Making up for a disastrous lunch

Photo: MFDnes, 10.7.07

It all started with a can of soup. Two years ago a Czech tourist trekking through the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile decided to take a break for lunch and warm a can of soup on a camp-fire. The result was a four-day blaze that destroyed over 11,000 hectares of Chile's national park. Experts said it would take more than 7 million US dollars and over a decade to repair the damage.

Although the Czech Republic is not legally bound to cover the cost, it wants to help restore the natural reserve to its former beauty - and Czech foresters are now in Chile planting tree nurseries which will replace the damaged forests. Vit Obrdlik of Czech Forests heads the project.

"At the present time a group of our foresters have set up administrative quarters in Puerto Natales and planted a nursery school of Antarctic beech trees - a deciduous tree native to southern Chile. We are talking about 180,000 trees which should be ready for re-planting in the devastated areas in 2008. After that will come the hard part - protecting the young trees in their natural habitat. We have the technology to do this in Czech conditions - but in Torres del Paine there are strong winds, sudden climate changes and herds of lamas who do a great deal of damage to young trees. We need to protect the plantation from all that."

The Czech Foreign Ministry has released 15 million crowns for the pilot project and much depends on its success. The Chilean side alone has not made any effort to replant the damaged area and is waiting to see the outcome of the Czech project. Vit Obrdlik says that the local authorities have welcomed the Czech initiative.

"Of course they are very pleased with it, because we are bringing them our know-how and testing it in local conditions. It is part of the agreement that they will retain this know-how and the nurseries in order to be able to continue the re-planting process - or apply it elsewhere. That was the idea of the former Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda who promised to find a way to make up for the damage caused by a Czech tourist."

Even if all goes according to plan it will take ten years before the newly planted beech trees are strong enough to survive. However Vit Obrdlik says that fully restoring the damage to the environment could take fifty to eighty years.