Bosque Pehuén: private, voluntary protection in a Chilean forest

By Brent A. Mitchell.

Chile exemplifies a growing trend in conservation: privately protected areas. While several large private conservation initiatives in Patagonia have (rightly) dominated the headlines, individuals and NGOs are voluntarily protecting areas throughout the country. Bosque Pehuén (Pehuen Forest), near the center of Chile’s long, Andean spine, exhibits characteristics common to many of such privately protected areas (PPAs), and demonstrates the public benefits of private conservation.

Bosque Pehuén: Private, Voluntary Protection in a Chilean Forest

Bosque Pehuén, in Chile’s popular Lake District, is a Category I protected area, adjacent to Villarrica National Park. It encompasses a complete basin that protects meadows, old forests, shrubs and grasslands, secondary forests and riparian forests. This forest also houses waterfalls, rivers and creeks that are formed by the accumulation of snow in the winter.

This privately protected area covers 882 hectares of old and secondary forests of oak (Nothofagus obliqua), raulí (Nothofagus alpina), coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi) and araucaria (Araucaria araucana) in the foothills of the Andean Araucanía region. The Araucaria was declared a natural monument in 1976 and is considered a highly important cultural heritage for the Pehuenche indigenous peoples, yet it is unfortunately an endangered species and is one of the main reasons why this PPA was established here. Bosque Pehuén takes its name from Pehuén, the Mapuche word for Araucaria.

This PPA resides within one of the most biodiverse areas of the country, with high endemism, but this region of Chile is also one of the most transformed and least protected. Bosque Pehuén was formed by Fundación Mar Adentro (FMA) in 2006 as a private reserve. It was conceived as an open-air laboratory for research, with the aim of generating multidisciplinary and innovative models of conservation and knowledge, through the link between scientific research, art and education and outreach activities. Fundación Mar Adentro is a private non-profit organization that promotes equitable education, scientific and artistic research, as well as nature conservation.

The PPA is also a reserve for native wildlife: pumas, foxes, woodpeckers and many other birds, including unique species that are considered threatened: Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) and “monito del monte,” Dromiciops gliroides (also known as little monkey of the bush).

The forest was partially exploited in the 1970s, hence the Foundation is now studying the forest’s regeneration. Approximately 25% of the property has never been harvested, and harbors ancient trees, some more than 700 years old. As part of the management plan, FMA also hosts a series of scientific research both by its own members as well as guest university researchers. For example, since 2014 Universidad Austral de Chile has been conducting canopy studies of the Nothofagus forest, focusing primarily on epiphytic bryophyte and animal biodiversity in old trees. More recently, the University of California Davis-Chile will study the outbreak of a disease that has been affecting araucaria trees across their southern range. Climatic studies and snow accumulation patterns are also a main focus in this area due to its important watershed functions. 

The management plan also calls for environmental education at the reserve, a phase that FMA is just beginning. They have developed a small center at the forest entrance, complete with dining and overnight accommodations that invites artists and scientists to work together and complement their creative processes as well as participate in an outreach program with local public schools.

The Villarrica National Park, at 63,000 hectares, is more than 70 times the size of Bosque Pehuén. Connectivity was another decisive matter when establishing this PPA—connections with a national park allow for this private area to extend a biological corridor for all species living in this area; and maximize conservation efforts through a public-private collaboration. FMA has recently begun collaborative efforts with the Park mainly in relation to fire preparedness. The Villarrica National Park has only 10 staff therefore FMA has collaborated in providing complementary staff capacity and fire fighting equipment.

As a privately protected area, Bosque Pehuén is not unique in Chile. It is a member of Así Conserva Chile, the association of conservation initiatives of private and indigenous peoples. The organization has 37 members, protecting more than 600,000 hectares, and in 10 of Chile’s 15 administrative regions. Based partly on its reputation for private conservation, Chile was selected to host the second congress of the new International Land Conservation Network in January of 2018.

The many public benefits of privately protected areas do not always include public access. Bosque Pehuén is providing multiple public benefits by hosting research, protecting biodiversity, and providing environmental education.

Click here for further information on the site.   

Brent A. Mitchell is the Chair of the IUCN-WCPA Specialist Group on Privately Protected Areas and Nature Stewardship.  The Specialist Group is currently working on a draft Best Practice Guidelines.  The draft will be available at during April 2018, please email Brent at for questions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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