National Parks: Chile’s 10 million-acre Patagonia

World population is expected to reach 8 billion people in 2023 according to the United Nations (in 2026 according to the U.S. Census Bureau). There are A LOT of humans that call Earth their home, and apart from the land we take up from our houses, cities, and communities, other vast parts of land are being cultivated for resources we use in our every day lives. However, we aren’t alone on this planet, we’re supposed to be sharing it with millions of other animals, plants, and wildlife species. One of the ways we can ensure that human activity does not completely encroach on nature’s wildlife is through National Parks and protected wildlife regions. Through national parks humans may not only play a key role in conservation, but helping restore protected areas is also a crucial aspect in allowing wildlife to flourish and recover from damage caused by human activity.

Patagonia resides in Chile and Argentina

Recently, the South American country of Chile has successfully announced a 10 million acre Patagonia National Park system, which to put into perspective, is more than three times the size of the Yosemite and Yellowstone parks combined. President Michelle Bachelet (who I may add, is the first female Chilean President) announced the creation of a vast national park system in Chile stretching from Hornopirén, 715 miles south of the capital, Santiago, to Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, where Chile splinters into fjords and canals. Incredibly, this new 10 million acre National Park system does not even encompass all of the country’s national parkland, but it does increase it by nearly 40%.

Learning about the Patagonia National Parks system for me was an incredibly exciting and empowering experience, as it proved how a country’s government and private enterprise can work together with the common goal of conservation, restoration, and environmentalism.

Kristin and Douglas Tompkins

However, in this monumental victory for National Parks and wildlife there are two particular heroes who must be credited for their selfless dedication and passion: Doug and Kris Tompkins, perhaps you may have heard of them from the clothing industry. Doug Tompkins co-founded not one but two giant outdoor-clothing companies, North Face and Esprit. Before marrying her husband, Kristin Tompkins was the first CEO of what was to become the billion-dollar outdoor clothing company Patagonia. The two grew up loving the outdoors, ironically Kristin was actually the daughter of an oil industry man. Nevertheless, after becoming affluent multi-millionaires Doug and Kris wanted to make a contribution to their beautiful planet they had grown up loving, they left the industry world to devote themselves to their passion.

Beginning in 1990, Douglas Tompkins founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology (FDE). A private charitable foundation, FDE supports environmental activism through grant making, campaigns, and a publishing program. Over the years Douglas, later joined by Kristin, invested an estimated $375 million into the 2.2 million acres of Patagonia they had purchased and were dedicated to restore. Working with the Chilean locals and the federal government, the Tompkins wanted to eventually convince the government to donate more land and join it with theirs in order to establish a vast system of protected parks that would be available for public appreciation.

Patagonia common local, cousin to the llama, Guanacos

Unfortunately, in December of 2015, Douglas Tompkins died in a kayaking accident at the age of 74, leaving Kristin to achieve their dreams of wildlife conservation without his help. Months before, Tompkins Conservation, an umbrella group of conservation initiatives the couple directed, proposed a deal to the Chilean government where it offered to join their own protected and restored land if the administration contributed additional lands and agreed to form a National Parks system to protect it. The Bachelet administration (again, may I add, led by Chile’s first female president) ended up contributing nine million acres, MUCH more than the couple had proposed, a dream come true. Had the deal not been granted the millions of acres would likely be underway to being exploited for mining, logging, and agriculture.

After nearly two decades of dedication, compassion, and determination, the Tompkins have become key players in environmental protection and restoration. The Tompkins are heroic examples of how industry tycoons who have millions of dollars to their discretion can make large impacts to benefit arguably thousands of people and wildlife, some may even argue that the National Parks they fought for will benefit the entire planet. The parks are “good not only for Chile, but for the planet,” President Bachelet said in an interview. “It shows that you don’t have to be a rich country to make these kinds of decisions. It only requires will and courage.”

Everything You Need to Know to Trek Patagonia's Torres Del Paine ...
Patagonia’s Torres Del Paine Trek

The Patagonia National Parks system not only benefits Chilean wildlife and locals, the massive and (unfortunately) rare victory has led to a chain reaction of benefits that will inspire countries all over the world to join the effort. According to an article by National Geographic, Chile hopes to establish ecotourism as a regional economic driver. Kris Tompkins said in an interview, “a real model to do large-scale conservation and create national parks in a public-private way.”

According to a study commissioned by Tompkins Conservation, the expanded park system has the potential to generate $270 million in revenue a year and to employ 43,000 people in the region. Who said environmentalist ventures couldn’t benefit the economy?

Hopefully, reading about the Patagonia National Park system and how private investors and a federal government achieved this massive environmental feat will open your eyes to how moments in history like these are possible. For me, it’s definitely moments like these that inspire and excite me for the possibilities of our greener future!

References: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/01/chile-new-national-parks-10-million-acres-environment/, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/world/americas/patagonia-national-park-chile.html, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/28/how-two-clothing-tycoons-saved-patagonia-doug-tomkins-kris-mcdivitt-tomkins, http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/milestones.htm,

Published by Sofia Manriquez

Founder of conserveouroceans.org I'm passionate about all things environmental, although I've always had a particular connection with the ocean since I've grown up loving the beach. I would love to collaborate with others and meet friends who share environmental passions!

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