Tompkins Conservation, a conservation group umbrella operated by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her late husband, Douglas Tompkins, made history in January of 2018 when they succeeded in creating five new national parks and expanding three other parks with the help of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The couple founded both the North Face and Esprit clothing companies and played major roles in the Patagonia clothing company. For over two decades, through Tompkins Conservation, the couple and other Tompkins Conservation team members have purchased swaths of land in Chile and Argentina to donate to the park system. In an opinion piece published by the New York Times in February 2018, Ms. Tompkins called the newly formed park system in Chile the “largest-ever expansion of a national park system prompted by a donation of private land.”
The newly created Patagonia National Park system expanded Chile’s national parklands by almost 40 percent. The national park system in Chile begins in Hornopiren, 715 miles south of Santiago, and extends to Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. This large expanse of land covers a variety of ecosystems including, “grasslands, riparian forests, and wetlands.” From the dry grasslands of Argentina to the steep Andes Mountains to the west, the newly designated park includes a range of habitats and biodiversity. Rare species can also be found in the park area such as the Andean condor, Chilean flamingo, pampas cat, pumas, and others.
Although, various groups had concerns when the Tompkins began purchasing land in Chile and Argentina in the early 1990s, Ms. Tompkins explained that their “private philanthropy” of donating land for public good is not a new action. In fact, the United States has also benefited from such donations. To name a few, Muir Woods in California and what became Acadia National Park in Maine were both created from land donation. Tompkins also mentioned the millions of dollars the Rockefeller family contributed that led to the expansion of Acadia, Grand Teton, and Yosemite national parks. Ultimately though, for this form of entrepreneurial philanthropy to be successful, you need political leaders like President Bachelet who Tompkins said showed “bravery and determination” when fighting to protect these endangered landscapes.
The Patagonia Park system is a crucial example of conservation and determination in a time when species and wildlands are threatened by mining and logging corporations, extensive agriculture, and apathetic governments. President Bachelet is an exception to this negative trend and someone who sees the benefit of preservation. Bachelet’s administration donated 8 million acres to make this project possible, and in an interview said the new parks are “good not only for Chile, but for the planet.” Bachelet also argued the park system “shows that you don’t have to be a rich country to make these kinds of decisions. It only requires will and courage.”
Did you know that national parks have been both expanded and created with the help of private land donation?
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