Government austerity hinders safety at Argentina’s national parks

Park rangers and guides are facing layoffs and trails are left unsupervised in overwhelmed tourist destinations 

Paula Gerda was about to start trekking at El Chaltén in Los Glaciares National Park, but a guide at the entrance warned her: no rescue workers were on duty that day. In the event of an emergency, no one would come.

The guide, a volunteer, wasn’t exaggerating. A person, he told her, had just had a heart attack nearby, at the Poincenot Base Camp, and there was no first responder who could aid them and bring them down.

The government’s austerity chainsaw had reached the National Parks Administration, and on that long weekend — a Holy Week holiday in Argentina — most park rangers and guides had been all sent on leave. Their contracts had expired, and the National Parks Administration still hadn’t decided who would keep their job and renovate their contract.

Today, more than half of all national park workers face job insecurity, as their temporary contracts haven’t been renewed yet, according to Marcelo Rojas, a national park worker and union delegate for the States Workers Association (ATE).

Park workers raised their concerns in a letter to the Senate over the still-debated Ley Bases bill, which they say could have “a serious and irreversible impact on the people and the environment.” 

Less than 2200 workers manage the entire country’s 55 protected terrestrial and maritime areas, a little over 18 million hectares — or 69,500 square miles. That amount, they say, is smaller than what is recommended by expert international and local organizations. And still, they wrote, “we are suffering arbitrary, unjustified layoffs.”

A source from the Interior Ministry — which manages the National Park Administration — told the Herald that there have been 87 layoffs in parks across the country. The only exceptions are parks where forest fires occur regularly, such as Los Alerces, where workers have contracts until December 2024.

Other major tourist parks such as the Nahuel Huapi, Lanin, and El Palmar are particularly in trouble, as the firings have made their increasing volume of visitors unsustainable. A source working in the Nahuel Huapi National Park told the Herald that with the current resources, the Cerro Tronador trail in Bariloche — one of its main attractions — is impossible to manage. The park also recently dismissed the person in charge of securing the fire-prevention equipment.

El Chalten’s Relief Commission (CAX for its Spanish acronym), a 90-year-old non-profit organization, provides volunteer staff to assist park rangers and guides on high-risk trails and provide information to visitors. But since they are volunteers, they’re unable to cover the main trails as well, CAX founder Carolina Codo told the Herald. According to her, the park’s management is failing to contain the increasing tourism in the area. 

On Monday, a body was found at a trekking spot at Cerro Tres Marías trekking trail in San Juan. Rescue teams believe it belongs to 19-year-old Julia Horn, a tourist who had gone missing last Thursday.

According to the Mountain Prevention Group (GPM by its Spanish initials)  — a San Juan organization that regulated trekking in the Tres Marías area with certified mountain guides — the recent government budget cuts have also led to a lack of supervision and accident prevention in the area since December.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald