of the Billabong Ballito Pro Junior Series male champion being paid twice as much as the female champion. Most social media users were upset with the pay disparity at the event, commenting on the photo as “blatant inequality” and “archaic discrimination”. However, some social media users argued in favor of the unequal payout. They argued that men’s athletics are viewed in the media more than women’s athletics, therefore bringing in more revenue, and justifying the pay disparity. A social media user commented on the Billabong Junior Series surf photo saying, “Surfing, like most sports is a predominantly male sport. More people watch the men’s surfing, more men surf than women.”

THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?

Many people would ask, do more people watch men’s surfing because it is actually more interesting? Or, do more people watch men’s surfing because that is what the media has always streamed, and thus, audiences are more accustomed to watching the men’s style as opposed to the women’s? Valeria Perasso at BBC News puts it well, “audiences will not get excited about women’s sport as it gets minimal exposure in the media, and the media would justify the lack of coverage by saying that female athletics do not generate enough audience engagement.” The same is true with other sports as well. Managing Director of the Women on Boards advocacy group, Fiona Hathorn, says, “Had our culture been used to seeing women rather than men playing rugby or football for generations, we would find the idea of men playing sports rather novel.”

NO LONGER A RELEVANT QUESTION?

If you head over to Google, use their News Search and type in “WSL Surf World Championship”, “2018 Surfing World Championship”, “Surf World Title WSL”, or anything along those lines, an article on Stephanie Gilmore and her 7th world title will be the first article to pop up. Every time. This means, not only are women now starting to get the pay they rightly deserve, but they are starting to get the media attention that goes along with it.

It was just last week, that Stephanie Gilmore won her 7th world championship title, proving to the world that women’s surfing deserves just as much attention, respect, and prize money as men’s surfing. She is now tied with Layne Beachley for the women’s world record of most surfing world titles.

With all this being said about the inequality between women’s and men’s athletics, the second half of 2018 has been a major year for progression of equality in women’s surfing. Women are now getting paid the same as men, and with Gilmore’s 7th world title win, she is also getting the same media attention as the men.

Hats off to Sophie Goldschmidt, the World Surf League’s new (and first female) CEO for pushing for equality!

Cover Photo: World Surf League

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