Story | 08 Jul, 2010

Patagonian Steppe

Developing a transboundary strategy for conservation and sustainable management

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Photo: WCPA Grasslands Specialist Group

The Challenge

The Patagonian steppe is a vast semi-arid to arid region located on the southern tip of the continent, mainly in southern Argentina but also in Chile. Patagonia is a relatively dry and temperate region that occupies around 800,000 square kilometres. Vegetation physiognomy and floristic composition range from semi-deserts, grass and shrub steppes to humid prairies.

The two main economic activities in the Patagonian steppe are the oil industry and sheep grazing. Oil extraction is the most intensive anthropogenic disturbance, though it is restricted in extent. Overgrazing has been perceived to be the main agent of desertification in the arid and semi-arid Patagonian steppe. Overall, 35% of the rangelands have been transformed into deserts.

The consequences of deterioration have been profound from both the biodiversity conservation and the socio-economic perspective. Primary productivity has reduced, along with the provision of ecosystems services such as carbon capture, hydrological regulation, decomposition, nutrient cycling and mound dynamics. Climate change is already aggravating this scenario.

Formal protection of Patagonian steppe is poor. There are twenty protected areas that cover around 2,500,000 hectares (approximately 3% of the region). Urgent action is crucial to guarantee the long-term preservation of these ecosystems and their provision of environmental goods and services. An integrated transboundary strategy that increases the protection status and promotes the broad adoption of sustainable management practices in the Patagonian steppe of Argentina and Chile is urgently required.

A comprehensive strategy should include the following aspects:

  •  Designation of private and public protected areas;
  • Broad adoption of sustainable systems for sheep and native fauna production and green commercialization models;
  • Capacity building of local stakeholders in sustainable management;
  • Policy development and adjustment; 
  • Assessment of grasslands economic value and development of financial tools that guarantee long-term conservation commitments;
  • Evaluation of climate change impacts and identification of adaptation mechanisms;
  • Communication and awareness campaigns.

It remains essential to coordinate conservation efforts at national and transnational levels, by lining-up agendas of different stakeholders and institutions to work within a common framework. It is hoped that by achieving this, the impact of actions carried out at local and sub-regional levels will be enhanced.