Cabo León | Future Alacalufes National Park
65,751 acres/26,620 hectares
In 2001 the Conservation Land Trust acquired Cabo León, a property covering more than 64,000 acres (26,000 hectares) located on Riesco Island north of Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia. Riesco Island sits on the Seno Skyring, a large seawater sound. Nearly 80 percent of the valley land is covered by southern beech forest. Upland areas terminate in rock and ice. A remnant population of the endangered huemul deer is present on the property, along with puma, fox, and a host of small mammals. A long list of resident bird species complements a very diverse flora at the ecotone, or meeting place, of the forest and steppe ecosystems.
Cabo León’s conservation effectively stops logging on its side of Riesco Island, and although the eastern border of the property has been slightly damaged by logging, it is well on the way to recovery. One goal of the project is to inspire neighboring landowners to reduce unproductive cattle grazing and similarly allow their forests to restore themselves. With enough time and reforestation, this could begin to create a wetter microclimate eastward and help regenerate the desertifying pampa/steppe natural community, which has been badly overgrazed by sheep and cattle since European settlement of Patagonia.
The preservation of Cabo León came about after a series of complicated transactions. Ultimately, the Conservation Land Trust provided the funds to the Chile-based Yendegaia Foundation to buy and administer the land. This extremely rugged and wild landscape is now fully protected in private ownership, but should eventually be repatriated to the public. Tompkins Conservation has offered to donate Cabo León for addition to the adjacent Alacalufes Reserve, which would then be upgraded to national park status and could be enlarged by more than a half million acres of adjoining public land. The resulting national park would be one of the largest protected areas in South America—a phenomenal new wilderness area exceeding 7 million acres—and a major addition to Chile’s national park system.
Moreover, with the annexation of Cabo León, road access to Alacalufes (currently accessible only by sea) would take shape. Thus a new publicly accessible national park would be established just 136 kilometers from Punta Arenas, the regional capital, diversifying and strengthening the tourism potential of the area.