Skip to navigationSkip to content

A former Patagonia CEO has announced the largest ever private gift of land to a country

FILE - This undated photo shows Pumalin Park, stretching from the Andes to the Pacific, which is owned by U.S. businessman Douglas Tompkins, in southern Chile. Tompkins, the co-founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing companies who bought up large swaths of land in South America's Patagonia region to keep them pristine, died on Dec. 8, 2015 from severe hypothermia in a kayaking accident in Chile. The well-known conservationist was 72. (Carlos Quezada/La Tercera via AP) CHILE OUT - NO PUBLICAR EN CHILE - MANDATORY CREDIT LA TERCERA
La Tercera
Worth saving.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The nonprofit started by former Patagonia executive Kris Tompkins and her late husband, The North Face co-founder Douglas Tompkins, has made what it says is the largest-ever land donation by a private entity to a country. Appearing with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet on March 16, Kris Tompkins announced that Tompkins Conservation plans to hand over more than 1 million acres (4,000 square km) to the nation of Chile.

In addition, the Chilean government agreed to designate or enhance protections on another 9 million acres (36,000 square km) of state land to conservation. The total conserved area is three times larger than the US’s Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined.

The deal, which must still be finalized, would create five new national parks and expand three others—which will become part of a 17-park network stretching for 1,250 miles, or more than half the width of the United States. Tompkins Conservation says the wilderness areas will generate $270 million in ecotourism-related business annually, and employ more than 40,000.

Douglas Tompkins made his name founding two of the world’s most notable apparel brands, the outdoor equipment and clothing company The North Face and Esprit, the clothing company. With proceeds from the sale of Esprit in 1990 (he had sold his early share of The North Face for just $50,000), Tompkins left his businesses behind and moved to the tip of South America to pursue environmental conservation.

For the last two decades, Tompkins, along with his second wife, Kris—she is a former CEO of the Patagonia clothing company—sought to“rewild” South America’s ecosystems by reintroducing species and reversing biodiversity loss. The two concluded that large national parks were their best hope, and set about buying huge swathes of land, often home to degraded farms and ranches, to dedicate to conservation.

Reuters/Leo Beca
An environmental activist up until the end.

The Tompkins’ holdings across South America’s rugged southern tip were so vast that critics accused them of plots to split the country in half or build an American nuclear waste site. But when developers planned to create a strong network of of dams and hydroelectric power lines in the country, the Tompkins’ project finally won Chilean public favor (although resistance from ranchers and industry persists). The Tompkins’ efforts, reports National Geographic, have protected more land (about 2.4 million acres) than those of any other private individual.

Douglas Tompkins died in 2015 at the age of 72. He had been kayaking on a lake in southern Chile when strong waves overturned his kayak. Several hours after his rescue, he died from severe hypothermia.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.