Historic Gift Helps Chile Protect Switzerland-size Land Area

By Elizabeth Royte – National Geographic.com – March 15, 2017
Former CEO of Patagonia pledges to hand over private parks


Tompkins bought plots of land surrounding Pumalín, increasing its size to 715,000 acres, and in 2005 the Chilean government declared it a Nature Sanctuary.
Photograph by ImageBroker, Alamy

In a ceremony on the edge of South America’s famed Pumalín Park, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and the American philanthropist Kristine Tompkins today pledged to expand Chile’s national parkland by 10 million acres. In what has been billed as the world’s largest donation of privately held land, Tompkins—the founder, with her late husband, Doug Tompkins, of Tompkins Conservation—plans to hand over to the government slightly more than a million acres. The Chilean government, for its part, will contribute nearly 9 million acres of federally-owned land.

Kristine Tompkins—a California native who served as the CEO of the clothing company Patagonia before marrying Doug Tompkins, a founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing companies—spent more than two decades acquiring the land and restoring it to wilderness. But the couple’s tenure in southern Chile has not been without controversy.

Initially, locals bristled at what they considered a foreign land grab and at the couple’s successful opposition to a massive hydropower scheme. Some castigated the Tompkins for taking land out of production—logging and sheep and cattle ranching—and eliminating the jobs those industries produced in favor of restoring what the Tompkins considered degraded grasslands and forests.

As puma populations in the region have crept upward, so have complaints from ranchers who have lost sheep. Over the years, relations between locals and the Tompkins improved as their foundation involved the community in planning and created more jobs.

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