PROTECTED NATURAL AREAS
One of the characteristics of Patagonia is that it concentrates the greatest area of protected natural areas, whether they are National Parks, Natural Monuments or National or Provincial Reserves.
The National Parks and Reserves alone add up to 2,273,450 hectares.
This protection regime of certain natural areas has been and certainly is a conditioning factor of tourist development.
However, it must be admitted that the restrictions imposed have made it possible to preserve great extensions of woods and stopped pollution from reaching extreme levels, as it is happening in other lake districts or rivers which are not so strictly protected.
On the other hand, their existence guarantees that both the local and foreign eco-tourist will find the quality environment necessary for the development of such activities.
Visionaries who made us pioneers in Parks and conservation in the Americas
The origin of the National Parks system in Argentina goes back to the beginning of the XX century. At that time there was a general international awakening to the necessity of preserving certain tracts of land with special scenic values to keep them from being destroyed or indiscriminately exploited.
A clear message to that effect was the requirement of Congress by the National Executive to pass a law for the protection of the waterfalls on the Iguazu River. The basis of the request was the report by the landscape architect Carlos Thays.
The original nucleus for protected areas comes from a donation by one of the most fascinating personalities of the time, Francisco P. Moreno (1852-1919). He was an explorer, scientist, statesman and philanthropist, and in each of these fields he developed his own characteristic style.
The scientific data gleaned, and the results of his explorations through Patagonia, earned him the position of Argentina's authority in the international border dispute with Chile. This was eventually settled in 1902, Argentina having gained sovereignty over 40.000 sq. km. of territory. In recognition of his work the government rewarded him with a land grant. On November 6, 1903 Moreno wrote to the Minister of Agriculture Wenceslao Escalante saying: "In my wanderings in the south during those years I saw exceptionally beautiful places and more than once pondered on the importance that the Nation set aside portions for present and future generations. Along these lines, and invoking the law which cedes to me a portion of land three leagues square, I request that it be preserved by the Nation as a public park. It is my wish that in making this donation the landscape be not altered and that development should be limited to only such works as facilitate the comfort of visitors."
In practice that donation allowed for the creation of the Parque Nacional del Sur in 1922. In 1934, a law drawn up by Ezequiel Bustillo creates the National Parks Service and two national parks, Iguazu and Nahuel Huapi, this last around the nucleus of the Parque Nacional del Sur.
Moreno's gesture allowed Argentina to be the third country in the Americas to have National Parks. To honor Moreno, the 6th of November has been declared National Parks Day.
On the 6th of November 2003 we celebrated our First century of National Parks in Argentina.
Caring for the natural and cultural resources of the country benefits us all
Accelerating world population growth and man's capacity to destroy the planet provoke a growing pressure on natural areas. At the same time humanity needs wild spaces, which ensure the natural processes such as provision of clean water, areas suitable for education, tourism, research and enjoyment, sources of new resources such as foodstuffs and medicines, and protection of scenic landscapes and historic sites.
The rich variety of flora and fauna in Argentina must be preserved as part of our heritage to be handed down to future generations. This initiative is explicit in the National Constitution and is part of the responsibility of the Federal Government assumed at signing the Biodiversity agreement (Río 1992).
National Parks have been demonstrated to be the best way to preserve nature in its original state and at the same time allow for public use. Protection of self-sustaining samples of each of the biomes of the country is the best, cheapest and most practical way of preserving viable populations of native plants and animals.
FUNCTIONS AND OBJECTIVES OF OUR NATIONAL PARKS
Preserve biodiversity and ecosystems
National parks preserve extensive representative areas of the natural ecosystems. This allows for effective conservation of the native flora and fauna and their relationships.
Preservation of habitat for endangered species
National parks preserve populations of endangered species and of species, which have always been scarce such as large carnivores, or rare animal and, plant species of very limited distribution.
Preservation of natural scenery
National parks preserve sites of imposing natural beauty. Their total conservation in such public areas allows for contemplation of these maximum expressions of nature by the whole community. At the same time many national parks have evidence of man's past in these same natural settings where they lived, for our better understanding.
Foment education and recreation
With adequate facilities for visitors and the quality of the sites, national parks are the ideal setting for environmental education. For visitors to better enjoy the parks, many have information desks and visitor centers, authorized guides, trails, viewing overlook, wayside exhibits and published material. Those areas which are most visited have interpretive centers.
National parks are ideal places for carrying out scientific research because they are well preserved. This is achieved through agreements with other institutions, by offering facilities within the park and the help of technical personnel who are well trained and have knowledge of the area.
The information thus gained is essential for management purposes and so that locals learn to value the area more highly.
Protect paleontological remains
National parks preserve fossil beds. In this way their study is ensured over the long term and they provide themes for interpretation.
Preserve our cultural diversity
National parks treasure the various ways that man related to nature in the past and at present. They are a wonderful reference for learning how to plan our course towards the future.
PRESERVING PATAGONIA'S BIODIVERSITY
The system of national parks in Argentina includes 33 protected areas and covers over three and a half million hectares, about 1.25% of the country (a greater area than the province of Misiones), and Monte Leon, which is in the process of becoming a national park. It is believed that the ideal proportion should be in the region of 5% natural reserves distributed in a balanced way throughout the biogeographical regions of the country.
The system at present includes a great proportion of the enormous variety of natural habitats, though with varying degrees of representation. The southern Andean woods and the yungas (mountain forests of the NW) are considered to be satisfactorily represented, but other biomes such as the Pampas grasslands and the spinal (algarroba and calden woodlands- Prosopis sp.) are scarcely represented at all.
Our National Parks contain the main natural sceneries of the country, and places of great tourist interest, places for which Argentina is internationally famous. As such, these become important for the development of several regions of the country. More than one and a half million people per year visit Argentina's national parks.