Corporacion Alerce declaration on proposed road through Alerce Costero National Park

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Parque Nacional Alerce Costero. Photo: Jonathan BarichivichParque Nacional Alerce Costero. Photo: Jonathan Barichivich
Editor's Note: The following is a public statement issued by the Chilean environmental group Corporación Alerce on August 23, 2023. 
Public Declaration in Opposition to the Construction of Section 2 of Route T-720 through Alerce Costero National Park (PNAC)
Considering the current biodiversity and climate change crisis facing Chile and the world, as well as the great vulnerability of the country to the effects of climate change, the signatories of this Declaration call on the Government of Chile to definitively halt the construction of Section 2 of Route T-720 that would cross Alerce Costero National Park (PNAC). This call is directed to His Excellency the President of the Republic, Gabriel Boric; to the Minister of Public Works, Jessica López; to the Minister of Agriculture, Esteban Valenzuela and to the Minister of Environment, Maisa Rojas.
Our opposition to the proposed route is based on the following arguments:
  1. A national park, such as the PNAC, is the strictest category of conservation in Chile. In particular, this national park protects the alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides), a tree species that is in danger of extinction and is internationally recognized as the second longest-lived species on the planet. The alerce is also catalogued as a natural monument according to the DS 490 of 1976. The PNAC is the only state conservation territory that protects the alerce populations of the northern Cordillera de la Costa, which are genetically differentiated from other populations of the species. 
  2. The PNAC is home to the Chiloé fox (Lycalopex fulvipes), an endemic animal in danger of extinction, and other flora and fauna species in the vulnerable conservation category (under national and international standards), such as the güiña (Leopardus guigna) and the guaitecas cypress (Pilgerodendron uvíferum). The installation of road infrastructure would negatively and irremediably impact the naturalness and integrity of these species and their habitat.
  3. There is considerable evidence that road construction and traffic are the source of numerous threats to natural ecosystems: (i) habitat fragmentation, (ii) increased occurrence of fires (caused almost entirely by humans in Chile), (iii) illegal cutting of native forest, (iv) arrival of packs of feral dogs that threaten native fauna, v) invasion of aggressive plant species such as hawthorn (Ulex europaeus) and Australian gorse (Acacia melanoxylon), which threaten the colonization and recovery of native species, vi) trampling of wildlife, vii) damage and death of trees and vegetation due to runoff from roads, among others. The construction of the proposed road would also encourage the development of lots and subdivisions around the PNAC, which would only multiply the threats to the protected ecosystems.
  4. It has been scientifically proven that climate change is also a threat to alerce forests, as this species performs poorly when conditions are dry and hot. Scientific studies also indicate that environmental conditions are being and will be more conducive to more recurrent and more intense fires in the southern part of the country. Given that the alerce is in danger of extinction and now even more threatened by climate change, it is imperative to consider this factor and maximize its protection, avoiding adding any other threat to its survival. It is the duty of the State of Chile to protect it.
  5. Chile signed the Kunming-Montreal treaty in December 2022, committing to protect biodiversity and to reduce the risk of extinction of endangered species to almost zero. We call on the government to live up to its commitments and avoid putting the already threatened alerce forests at additional risk.
  6. One of the main reasons given for prioritizing route T-720 is to provide connectivity to the rural towns of La Unión and Corral. Corral's connectivity problems, which are exacerbated when weather conditions cause the port to close, would be solved by paving and significantly improving the T-400 route that connects this town with Valdivia. This, together with the improvement of route T-60, known as the "old Valdivia to La Unión road," would make it possible to achieve the desired connectivity between Corral and La Unión without affecting the PNAC or other protected areas (Figure 1). 
  7. Route T-400 crosses several inhabited rural areas and connects livestock and forestry properties and allows for the transfer of inputs and products. In addition, much of its route borders the Futa River, which has important tourism potential near Valdivia and Corral. In other words, this alternative, together with Route T-60, is the one with the greatest socioeconomic benefit and the least ecological impact to achieve the aspiration of connecting the two municipalities and developing tourism. 
  8. If the paving and improvement works of routes T-60 and T-400 are completed, with an approximate distance of 98 km between Corral and La Unión, the current travel time between the two cities will be significantly reduced. The construction of Section 2 of Route T-720 would reduce this distance by only 7 km, irreparably impacting the PNAC and its ecosystems of high conservation value (Figure 1). 
Given the extreme threat to which the PNAC is being subjected, the question remains as to what procedures and standards are used to define whether or not a project that affects a protected area and/or an endangered species is of national interest. Are these standards, procedures, and the agencies involved in making this important decision the most appropriate ones? Under what logic and/or reasoning is this decision being made? In the update of the Declaration of National Interest of this Project (Resolution 500/2023), both CONAF and SAG voted in favor of the route, while the Ministry of Environment voted against it. We call on the Chilean government to review this procedure, as it is incomprehensible that a national park, which is of the highest national interest to protect, should be affected by works that clearly lack national interest and priority. 
We call on the authorities to ensure that the current development of the country effectively incorporates the protection of nature, even more so under the scenario of climate change in which we live. The above, considering the will of the citizens, the current government program, as well as the laws and international agreements in force; both because of the intrinsic value of nature, and because we depend on it to survive as a human species. The signatories of this declaration request the authorities to definitively abandon the construction project of Section 2 of Route T-720 that crosses the PNAC and to recognize the importance of protecting this invaluable protected area without hesitation. Based on the analyzed facts and background, it is clear that insisting on the T-720 road project has no justification whatsoever and would irreparably damage a national and world heritage of biodiversity.

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