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Chilean Patagonia Torres del Paine Park celebrates 50th anniversary

Tuesday, May 12th 2009 - 06:28 UTC
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The world famous Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and Chilean officials are lobbying to have the region declared humanity wildlife heritage.

“This park is most important for humanity and UNESCO should include it in its list of wildlife heritage”, said Chilean Agriculture and Forestry minister Marigen Hornkohl who visited the area over the weekend.

Hornkohl added that on celebrating the 50th anniversary of the park, “not only must we value its wildlife heritage but its contribution to the regional economy. An estimated 7% of the region’s GDP is based on Torres del Paine as a tourist attraction with all its subsidiary jobs and small enterprises”.

The minister revealed that given the importance of the park and tourism the administration of President Michelle Bachelet has increased the government’s annual contribution from approximately 60.000 US dollars to 800.000 US dollars.

“This simply acknowledges what Torres del Paine means for the region, for Patagonia and all the people who live here”, said Hornkohl.

However the minister admitted that one of the main challenges faced by the park are forest fires, which had devastating effects in 1985 and 2005. With this in mind the Chilean Forestry Department is experimenting with a system of high resolution 3D cameras, extremely sensitive to temperature changes and which have proved most efficient in other national parks in mid and north Chile.

The security system developed by a university from Temuco includes cameras, a telecommunications network with a software program that enables operators to cover the park and see what is happening in the different corners, thus detecting any possible fire outbreak.

The experimental system covers 30% of the park, is 3D, rotates 360 degrees and is multi screened on real time. This should enable a quick response to any potential fire or related incident.

The system, which has been most successful in the rest of Chile, having helped to prevent 400 forest fire outbreaks has its drawbacks in Torres del Paine because of the extreme climatic conditions.

“Our main challenge is power. Solar cells only have access to 10% sustained sunlight and with winds blowing at 150 kilometres, mechanical systems become fragile and exposed”, said René Cienfuentes, head of the Forest Fire Protection Department from the region of Magallanes.

Torres del Paine park manage Jose Linnebrink said that recovery from the two greatest fires suffered in the last twenty five years was addressed differently. In 1985 the policy was for the fauna and flora to recover on its own, “protected, but under a very slow process”.

However the 2005 experience has been to reforest using seeds collected at the same park and monitoring how they develop next to the rest of the flora.

“What we do: is take the seed to a greenhouse and help the plant to develop, so when it’s strong enough we replant it”, said Linnebrink.

In this case the park also has a strong support and aid from the Czech Republic since the 2005 fire was caused by a visiting camper from that country.

“They’ve invested quite a bit of money, sent forestry experts, have contracted locals and basically they want to change the image and reputation of their country given the damage caused to the wild life”, said Linnerbrink.

Categories: Tourism, Latin America.

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