In May 2003, after living in Chilean Patagonia for six months, Senior Counsel Leslie Blickenstaff asked Goodwin Procter to help her obtain 501(c)(3) status for a nonprofit organization she helped form to promote environmental preservation and sustainable development in Patagonia. With the assistance of Jennifer Powell and Kevin Lam, The Patagonian Foundation (TPF) successfully launched in December 2003. For the past three years, Leslie has advised TPF with respect to its legal obligations and overseen all aspects of its administration, including coordinating programs, fundraising, marketing, and developing national/international partnerships.
Patagonia’s environment is currently under threat from a number of sources, including overgrazing, deforestation, industrial development, and increased demand on a relatively unsophisticated tourist infrastructure. TPF’s projects are intended to address some of these threats.
Protecting Habitat and Endangered Species in Valle Chacabuco
Estancia Valle Chacabuco in northern Patagonia was once a functioning ranch. In 2004, Conservación Patagónica purchased the land (173,000 acres) with the long-term goal of creating a new national park that would protect approximately 750,000 acres of land and expand the population and habitat of the endangered huemul deer, whose population is so small that its numbers can barely maintain the species’ genetic identity. As the land is transitioned from a ranch to a national park, hundreds of miles of fence and thousands of invasive species will need to be removed. Conservación Patagónica has asked TPF to help organize groups of volunteers to assist with this process. In February 2007, volunteers will travel to Valle Chacabuco and spend three weeks working to remove fences and invasive species and prepare it for national park status. During their free time volunteers will be able to explore Valle Chacabuco, hiking to alpine lakes, relaxing near the river, viewing the huemuls, and visiting the world famous Baker River, currently threatened by plans for a hydroelectric plant.
Saving the Baker River
Hydroelectricity is an important source of energy in Chile. Some hydroelectric plants were developed with the natural environment in mind, while others were constructed without any regard for the environment. Currently, the residents of Chile’s Aisén region are in a desperate battle to save the Baker River, Chile’s most powerful river and one of its most beautiful. Endesa, a Spanish electric company, is threatening to construct four dams, install high voltage transmission lines, and send all of the energy generated by the dams more than 2,000 km north to Santiago. The local community will not receive much if any of the energy generated. The transmission lines will permanently alter the landscape and significantly diminish property values for many local people, who will receive little to no compensation. The transmission lines will also pass through national parks and nature reserves. The dams will flood approximately 24,000 acres of nature reserves and threaten the habitat of many species, including the endangered huemul deer. The temporary workforce that will infiltrate the largely rural area also raises serious social concerns regarding housing, prostitution and crime.
TPF has joined the fight against the dams on the Baker. In conjunction with a number of individuals and other environmental groups, TPF is helping to fund the dissemination of information regarding the environmental impacts of the proposed plants. TPF hopes to raise awareness within the local community, raise money to support the legal battle against Endesa, and ultimately save the Baker River.
Volunteer Trail Maintenance
Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most visited parks in Chile, has a poorly designed trail system that cannot support the thousands of visitors the park receives each year. In 2005, TPF, the U.S. Forest Service, the Chilean National Park Service (CONAF), and Fundación Patagonia (an organization based in Chile), joined together to launch a volunteer trail maintenance project in the park. The project was one of the first projects to be approved under the US-Chile environmental cooperation agreement (part of the US-Chile Free Trade Agreement). Over 30 volunteers from the United States and Chile traveled to Torres del Paine for two weeks to improve the heavily-used park trails. The work included marking and rerouting trails, removing rock obstructions in the trails, constructing water bars and dips, and widening the trails to Forest Service trail standards. As the volunteers worked, twelve Chilean park rangers received training in trail building and maintenance from specialists with expertise in park maintenance and management from the U.S. Forest Service and the Consortium for International Protected Area Management (CIPAM). TPF also sponsored a group of volunteers in 2006 and is currently in the process of transferring management of the project to a Chilean nonprofit.
Environmental Radio Program
In 2005, TPF joined with Chile’s oldest environmental non-profit organization (CODEFF) to produce a radio show entitled “Explorando la Esperanza,” or Exploring Hope. During one-hour segments, Journalist Claudia Molina and Peter Hartmann, the Director of CODEFF, discussed a variety of environmental topics that are currently affecting the Aisén region. Specifically, the topics included water rights, hydroelectric plants, energy use in Chile, wood as an energy source, sustainable tourism, and waste management. The U.S. Embassy in Santiago recently agreed to bundle these programs on two Embassy-produced radio programs that are run on 106 radio stations throughout Chile.
Leslie Blickenstaff is a senior counsel in the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice. Ms. Blickenstaff works on a variety of labor and employment matters, including the defense of wrongful termination and employment discrimination claims before state courts and administrative agencies, the development of employee handbooks for employers, and counseling on employment-related issues.
If you have any questions about Leslie’s work in Patagonia or just need some travel tips, feel free to give her a ring at x1736. TPF’s website can be found at www.thepatagonianfoundation.org .