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    Skiing Patagonia, Saving Patagonia - Chile needs energy, but is damming its wildest rivers a price worth paying?

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    It was ten years ago when we first pedaled over an obscure pass alongside South America's second largest lake and caught our first glimpse of Chilean Patagonia's wild and wonderful Rio Baker (Baker River) watershed. Never before had we encountered such a vast and ecologically diverse corner of the planet - and our physical and emotional reaction to the power and beauty before us is something we will never forget. We dropped our bikes and spent the good part of an hour treating our senses to this wild place.

    Editor's note: This issue of damming rivers in Chilean Patagonia might seem like a hot new topic, but it's been on the radar for years now. Vermont photographers Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson have visited the Rio Baker Valley three times: first in 2000 on bikes, then in 2004 and 2006, on skis and foot, when they heard about a proposal to dam the Rio Baker. Today, Brian and Emily look back on those trips and their significance in light of the recent decision to proceed with the dams.

    To the west stood the towering peaks of the Northern Patagonia Ice Sheet, which hovered over the glaciers and temperate rainforests beneath them. Rain and snow melt poured into countless streams and rivers, eventually joining forces with the mighty Baker - Chile's most voluminous river - on its way to the Pacific. To the south and east were the countless high mountains and deep valleys defining the drier side of the watershed - a region characterized by the small farms of Patagon families, vast regions of unexplored high country and the high-desert environs of the Argentine border. This area is also the home of the future Patagonia National Park.

    Continue reading "Skiing Patagonia, Saving Patagonia - Chile needs energy, but is damming its wildest rivers a price worth paying?" »

    Stew-Pot Protest at Patagonia Headquarters for a Patagonia Without Dams - Take Action Today [Updated]

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    We came armed with double boilers, frying pans and casserole pots. Banging on cookware in noisy opposition to the proposed construction of five mega-dams in Chile’s wild Aysén region, about 500 employees from Patagonia’s worldwide operations joined the wave of worldwide protests against the proposed industrialization of a wild and irreplaceable landscape. Many of our employees were in Ventura for our bi-annual sales meeting: Nacho from our store in Santiago, Chile; Taka from Patagonia Japan; Raul from Patagonia Buenos Aires. Company officials organized the impromptu gathering because of Patagonia’s long abiding connection to the area that is its namesake. 

    [May 19, 2011, Patagonia Headquarters, Ventura, California. In Chile and other Spanish-speaking countries they call it a cacerolazo – a stew-pot protest. Watch the video version after the jump. Photo: Tim Davis]

    Continue reading "Stew-Pot Protest at Patagonia Headquarters for a Patagonia Without Dams - Take Action Today [Updated]" »

    Beyond and Back: Protest the Dams

    by Jeff Johnson

    During such dire times as we are in now, I would like to pass on this story I wrote in 2008. It is an outtake from the book 180° South. It has never been published. During the making of the film I spent a few months down in Chile hanging out with fishermen and gauchos and land conservationists. I was honored to have heard their stories told around campfires, sitting beneath the stars with the sound of rivers flowing nearby. I saw with my own eyes where the dams are to be built and the land and livelihoods that are threatened. Along with this story I’ve attached photographs I’ve taken of people who are on the front lines and who have much at stake. Some of these photographs have been published and some haven’t. I want to thank them and all of you who have risen to the occasion. The fight is not over.

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    [Gaucho Eduardo Castro. Valle Chacabuco, Chile. All photos © Jeff Johnson]

    Valle Chacabuco

    It was early. The sun was still behind the mountains. I was stuffing my sleeping bag into my backpack when one of the gauchos approached me.

    “Café?” he suggested as he handed me a leather bota bag. “Es bueno.”

    “Sure,” I said as I offered one of the three Spanish words I know. “Gracias.”

    I lifted the bladder up high, tilted the nozzle over my mouth and squeezed. I coughed, spat and bent over, rolling the liquid around in my mouth. I wasn’t expecting red wine.

    “Café?” I asked, wiping my mouth off.

    “Si,” he said with a laugh, “Café rojo.”

    I took another mouthful. “Si,” I said, “Bueno.”

    Continue reading "Beyond and Back: Protest the Dams" »

    Chilean Government Approves Dam Project Despite Public Opposition

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    The Patagonian region of southern Chile is considered one of the world's last, great wildernesses, dubbed an "eco-gem" for its rare fauna, ice-sculptured fjords and almost total absence of industrial development. Less destructive alternative energy sources are abundant, and the Chilean government may not fully appreciate the significant tourism revenue opportunities that could be gained by safeguarding the natural grandeur of this spectacular area. National polls have repeatedly shown Chileans are against the proposed hydroelectric plants in Patagonia.

    100307Patagonia0497 Despite this, a $7 billion project to dam two of the world's wildest rivers for electricity won environmental approval today from a Chilean government commission - despite a groundswell of opposition that has grown to 61 percent of Chileans according to the latest Ipsos Public Affairs poll.

    [Top - An iceberg-laden lake leading up to the Colonia Glacier. The Colonia is part of the Rio Baker watershed.
    Above - Chris Kassar feels the power of the raw, free-flowing Rio Baker at a beautiful water fall. Hydro Asyen's proposal to put a dam here would forever change Chile's longest and wildest river. Photos: James Q Martin.]

    Continue reading "Chilean Government Approves Dam Project Despite Public Opposition" »

    Are Parks Protecting the Wildlife and Places They Were Created to Save?

    Elephant patrol As a former director with the International League of Conservation Photographers, Trevor Frost has been keeping a close eye on the world's imperiled places for years. Cleanest Line readers might recognize some of the stories Trevor has helped bring us, such as the Rios Libres series (dedicated to protecting Chile's free-flowing rivers) and, more recently, an initiative to protect the Sacred Headwaters region of western Canada. Today's post is an update on Frost's latest work - this time he's turning his attention to the world's "paper parks," those places that have been set aside - in theory - to protect the world's endangered landscapes and wildlife. Trevor offers this update on what's really going on:

    Parks or protected areas remain our best tool for safeguarding wildlife and wild places and that is why more than 100,000 parks dot the globe protecting reefs and rainforests and mountain ranges. But while some of these parks are doing a great job, many, some would say a majority, are failing to protect the wildlife and wild spaces inside their borders. A closer look at the parks that are struggling often reveals there is little to no on-the-ground-protection for the parks in the form of park rangers, equipment, and even boundary signs to mark park borders.

    [Rangers in Sumatra typically conduct their patrols on foot, but are known to take advantage of alternative transportation when available.  Photo: Rhett A. Butler, 2011, courtesy of Trevor Frost and mongabay.com]

    Continue reading "Are Parks Protecting the Wildlife and Places They Were Created to Save?" »

    Dirtbag Diaires: Buckle Down - The Year of Big Ideas 2011

    Year_of_big_ideas_2011What are your goals for 2011? If you're still looking for ideas, today's Dirtbag Diaries has more than a few from listeners like you.

    James Q Martin has an incredible, carefree life. For the last, five years he's traveled the world, often to warm locales to photograph beautiful athletes in stunning places. It would be hard to let go of that kind of job, but two years ago, James stumbled upon a blog post about the impending damning of the Rio Baker in Chile's Asan region. It set off a powerful reaction. A decade earlier, James had traveled through the Asan region, and the great wilderness left a lasting impression. Now, with the massive hydro-electric project impending, James came up with an idea. What if you took a naturalist, a writer, a photographer, a filmmaker and a conservationist on a source to sea descent to document the last days of a wild river? Could that act even help save? In 2010, James launched Rios Libres and made his dream happen. Completing his dream, would mean giving up the perfect lifestyle. With that, we present our 2011 Year of Big Ideas show. Professional athletes, passionate weekend warriors and Dirtbag Diaries contributors come together to present what they are working on in the coming year. Get inspired and then buckle down.

    Audio_graphic_20pxListen to "Buckle Down"
    (mp3 - right-click to download)

    Take_action_large If you too believe the Rio Baker should remain a free-flowing river, add your voice to the Keep Patagonia Wild! petition from Rios Libres. For stories and video logs from their trip down the Rio Baker, and a look at the trailer for Power in the Pristine, check out our blog series from Rios Libres. Power in the Pristine will be screening at this weekend's Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California.

    Also, check out Cleanest Line reader Caleb Simpson's new energy bar company Adventure Naturals on Kickstarter. With a small donation you can help him reach his goal, and help create a new 100% organic, raw, vegan energy bar to fuel your body.

    Visit dirtbagdiaries.com to hear the music from "Buckle Down" or download past episodes. You can subscribe to the show via iTunes and RSS, or connect with like-minded listeners on Facebook and Twitter.

    Rios Libres: In the Shadow of Glen Canyon Dam, plus "Power in the Pristine" Trailer

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    6170 miles. This is the distance between Flagstaff, Arizona and Puerto Bertrand, Chile – the town closest to the source of the Rio Baker. This creates a formidable gap (the equivalent of driving from Boston to San Diego and back) between where many of us live and the rivers we are fighting to protect. Why then, are five folks from Flagstaff and two from Colorado so damned concerned about a river and a watershed that are so far from home?

    [Rios Libres, a team of passionate and talented folks from the Southwest who are fighting to “keep Patagonia wild”. Photo: James Q Martin]

    Editor's note: When last we left team Rios Libres, they had finished their paddle down the Rio Baker and talk had begun about a film hilighting the dam issue Patagonia. Today we're happy to share the trailer for that film, Power in the Pristine, and a story by Chris Kassar that brings the issue home.

    The simple answer is this: we believe rivers should flow freely – from source to sea – as nature intended. But, there’s more. We are also motivated by the missteps made in our very own backyard. We live in the shadow of Glen Canyon dam – aka “America’s most regretted environmental mistake” and we constantly grapple with ‘what could have been’ if this place had not been lost. This dam stands as a beacon, reminding us of a past heartbreak and calling us to action in order to prevent others.

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: In the Shadow of Glen Canyon Dam, plus "Power in the Pristine" Trailer" »

    Patagonia's Rio Baker - What Will Be Lost

    BELTRA_0001 On the heels of our latest (and final) update from the Rios Libres team, we have this information from our friends at the International League of Conservation Photographers who are working hard to fight dams on the Rio Baker in Chile. Understanding the importance of images in environmental debates, the League of Conservation Photographers use their time and expertise to, as their mission states, "bring conservation into focus."

    Noel Vidal, a quiet man from the small coastal village of Caleta Tortel,near the mouth of the Rio Baker in Chile, sums it up best  "Las presas son el principio del fin para Patagonia." - "The dams are the beginning of the end for Patagonia."

    Enel, a multinational company, plans to build 5 massive dams on two of Chile's most pristine rivers - the Rio Baker and the Rio Pascua. The dams will flood 11,000 acres of wild land, displace families, and bring 1200 miles of 200 foot high transmission lines to the wild south.  These dams will provoke a development rush in Patagonia, stripping the region of its wild character.

    The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) iLCP in partnership with The Patagonian Foundation (TPF) and support from Patagonia,Inc. dispatched a team of renowned photographers and photo activists (Daniel Beltra, Jack Dykinga, Jeff Foott, Bridget Besaw, and Ruth Cohen) to document the landscapes, wildlife, and cultures of the Aysen Region as part of a RAVE or Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition to aid the ongoing campaign against the proposed dams.

    Visit their website and the Sin Represas website at http://www.patagoniasinrepresas.cl/final/indexeng.php to learn more about the issue.

    Hit the jump for more photos from the group's recent RAVE to Patagonia.

    [Aysen, Chile. February 17th 2010. The confluence of rivers Baker and Nef where one of the big dams for Hidroaysen is projected..©Daniel Beltra]

    Continue reading "Patagonia's Rio Baker - What Will Be Lost" »

    Rios Libres: Video Blogs 2 & 3 plus Next Steps

    [Video: "Rios Libres Video Blog 2 with Timmy O'Neill - Rio Baker Portage" by Rio Libres]

    When last we heard from team Rios Libres, Craig Childs summed up their journey to Patagonia in a beautiful post called "The Places In Between." Now that the team is home, work has begun on a film highlighting their trip and opposition to plans that would dam the Rio Baker and Rio Pascua. The two videos in this post will give you a taste of the Rio Baker's magnificence and what to expect from the film when it debuts in October.

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: Video Blogs 2 & 3 plus Next Steps" »

    Rios Libres: The Places In Between

    Team Rios Libres has completed their journey through Patagonia, studying the potential impacts of 5 proposed damns on two of the region's wildest and most healthy rivers. Two of the dams are proposed for the Rio Baker - 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.

    Author Craig Childs wraps their trip up with some reflections on their journey.

    You can read their first three posts here: Post 1, 2, & 3.

    As team member Tim O'Neill states, "our trip is water under the bridge, and hopefully never water behind the damn."

    Earthatnight The Places In Between (a report from Craig Childs)

    At night, the face of the earth is webbed with light. Our cities have swallowed almost everything. When you see this image, where does your imagination fall, on the dazzling, viral spread of humanity or the last dark places in between?

    Late one night, I slipped naked into a lake full of stars down along the serrated edges of southern Chile, where on satellite images of the earth at night, the tail of South America blends into the black sea. Rivers and lakes do not emit light, nor do ice caps or chains of mountains. The sky rippled ahead of me as I swam through the cold water of Patagonia. I pushed my arms into this darkness, felt it across every inch of my skin, took it into my mouth and drank.

    [Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Photo and caption courtesy of NASA and can be found on their site.]

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: The Places In Between" »

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