The Rio Azul - Lago Escondido Protected Natural Area covers approximately 65,000 hectares of Andean Patagonian forest. It is also known as ANPRALE. The Protected Natural Area (PNA) was included within the larger North Patagonia Biosphere Reserve in 2007.
The PNA is part of an N-S biological corridor. To the N it is practically bordering the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the oldest National Park of Argentina (only being separated by Manso valley). To the S, the PNA borders the Motoco Reserve and the Lago Puelo National Park. This continuity of National Parks and Reserves is essential for the conservation of biodiversity. Therefore, the ANPRALE is located in the corridor between Nahuel Huapi and Lago Puelo National Parks.
At present there are great efforts to avoid the so-called insularization effect, that is to say that the National Parks and the Reserves and Protected Areas are isolated spots inserted in a productive matrix that make the conservation of the species extremely difficult.
The Bird Life International and UNCESCO Maps show that almost the entirety of Bariloche Division, where ANPRALE is located, and the entire surrounding region marked by the Andes has been designated an a region of immense ecological significance. The nearest town of El Bolson (a major tourist attraction) lies in the Nahuel Huapi National Park extension zone and is surrounded by various high altitude glacial lakes, such as Lake Escondido and protected areas. The Nahuel Huapi itself is the oldest National Park of Argentina established in 1934, and is representative of the Patagonia Forest Ecoregion.
This value that the PNA has due to its strategic position as a biological corridor, is also represented in the E-W direction. If it is observed on the E side, in the neighboring country of Chile, at the same latitudes of the ANPRALE, there are no Reserves in the neighbor country but this is an area that, due to its geography, due to its difficulty of access, is very little exploited and very little inhabited.
For the reasons described, in 2007 ANPRALE was included within the North Patagonia Andean Biosphere Reserve, which is also a PNA that includes many national, provincial and municipal reserves throughout the 3 provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, and Chubut.
The North Patagonia Andean Biosphere Reserve joined the World Network of Biosphere Reserves in September 2007, through UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) included this Valdivian temperate forest ecoregion on the Global 200 priority ecoregion list.
In total, the North Patagonian Andean Biosphere Reserve has an area of 2,266,942 ha. It includes the areas of five national parks, ten reserves, parks or protected areas of provincial and municipal jurisdiction, in the towns of Esquel, Trevelin, Cholila, Lago Puelo, El Hoyo, Epuyén, El Maitén and Leleque in the province of Chubut; Villa Mascardi, El Bolsón and Bariloche and the places El Manso, Mallín Ahogado and El Foyel in the province of Río Negro; and Aluminé, Junín de los Andes, San Martín de los Andes, Villa Traful and Villa La Angostura in the province of Neuquén.
Main ecological characteristics
The steep terrain and the altitude and rainfall variation allow the development of mixed forests. One of the main values of the area are the Valdivian cold and humid forest entries, which are characterized by the presence of very typical species.
The mixed forests are dominated by the genus Nothofagus (N. dombeyii, N. pumilio, N. antartica), and depending on the characteristics of the site, with the presence of species such as the Cordillera cypress (Austrocedrus chilensis), the larch (Fitzroya cupressoides), the maitén (Maytenus boaria), the radal (Lomatia hirsuta) and the maqui (Aristotelia chilensis), among others.
In areas close to the border with Chile, the increase in precipitation and humidity allows the development of Valdivian influxes with diverse tree species such as mañíos macho and mañíos hembra (Podocarpus nubigenus and Saxegothaea conspicua), tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma), laurel or tepa ( Laureliopsis philippiana) and hazel (Gevuina avellana), among others.
Within the ANPRALE, numerous glaciers, basin heads, courses and bodies of water are also protected, counting on several high mountain lakes and lagoons, rivers and streams, peat bogs, mallines and high altitude meadows and high Andean environments.
If the distribution of the orographic networks within ANPRALE is observed, most of the rivers have their origin in the mountain range towards the international limit with Chile. In this region, most of the rivers run E-W, merging into the Azul river that collects the different tributaries. The Azul river is part of the Puelo Basin. There are also other minor streams, for example some intermittent streams. There are different lakes and lagoons in height. The largest lake is Lago Escondido. The largest glacier is the Ventisquero glacier, and then there are other glaciers such as the Hielo Azul glacier, the Perito Moreno glacier, among others. There is also the presence of peat bogs, mallines and high altitude meadows and high Andean environments. Mallín is a type of meadow and wetland found in southern Chile and Argentina. Mallines are distinguished from other wetlands in that the groundwater level reaches the surface at them, yet the mallín is still an area of net infiltration. Soils in mallines are rich in organic matter. In Argentina, mallins have been important grazing lands for cattle, sheep and horses. All these values of conservation of water resources are those that have given rise in part to the approval of the ANP.
The variety of protected environments, the abrupt topography and the relatively good state of conservation of its ecosystems allow to find endemic species of the Andean forest, some of them in danger of extinction such as the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus), the little monkey (Dromiciops gliroides) and the native bumblebee (Bombus dalhbomii). The huemul has been declared a natural monument of Argentina. Other species, without being in danger of extinction, have a high conservation value, such as the pudu (Pudu puda) or the torrent duck (Merganetta armata).