The Genesis of Natural Protected Areas Systems
Even though the history of nature conservation shows isolated cases of intent in periods as remote as the middle ages, the first legal initiative took place in 1861, with a decree that created the first known nature reserve: the Fontainbleu Forest in France, with a mere 624 hectares (1555 acres).
Later, in 1872, understanding the need to preserve large extensions of land, the United States created the world's first national park: Yellowstone National Park, regarded as a "public recreational park for the benefit and pleasure of the people". With this declaration, a new concept was engraved, which encompasses the conservation of representative samples of natural systems in a state as pristine as possible, coupled to the benefit and enjoyment of mankind.
In Argentina, the present-day system for natural protected areas found its initial drive in the individual effort of Francisco P. Moreno (1852-1919), explorer, scientist and philanthropic statesman who, enchanted by the sceneries of the Patagonian Andes pinpointed the need to conserve those areas for future generations.
And so it was that in 1903 he made manifest his plans to donate to the Argentine State the lands located "on the border of the territories of Neuquén and Río Negro, on the western end of Lake Nahuel Huapi, with the aim that they be conserved as public national park"; thus establishing the foundations of what would become, in 1922, the first protected area in Argentina: Parque Nacional del Sur ("National Park of the South"), now known as Nahuel Huapi National Park.
At present, the total surface area protected under national, provincial, municipal and private parks adds up to approximately 5% of the Argentine national territory; but the expansion and consolidation of this natural protected areas system is of utmost priority so that one day the country can attain the conservation of an ideal representative portion of each biome throughout its territory.
Due to the goodwill and perseverance of those pioneers who managed to instill the desire to conserve Argentine landscapes and ecosystems, our generation can enjoy the might and pristine beauty of the north-western mountainous rainforests, the immensity of the Patagonian steppe and forests and the portentous Iguazú Falls and the jungle that engulfs them, and many other natural systems that, had it not been for those people, would have disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Without these pioneers, we would live in a world void of many of the natural marvels that, apart from their ecological and economic value, also enrich our existence spiritually and aesthetically... without the work of those who today dedicate time, effort and resources to conserve the beauty and richness of nature, future generations will be forced to live in an economically, aesthetically and ecologically sterile world.