Stories from Our Community

Investigating Environmental Protection in Patagonia

As the institutional will to uphold legal protections for national parks faces growing uncertainty, a number of questions arise as to what are the best strategies for providing legal and policy tools for the conservation movement. In the international arena, there are a number of mechanisms that allow countries to collaborate on the shared goals of combating the adverse effects of unsustainable development and climate change on the integrity of natural habitats. One of these mechanisms is the World Heritage Site designation process, a multi-year endeavor that, if successful, provides a number of protection and safeguards while also elevating the international attention and prestige placed on protected parks.

One challenge surrounding this designation process is that natural areas do not follow international borders, and protecting trans-boundary ecosystems can be difficult. One case study for this phenomenon occurs in northern Patagonia where the Valdivian Temperate Forest, a worldwide priority ecoregion for biodiversity conservation and the home of a number of endemic and endangered species, straddles the border of Argentina and Chile. In July of last year, the Los Alerces National Park (LANP) on the Argentinian side of this region was inscribed on the World Heritage List on the basis of its exceptional natural beauty and outstanding value for science and conservation. Despite this positive development, the designation does not extend into Chile. As a result, the connectivity of this region is not assured, threatening the resilience of the forest.

In order to examine what options exist for extending the World Heritage Site designation into Chile’s Yelcho watershed, which includes the LANP, graduate students from Yale partnered with a Chilean NGO, Futaleufu Riverkeeper (FRK). As a part of this project, Jackson students Manus McCaffery and Erik Woodward advised FRK on how the small organization could build domestic political support for the nomination of a World Heritage Site in Chile.

The research project took place over the course of several months, unfolding in three distinct steps. In the first step, and in order to familiarize themselves with relevant international law and the workings of domestic Chilean institutions, the team conducted library based research. Next, team members conducted a series of interviews with key stakeholders and policy makers in Chile and Argentina, as well as from relevant international institutions. Finally, with support from the Jackson Institute, the team conducted a two-week field visit to Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia to meet with partner organizations and to determine the efficacy of a potential proposal for World Heritage Site nomination.

In Patagonia, Manus and Erik were able to see firsthand the importance of their research. The natural beauty of Patagonia is truly a part of the national heritage of both Chile and Argentina. Working alongside national organizations to foster cross-border cooperation on initiatives of environmental protection, engaging with government, civil society, and non-governmental organizations, has proven to be an informative and enlightening learning experience. At the project’s culmination, the Environmental Protection Clinic team turned in a concise set of recommendations that outline both the domestic and international procedures that FRK can pursue in order to preserve the natural heritage of Chile. Most importantly, the opportunity to contribute expertise regarding international law, global institutions, and environmental protection to a local organization provided Manus and Erik with an opportunity to contextualize their academic experience in Global Affairs in a unique and meaningful way. At the same time, the team was also able to take some time off and enjoy the nature of Patagonia through memorable white-water rafting and hiking trips.

This past fall, Manus McCaffery (MA Global Affairs, ‘18) and Erik Woodward (MA Global Affairs, ‘18) partnered with Futaleufu Riverkeeper, a Chilean NGO, to propose specific tools for increasing international protections for fragile ecosystems in Patagonia. This collaboration was facilitated by Yale’s Environmental Protection Clinic, an interdisciplinary course given by Yale Law School and Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Science.