I’m going to ease away from the blog for a little while here. Not because I want to, but because, well, I won’t have regular email access for the next few weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to check in reasonably often and maybe post something, but it’ll be slow around here. I can’t tell you right now exactly where I’ll be, but it should be a lot of fun.
In the meantime, here’s another photo of the endangered Baker River, or Rio Baker, down in Region XI, Patagonia. I’ve written about this situation a little recently, and I do tend to think it’s a lost cause (meaning, it’s a done deal), but perhaps some international pressure can help. The Baker is one of the great rivers in the world, by any stretch of the imagination. The Baker River flows, wild and free, through Central Patagonia, Chile, in the remote Aysen province. The Baker flows fast and furiously through several narrow gorges, and this is why it’s so valuable to the Spanish power company, Endesa. Rio Baker has the fastest flow of any of the rivers in Chile, with a furious flow of anywhere from 600 cubic meters per second (m3/s) to nearly 1600 m3/s.
Recent years have seen the Chilean economy relatively strong, and this has also put a lot of pressure on the natural environment of the country. The need for energy is ever-growing, worldwide, and Chile is no different to anywhere else – other than perhaps the peaceful quiet reaches of the southern and central Andes mountains, places like Cochran, the small town just off the Baker. The region is mostly farmland, undeveloped, and very quiet. The construction and development projects required just to do the initial research and testing have already wrought huge changes to the area.
I spent a couple of days talking to some locals who lived in the area, it was pretty disheartening to see the kind of manipulation a company like Endesa will do to sway people’s opinions. They told all of their staff, who regularly drive the roads along the river canyon, who they could stop and pick up and who not to give rides to. Anyone who had voiced opinion against the dam proposals were not to be given rides – even though the weather here can be nasty, and some of the people live 10 -15 miles out of town. People who’d voiced some support were often picked up and given a ride to or from town. Even helicopters being used for surveying were offered to locals if they needed supplies shipped out to their remote cabins, but only if those locals had shown some support for the dams. Shameful stuff.
The local people of the region live a relatively quiet and simple life, but they are passionate about the area, and what it means to them. Many have farmed and worked in the region for generations, and little has changed for their lives until recently. The roads and construction trucks, the sorties of helicopters and small planes flying the valleys and mountains, the influx of people with grand promises is difficult for some of those folks to grasp, and it all seems very tempting to some. Generally, though, they have little understanding of what’s coming their way, and even less understanding of what they are able to do about it.
Tourism has been the clear provider for the regions economics in recent years, and, sans a couple of dams, looks only set to grow. backpacking trips, rafting, kayaking, climbing and outdoor adventure travel in the Alysen region is on par with anywhere in the world, and this is set to end if the dams are built. The project in total calls for more than 20 000 hectares (50 000 acres) clearcut forests for power lines, and flooding nearly 10 000 hectares. (25 000 acres) All this in a region that is home to endangered species such as the Condor, puma and Huemul (a local deer).
Most of the power generated from dams to be built (2 on the Baker, and another 3 dams are slated for Pascua River as well) is mostly to be sucked up by Copper Mining corporations, requiring power lines to run 2200 km to Santiago – the power would not, of course, be generated for the interests of the local communities. Chile currently is on the threshold of moving towards a sustainable economy based on renewable technologies and non-extractive industry such as tourism, or moving further towards industrial development with mining, intensive agriculture and deforestation for pulp and paper manufacturing. Hopefully, enough protest from within Chile and from friends of rivers around the world will have some impact, and the rivers shall remain what they’re meant to be; rivers.
I’d urge anyone reading this to take the time to send a message to
Michelle Bachelet Mr Sebastian Piner, the Chilean President, and strongly request her him to protect Patagonia from the kind of rampant “development” that lost Glen Canyon in the US. You can write her, him care of;
Ms. Michelle Bachelet
Mr. Sebastian Piner
República de Chile
Palacio de la Moneda
Santiago – Chile
And don’t worry if you don’t speak or write Spanish, English is fine. But voices DO sometimes make an effort, so let’s try to keep the Rio Baker a Rio.
If you’d rather go through an organization like the NRDC, you can visit their website at:
and a video about the region (well worth watching):
Oh, the notes about this photo. This is the first waterfall of the Class 5 section of the river, taken the day I arrived at the Baker with a group of crazy folks in a small bus we rented for this mission. And trust me, getting 9 kayakers, a photographer, 2 wives/girlfriends, a tiny baby and our 2 drivers all the way from Futaleufu to Chochrane (20 hours driving time) was a full-on mission! But wow, what an awesome trip it was. We hiked down from the road to this overlook, and hung out, all the kayakers scoping their lines and angles for the run early the next morning. And what a morning it turned out to be – all day on the Rio Baker, Patagonia!
PS – Updated President info, thanks to Robin Odland for the info. Much appreciated.