Habitat In Jeopardy

We profile singer song writer, Dana Lyons. He's currently on a nationwide tour discussing a dam project taking place in a remote region located in Chile. Lyons explains how it relates to Pittsburgh and what you can do to help.

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AHERN: Meet Dana Lyons, an artist, author and musician from Bellingham, Washington. His most popular song is Cows with Guns. But on a recent stop in Pittsburgh, Lyons isn't talking about cows or guns. He's on a twelve city tour to raise awareness for the Chilean Patagonia Wilderness, one the globe's few remaining unspoiled regions. The tour was commissioned by International Rivers, a non-profit environmental group. Lyons has experienced Patagonia first hand.

LYONS: It's a spectacular region. It is covered with huge glaciers, the second and third largest ice fields next to Greenland are in Patagonia. Down low in the valleys there are some beautiful forests, these dams would flood these forests.

AHERN: Lyons is talking about 5 hydroelectric dams that are proposed for the region along the Baker and Pascua Rivers. Proponents say these dams would help alleviate the need for foreign energy. Chile imports two thirds of its energy..mostly natural gas from Argentina but with that declining along with soaring oil prices, Chile is facing an energy crisis. Critics say the energy from the proposed dams would mostly power a coal mine whose coal will be exported, and not help meet the countries country's energy demands. Lyons says the dams would ravage the Patagonia wilderness.

LYONS: There are a number of endangered species that will be virtually wiped out because of these dams. They're, Humel, basically a deer, up here we have a zillion deer but down there are 3000 Humel left. They are mostly gone because the forests are gone. Ninety percent of Chile's original forest has been cut down, this will flood big tracks of what's left, they will be cutting big tracks. One of the main industries in Patagonia is tourism, you know you put in huge highways, big dump trucks in beautiful, pristine areas that's not going to help tourism. Those are a lot of the different problems with it.

AHERN: The decision to build these dams is decades old, made by a then soon to be deposed dictator who had little concern for the environmental welfare of the Patagonians.

LYONS: The only reason they can afford to even talk about these dams is because, Pinochet the dictator in Chile, right before he gave up power, he gave away the rights to all these rivers to all his pals in Chile and in Europe. So he took the peoples rights to these waters, gave it away. You know, it's a classic example of corporate corruption. Complete giveaway.

AHERN: With Chile a half a hemisphere away, what is the connection between Patagonia, Pinochet and Pittsburgh?

LYONS: The reason I'm in Pittsburgh is because this is the headquarters of 84 Lumber...84 Lumber is in a unique position because the company building these dams sells a lot of wood to them. When you have a really good customer you tend to listen to them,

AHERN: He wants 84 Lumber to write a letter on behalf of the Patagonia Wilderness, to try to persuade the dam's developer, the Matte Group to pursue other, more eco-friendly energy alternatives. In order to convince 84 Lumber to write this letter, Lyons is asking his concertgoers for help.

LYONS: Just write a note saying save these beautiful rivers in Patagonia. Please 84 Lumber, take the opportunity to do something wonderful and say something to this company, put a little pressure on this company in Chile to not build these dams. One of the companies we're talking to asking the same things from Home Depot out of Atlanta. If 84 Lumber talks with them, if Home Depot talks with them, if other companies talk, maybe the company in Chile will say, you know we don't want to annoy our big customers, is this really worth it? You get enough of those factors together we might save these rivers.

AHERN: 84 Lumber did not respond to The Allegheny Front's repeated requests for comment. The next step for this project is an environmental impact study to be completed by the developer. No date has been set for its release. Lyons says the fate of the rivers may come down to just plain people power. Don't underestimate the power we have. I know sometimes things seem so overwhelming, like what the heck am I going to do? It's amazing which straw puts it over the top, you can never predict it. Just don't underestimate your role in doing what you believe in.

AHERN: For The Allegheny Front, this is Ron Ahern.