“Chilean Patagonia is a remote region of the world where nature--long left to its own devices--grows wild, beautiful and largely untouched by man. As South America's last frontier, the region boasts incredible biodiversity, breathtaking landscapes, essential ecological values, and a remote solitude that is increasingly rare.”
The above is taken from the blog-in-progress for a group of dedicated conservationists, Team Rios Libres, made up of photographer James Q Martin, author Craig Childs, cinematographers Denise M. Stilley and Ed George, Wildlife biologist Chris Kassar, Patagonia Climbing Ambassador Timmy O’Neil, local river guides, and Chilean journalists and conservationists. Together, their mission is to Protect Chile’s most wild and magnificent rivers from a consortium of European and Chilean mega-companies that are actively seeking to forever alter these natural jewels. The plan Rios Libres is working against would place a total of five dams along some of the magnificent rivers that are the lifeblood of this richly diverse region. Two of the dams will be placed along the Rio Baker (rhyms with “soccer”), Chile’s longest and highest-volume wild river. The remaining three dams would be built along the Rio Pascua, Chile's third highest-volume river.
The dams are not the only impact planned for this region. To extract the power they are planned to generate, the builders will have to clear-cut at least 1,600 km (1000 mi) of pristine old-growth forest to install the world’s longest high-tension transmission line. Over 2,450 km (1,500 mi) of line would be built to transport the electricity northward to support population centers and, ultimately Chile's massive mining industry. The Rios Libres team states the impacts succinctly: “Together, the dams and transmission lines would damage communities, scar the landscape, and wreak havoc on ecosystems. Additionally, these projects would hasten the extinction of species such as the torrent duck, the Chilean river otter, and the endangered Chilean deer, the huemul.”
Team Rios Libres’ goal is simple: to give this threatened area a voice by documenting this incredible natural resource in its pristine state and by highlighting what the area means to the people, plants, and wildlife that make up its ecosystem. These are their first words from the field:
READ ON, for Rios Libres' first reports . . .
[The group gathers to begin their journey. All photos: James Q Martin]