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Good InfoLocals Finally Save ‘the Yosemite of South America’ After Decade Long Battle...

Locals Finally Save ‘the Yosemite of South America’ After Decade Long Battle with Industrialist Who Owned it

credit – Puelo Patagonia

A wonderful story comes to us now from Patagonia where a valley of towering granite cliffs and rare species was saved from development by activists.

It’s a story that North America saw many times during the birth of the conservation movement with groups like the Sierra Club in Yosemite, but this story regards Cochamó  Valley, also known as the ‘Yosemite of South America.’

Roberto Hagemann owns 325,000 acres, or roughly 508 square miles, of this valley and its surrounding lands, which sit near the southern tip of South America where the Andes meet the Pacific Ocean.

This Chilean industrialist, who made a fortune in mining and real estate, managed to do what many very rich people had deemed too difficult—buy up all this area from small ranching families. The feat involved over 200 land deed transactions.

Cochamó Valley had never been developed and remained a haven for pumas, the rare Andean deer, and Darwin’s frog. Aside from the ranchers, a plan in the early 2000s to build a road through the area was met with stiff resistance from environmental activists.

Cochamó has many charms in the eye of the environmentalist. Along with being a burgeoning tourist destination for rock climbers hungry to scale the towering granite walls similar to Yosemite Valley in California, it is almost completely surrounded by national parks, allowing animals to roam between them in an unbroken, 4,000-mile area.

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Hagemann announced plans to develop the area with a hydroelectric installation, a network of power lines, and 39 miles of roads. The ink on the announcement had hardly dried when activists rose up against it led, as the New York Times reports, by Pablo Condeza, a self-described ‘hippie’ and long-time wilderness guide.

He founded a defense group called Puelo Patagonia dedicated to preserving the land and sued Hagemann for failing to undergo the proper environmental reviews. After years of legal battles, courts scuppered Hagemann’s plans, and the industrialist decided to sell out.

The price was $150 million, but after no one came forward with an offer, Puelo Patagonia entered into negotiations with the man with whom they had just spent the better part of half a decade in litigation.

The meetings must have had a strange start. Hagemann wanted at least $100 million, but Puelo Patagonia tried to convince him to sell at a fraction of the price.

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“Due to this meeting, a long process of mutual knowledge and respectful dialogue began, that allowed us to reach mutual understanding and respect beyond our differences,” Mr. Hagemann told the Times.

A deal was concluded for $63 million, and Puelo Patagonia was given 3 years to come up with the cash, $30 million of which has already been raised by the Freyja Foundation and the Wyss Foundation. Several large philanthropic entities had been aware of the valley and its importance but considered the task of buying up all the individual ranch land too complex.

Now that one solitary cheque need be signed, one imagines they’ll jump at the chance.

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“This is an irreplaceable place… the missing puzzle piece,” said Jeff Parrish, a senior executive at the Nature Conservancy, which is advising the nonprofit group leading the purchase. “Had it been developed, it would have bifurcated a bunch of protected areas.”

Many of the most beautiful places in the United States were saved from development because of the actions of one or a few committed people who were at the right place at the right time. Pablo Condeza certainly fulfilled that role for his country, the continent of South America, and the world beyond.

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