Leading outerwear manufacturer Patagonia is partaking in an initiative to restore the grasslands of Argentina.
In an effort to reverse the 100 years of overgrazing on Patagonia’s 15 million acres of grasslands, Patagonia, Inc. has placed the first order of wool from the ranchers of its namesake region. The restoration program has been launched as a collaborative effort between The Nature Conservancy, Argentine rancher network Ovis XXI and Patagonia, Inc. to encourage ranchers to raise and graze their sheep in a sustainable method that protects wildlife and restores native plant species.
Patagonia, Inc. announced this new venture in January 2013, and is the first apparel manufacturer to support the restoration scheme. As the company has learned, sourcing and selling organic wool isn’t enough, as the organic standard does not take into consideration grazing practices. Patagonia’s agreement with Ovis XXI mandates that the ranchers raise their animals in a way that supports the long-term health of the region, and allows native species of plants and wildlife to re-establish healthy populations. Alongside restoration, this collaboration aims to provide a market incentive to attract additional partners and buyers, and more importantly, to encourage adoption of sustainable grazing and raising practices on a larger scale.
A new product line of Patagonia merino wool base layers will be made from this Patagonian wool, and will be available in stores and online in the autumn 2013 collection. The company says that from then on, every single merino baselayer, down to their merino socks, will be made from wool that is sustainably sourced from Patagonian grasslands. The wool from this region is of exceptional quality, and will likely continue to hold up to Patagonia’s reputation as one of the top providers of active and outdoor gear. The product types won’t change, just the origin of the wool, providing the company with their first opportunity to be “able to improve an environment by placing business there,” as Director of Environmental Strategy, Jill Dumain, says.
The complying ranchers use the Grassland Regeneration and Sustainability Standard (GRASS), which align conservation goals and land management protocols set forth by Ovis XXI and The Nature Conservancy. These protocols imitate wildlife grazing patterns, meaning that sheep will be moved from pasture to pasture depending on the condition of grasses. It is projected that proper management of flock sizes, lands and streams will promote higher ground coverage and encourage diversity of native grass species, allowing ranchers, sheep and native flora and fauna to flourish together.
Ranching on the grasslands is a source of livelihood for many of Patagonia’s inhabitants, but has become detrimental to the natural landscape as overgrazing has caused land erosion and desertification. The Southern Temperate Grasslands of Argentina reach over 400 million acres (nearly the size of 3 Californias), of which 20 million acres (10 Yellowstone National Parks) have already turned into deserts due to unsustainable grazing, rendering them unfit for native wildlife or ranching. The collaboration with Patagonia, Inc. is seen as a way to sustain the local economy, alongside restoring the unique ecosystem of the grasslands. The region is home to species such as the guanaco, a relative of the llama, the rhea, a flightless bird similar to an ostrich, and the last large population of the massive Andean condors, all of which are found nowhere else on the planet.
It is hoped that this partnership, which demonstrates a collaborative spirit in co-creating active change, will inspire and advance the implementation of globally sustainable grazing methods in order for sheep ranching and natural habitats to thrive side-by-side. “By working together we can ensure that the ranchers make a good living and that future generations will still know Patagonia as a wild place at the edge of the Earth,” said Chris Pague, an ecologist with the Nature Conservancy.
Images: Patagonia/Tim Davis