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A Semi-Retraction With A Side of Constructive Criticism

November 30, 2009

In my final post from Patagonia, I said I enjoyed my experience with certain caveats. Here they are.

What I thought would be the most significant caveat – the use of pesticides – is, in fact, a caveat in a different way than I supposed. It turns out that the chemicals we were using act in a targeted manner that is minimally harmful to the surrounding plants and the environmental system as a whole. I am still not completely sure of how this works – and I’ll likely post again about the subject once I understand the ins and outs – but, as similar practices are used in other protected areas and restoration efforts, it seems that using the pesticides wasn’t the abomination I thought it was. I’d still like to know more about the choice to use pesticides (how much time does it save? how minimal are its collateral effects on the environment?) but this is my semi-retraction.

The pesticides episode does, however, raise two other ways in which I believe the organization could improve its volunteer program: first, make sure all the work relates directly to conservation or restoration; second, make sure the volunteers understand how it relates. For example, washing cars is perhaps in the general interest of the park, but it’s not the type of thing that a person who has traveled thousands of miles to help the environment wants to be doing. We also spent a few days restoring an area that had been turned into a big dirt patch by Conservación Patagonica’s own construction trucks. It seems to me that if the land is worth restoring it should be worth conserving in the first place, which could have been accomplished through simple conscientiousness.

There were other jobs that seemed to relate to conservation, but I wasn’t sure how. At one point we dug up bunch grasses to plant in a garden by the administración. I presume that there is a way in which that minor harm to the environment is reversed into an overall benefit for the environment but it wasn’t clear. Understanding this would have made the work more meaningful and enjoyable.

Fulfilling these goals was perhaps made more difficult by two factors. First, the majority of easily accessible fence had already been taken down making the logistics of continuing that work (prime volunteer conservation work, in my view) unfeasible, given the limited number of trucks and workers at the administración. Second, the Volunteer Coordinator Paula still had not arrived for the summer (she doesn’t come until her sons get out of school) and it wouldn’t surprise me if none of these issues arose when she was there.

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