Chile Transforms 10 Million Acres of Land Into Protected National Parks

A little over 10 million acres of land in Chile was designated as new national parks. This was the culmination of 25 years of conservation work by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her late husband Douglas Tompkins. The decree, signed by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and McDivitt Tompkins, CEO and President of Tompkins Conservation, signals the South American nation's increasing role as a leader in conservation issues.

Tompkins Conservation donated 1 million acres of private land, creating the Pumalín National Park and Patagonia National Park Chile, with the Chilean government contributing an additional 9 million acres. It's an incredible achievement that sees a landmass roughly equal to the size of Switzerland become terrain left to grow and develop as nature intended. It also fulfills a pledge that President Bachelet and McDivitt Tompkins signed in 2017 to create 5 new national parks in Chile and expand 3 others.

“With these beautiful lands, their forests, their rich ecosystems, we…expand the network of parks to more than 10 million acres,” declared President Bachelet, who leaves office in March. “Thus, national parklands in Chile will increase by 38.5% to account for 81.1% of Chile’s protected areas.”

For McDivitt Tompkins, the day marks an incredible achievement for the conservation efforts she and her late husband, who passed in 2015, started over two decades ago. McDivitt Tompkins was a former CEO of the Patagonia clothing company, while Douglas Tompkins was the founder of The North Face and Esprit. Both later threw themselves into conservation issues, moving to Chile from California in the early 1990s and spending hundreds of millions to purchase land with the goal to transform it back to its ‘wild' state.

It was a mission that saw them become some of the largest private landowners in the world and challenge cultural norms in Chile, retraining ranchers as wildlife conservationists and battling locals who saw their presence as the unwelcome intrusion of foreigners. The Tompkins' have persevered, with this newest effort being the largest private land donation to a government, and hopefully inspiring others to take up their example.

“I am proud of my husband Doug and his vision which continues to guide us, in addition to our entire team, for completing these two national parks and the broader network, a major milestone of our first 25 years of work,” Kristine McDivitt Tompkins said. “While we will continue to help promote and safeguard these parks, we are beginning to turn our attention to more new conservation and rewilding projects in Chile and Argentina as we work to save and restore big, wild, and connected ecosystems.”

In addition to the creation of two new national parks, Bachelet also announced plans to link a network of parks across the country along a 1,500-mile tourist trail. Stimulating ecotourism, and putting money and jobs back into the local economy, while sustaining natural habitats is the goal. As time has gone on, and the community has become more involved with the Tompkins' work and new job opportunities have arisen, local attitudes toward land conservation have softened.

Words from the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, during the signing of the decrees creating the Network of National Parks of Chilean Patagonia: “What brings us together today is the story of a dream. Born from simple and honest love for this land, it was this dream that allowed us to overcome the incomprehensible, join forces, and that became policy. Kris, I don't think I'm wrong to say that Doug Tompkins would be smiling since he proved us right, and his legacy is more alive than ever before. From here on, Chile has to value, preserve, and foster Patagonia's natural wealth. And it should do so at the highest international standards. In other words, Chile as a whole assumes the commitment that was previously a few visionaries'. Chile as a whole is laying a foundation for sustainable development.” // Palabras de la presidenta de Chile, Michelle Bachelet, durante la la firma de los decretos que crean la Red de Parques de la Patagonia Chilena: “Lo que hoy nos reúne es la historia de un sueño. Nacido del amor simple y franco a esta tierra, fue ese sueño el que permitió superar la incomprensión, aunar voluntades y el que terminó por convertirse en política de Estado. Kris, no creo equivocarme al decir que Douglas Tompkins estaría sonriendo al comprobar que estaba en lo cierto y que su legado está más vivo que nunca. Porque desde ahora el Estado de Chile tiene el deber de valorar, preservar y potenciar la riqueza natural de la Patagonia. Y debe hacerlo conforme a altos estándares internacionales. En otras palabras, es un país en su conjunto el que asume el compromiso que antes recaía en algunos visionarios. Es un país en su conjunto el que gana al cimentar rutas concretas para el desarrollo sostenible.” #parquesnacionales #nationalparks #patagonia #conservation Photos: @presidencia_cl

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“This is not just an unprecedented act of preservation,” Bachelet explained. “It is an invitation to imagine other forms to use our land. To use natural resources in a way that does not destroy them. To have sustainable development—the only profitable economic development in the long term.”

No one knows the long road walked to get to this monumental moment better than McDivitt Tompkins. “[The parks] are born out of blisters and headaches and very difficult work—physically, politically, in every way,” she said. “To get this done … is nothing short of a miracle. But miracles are just a product of hard work.”

h/t: [IFL Science!, The Guardian]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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