US investment firm gives away Rhode Island-sized lands in Chile

09/16/04

Punta Arenas, Chile, September 14, 2004 Goldman Sachs has announced the unprecedented gift of a sprawling wilderness in Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The lands, on the island of Tierra del Fuego, are home to the world's southernmost stands of old growth forests as well as unique grasslands, rivers and wetlands containing extraordinary wildlife. The more than 680,000 acres (272,000 hectares) of Chilean land were donated to WCS by the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund in a novel and powerful alliance that will ensure conservation in the region in perpetuity. The announcement was made last Friday in Chile.

"This announcement underscores the important role the private sector can, and must, play in the efforts to save wildlife and conserve wild lands," said Dr. Steven Sanderson, WCS President and CEO. "Goldman Sachs, the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund, WCS and the people of Chile will be pioneering a new kind of partnership for conservation of these precious wild lands, which reflect the importance of Chile for global conservation. Goldman Sachs has set a new standard for the private sector's commitment to the natural world, and deserves tremendous credit for their imagination and resolve that these lands and their wildlife should be protected now and forever."

Lands That Awed Darwin

The Chilean lands transferred in the gift contain large stands of old-growth lenga forests, a native species of southern beech tree, as well as peat bogs, alpine meadows, river systems, and spectacular snow-capped mountains. The landscape supports a wide range of wildlife, including Magellanic woodpeckers (a cousin of the fabled ivory-billed woodpecker of the southern US), firecrown hummingbirds, and the culpeo fox. The guanaco, a member of the camel family, is the region's signature animal, symbolic of the valuable open ecosystems of southern South America.

Separated from the mainland of South America by the Straits of Magellan, the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (which translates to "land of fire") was named by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 when he spotted bonfires made by indigenous Ona people to ward off the cold. More than 300 years later, Charles Darwin wrote about Tierra del Fuego's native people and unique wildlife he encountered on stopovers while on his historic scientific expedition aboard the H.M.S. Beagle: "A single glance at the landscape was sufficient to show me how widely different it was from anything I had ever beheld."

A Unique Alliance

To assure continuity in this important project, Goldman Sachs, the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund, and WCS are establishing a formal Alliance, that is intended to last for three years. Goldman Sachs, the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund, and WCS will begin immediately to plan for the conservation of these lands. Whenever possible, sustainable development activities, including ecotourism, will be undertaken to support conservation objectives and additionally to provide benefit to local communities. Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund's support includes a substantial gift of endowment and operating support. WCS's conservation work will be done in cooperation with a distinguished advisory council to be selected and made up of a majority of Chilean citizens.

In February 2002, Goldman Sachs purchased as part of a larger pool of distressed assets the defaulted notes of the Trillium Corporation, a US company that owned, among other things, the Chilean lands. In August 2003, Goldman Sachs transferred the notes to the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund, which took title to the land in Chile as part of an exchange that released Trillium from its debts under the notes in December 2003. After an extensive search process, the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund has determined that WCS is ideally suited to create a reserve and protect the key ecological features of this land for the people of Chile.

The transfer represents one of the most significant gifts of private land worldwide, due to the size of the land (approximately equal in size to the state of Rhode Island), the ecosystems it contains and their importance to conservation on a global scale.

A Tradition Of Local Commitment

Since the early 1960s, WCS has been committed to conserving wildlife and wild lands of the Southern Cone of South America. In that time WCS has helped create protected areas to safeguard populations of Magellanic penguins, South American sea lions, southern elephant seals and southern right whales.

During the 1980s and 1990s, WCS expanded its activities to include other marine sites, and recently helped to establish the Patagonia Coastal Zone Management Plan. In terrestrial regions, WCS is working on the Patagonian steppes to safeguard habitats of fox, puma, mara and Andean cat.

Currently, WCS works with Chilean organizations in Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, a spectacular protected area known for its fjords, glaciers and sub-Antarctic rainforests. WCS also supports blue whale conservation in southern Chile and research of southern sea birds found in this diverse region.

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild lands through careful science, international conservation, education, and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks (including the Bronx Zoo). These activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living together in harmony. WCS is committed to this work because it believes it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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