The battle for Cochamó

Turning a developer’s dream into a conservation victory.
Photo credit: Vlad Capusan
Tucked away in Cochamó, southern Chile, lies a 133,000-hectare treasure trove of natural and cultural wonders. Known as the 'Yosemite of South America' for its stunning granite cliffs, this land is home to ancient alerce forests, glaciers, wetlands, and crystal-clear waters.

Cochamó is renowned among climbers worldwide for its challenging routes and breathtaking ascents. This unique landscape has forged a deep bond with the climbing community, drawing adventurers from around the globe. Generations of locals have called this place home, living in harmony with the land. However, this paradise has been under constant threat from industries like hydroelectric power, forestry, and mining.

Then came Hagemann, a wealthy businessman with grandiose plans to develop the area, including building a hydroelectric plant. But conservationists, led by Rodrigo Condeza and the non-profit Puelo Patagonia, weren’t backing down. After a decade-long battle in court and in the public eye, they finally reached a breakthrough. Just a few weeks ago, Hagemann agreed to sell the land for conservation at a slashed price of $63 million, thanks to relentless negotiations and the support of international conservation groups.
This deal is monumental, promising to protect some of South America's most ecologically vital areas. But there’s a catch: they need to come up with the cash to buy the land — that's how Conserva Puchegüín was born, an international coalition spearheaded by Puelo Patagonia. This alliance, featuring heavyweights like The Nature Conservancy, Freyja Foundation, Patagonia Inc., and the Wyss Foundation, is hustling to rally funds from Chile and beyond to secure and safeguard the natural and cultural treasures of Puchegüín. Their mission? Buy the land and turn it into a protected area.
A Little Bit of History

Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, the Chilean government tried to pave paradise with new roads. Locals weren't having it and managed to halt the plans. Fast forward to 2007, and Hagemann was on a buying spree, snapping up parcels from over 200 families with dreams of tourism and development. His fortune from mining and real estate helped him amass over 131,500 hectares of contiguous land, almost entirely encircled by national parks.

Resistance was strong from the get-go. In 2013, Rodrigo Condeza launched Puelo Patagonia to fight back, arguing that a hydroelectric plant would wreck a crucial ecological corridor. With public support, Condeza led a legal fight, culminating in a 2017 court victory against the project. Frustrated, Hagemann put the land on the market in 2018 for $150 million, but no buyers bit. By 2022, Puelo Patagonia made a lower offer, and negotiations began. Through mutual understanding and respectful dialogue, they found common ground.
Finally, earlier this year, after more than a decade of disputes, they agreed on $63 million. Puelo Patagonia has already drummed up over $15 million from conservation champions like the Wyss Foundation and Freyja Foundation. Hagemann has given them two years to raise the rest. They also plan to raise another $15 million for trail construction and to manage the growing number of tourists flocking to the Cochamó Valley, hoping at least half of the funds will come from Chilean donors.
Why It Matters

This conservation effort is a game-changer for protecting biodiversity and curbing environmental damage. Transforming the land into a protected area isn't just about saving trees and critters; it's about promoting sustainable tourism that boosts the local economy without trashing the environment. This model of sustainable conservation projects sets a precedent for future efforts around the world, showing how protecting nature can go hand in hand with economic benefits.

Moreover, this initiative highlights the tricky balance between private land ownership and public interest in conservation. It’s a testament to how public campaigning, legal action, and smart financial negotiations can align to achieve conservation goals. This could shape future policy decisions and conservation strategies globally, proving that when it comes to saving our planet, persistence and collaboration pay off.

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