Protecting Patagonia: Science, Conservation and the Pre-History of the Nature State on a South American Frontier, 1903-1934

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Between 1903 and 1934, Argentina and Chile became two of the earliest countries in Latin America and the world to create national parks. Federal governments created these parks in the transnational cultural and ecological southern region of Patagonia, a place that still today holds the largest conservation areas in either nation. The landscape here is temperate, windswept and stark. Jagged and glaciated peaks, a southern extension of the Andean range, form a north to south spine that gives way to steppes and drylands to the east and thick forests and fjords to the west. The entire region, stretching southward from roughly the Río Biobío in Chile and the Río Colorado in Argentina to the shared island of Tierra del Fuego, is about three times the size of Italy (about 400,000 square miles) and today has fewer than two million inhabitants. The emergence of national parks in Patagonia is related to at least two factors: the growth of state institutions and the existence of frontier territories. State institutions included the emergence of scientific societies (funded in part by the state), the passage of federal laws and the development of governmental agencies to manage nature in place. Combined, these created the social and institutional infrastructure required to design, support and administer national parks. Importantly, despite the similar national contexts, the constitution of these state institutions reflected distinct national priorities.


The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation is a volume of the Routledge Environmental Humanities series.

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