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Chilean National Parks under strikes 16/11/2022


In every international meeting linked to environmental issues in which our country participates, we boast of being world leaders in conservation. We repeat over and over again with justified pride that Chile has 21% of the land and 42% of the sea under some form of State protected area. And how can we not be satisfied if protected areas are the best strategy for conserving biodiversity -our current version of "Noah's Ark"- and if, furthermore, as has already been widely proven, these spaces are capable of ensuring well-being human development, contribute to sustainable development and even reduce poverty in nearby communities (Vilela et al, 2022).

But we don't talk about the real management of these spaces and we say little about the funding available to maintain them from the State, how to manage them, or about the problems of representativeness of these areas - such as the almost null protection of Mediterranean ecosystems, for instance.

The national parks and reserves, which are the great pride of all, have been facing one of the greatest threats for decades: precarious financing that prevents adequate management. Without management, these spaces remain vulnerable to the extraction and exploitation of resources such as water, minerals, forests and even the hunting of native species; also exposed to the arrival of invasive species as occurs in the Juan Fernández archipelago with rabbits, goats and cats or in Patagonia with beavers and minks; They are also fragile in the face of increasingly frequent and extensive fires due to climate change. Without proper management, these natural spaces also fail to deliver the important benefits to visitors such as recreation, mental and physical health,

Although the financing problem that prevents adequate management is common to several countries, in our country this financial gap -defined as the difference between the financing required for a protected area to function properly and what the State provides for this purpose- , has increased year after year. In fact, Chile is one of the 10 countries that invests least in management for the conservation of its biodiversity worldwide (Waldron et al. 2013).. The National System of State Protected Wilderness Areas (SNASPE) administered by CONAF has had around 19 billion pesos per year in the last decade (DIPRES, 2022). As a reference, the fiscal contribution to the management of the Santiago Metropolitan Park this year is more than 35 billion pesos, or approximately 233 million pesos per hectare (DIPRES, 2022).

The already very poor SNASPE budget will decrease by 21% in 2023, which means that CONAF will have 1,022 pesos per hectare to manage Chile's protected areas. What we do not see behind that figure is that with that money a system that simply cannot cope must be sustained. Here is some data to illustrate the problem:

  • Today there are about 500 permanent park rangers for 18.6 million hectares . In other words, 1 park ranger for every 37,200 hectares on average, considering that the international recommendations are 1 park ranger for every 2,600 hectares and where in a recent global study Chile ranks 14 among the countries with the fewest park rangers per surface area of ​​protected area. among 233 countries studied (Appelton et al., 2022).

  • 60% of the park rangers receive a salary of less than 430,000 pesos per month .

  • 21 of the 106 SNASPE units have neither infrastructure nor assigned personnel . There are examples such as the Kawésqar NP and RN that have only 1 park ranger to manage an area the size of Belgium, or the case of La Campana NP, which, although it has park rangers, only gives them 1 million pesos per month for, among many things, to conserve one of the last Chilean palm populations in the world.

  • In terms of gender gaps, the situation is also critical since only 10% of plant ranger personnel are women.

  • Lack of public resources? and although it could be justified that fiscal resources are limited, there are situations such as the case of the Alberto de Agostini National Park, which has not received a single peso from the State for its administration since it was created in 1965, but nevertheless a salmon company that operates in its waters has received 131,564 million pesos as a state subsidy between 2001 and 2020 (Terram, 2022).

The perverse model of financing State protected areas and the keys to understanding it

Underlying the financing and management problems described is a perverse resource allocation model. Why wicked?

The main source of financing for the management of public protected areas in Chile comes from what is delivered by the Ministry of Finance through the Budget Directorate (DIPRES) to CONAF, specifically to the Management of Protected Wilderness Areas. So far, nothing different from how all public services work.

Although this financing is public, that is, it comes from our taxes, it is not so. A not lesser percentage of the budget comes from cutting off entrances to protected areas, which is why, strictly speaking, it is not delivered directly by the State. And this is where the big problem starts:

  1. First aspect, visits to protected areas before COVID grew on an annual average of 6%. In other words, there was an opportunity to generate more income per ticket, but it must be understood that a greater presence of tourists requires a greater need for resources to adequately manage these greater visits . Otherwise, problems could occur such as fires such as those that have occurred more than once in the Torres del Paine National Park.

  2. Although a decade ago the “direct” fiscal contribution covered 60% of the total financing and the contribution through revenues was the other 40%, this relationship has been reversed. Today, approximately 70% of the budget for protected areas comes from entrance fees and tourist concessions, with only 30% being the fiscal contribution (Terram, 2022) . In this way, the budget of the protected areas of the State depends more and more on tourism, for which reason the few and few park rangers work more and more in tourism, leaving biodiversity conservation work aside at the expense of achieving the income goals for ticket sales to pay their salaries. Without forgetting thatThe main function of the park rangers is to watch over the biodiversity within the protected areas, and not to manage visitors .

  3. Tickets to pay their salaries? That's how it is. The administration of the system of protected areas has a significant expense in personnel, that is, protected areas anywhere in the world require park rangers to fulfill their functions and in the case of SNASPE this expense in personnel is 70% of the budget. total, but nevertheless and as was explained recently, the “direct” tax contribution to SNASPE is around 30%. In short, the State is not even responsible for the salaries of park rangers.

  4. And why does this happen? And here comes the key to this perverse and unincentive model... When CONAF's Management of Protected Wilderness Areas proposes that the "direct" tax contribution should be increased since the projections of tourist income could be higher, thus increasing the total financing , the Budget Directorate (DIPRES) of the Ministry of Finance, understanding that there will be more money entering the SNASPE due to the cut in income, takes advantage of reducing the “direct” tax contribution, thus saving tax money that can be allocated to other priorities.

  5. In summary, the perverse model ends up generating a greater dependence on park management from tourist activity, said activity diverts the central attention of park rangers to visitor management activities, and the greater income of visitors that generate greater income from tickets it means the reduction of the fiscal contribution, finally generating a disincentive to the financing model.

  6. This without even mentioning that any income from a specific park does not ensure that said income is used in the same park that generates it, since it is income that is collected at the central level to be later redistributed after approval of the respective Budget Law. In other words, the park that develops good tourism management, that has a good contribution from regional funds, and that generates good income per ticket does not ensure that these resources are reinvested in said park or in the region. Amodel of total disincentive, particularly for Regional Governments, regional services or Municipalities that invest in improving development policies linked to protected areas but that see that the income from entrance tickets goes to the central level without ensuring the return to the same protected areas where it was reversed regionally .

  7. CONAF park rangers are currently in a national strike, where their demands are finally being known by the public. Aspects such as low salaries or low personnel are accompanied by situations where transitory personnel, that is, those park rangers hired for specific seasons, often perform key management functions, but they have the lowest salaries in the institution, and are also capacities that are being lost since their type of contract cannot be extended for more than 2 years. In addition, their demands include situations where low wages have been maintained for decades in permanent park rangers. Namely,

So how do we get out of this dilemma?

Protected areas can be the best investment for the development of a country in the face of the current socio-environmental crisis. We need to go from paper parks to parks with park rangers taking care of our heritage for us, future generations and that they become a model for the planet. For this development opportunity to become a reality, the following is required:

An adequate estimate of the budgetary gap in a window of at least ten years where it is possible to project the development of protected areas, from the development of administrative infrastructure, and tourism when necessary, to the presence of park rangers with appropriate equipment.

Integrate current financial mechanisms and their efficiency . Currently, there is no ideal integration between central financing and regional financing, which is why more than once it has happened that regional funds manage to build infrastructure for kindergartens or environmental interpretation centers or trails, but after the inaugural ribbon cutting, they pass several years without being managed with park rangers since the only financing to increase the number of park rangers comes from DIPRES and there is no coordination or integration between regional and national funds.

Increase the number of existing financial mechanisms for protected areas . It is a matter of going out to neighboring countries to realize that it is possible to generate other forms of financing. Different sources, whether public or private, can come together to support the need to manage public protected areas. Especially considering that Chilean men and women have an interest in giving that support. A recent study determined that 74% of Chilean households would be willing to donate 500 pesos a month.

The State must ensure the salaries of park rangers as well as the necessary equipment to carry out their tasks, since it is the State's responsibility to ensure the objectives of creating these protected areas in relation to the conservation of biodiversity, without having to depend on the activity. tour. This should be guaranteed in the current budgetary discussion of the bill that creates the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP).

Establish a virtuous relationship between the tourism industry, both public and private, with the management of protected areas.For example, the development of "soft tourist infrastructure" within protected areas such as trails, bathrooms, campsites, parking lots, etc. should be managed by small concessions developed by local companies that allow park rangers to focus on conservation. and supervision of said companies, at the same time giving opportunities for employment sources and economic development to local entrepreneurs. Leaving those hardest infrastructure investments such as hotels, lodges, or others, outside of these, always considering the benefit of local communities, which in urban or populated areas can provide transportation, food and accommodation services, thus generating sources of employment and local economic development. At the same time, Both national and international tourism marketing and public policies to promote tourism should consider that these protected areas must be adequately cared for so that visitors can enjoy them. This requires not only promoting visits, but also training for businessmen to generate responsible tourism, adequate access infrastructure to the parks, and appropriate visitor behavior both within these areas and with local communities.

Our protected areas may be the most representative seal of Chile. Thousands of tourists travel to Europe to visit the Louvre or the Prado Museum, since these spaces preserve artistic value for the enjoyment of humanity. The opportunities of Chile through its beauties and natural wealth and the local communities that live closely with them, should be the pride of all Chileans, becoming the best strategy for sustainable development in the long term. For this, these guardians of nature or curators of our heritage need to be at the center of this work, with adequate capacities and financing.

source: https://es.linkedin.com/pulse/las-claves-para-entender-el-problema-de-%C3%A1reas-chile-sepulveda

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