Corcovado National Park

The Conservation Land Trust, together with American philanthropist Peter Buckley, purchased roughly 208,000 acres (84,200 hectares) along Chile’s coast south of Chaiten in 1994. The land had been held by a European corporation whose principal owner, an Italian businessman, had targeted it for a massive development and logging operation. That ill-considered scheme eventually foundered, and the landscape remained nearly pristine. A small area along the coast had been logged in the early twentieth century, but the forest had recovered well and the property contained the largest stand of Guaitecas cypress trees in Chile. In 1997, another 1,235 acres were added to the Corcovado-area holdings.

 
 
 

The Corcovado tract presented an incredible conservation opportunity. It was surrounded by a vast expanse of federal land, mostly mountainous terrain, under the jurisdiction of the Chilean Armed Forces and left in its natural state. At the heart of this public land was the Corcovado Volcano, one of the most distinctive mountains in Chile. In 2002, through an intermediary, Conservation Land Trust founder Doug Tompkins approached then-president Ricardo Lagos with a proposition: If the private lands around Corcovado were given to the state, would the government contribute the adjoining federal land and create a new national park? The property was not vital to military readiness, and both President Lagos and General Juan Emilio Cheyre, the nation’s top military officer at the time, endorsed the idea.

 
 
 

Corcovado National Park, Chile’s sixth largest, was formally designated by President Lagos in January 2005. This grand new wilderness park exists largely because of his determination. Corcovado covers approximately 726,000 acres and contains some eighty-two lakes, many ringed with ancient forests where pumas haunt the shadows. The brackish estuaries where the Corcovado and Tic Toc rivers spill into the Bay of Corcovado are exceptional wildlife habitat. Immense colonies of shorebirds coat the beaches. Penguins scamper about the rocks. Marine mammals, including seals and sea lions, thrive in the bay, which was discovered to be a crucial nursery area for blue whales, Earth’s largest animals. The bay, once the lair of pirates, is now proposed to become Chile’s first marine sanctuary, assuring a continuity of protection for wildlife from ocean bottom to mountain peaks.