Almost forty years ago, the community surrounding Silver Creek — an already world-famous Idaho trout stream – made a huge leap forward. They convinced the Conservancy to come to Idaho and purchase the initial property that became Silver Creek Preserve.More than ten years ago, I showed up at Silver Creek, starting my career in conservation with open eyes but very little knowledge.
Today, as I sit in Bariloche, Argentina, trying to understand the landscape and the community of conservation, I feel very much the same as I did first starting at Silver Creek.
However, this time around I do feel an even stronger sense of excitement and opportunity because the the Conservancy’s Argentina chapter is teetering on a development nearby similar to Silver Creek — and this time, I am here at the beginning.
Fortin Chacabuco is a 12,000 acre ranch about a twenty-minute drive from Bariloche, Argentina. Bariloche is a picturesque town, called “the gateway to Patagonia.” Located on Lake Nahuel Huapi, it attracts visitors from all over the world who come to see the mountain vistas and enjoy the recreational opportunities of Patagonia.
The Nature Conservancy in Argentina has been here for six years, working on such priorities as sustainable grazing projects, conservation easements, biologic assessments, oil and gas exploration issues, and strengthening the land trust movement in Argentina.
The owners of Fortin Chacabuco have offered to sell the ranch to the Conservancy for a substantially reduced price—offering the chapter a Silver Creek-like deal of a lifetime.
The ranch could be a gateway to the Conservancy for the community, a recreational haven (six miles of river and two smaller trout streams are located on the property), a place to demonstrate sustainable grazing, an educational center, and scientific research station.
Bariloche is located in the rain shadow of the Andes Mountains and therefore receives more rainfall than the surrounding area. The vegetation in and around the city and in the hills is diverse — pines, firs, cotoneasters, roses, spirea. As you move east, the landscape dries out and from a distance looks very much like Idaho sagebrush steppe.
With the similarities in landscape, Fortin Chacabuco struggles with issues similar to those we face at Silver Creek — invasive species, climate change, inadequate grazing buffers, trespass and overuse.
Some things are different, however. Here, the invasive species are rose, willows, and pine– the very plants we often plant for habitat. Fishing and recreational pressure appear to be less than in the Silver Creek area although we are here during the ‘slack’ season, so that is to be determined.
While we allow for duck hunting at Silver Creek, Fortin Chacabuco will be controlling red deer, rabbit, and wild boar which –all nuisance species — in their hunting plan. In Argentina, there is little public land — the national parks compromise approximately 8% of the land and they can include ‘category 6’ lands which allow for private land holdings, development, grazing, and other uses.
In contrast, 60 percent of Idaho is public land. Land ownership itself presents very different challenges and opportunities. Owning a large ranch like Fortin Chacabuco (actually small for Argentina) creates a rare opportunity for the Conservancy to showcase a new way of doing conservation in Argentina and the public benefit of conservation on private lands.
These are the natural similarities and differences I notice as a land manager. It is funny to hear the “similarities and differences” my kids notice as we play this game. This morning we made a list and this is what they came up with:
Same: the trees, the rivers, people, lakes
Different: motorcycles, buses, the toilets, the ice cream, more noise, Spanish, street dogs
This is how I think of the Silver Creek and Fortin Chacobuco comparison. In the end, the big things are the same—the nature, structure, and opportunities—it’s just the specifics and the noisy things that are different.
Opinions expressed on Conservancy Talk and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conservancy.