The Decline of the Indigenous People
As was a common occurrence with European exploration, the natives to Patagonia struggled to withstand the diseases brought by the white men in the 19th century.
Due to the isolated nature of the area the mix has been slow, but the Europeans and the indigenous people have gradually integrated into one culture. The last known native of the Selknam people was a shaman named Lola Kieja who died in 1966 at 89 years old.
The area's principal economic activities have been mining, whaling, livestock (notably sheep throughout) agriculture (wheat and fruit production near the Andes towards the north), and oil after its discovery near Comodoro Rivadavia in 1907.
Energy production is also a crucial part of the local economy. Railways were planned to cover continental Argentine Patagonia to serve the oil, mining, agricultural and energy industries, and a line was built connecting San Carlos de Bariloche to Buenos Aires. Portions of other lines were built to the south, but the only lines still in use are La Trochita inEsquel, the 'Train of the End of the World' in Ushuaia, both heritage lines, and a short run Tren Histórico de Bariloche to Perito Moreno.
In the western forest covered Patagonian Andes and archipelagoes wood lodging has historically been an important part of the economy, and was driving force behind the colonization of the areas of Nahuel Huapi and Lácar lakes in Argentina and Guaitecas Archipelago in Chile.
Sheep farming introduced in the late 19th century has been a principal economic activity. After reaching its heights during the First World War, the decline in world wool prices affected sheep farming in Argentina. Nowadays about half of Argentina's 15 million sheep are in Patagonia, a percentage that is growing as sheep farming disappears in the Pampa (to the North). Chubut (mainly Merino) is the top wool producer with Santa Cruz (Corriedale and some Merino) second. Sheep farming revived in 2002 with the devaluation of the peso and firmer global demand for wool (led by China and the EU). Still there is little investment in new abbatoirs (mainly in Comodoro Rivadavia, Trelew and Rio Gallegos), and often there are phytosanitary restrictions to the export of sheep meat. Extensive valleys in the Cordilleran range have provided sufficient grazing lands, and the low humidity and weather of the southern region make raising Merino and Corriedale sheep common.
Livestock also includes small numbers of cattle, and in lesser numbers pigs and horses. Sheep farming provides small but important jobs located in rural areas where there is little else.