Patagonia Sur Offsets Project

In FY 2012, Colgate entered into an agreement with Patagonia Sur for the purchase of 5,000 tons of offsets per year for 15 years.  The project is a reforestation project in The Patagonia Sur Nature Reserve in the Palena province of southern Chile.  Over the course of 15 years, approximately 225,000 native trees will be planted on roughly 428 acres of land which will become the Colgate University Forest.  The Patagonia Sur reforestation project achieved Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) certification in 2012.  Click here to read the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch article mentioning Colgate University.  Importantly, the agreement creates academic opportunities for students and faculty to conduct research within the Colgate Forest and The Patagonia Sur Nature Reserve in general. 

Prof. Ellen Kraly, Prof. Ian Helfant, Sustainability Director John Pumilio, and senior Environmental Studies student, Sonya Falcone '12 visit Patagonia for the first time in January 2012.  The purpose of our trip was to explore academic opportunities for Colgate faculty and students with the goal of adding further value to our partnership with Patagonia Sur. Our nine days in Chile were divided as follows: one day in Santiago to meet with representatives of the Syracuse University program and visit Patagonia Sur’s corporate offices; four days in Patagonia Sur’s Valle California property, including a visit to the Colgate Forest and the Patagonia Sur Foundation in the nearby town of Palena; four days in Patagonia Sur’s Melimoyu property, including a visit to the neighboring village and an ocean excursion.

Each of us were inspired by our experience in Patagonia, Chile.  The excerpts below help to capture our time at the Patagonia Sur properties.

Sonya Falcone '12 in her own words:
"As I took in the breathtaking landscapes of Chilean Patagonia in search of student opportunities, it was easy to imagine programs for Colgate students working in the hard sciences. I could imagine my classmates taking soil samples, climbing up over glaciers, and identifying the diverse species in the region’s beautiful mountains, rivers, and oceans. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the number of opportunities I would begin to see take shape for my classmates in other disciplines. The complex community of Palena would offer an interesting case study for any social scientist. The unique and recent history of gaucho culture in Chile and its connections with Chile’s centralized government could be an exciting study for a History, Political Science, or Sociology student. Finally, the corporate office in Santiago could offer summer internship opportunities for students interested in pursuing careers in business, non-profit work, ecotourism, architecture, law, and other fields.

On one of our last days in Patagonia, an unexpected visit offered a compelling way for me to get academically involved with Patagonia Sur’s mission myself. On an afternoon out on the ocean we stopped by a small island and our guides led us to a cave containing several human skeletons. While local lore and casual assumptions lead us to believe the skeletons may have belonged to the now lost chonos culture, little is known about their origins or how their existence should be handled. In the first academic partnership between Colgate and Patagonia Sur, I will spend the semester working on an independent study evaluating and understanding proper protocol for the company’s management of the skeletons and other cultural heritage. I hope that my small project will help to build the partnership between Colgate and Patagonia Sur so students after me will have the chance to visit this amazing place.

Professor Ellen Kraly in her own words:
"It is challenging to capture our experiences in Chilean Patagonia in words.  We were intellectually stimulated by the premise of Patagonia Sur, and the extant partnership with Colgate; we were enveloped by a landscape that holds magnificent biological, geological and cultural heritage; we were hosted by talented, energetic, informed  individuals who are dedicated to sustainable environments and communities.  Our experiences became spaces of beauty, creativity, and the blossoming of new friendships. Within these spaces, we were stimulated, individually and as a group, to think about the mission of Colgate, the curriculum and the Environmental Studies Program, and our commitment to sustainability.

Our original framework for student experiential learning and research was that of extended study.  To this, we found ourselves thinking about the possibilities for faculty research on biodiversity, student summer research on issues concerning, among many topic, sustainability, land use change, cultural heritage preservation, and environmental economics, internships in social and environmental entrepreneurship.  The models of partnership and opportunities for student learning multiplied along our journey.

The Fondacion Patagonia Sur was a particular surprise.  A new initiative of Patagonia Sur company, this foundation seeks to “encourage conservation and promote social and economic development in Chile's Patagonia in harmony with the region's incredible natural environment.”  The programs of the foundation are currently focused in the environs of the Valle California property of Patagonia Sur and are strategically focused on three goals:  the preservation of cultural heritage of Patagonia, the promotion of organic agricultural practices and production among communities and the encouragement of English language instruction and proficiency among school children in the region.  Each of these goals are being actively pursued in the village of Palena, a short drive from the Valle California property.  The vision is to expand the programs of the foundation to Melimoyu where important sites of cultural heritage have been identified.  The programs of the foundation hold great potential for the involvement and contributions of Colgate students interested in international education, sustainable and community sponsored agriculture, social and environmental history, and archaeology.  Palena, a village about the size of Hamilton, has also become home to persons displaced from by the Chaitén Volcano eruption of 2008, and thus is a very interesting place to study the response to natural hazards, environmental management and migration. 

I still search for words to describe the significance of our experiences and the beauty of the places of Patagonia, but our conversations about the possibilities for Colgate students, faculty and staff that unfolded throughout our journey in Patagonia and Santiago continue to this day.  Please join in!

Professor Ian Helfant in his own words:
"One of the key considerations for Colgate University in deciding whether to join the Patagonia Sur University Conservation Circle involved potential educational opportunities, and we traveled to Patagonia in order to get an “on the ground” sense for what may be feasible.  Our trip revealed exciting possibilities for individual and collaborative research by both students and faculty, internships in Patagonia Sur’s Santiago office, and also for Colgate’s “extended study” model in which groups of a dozen or more students travel with one or two faculty to pursue academic experiences rooted in locations beyond Colgate, usually abroad.  Sonya Falcone’s independent study with Prof. Ellen Kraly this semester (an immediate outcome of our trip) is just the first of what we anticipate will be many exciting academic opportunities available through the partnership between Patagonia Sur and Colgate. An example of an interdisciplinary extended study course that could be situated in one or more of Patagonia Sur’s properties could be called "Nature and Society in Patagonia.”  It would focus upon land-use, environmental economics, conservation biology and biodiversity, the rights of indigenous peoples, climate change, and other significant issues involved in Patagonia Sur’s for-profit conservation model, and could combine academic preparation and coursework during the semester with a three week late December/early January extended study to Patagonia Sur’s properties at Valle California and Melimoyu.  As a faculty member with a strong background in teaching literary narrative alongside my growing involvement with environmental studies, and as the official videographer and photographer for the trip, I would be extremely interested in developing an extended study course on environmental documentary culminating in an extended study trip in which students would learn to chronicle the sorts of environmental changes that have spurred Patagonia Sur’s approach."

John Pumilio, Director of Sustainability, in his own words:
"I traveled to Patagonia with much anticipation and curiosity.  What does a reforestation project in Patagonia, Chile look like?  Is it working; is carbon being sequestered?  Who are the people planting the Colgate Forest?  Do they believe in their work?  Are they proud to work for Patagonia Sur?  Are the Chilean people, and more specifically the local communities, benefiting from this work?  The trip did a lot to ease my mind and I am a firm believer in the Patagonia Sur project.  The Chilean people working for Patagonia Sur were young, intelligent, motivated, and passionate about what they were doing.  Whether we were in the Santiago office or in the midst of majestic giant trees in the temperate rainforest, the enthusiasm and excitement from the Patagonia Sur team was genuine and contagious. 

On January 5, after a 2-hour trek on horseback from the lodge at Valle California, we arrived for the first time at the Colgate Forest.  To date, over 32,500 native trees have been planted covering 62 acres of land.  Amid the damaged soils and fire-scarred remnants of fallen trees from the past, we could see 6-8 inch saplings standing tall and reaching for the sunlight.  It was at this moment when I realized that is project is entirely good.  With every tree that takes root, habitat is restored.  With every tree that is planted, a job is created.  With every inch a sapling grows, carbon is sequestered.  I imagined this place 200 years from now.  I imagined evenly spaced giant native trees casting shade to the ground below while purifying the air and water and creating much needed habitat for birds, wildlife, and wildflowers. I imagined 200 years of benefits and knew that we were doing the right thing." 

Since our visit to Chile, we have had two research projects completed by Colgate students
Sonya Falcone '12 and Colin Shipley '15 (attached below). 

John Pumilio,
Oct 23, 2012, 2:15 PM
John Pumilio,
Oct 23, 2012, 2:19 PM