Wilderness Philanthropist in South America

Douglas Tompkins is an American environmentalist, prominent landowner, conservationist and a former businessman, who co-founded and ran two well-known clothing companies: the outdoor clothing company The North Face; and ESPRIT with his ex-wife Susie.

Since leaving the business world in 1989 he dedicated himself to environmental activism and land conservation. He moved to South Chile, where he had spent much time climbing, kayaking, and skiing. He founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 1990, which supports environmental activism, and The Conservation Land Trust  in 1992, which works to protect wildlands primarily in Chile and Argentina. Along with his wife, Kristine, he has conserved over 810.000 hectares of wilderness in Chile and Argentina, more than any other private individual! Together, the two have focused on park creation, restoration, ecological agriculture and activism, with the overarching goal of saving wilderness and biodiversity while leading others to do the same.

Tompkins’s first major conservation project was Pumalín Park in Chile, an area of 320.000 hectares with Valdivian temperate rainforest, high peaks, lakes, and rivers. In 1991, he bought the Reñihué farm, a semi-abandoned farm at the end of the Reñihué Fjord, planning to set aside 17.000 hectares of this unique forest from possible exploitation. In the next decade, The Conservation Land Trust added another 280.000 hectares in nearly contiguous parcels to the Pumalín Park.

In 2005, then President Ricardo Lagos declared this area as a Nature Sanctuary, a special designation of the Chilean State, granting it additional environmental and non-developmental protection. The Conservation Land Trust has donated these protected lands to Fundación Pumalín (a Chilean foundation), for their administration and continual development as a type of National Park with public access under a private initiative.

Through creating public-access infrastructure, including trails, campgrounds, visitor centres, and a restaurant, Tompkins seeks to promote wilderness experience, in hopes of inspiring a deeper environmental ethic in the park’s many thousands of visitors. Although the project initially provoked controversy – largely because this type of private conservation philanthropy was previously unheard of in Chile – the park continues to gain the support of locals and visitors alike.

Just very recently during an emotional ceremony Doug and Kris Tompkins donated another piece of land, another piece of wilderness at the most Southern tip of the Argentina and Chile National Parks Network and so proved that idea to be continued. They bought additional 15.000 hectares of wilderness and donate to the people of these counties as further proof of their enormous generosity.

History of wilderness conservation in many counties with long wilderness history is very much linked with personal commitment and ‘philanthropy’ of individuals falling in love to wilderness. These individuals are leaving ‘wilderness’ heritage to the next generation. John Muir in Yosemite, California, Charles Sheldon in Denali, Alaska, Douglas Tompkins in Pumalín Park, Chile and Argentina!

We have to believe that there will be more like that in the coming future also in Europe!

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