In 2001 the Conservation Land Trust acquired Cabo Leon, a property covering more than 65,000 acres located on Riesco Island north of Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia. Riesco Island sits on the Seno Skyring, a large seawater sound. Nearly 80 percent of the valley land is covered by southern beech forest. Upland areas terminate in rock and ice. A remnant population of the threatened huemul deer is present on the property, along with puma, fox, and a host of small mammals. A long list of resident bird species complements a very diverse flora at the ecotone, or meeting place, of the forest and steppe ecosystems.
Cabo Leon’s conservation effectively stops logging on its side of Riesco Island, and although the eastern border of the property has been slightly damaged by logging, it is well on the way to recovery. One goal of the project is to inspire neighboring landowners to reduce unproductive cattle grazing and similarly allow their forests to restore themselves. With enough time and reforestation, this could begin to create a wetter microclimate eastward and help regenerate the desertifying pampa/steppe natural community, which has been badly overgrazed by sheep and cattle since European settlement of Patagonia.
The preservation of Cabo Leon came about after a series of complicated transactions. Ultimately, the Conservation Land Trust provided the funds to the Chile-based Fundacion Yendegaia to buy and administer the land. This extremely rugged and wild landscape is now fully protected for its wilderness values, but could eventually be repatriated to public ownership. Some conservationists in the region have suggested that Cabo Leon should be donated to the state of Chile for addition to the adjacent Alacalufe Reserve, which would then be upgraded to national park status. If such an outcome came to pass, the resulting national park would be one of the largest protected areas in South America—a phenomenal new wilderness area exceeding six million acres—and a major addition to Chile’s national park system.