SANTIAGO, Feb 26 (NNN-MERCOPRESS) — Chilean authorities have turned Patagonia’s Cochamó Valley into the South American country’s new 42-square-mile sanctuary to protect rivers and wetlands in addition to 6,500 hectares (about 25 square miles) of mature forest and more than 1,800 hectares (about 7 square miles) of thousand-year-old larches which have been labeled as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The designation recognizes practices and places of key cultural importance to area residents, including Patagonia’s muleteer-gaucho culture and the historic trail connecting Cochamó with Argentina.

In addition, the sanctuary includes protections for Rehuelhué, a public land in the Los Lagos Region that’s vital to the conservation of the huemul (also known as the South Andean deer), one of Chile’s most iconic and endangered species.

The local community started working for this to happen about a decade ago. Despite its high natural, cultural, and touristic value, the valley had no official protection, which rendered it vulnerable to threats such as real estate development, hydroelectric dams, and uncontrolled travel.

A community group known as the Organización del Valle de Cochamó led the effort—with technical assistance from the local nonprofit Puelo Patagonia, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts—as part of a participatory process that will help ensure the sanctuary’s sustainable management and administration over time.

After the declaration, the next step will be developing a participatory governance model and management plan to balance the recreational needs of the thousands of tourists who visit the area each year with the need to protect the sanctuary from both an ecological and cultural standpoint. — NNN-MERCOPRESS

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