Published: August 2008Special Report: Chile

Fallout on the Fu

After a major volcanic eruption, what will become of South America’s top whitewater river?

Text by Jon Bowermaster
Photo by Daniel Basualto/EPA/Corbis

Well before the volcano erupted, and almost since they "discovered" the region 20 years ago, gringo environmentalists and international tour operators had been fighting to preserve a stunning and sparsely populated province of Patagonian Chile known as Palena. The densely forested Andean region, which includes the 742,000-acre Pumalín Park and the whitewater mecca of the Futaleufú River, has been besieged by a near-continuous string of man-made threats: burgeoning salmon farms and the accompanying pollutants; hydropower dams slated for the Fu and other big rivers; and proposals for a gold mine and an aluminum smelter.

Over the years money has been raised, associations formed, and land bought up and set aside in often controversial efforts by foreigners to stem the tide of development; the most famous initiative was the founding of Pumalín Park by American expatriate Douglas Tompkins. Local critics believed Tompkins, a founder of The North Face and Esprit, was not only trying to lock up a chunk of their country but perhaps planning to secede altogether.

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  • Re: Jon Bowermaster/Chile volcano The ash will not make the soil sterile. It will have the opposite …
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