Healing Patagonia: “Nobody wants to ruin their own land.”

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Google Maps image of the easter half of the Straight of Magellan. Estancia Monte Dinero (A) is in Chile, just south of the border with Argentina.

The challenge for Patagonia is stark. Although much remains unspoiled, according to Julian Smith's article in Nature Conservancy Magazine:

Some 20 million acres of Patagonia’s grassland are now little more than blowing sand, causing the abandonment of hundreds of ranches in Argentina alone. One-third of Patagonia suffers severe desertification, and soils in 90 percent of the region are degraded to some extent.

Patagonian ranchers, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and Patagonia Incorporated are working to heal the wounds of hundreds of years of sheep herding. One such location is Estancia Monte Dinero, a sheep herding ranch which lies near the eastern of entrance the Straight of the Magellan.

Founded as part of the estancia system imported from Europe at the end of the 19th century, Monte Dinero is home to 20,000 sheep, raised for wool and meat. But here and in much of the rugged southern tail of South America, ranching has taken a toll on the vast but fragile grasslands that first drew European settlers. Constantly grazing sheep have nibbled and tramped the fields down to bone-dry soil, which is lifted by the unceasing winds and carried out to sea in immense dust plumes visible from space.

Recently the Estancia Monte Dinero has become “a test bed for a new program aimed at stopping and eventually reversing the demise of these grasslands.” Although met with some resistance, so far “more than 30 ranches in Argentina and Chile are now trying holistic management in some form.” The Conservancy’s goal is ambitious: “to preserve a 10th of the region—15 million acres.” As Ricardo Fenton, manager of Monte Dinero, observes: “Nobody wants to ruin their own land.”


Shear Salvation, Nature Conservancy Magazine

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