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Residents of Chilean Patagonia's Espolon Valley fear that a gold, copper and silver mining project backed by Canadian company Kinross Gold Corporation and US company Geocom Resources Inc. could destroy much of the area's renowned wilderness and harm it's flourishing eco-tourism and fishing industry.

Kinross and Geocom have acquired a total of 14 square miles (3,800 hectares) of mining claims in the Espolon Valley in Provincia de Palena in Chile's Region de Los Lagos. The Espolon mining claim was explored in 2005 and 2006 by Geocom, and the companies then elevated the the claim to formal venture status in September 2007.

The Valley

The Espolon Valley is a picturesque landscape of rivers, farmland and forests. Many of the region's people earn their incomes from raising cattle and growing crops, while a growing number of families make a living from the tourism industry. In the Futaleufu River Valley to the south of the mining claim, spectacular mountains and world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking draw adventure travelers from across the globe. Some have expressed concern that the volcanic eruption of the nearby Chaiten Volcano in the spring of 2008, which spread a layer of ash around valley, would harm the local ecosystems and reduce tourism, but the ecosystems are expected to recover.

Irma Gallardo and her daughter, residents of Espolon,
are concerned about the planned mine.
Credit: Juana Rosa Olave

Threats Posed by Mine

Destruction and pollution from mining, however, could be virtually permanent. Residents fear that the mining would pollute their valuable parks and rivers and the tourism industry will consequently suffer.

“I live from my field and tourism, from the green and from the water… [The mine] would bring ruin and force us to abandon everything and leave,” said Espolon resident Irma Gallardo.

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One of the area's parks includes one of Chile's newest parks, the Pumalin Park, which lies on the mining claim's western side and is home to a variety of important wildlife species. On the Argentinian side of the mining claim is Los Alerces National Park, home to rare ancient Alerce Trees, some over 3,000 years old. The mine could seriously impact air and water quality of the park.

Residents are particularly concerned about the mine's impact on the region's waterways. Massive sulfide layers, known for producing acid mine drainage were found during the exploration phase. Experts also predict cyanide and heavy metals would pollute the local rivers, including the Rio Espolon. The Rio Espolon is a major tributary of the Rio Futaleufu, home to important fisheries in the region and considered one of the top three rivers in the world for rafting and kayaking.

Community Leadership

The organization FutaFriends is working with residents, politicians and local businesses on protecting the Futaleufu River and the Espolon valley. For more information from them, see FutaFriends

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