The importance of preserving natural areas

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Cerro Castillo National Park. Photo: Jimmy Chin/Conservacion PatagonicaCerro Castillo National Park. Photo: Jimmy Chin/Conservacion Patagonica
 
 
By Andrés Gillmore
Translation by Jeannette Westwood

In recent years, it has become better understood that preserving rural areas is critical to planning sustainable development in Chile’s regions. With Chilean society experiencing an entirely new level of awareness, we must urgently determine which regional areas anticipate such planning and protect them from potential interventions that would undermine the communities dependent on these areas for their futures.

The lack of accurate, professional oversight and an environmental law tailored to safeguarding the interests of transnational companies have led to the dwindling boundaries of large natural spaces, pollution of rivers and lakes, privatization of the sea, and loss of agricultural lands. The last has occurred to the point of becoming an assault on the food sustainability of the country and many communities, from north to south, from the mountains to the sea. We are obliged to envisage rural areas sustainably, as a solution to the complicated problems regions currently suffer. It is an opportunity to improve quality of life in local communities, and gradually close the significant gaps between urban and rural areas.

In this regard, it was good news, especially for the Aysen region, when this past October, the Cerro Castillo National Reserve was officially declared a national park. The declaration was a dream come true in a region that urgently needs to focus on rural sustainability. With societal support, the region needs to make plans for what has become known around the world as special interest tourism, and transform the Aysen region into a symbol of these activities. It is an excellent opportunity to develop a chimney-less industry, with the excellent comparative advantages such a development plan offers. 

The now proud Cerro Castillo National Park possesses scenic and environmental beauty matched by few areas in Chile. It has no reason to be jealous of the two iconic Chilean national parks, Torres del Paine in Magallanes and the marvelous Lauca National Park in the Arica y Parinacota region on the border with Bolivia. Cerro Castillo offers stunning examples of Patagonian flora and fauna, and is one of the largest south Andean deer reserves in Chile. Its mountainous massif, which gives the park its name, positions it as a can’t-miss destination for lovers of outdoor activities and as the future of the community of Villa Cerro Castillo. The community has gloriously entered the tourism business, which offers them a tremendous opportunity to improve their quality of life and benefit from rising land values next to the park. 

The designation of a national park is an irrevocable decision that will last forever. It assists rural tourism planning in Aysen enormously and brings the region great social and environmental importance as well as the genuine possibility of finding much-needed sustainability through environmental conservation. The park, automatically transformed into an unbeatable engine of development, positions the region internationally through such a designation, which is used in all developed countries. These understood that without a sustainable, harmonious rural world, it is impossible to improve quality of life and the country’s overall planning. Such improvements allow income diversification, reduced internal migration, cultural appreciation, and better quality of life and future prospects for local communities, among other benefits.

For these reasons, it highly important to create strategies that recognize these areas’ comparative advantages and do not take the short-cuts commonly used by public services, which tend to import management models and protocols instead of creating their own. Instead of helping, this frequently creates inertia and poor management. The creation of Areas of Tourist Interest (ZOIT, from the Spanish acronym) at the regional level is of vital importance. ZOITs allow municipalities to plan their designs with the standing granted by the designation and more readily apply for regional development funds (FNDR, from the Spanish acronym) to improve municipal and regional infrastructure. They raise environmental, social, and cultural awareness around conducting productive activities sustainably.

The concept of rural tourism is still diffuse and has experienced various interpretations during its evolution as a newer business in Chile. The numerous perspectives and absence of agreement on what it is or how to do it have created a conceptual vacuum that prevents understanding and the planning and implementation of strategies that are consistent with the realities of local communities. Currently, there are no accurate evaluation protocols to identify the impact of different productive activities and services. Financial interests frequently, if not always, tend to prevail over communities’ social and cultural sustainability. Accordingly, basic errors are made, which with time end up blurring objectives, devaluing the substance of rural proposals, and hindering the original plan.

For tourism to be planned sustainably and hold prospects for the future, it must aim to fit the needs of those providing the service, without forgetting the actual scope of the development communities require. It should share cultural norms and values, and care for the natural, social, and cultural resources of the areas where the tourism takes place. RESPECTING, NOT IMPOSING.
 
Rural tourism must go beyond fulfilling the need of visitors to visit destinations different from those offered by mass tourism, which is nothing more than a need to experience new sensations and different realities in a novel setting. It should allow local communities to rediscover their cultural roots, increase their incomes, and live with nature and practice their ways of life fully, with hope and satisfaction, while respecting their traditions, customs, and methods of production, consistent with the values of sustainability. Rural tourism must offer high-quality services, with environmental, social, and cultural standards and formats that guarantee life in rural communities. 
 
The author, Andres Gillmore, is a sociologist, tourism business owner, and consultant on sustainable development projects in Aysen.