What’s Happening – Freyja Foundation

What’s Happening

Climbing Magazine: Huge conservation victory in Cochamó!

14.09.23 — Cochamó Valley, Press

After many months of negotiations, 309 hectares of critical land have been purchased by Freyja Foundation in southern Chile’s Cochamó Valley. The parcel is a narrow strip of forest which borders the Río Cochamó for approximately eight kilometers. Almost all of the tens of thousands of annual visitors to Cochamó (including countless climbers from all over the world), hike the length of this chunk of land on their way into the valley, making it a key acquisition in the long term conservation strategy being actively pursued by Freyja, and various other NGOs in the region.

 

Major conservation victory in Chilean Patagonia

31.08.23 — Cochamó Valley, Conservation
Matthew Scott

Major Conservation Victory in Chilean Patagonia

Freyja Foundation purchases 309 hectares of native forest in Chilean Patagonia’s Cochamó Valley.

After months of negotiations, a major new conservation property has been purchased in southern Chile’s Cochamó Valley—often called “The Yosemite of South America—courtesy of Freyja Foundation, Puelo Patagonia, and La Organización Valle Cochamó.

The 309-hectare parcel—which Freyja Foundation bought from Chilean businessman and CEO of The Real Eco State, Felipe Escalona—is a critical piece of the Cochamó conservation puzzle and is a key access point for the only trail into the valley. Tens of thousands of visitors come to the Cochamó valley annually, with more arriving every year. Aside from the rare few who enter via an arduous multi-day trek from Argentina, the vast majority hike in via a 12 km section of the historic Paso El León trail, 8 km of which traverses the length of Freyja’s newly purchased land.

After acquiring the property in 2022, Escalona planned to subdivide and sell the lot as dozens of private parcels. This caused concern among conservation-minded citizens and local and international NGOs, who have for years applied a community management model to regulate tourism and protect this world-renowned natural and cultural treasure.

“I’ve walked the length of this property countless times on my way into the Cochamó valley,” says Chris Kalman, Executive Director of Friends of Cochamó, and author of numerous climbing routes on Cochamó’s granite walls. “There’s a calm to the forest, a peaceful quiet, which makes you feel like you are entering another, purer, better world. To have dozens of private property owners up there, all cutting down trees, building houses, campaigning for roads, who knows what else—that would irrevocably and negatively alter the fundamental experience of any visit to Cochamó.”

Freyja’s new land is an important piece of old-growth Valdivian rainforest—home to endangered and endemic species, such as the tiny Huemul deer, Darwin’s Frog, and the Monito del Monte, a tiny marsupial often referred to as “the living fossil,” as it is the only living species in the ancient order, Microbiotheria. This special swath of temperate forest also hosts thousand-year-old Alerce trees (a southern relative of the Giant Sequoia). Both this parcel and the trail that bisects it parallel the crystalline Cochamó River, whose azure waters provide sustenance for countless human and nonhuman inhabitants in the region.

A History of Conservation Victories

This is not the first time local NGOs and community leaders in the Cochamó region have joined forces to protect this special valley. In 2009, local activists successfully lobbied then-president Michelle Bachelet to protect the Cochamó River from a series of hydroelectric dams. In 2016, the Puelo Sin Torres campaign shut down a similar hydroelectric project that had been slated for the next river south, the Rio Manso. More recently, Friends of Cochamó and Freyja Foundation helped bring international attention to campaigns spearheaded by Puelo Patagonia and La Organización Valle Cochamó to achieve conservation designations for Cochamó as a ZOIT (Zone of Touristic Importance) and a Nature Sanctuary.

On January 26, 2023, the Chilean government’s Council of Ministers established the Cochamó Valley Nature Sanctuary (CVNS), protecting roughly 11,000 hectares of native forest, rivers, and wetlands. While a massive victory for conservation in Cochamó, the current CVNS comprises less than half of the Cochamó river watershed, all of which the aforementioned organizations hope to eventually include under the CVNS umbrella.

“This is an important step toward the eventual goal of protecting the Cochamó Valley and surrounding region,” said Brady Robinson, Director of Philanthropy at Freyja Foundation. “The work isn’t over, but this is a key piece of the puzzle, and sets an important precedent for future conservation efforts in Cochamó.”

Andrés Amengual, director of Puelo Patagonia, echoed Robinson’s sentiments. “This purchase represents a milestone of collaboration between private parties of utmost relevance for the future of the valley, and we are excited that the new owners of the property will join the efforts to protect its natural characteristics and ensure its historical, recreational, and tourist uses.”

What’s next for Freyja Foundation and Cochamó?

The immediate next step for Freyja Foundation is to secure a Derecho Real de Conservación (DRC)—a powerful conservation easement law for private property owners in Chile to manage and protect land for conservation purposes.

In the meantime, they will continue to research and assess what it will take to add their new property to the CVNS, which it currently neighbors. It would be a logical move for the parcel and signal further collaboration between themselves and other players, but ultimately, only the government can decide.

In collaboration with their local partners and sister organizations, Freyja Foundation will manage the area to promote conservation, responsible outdoor recreation, and respect for local cultures and traditions. That means the land will be kept free of development for the foreseeable future.

“The acquisition of this property will allow us to improve the management of the valley by preserving its ecosystems, offering a better visitor experience to the area, and maintaining the ways of life and work for the local communities,” said Tatiana Sandoval, president of La Organización Valle Cochamó.

Sandoval expressed gratitude for the willingness and commitment shown by all parties in preserving the valuable space for future generations: “I hope that this gesture sets a precedent for real estate agencies and private companies to work to protect nature, both in our country and in other places around the world.”

“From our first visit to Cochamó five years ago, we fell in love with the valley and the greater puchegin. We immediately understood its significance as an important carbon sink and place of great beauty. To us, it was a no-brainer to purchase this strategic property and protect it,” added Anne Deane, president of the Freyja Foundation. We look forward to continuing our conservation work with our new friends at Puelo Patagonia and La Organización Valle Cochamó.”

Freyja Foundation wins major conservation victory in Yosemite of South America — Chile’s Cochamó Valley

30.08.23 — Cochamó Valley, PRESS RELEASE

press release: 30 August 2023

Cochamó Valley, Chile. 
After months of dialogue and negotiations, Freyja Foundation, an international conservation organization with a history of work in Patagonia, has purchased 309 hectares of old growth forest in “The Yosemite of South America”, southern Chile’s Cochamó Valley. This purchase ensures the long term conservation of a critical swath of old growth Valdivian rainforest—not only an important carbon sink, but also habitat for endangered and endemic species such as alerce trees, huemul deer, Darwin’s Frog, and monito del monte. 

Freyja purchased the land from Chilean businessman Felipe Escalona, ​​CEO of The Real Eco State. In 2022, Escalona made public his desire to subdivide and sell the 309-hectare parcel as dozens of private lots. But when he discovered his plan ran contrary to the wishes of concerned citizens and conservation organizations, he began to seek another buyer more in line with the broader conservation vision in the region.

“We intend to protect this land through various measures,” says Freyja Foundation Director of Philanthropy, Brady Robinson, “including securing a Derecho Real de Conservación (a legal tool for private property owners in Chile to own and manage land for conservation purposes), and adding it to the recently-established Cochamó Valley Nature Sanctuary (CVNS).”

On January 26, 2023, the Chilean government’s Council of Ministers established the CVNS, protecting roughly 11,000 hectares of native forest, rivers, and wetlands. Part of what makes Freyja Foundation’s recent acquisition so important is that it serves as the de facto gateway to the CVNS. Aside from the rare few who come via an arduous multi-day hike from Argentina, the tens of thousands of annual visitors to the CVNS all arrive via the Paso El León—a centuries-old historic trail that traverses the length of Freyja’s new land.

“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this tract of land to the overall conservation strategy for the Cochamó Valley,” Robinson explained. “And that is really the light that this purchase needs to be seen in—as part of a much larger strategy, made in close cooperation and coordination with our local NGO partners, Puelo Patagonia and Organización Valle Cochamó, without whom this victory would not have been possible.”

Matthew Scott

Photo: Matthew Scott – Cochamó Valley

The team behind the trails of Patagonia Park Argentina

22.06.23 — Conservation, Public Access

Freyja Foundation is building a park for all people to enjoy indefinitely. And part of doing so is making sure we put infrastructure in place that is not only sustainable for generations to come but also respectful of the environment and wildlife in the area.
Our public use infrastructure work in  Patagonia Park, Argentina adheres to the highest international build and design standards. It includes trails, campgrounds, latrines, day picnic areas, bridges, a local concession, and signage.

Meet Willie Bittner, from Great Lakes Trail Builders, who heads up our trail design team alongside Jed Talbot from OBP Trail Works and together train and work with our local and volunteer trail crew in the park.

Willie shares their strategy for constructing the park’s trail system from scratch, which has already attracted many local and international visitors who have explored the Pinturas Canyon this past summer.

What is a ‘nature-based economy’?

04.07.23 — Conservation

What is a ‘nature-based economy’?

A nature-based economy ensures that conservation is a source of capital for development. Rewilding is a strategy used to regenerate complete, functional ecosystems that are self-sustaining or require minimal human intervention to thrive.  There are economic opportunities in rewilding. The increasing global popularity of nature-based tourism demonstrates this potential. Helping nature heal can lead to prosperous local economies. These aspects together form what we refer to as the ‘economy of nature’s model’.

The model for the economy of nature is built on four main components: parks, wildlife, a restorative economy, & the well-being of the community.

Parks are protected areas where the economy of nature model can be applied. They are categorized as such and should be developed into nature tourism destinations. These parks offer quality infrastructure for public use to make accessibility easier while prioritizing the visitor experience & minimizing environmental impact.

In the economy of nature model, there is a focus on protecting and producing wildlife through reintroducing extinct species and supplementing dwindling populations. This helps in regenerating complete & functional ecosystems with an abundance of observable wildlife. These natural spectacles provide productive opportunities through nature tourism.

What is a ‘nature-based economy’?
A nature-based economy ensures that conservation is a source of capital for development. Rewilding is a strategy used to regenerate complete, functional ecosystems that are self-sustaining or require minimal human intervention to thrive. There are economic opportunities in rewilding. The increasing global popularity of nature-based tourism demonstrates this potential. Helping nature heal can lead to prosperous local economies. These aspects together form what we refer to as the ‘economy of nature’ model.

The model for the economy of nature is built on four main components: parks, wildlife, a restorative economy, & the well-being of the community.

Parks are protected areas where the economy of nature model can be applied. They are categorized as such and should be developed into nature tourism destinations. These parks offer quality infrastructure for public use to make accessibility easier while prioritizing the visitor experience & minimizing environmental impact.

In the economy of nature model, there is a focus on protecting & producing wildlife through reintroducing extinct species & supplementing dwindling populations. This helps in regenerating complete & functional ecosystems with an abundance of observable wildlife. These natural spectacles provide productive opportunities through nature tourism.

In the economy of nature model, the restorative economy is linked with tourism based on wildlife watching guided by local people. In addition, a territorial brand can be developed to offer services or products made in the region, which help to reduce threats to the park & its wildlife.

The economy of nature model goes beyond just economic benefits. It also promotes entrepreneurship & generates historical interest & values in local communities, ultimately leading to regional empowerment. In addition to providing job opportunities, it also enhances trade training, access to essential services & connectivity.

Lands previously used for livestock agriculture or forest production are now being repurposed for nature-based economies or parks. This transformation will boost local development & create job opportunities.

Guanacos move from Santa Cruz to La Pampa to recover their populations

21.06.23 — Conservation, Press

On a trip of 1600 kilometers, a group of wild guanacos were transferred from the province of Santa Cruz to the province of La Pampa, where the species is almost extinct. The action, known as “translocation”, was made possible thanks to the joint work of the provinces of Santa Cruz and La Pampa, the Ministry of Environment of the Nation, and Rewilding Argentina.

The guanaco is one of the largest herbivores in South America. In Argentina, it was in almost all the territory except for Mesopotamia and its surroundings, and although it continues to be abundant in some places in Patagonia and the mountain range, it became extinct in many places in Argentina, where it lost almost half of its original range.

One of the places where the species became almost completely extinct is La Pampa, where small populations currently exist, such as Lihue Calel National Park. To reverse this situation, in 2018, the Government of La Pampa began a project to reintroduce guanaco in the Luro Provincial Park. Fabián Tittarelli, Undersecretary of Environment of La Pampa, said that “the program that we carry out from the provincial government called El Retorno de los Nuestros seeks to revalue native species and the Pampa culture, of which the guanaco is a prominent exponent; the fauna restoration works that we carry out in Parque Luro are becoming references for the recovery of nature in Argentina.”

In turn, Santa Cruz is the province with the largest population of wild guanacos in Argentina, in addition to having one of the most studied populations in recent years in Patagonia Park Argentina , in the northwest of the province. The governor of Santa Cruz, Alicia Kirchner, stressed that “the government of Santa Cruz has been working on the conservation of different endangered species such as the huemul and in recomposing natural ecosystems. At the request of the Province of La Pampa and with the intervention of Rewilding Argentina and the Provincial Agrarian Council within the framework of the sustainable management plan, guanacos were donated, since they are in extinction in La Pampa and with it we collaborated in the conservation of species in other regions of Argentina.”

Considering this great opportunity, both provinces came together in a project to reverse the extinction of the species in La Pampa, which was approved by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina. On his return from the COP 15 of Biodiversity in Montreal, the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Juan Cabandie mentioned “the deep satisfaction that causes two Argentine provinces, with the support of the Ministry of Environment, to collaborate to recover a native species such as the guanaco; this work takes place within the framework of the Decade of Restoration 2021-2030 instituted by the UN and place Argentina

Freyja’s in-country partner and grantee, Rewilding Argentina, within the framework of the rewilding project in Patagonia Park Argentina (Pinturas Canyon) has contributed its experience to concretize this action of active management of wildlife. The preparation of the transfer lasted several months and included the assembly and tuning of the corrals, the construction of a special transport trailer, the preparation of the techniques of harnessing wild guanacos to enter the corrals and then upload them to the trailer with the least possible stress.

Finally, on December 12, the first experimental trip of five wild guanacos could be made from Parque Patagonia (Santa Cruz) to Parque Luro (La Pampa). Sebastián Di Martino, Director of Conservation of Rewilding Argentina, commented that “the trip of 1600 kilometers and 22 hours passed in perfect condition. In this experimental transfer, the behavior of the individuals and their level of stress could be evaluated. Upon arrival, there were no consequences of hoeing, capture and transfer and the guanacos immediately began to eat in the pre-release corral, where they will be a few days to acclimatize and follow up on them.”

We are thrilled to announce the safe and successful translocation of 17 more wild guanacos took place on 20 June 2023 as the aim is to take 40 more individuals to La Pampa to enrich and strengthen the incipient population of Luro Park. It also represents a great start to reintroducing guanaco to many regions of Argentina where we have extinguished it. The Government of the Province of Chaco, which declared the guanaco as a species “of special value” and priority to recover the environment and wildlife in El Impenetrable, has already approved a project to reintroduce it in the area between the Teuco and Bermejito rivers.

Thanks to rewilding efforts, the ecosystems of several regions of Argentina are recovering their functionality and splendor. In addition to its ecological value as a great herbivore, the presence of guanaco, one of the most charismatic and emblematic species in Argentina, will contribute to enriching the proposal of those regions as destinations for the sighting of native fauna.

Watch the Rewilding team in action during the translocation capture and release of the 17 guanaco individuals 

22 Biodiversity Heroes

— Conservation

There are biodiversity heroes worldwide working to protect the diversity of life at large and small scales. In honor of Biodiversity Day on 22 May, this short list introduces some biodiversity heroes recognized by major awards, including the Equator Prize administered by the United Nations Development Programme and the Champions of the Earth Awards presented by the United Nations Environment Programme.

 

Postcard from Argentina: My hiking trip to Patagonia in photos

14.02.23 — Conservation, Lonely Planet, Witness the Wild

Shortly after Lonely Planet contributor Evan Ruderman took on the Chilean side of Patagonia, I visited the Argentina side. Lesser known and with fewer visitors, Parque Patagonia Argentina’s landscape is starkly different from its Chilean counterparts. At first glance from the road of Hwy 40 that takes visitors through Patagonia, you really can’t see what makes this area so special.

But enter the Portal Cañadón Pinturas and hike on the newly marked trails and you’ll witness the spectacular beauty of this area and share it with very few others.

Over a five-day visit to the park, I put dozens of miles on my hiking boots and exponentially more pictures of wildlife and nature on my iPhone and DSLR.

 

A massive rewilding project aims to put this under-visited part of Argentina’s Patagonia on the map

08.02.23 — Conservation, Lonely Planet, Witness the Wild

Outdoors lovers tend to flock to the more popular, established parks in Chile. Meanwhile, my cab driver in Buenos Aires who was shuttling us to the airport was visibly confused, insisting I had confused Perito Moreno, the glacier, with Perito Moreno, the town in Argentina. (You’ll find the name Perito Moreno all over Patagonia, as it pays tribute to Francisco “Perito” Moreno, who donated land and helped spur the formation of the first of Argentina’s national parks.)

Witness the Wild in Patagonian Park Agentina – Travel Begins at 40

07.12.22 — Conservation, Press, Witness the Wild

Witness the Wild at Patagonia Park Argentina

This December, travellers in pursuit of unique nature experiences are invited to witness the wild at Patagonia Park Argentina. Large-scale rewilding with brand new trails and facilities have transformed the park into South America’s ultimate outdoor and wildlife watching destination for 2023 and beyond.

Ways To Reduce Your Impact on Biodiversity Whilst Climbing

11.10.22 — Conservation, Public Access

How climbers can help cliff ecosystems

Once a niche sport, rock climbing has become a mainstream pleasure enjoyed by many. The natural world offers a thrilling adventure through beautiful environments filled with wildlife. However, with rock climbing’s rise in popularity, the amazing biodiversity sustained by cliff ecosystems is under pressure. To alleviate this problem, there are numerous helpful acts you can do right now. You can contact and support organizations and initiatives associated with sustainability, monitor your litter and that around you, take care of the vegetation you encounter, give nesting birds some space, become a citizen scientist, and spread the word.

 

Vertical habitats are unique

Due to the very nature of the sport, rock climbing happens in areas that are generally hard to access and mostly unsuitable for agriculture or urban development. As a result, they have generally suffered less human impact and areas that are interesting for climbing tend to be important sites for biodiversity. For example, about 40% of sport climbing areas in Spain are found within nature protection areas. To give you a better sense of why these habitats are important here are some of the ways they are used by different plants and animals:

For birds, cliffs are a safe place to rear their young away from predators.

Some plants have adapted to grow on ledges and small cracks and pockets where water and nutrient availability is low but where there is less competition from more generalist plants (i.e those species that do well in a wide range of habitats).

Some snails have evolved to hide in small cracks on the rock and the shape of their shells appears to be optimised for this purpose.

Bats often rely on caves and cavities found at or close to rocky outcrops for natural shelter where they can rest during the day.

SPREAD THE WORD

Many climbers start out in climbing gyms before venturing outdoors, especially now that indoor climbing is becoming very popular and accessible. If they are not familiar with good practices at climbing areas they can damage biodiversity when they head out. A straightforward way to address this problem is to spread the word about good practices.

 

BECOME A CITIZEN SCIENTIST  

In the early days of mountaineering, climbers often collected data about the species and geography they encountered as part of an expedition. It is now much easier to contribute to science as a climber and much of this comes down to the fact that each of us carries a tiny computer that can seamlessly capture images, location, sound and associate them with a timestamp – our smartphones! There are apps that allow users to upload their data to a database which can then be accessed by scientists for research and management purposes. Environmental monitoring can provide an early warning system for issues such as rapid population declines, pollution events, the presence of invasive species and in that way provide a valuable contribution to nature conservation and restoration efforts. Since we visit areas that few other citizen scientists visit we have an opportunity to make important contributions.

Here are some examples:

iNaturalist: Focused on biodiversity monitoring, this app uses machine learning to provide you with likely species id based on your photos and location. There are also specific projects within you can join so that you can focus your efforts on what is most interesting or important for your local area. There is also a growing community component intended to make it easier for users to learn from each other.

eBird: Focused specifically on birds this app allows you to carry out proper surveys or simply register bird sightings. It is a great way for birdwatchers to keep track of their sightings and find new areas to explore but also to share this data with scientists.

Planet patrol: This is an app to use while out and about when you come across litter, as it allows you to gather and share data about the type of waste you find. This can then be analysed so we have a better picture of the waste problem and how to tackle it.

Los Exploradores | Youth Outdoor Program – Patagonia Park,Argentina

17.01.22 — Conservation, Public Access

3 day Outdoor adventure experience

Created and funded by Freyja Foundation and run by Rewilding Argentina, our mission is to foster future conservationists and caretakers 
inspired by Patagonia National Park, Argentina: to educate and 
empower local youth on their vital role within their thriving ecosystem and develop an adventurous conservation outlook.

ITINERARY:

  • A 3-day Backpacking and Nature Experience in 
Patagonia Park, Argentina filled with hiking,
camping, backpacking, wildlife tracking, rock
climbing, biology lessons and star gazing. (*3 days backpacking and 2 nights camping in the 
Pinturas (and the northern section of confluence in 
Caracoles Canyon)
  • Local
 youth (The Explorers) will take part in an outdoor
 adventure-filled weekend where our team will
 share fun stories about the history, wildlife, and
 significant indigenous landmarks in the park that 
has attracted many for thousands of years.
  • Visit to 13,000 yr. old Cueva de Los Manas
(Cave of the Hands): A UNESCO World Heritage Site –
Here our explorers will learn about the ancestral 
roots & heritage of the region, and the people that
 created the cave paintings over thousands of years 
ago.
  • Two nights spent at the Puesto de Piedra or a wild
 campsite
  • 
Daily Activities include: rock climbing, hiking,
mindfulness, wildlife tracking, astronomy, and 
biology lessons.
These activities will form the basis for different
 discussions where we encourage personal 
development and the importance of wildlife 
conservation.
Each day ends with a similar discussion about what 
each explorer found exciting, challenging, and 
inspiring.
  • On the final day, we will host a closing ceremony 
and encourage each explorer to reengage & reflect 
on the themes of ecology and share how their lives
(living near the park) can become more intentional
 around what they have learned.

We hope to encourage the explorers to come back with 
their families and reinforce that humans & nature 
share an intrinsic equal value and can live in 
harmony.

Fighting Climate Change With Nature | Seat At The Table featuring I AM WATER coach

23.08.22 — Conservation, Press

reyja Foundation’s Ocean Conservation partner, I AM WATER recently had one of their lead coaches, Marlin van Sensie, be interviewed as part of Jack Harries’ Fighting Climate Change with Nature – #SeatAtTheTable Series launched on 25 October 2021 just in time for COP26.

AccesoPanAm (APA) – Survey on the status of climbing and mountaineering in Bolivia

10.08.21 — Conservation, Public Access

FREYJA LAND CONSERVATION GRANTEE: ACCESOPANAM

*Freyja completed our funding cycle in August 2022

AccesoPanAm (APA) is an international non-profit organization created in 2009 that is dedicated to promoting free access, protection and conservation of climbing and mountaineering areas in Latin America. To ensure free access and protection of climbing and mountaineering environments, APA uses a variety of strategies including advocacy to influence public policies related to climbing, mountaineering and the environment; conservation actions to protect mountain ecosystems; negotiation related to access to climbing and mountaineering areas; training to strengthen local organizations that fight for access and conservation of climbing and mountaineering areas, and climbers and mountaineers so that they can carry out conservation initiatives; dissemination and education on conservation of mountain environments.

THE PROJECT

Bolivia is a country with a great diversity of mountain activities. Bolivia is crossed by the Andes mountain range, which covers 28% of the country’s territory. The Andes in Bolivia has some of the highest elevations in South America with mountains over 6,000 meters and it is divided into the western mountain range, also known as the Cordillera Real and the eastern mountain range. Among its valleys is the so-called Bolivian Altiplano. The most visited mountains are: Illimani, Condoriri, Huayna Potosí or Little Alpamayo, in the Cordillera Real; and Sajama, Pomarape and Parinacota, in the Western Cordillera.

Bolivia, due to its ethnic-cultural composition, is one of the most pre-Columbian societies on the continent, in which almost 70% of the population self-identifies as belonging to one of the 36 indigenous peoples of the country.

This project aims to carry out an initial survey in order to assess the current situation of mountain activities in Bolivia, detecting possible conflicts within the community, environmental problems, access issues, policies and regulations. Identifying possible areas of collaboration in relation to the sustainable management of mountaineering and climbing, environmental education/awareness, access conflicts and regulatory needs (advocacy).

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