The former retail mogul Douglas Tompkins has been buying huge tracts of land in the Patagonia region of South America, drawing a certain amount of ire and suspicion since his first purchase in 1991. All along, he’s said he plans to donate the land to the Chilean state, and it looks like the day has come.
According to Chilean media, Tompkins’ Conservation Land Trust has been brokering the deal for the past four months, and has outlined plans to present nearly 1 million acres of land he owns to the government on the condition that it be protected as new national parks.
Tompkins first became enthralled by the mountainous region of Chile and Argentina back in the 1960s as a backpacking teenager, and would eventually relocate to South Chile full-time, after building his fortune as the founder of clothing labels Esprit and The North Face. Since 1993, he’s been married to Kris Tompkins (formerly McDivitt), who was CEO of Patagonia, Inc., outdoor clothing company founded by Yvon Chouinard.
Since stepping away from the clothing industry, Kris and Doug Tompkins have become prominent environmental activists and land owners, mentioned in the same breath as Ted Turner and Louis Bacon. One of their largest endeavors has been the enormous acreage they’ve bought and turned into nature preserves, the biggest of which is now Pumalín Park, covering 742,000 acres. Two other chunks of land totaling 265,000 acres are also part of the package being discussed.
The Tompkins’ land acquisitions have not always been welcome in Chile. The motives of the North American billionaire have always been questioned by the public there, with wild conspiracies flying about since they began. On a more realistic note, leaders in the country have been angered by the influence an outsider has gained over huge chunks of its land, Tompkins’ hard-driving, entrepreneurial attitude a symbol of U.S. arrogance, even in a country with an atypically capitalist market for Latin America.
There’s also the issue of how the couples’ ecological intentions align with the nation’s economics. Even now that Tompkins is preparing to donate the land, local conservationists point out that taking on new national parks is a huge cost burden to the Chilean government, and not necessarily the best option for conservation in the region.
Still, the deal will be a coup for the couple, and part of what they no doubt hope will be their legacy. It follows the recent donation of 94,000 acres to the Chilean government, which all suggests that the Tompkins’ land hoarding days may be over, and they’re preparing to wrap their conservation projects up.
If that’s the case, they still have some work to do. Even after the pending deal, they will still own more than 1 million acres of land in the region.