Over 4,450,000 hectares (11 million acres) of private land and wildlands are now under protection in the insanely pretty region of Chile, ranging from its dusty northern lands to its frosty tundras way down south.
It all started when the Tompkins Foundation agreed to donate 404,600 hectares (1 million acres) of their land to Chile for national parks to be created, in what’s the largest land donation in history from a private entity to a country.
This incredible foundation was set up by the husband and wife duo Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the former CEO of the Patagonia clothing brand, and the late Doug Tompkins, co-founder of North Face and Esprit. During the 1990s, they bought massive chunks of land in Patagonia to protect the land from development, much to the annoyance of the Chilean government and developers who accused them of being CIA spies or attempting to establish a new Jewish state. Tragically, Doug Tompkins died of severe hypothermia after a kayaking accident in 2015.
Last week, however, old differences were settled and the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met their pledge and agreed to expand the national parkland in Chile by a further 4 million hectares (10 million acres).
The agreement will create five new national parks to establish a 17-park network, which will span the length of the country and be known as the “Route of Parks”. Overall, it will encompass 4,450,000 hectares (11 million acres) of protected land – larger than the whole of Denmark.
A Llama in Atacama Desert of Chile. Aline Melo/Shutterstock
“I wish my husband Doug, whose vision inspired today’s historic pledge, were here on this memorable day. Our team and I feel his absence deeply,” Kristine Tompkins told the crowd at the announcement. “But I know that if Doug were here today, he would speak of national parks being one of the greatest expressions of democracy that a country can realize, preserving the masterpieces of a nation for all of its citizenry.”
The drive behind the move is obvious – just look at it. Chile is a diverse land that has everything from warm desert climates to temperate Mediterranean climates to ice-cold tundra climates.
As such, it is also home to a variety of rare animals, including pudú deer, chilla fox, Chilean mockingbirds, and the Andean condor. The conservation move will also bring many other benefits to the country. Through ecotourism, it’s thought Chile will generate $270 million in income and provide 43,000 more jobs.
“That puts Chile right up there with Costa Rica in terms of the percentage of protected lands,” Yvon Chouinard, the founder of clothing company Patagonia and good friend of Tompkins, told The Guardian. “No other human has ever created this many acres of protected wildlands [through private philanthropy] and he did not do it with the stroke of a pen."
Parinacota volcano as seen from Lauca National Park in Chile. Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock