Approval of the law that creates the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (BPAS): “For the first time, biodiversity is placed at the center of the country’s environmental policy”

Pending the promulgation of the law that creates the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (BPAS), our director of the Conservation area, Amerindia Jaramillo, reflects on the progress and challenges involved in implementing this legislation.

A historic day was lived this month after the approval of the “BPAS Law” or “Law for Nature”, which articulates and regulates for the first time, in a single institution, the care of biodiversity and protected areas in the country. A decentralized institution that will seek to integrate scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge and that, at the same time, will have the advice of a joint scientific committee. From this perspective, says our Conservation Director, Amerindia Jaramillo, a large part of the regulations are installed as “a reflection of today’s society.”

Among the unprecedented features of the new Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service, he adds, there will be a biodiversity information and monitoring repository, where for the first time, maps of Chile will be brought together that will refer to all terrestrial, marine, glacial and wetland ecosystems in a way integrated, which comes to change the paradigms of fragmentation prior to the approval of the law. Until now, an important part of the information on glaciers and species for commercial purposes was managed by different sectoral public services. The socio-ecological perspective of the new legal body would also imply a new way of understanding the nature of which we are a part, with special attention to the knowledge and participation of local communities and indigenous peoples.

As a context, it should also be noted that the approved regulations are aligned with the Escazú Treaty ratified by Chile last year and that it seeks to strengthen access to information, environmental justice and citizen participation in decision-making, a cross-cutting issue to the entire BPAS law, which notably increases the standard of citizen involvement.

As a first reflection, what is the relevance of the approval of BPAS from the point of view of nature conservation?    

One of the fundamental issues of this law is the articulation and coordination for the protection of biodiversity, previously divided into five ministries. The fragmented institutional discussion made it very difficult to advance coherently in environmental protection and at the speed that the environmental crisis demands. The BPAS completes the environmental institutionality, which was a pending debt more than a decade ago, creates unprecedented instruments for biodiversity management, defines incentives for conservation outside protected areas, and establishes new control and sanction methods. So, it recognizes that the conservation of biodiversity is important within protected areas, but it is also relevant outside of them, in landscapes with multiple uses and highly threatened, giving the value it deserves as a livelihood for people. Thanks to the new SBAP law, for the first time biodiversity is placed at the center of the country’s environmental policy.

What do you think were the most complex discussions, which required a more transversal and/or transdisciplinary effort?

Although it is complex to analyze all the internal discussions that have taken place in these 13 years, one of the most complex, as we know, was the presence of sectoral concessions for productive purposes, such as salmon farms within protected areas. Finally, it was an issue that attracted a lot of attention in the last months of the discussion and the prohibition of these concessions was not approved by the Mixed Commission. Although, as the Minister for the Environment, Maisa Rojas, has pointed out, the issue will be addressed again in the discussion of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Law, that is, it is still faithfully believed that there should be no presence of salmon farms in any type of protected area . Despite this, there is no doubt that the advances of the BPAS are tremendously positive in favor of the conservation and effective management of marine protected areas, being prohibited future industrial activities incompatible with conservation in the most strict protected areas. This is a much higher level of protection than we have in the country today.

On the other hand, the organizational issue was also an important debate, especially since there were no agreements on the conditions for the transfer of park rangers to this new service. There was a long period of dialogue. Until finally agreements were reached that consider the important work that park rangers do and have done in protecting the country’s biodiversity.

The BPAS Law is based on a conceptual framework of definitions and approaches that seem to be innovative in consideration of current national legislation. Could you mention some of these aspects that seem outstanding to you?

The first thing is that this law defines in its first articles relevant concepts from the socio-ecological point of view. The support it had from the scientific world and conservation experts is clearly seen in the law. The emphasis of the law is given that actions for the protection, preservation and restoration of nature are applied on the ground. Various instruments are installed to take charge of the conservation of soil, water, flora and fauna, addressing environmental impacts in a comprehensive manner. This is a very important step for the country.

For the first time, definitions are coined that had not previously been accepted by legislation. For example, the concept of ecological restoration. The importance of this is that it is recognized that there are currently degraded areas in the country that need to be restored and the Service will define where these areas are, manage restoration plans and follow up so that these plans are met. Before, when Law 19,300 was enacted in the 1990s, the idea that there were ecosystems that were being lost was not reflected in Chile, or the level of ecological degradation in certain areas of the country was not wanted to be legally recognized, perhaps due to conflicts of interest that might have arisen between different land uses.

In addition, the law defines and applies the concept of “threatened ecosystems” and this implies that there is a precautionary emphasis, since it is recognized that there is an evident risk that this ecosystem will be modified by the threats that impact it. Identifying and addressing these threats is crucial in the context of climate change and the biodiversity crisis that we are experiencing. Thus, the Service will be in charge of plans that avoid the degradation of nature.

So what is pending? The technical definitions for the elaboration of the more than 20 regulations that make this law operational, which I imagine will be designed in a participatory manner considering the voices of academics and civil society. There is a lot of work ahead for the technical teams that develop these regulations because they will be key to the efficient implementation of the law. It is also necessary to prepare and publish the decree that defines the organization of the Service and elect its Director or Directors. So, I think the service has at least a couple of years left in its initial implementation (…). It will be a process that starts with the approval of the bill, but then requires time and a lot of work to move it forward and get it going. But the first big step has already been taken with this approval.


Another important point is decentralization. How do you think the local contexts are balanced with the general implementation of the law?

The service will be implemented at the regional level, that is, there will be a director and work teams per region. This is important in terms of ecosystems and their diversity, which is related, in turn, to a variety of threats and local uses that need to be addressed on a scale that is consistent with the ecological and socioeconomic characteristics of each area of the country.

This is a question that, although it might seem like a truism -because in Chile there are various Public Services with regional and local divisions- also shows that it is a service that was created in this century and that it is up to the current standards of the state policies. In this sense also, for example, a scientific advisory committee for the Service is created, which reflects the will and conviction to make public policies based on science.

This committee will also be equal, an issue that is also related to current gender parity standards in spaces of representation, something that was not discussed transversally a few years ago. And why today? Because society is constituted like this and this type of committee should reflect it. In this sense, this is a law that, despite having been discussed for 13 years, has been updated in its foundations, concepts and principles.

It also incorporates other relevant features, such as the explicit inclusion of local and indigenous knowledge.

That’s right, the scientific advisory committee is not the only novelty of this law. The BPAS considers a transversal socio-ecological approach that has not been addressed before in Chilean legislation, which implies thinking that knowledge is generated in the light of various disciplines. For example, the monitoring of biodiversity developed by the Service will be carried out based on the scientific and traditional knowledge of local and indigenous communities. And until now, in Chile, there has been a kind of imbalance between how important local or indigenous knowledge is versus scientific knowledge, which always ranked higher.

Another important issue is that BPAS has a high standard of participation and all the instances that it establishes must have this, it is not said how, but it does commit the development of consultation processes to local communities. In fact, the project went through an indigenous consultation that ended in 2017 and based on which specific articles were created that point to the creation of conservation areas for indigenous peoples and the incorporation of the knowledge and practices of indigenous communities in different BPAS instruments. I don’t know of another service that considers this in its basic statute.

The Law incorporates “ecosystem services” explicitly in the actions of the Service. Could you explain to us what this concept means and how its inclusion is positive?

It is interesting that the law incorporates it, because the ecosystem services approach seeks to highlight the importance of nature conservation to ensure people’s well-being. Well-being in a broad sense, considering physical and mental health, spaces for inspiration and learning, that is, to promote the integral development of people. You might think that a service whose focus is biodiversity would not talk about human beings, but it does, and this is a very important aspect. So, this approach argues that, since environmental policies that have focused only on the intrinsic value of nature have not allowed to stop the crisis of biodiversity loss, a new guiding paradigm was needed that shows that the lives of people, in a broad sense, it depends on nature, that we are part of nature.

This approach is applied throughout the Service’s actions, from the definition of the concept, the comprehensive valuation of ecosystem services as part of the BPAS principles, and an innovative system of certification and compensation contracts for ecosystem services, in which, for example, it will be possible to recognize protection actions carried out by property owners that are located in the headwaters of hydrographic basins and finance actions that allow long term conservation of these areas because the conservation of native forests in the upper parts of the basins ensures good water quality and quantity for local communities in the lower parts of the basins. This is an example, but a specific regulation will have to detail the operation of this system and how these contracts will be applied in practice.

The wetlands have had a lot of public repercussions as a result of the recent floods that occurred in south-central Chile. How will the BPAS make a difference in relation to what exists today regarding the protection of wetlands?

The first piece of good news is that this Service will take operational charge of all existing wetlands in the country, not just urban ones, whose law came into effect in 2020. Currently, the regulatory framework was protecting those wetland ecosystems in a special way. that deliver benefits to the cities, but the others were left with less protection, despite the fact that they are also very important.

Now the BPAS addresses the conservation of wetlands from a watershed approach and hydrological connectivity between water bodies. Therefore, this is a relevant advance, for example, for the protection of aquatic ecosystems in rural areas. At the same time, those wetlands that are within priority sites are especially protected, prohibiting alterations to these ecosystems; and in the case of any alteration that is generated in other wetlands, this Service must authorize or reject them.

Regarding information about wetlands, the law also seeks the existence of a national inventory. Although today there is one, it is very important that a service is in charge of constantly updating and improving this type of useful tools for making decisions and subsequently establishing management plans.

Finally, what implications do you think the new law would have for the management of Bosque Pehuén , a protected area managed by our Foundation, and for private conservation initiatives in general?

In practice, areas under private protection are recognized for the first time in a legislative framework, by creating a single National System of Protected Areas, supervised by the SBAP, which also includes private areas. Thus, the BPAS will ensure that all protected areas are well managed and will supervise the activities carried out within them. In addition, it will be able to create regional committees in which the administrators of private protected areas will be included, creating a public-private governance that will generate social and environmental benefits for the integral management of the landscape. In the case of Bosque Pehuén, an area that is part of the Araucarias Biosphere Reserve, there will also be a management plan prepared by the Service that promotes sustainable uses and practices in different areas of this Biosphere Reserve.

In addition, the BPAS encourages private conservation through other financing, management and training instruments for park rangers and administrators. In this way, the efforts made by different civil society organizations will also contribute to the fulfillment of the biodiversity goals that the country has proposed to achieve.

As there is a Service in charge of biodiversity, it will be coordinated with other ministries, considering the diversity of factors that influence the motivations and perceptions of people to conserve nature. In this sense, education is very important, as well as citizen participation, scientific information and the other issues that we have addressed. Although in the country there have been important advances on the role of environmental education and its importance for conservation; For many years, the focus has been on air pollution control (for example, through atmospheric decontamination plans), water scarcity, and climate change. So we could think that, from the start of this service, there will be a greater emphasis on biodiversity, on the threats that impact it and its relationship with global change. And it is there that organizations such as Fundación Mar Adentro could contribute with the various methodologies that we have developed in the field of education and awareness of nature. The experience of our foundation in the intersection of art, science and education can be a relevant contribution in the new education programs that are developed within the framework of the BPAS, contributing to the construction of a critical and conscious view of our society and its relationship with nature.


Amerindia Jaramillo is a biologist from the Catholic University of Temuco, has a master’s degree in Water Resources from the Universidad Austral de Chile, and a master’s degree in ecosystem services from the University of Edinburgh. She has worked as a researcher in ecotoxicology and ecological risk assessment. She conducted research in the economics of natural resources and socio-ecological systems at the Universidad Austral de Chile. She held different positions in the Ministry of the Environment between 2012 and 2022, being head of the Department of Aquatic Ecosystems where she initiated the implementation of the law on urban wetlands, environmental standards and restoration plans for the protection of aquatic ecosystems. Since February 2022, she is the Conservation Director of Fundación Mar Adentro, in charge of managing the Bosque Pehuén protected area and articulating public-private networks to promote the conservation of natural ecosystems in central-south Chile.


Violeta Bustos

Violeta Bustos, director of communications at Fundación Mar Adentro. Journalist, graduated in Data Visualization and Master in American Aesthetics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He has experience in various fields of communications: creation and foundation of written media, teaching, research and content development for multiple formats. He has specialized in digital strategies, press, cultural and academic management.