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In Chile, Landowner Makes The Largest Private Donation Of Land To A Government


Picture an area of snowcapped peaks, glaciers, tumbling rivers and green forests. The land is in Patagonia. And it was initially purchased by Doug Tompkins who founded The North Face clothing company. He died in 2015. And his widow and fellow passionate advocate for the environment, Kristine Tompkins, is now donating the land to the government of Chile. She joins us now on the line.


KRISTINE TOMPKINS: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So your late husband founded North Face. You, at one point, were CEO of the Patagonia company coincidentally. What was it about this place - this land that drew you in and made you stay involved?

TOMPKINS: Well, I think it all started when my husband, Doug, and Yvon Chouinard, the owner of Patagonia company, drove from San Francisco down to the tip of South America - surfing, climbing, skiing. And they ended up climbing a very emblematic peak in southern Argentine Patagonia called Fitz Roy. There were a lot of things between those two men that dragged me, eventually, to that area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the land itself - I mean, this is an area of stunning natural beauty.

TOMPKINS: Well, it is. It starts off in Pumalin Park, which is temperate rain forest - so think of the coast of British Columbia - all the way down into the grassland/steppe areas toward the tip of the country. It really encompasses almost every ecotone that one would find in the south of the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should note this is now the largest private donation of land to a government ever. You and your husband ran this place as a park for a long time. I've been there. And it is indeed just one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Why hand it over to the government of Chile?

TOMPKINS: Well, you know, we grew up within the national parks here in the United States. And there is a sense of, I would even say, ownership by every American who goes through the front gates of Yellowstone or Yosemite, that those are public parks. They belong to everybody. And Chile is no different. We hope that somehow between the creation of national parks, the development of what we call economic development as a consequence of conservation that precious masterpieces of the country will be preserved forever.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you gotten guarantees, though, that the government of Chile will run it in a way that's sustainable? There have been concerns about the capacity of the government of Chile to really run these parks in the same way that you've run them.

TOMPKINS: Well, I know that that's the big question on the minds of many. But I think - and I know that Doug would agree with me if he were here - Chile does have the desire to run these parks in a world-class fashion. And I think the most stable means to protect these lands is in the form of national parks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm curious. You mentioned supporting the local community or getting the local community's support. How do you get buy-in for preservation? We've seen in that area commercial salmon farms in these glacial waters. It's an area which needs investment, which needs jobs.

TOMPKINS: Yes, I agree with you. And I think if you look at countries like South Africa, Tanzania, New Zealand, you see a model where good conservation, plentiful wildlife, actually is a tool for economic drivers. So if you look at Jackson Hole, Wyo., and ask the people of that town how they've done since the Grand Teton National Park was created, I think these are the kinds of models that can tell us that this is not some pipe dream, that this is really true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have a broader question. What do you think the role of people with immense amounts of money, essentially, are in conservation? Is this a model?

TOMPKINS: Well, I hope it is (laughter). I think whoever you are, wherever you are, the more you get, the more you give - that we have a moral imperative to work actively and, I would say, urgently to protect landscapes that are in peril. And we hope that this model can serve as some sort of beacon or encouragement that other individuals at any scale, wherever you are - I hope that people step up and go for it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kristine Tompkins, co-founder of Tompkins Conservation, who donated 1 million acres of land in Patagonia to become part of an extensive Chilean national park system.

Thank you so much for being with us.

TOMPKINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.