U.S. group gives national parks to Chile

An American organization called the Tompkins Conservation has signed an agreement with Chile’s government to donate 1 million acres (404,700 hectares) for new national parks in the largest private donation of its kind for the South American nation.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed the deal with Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the widow of American conservationist Doug Tompkins, who built a legacy protecting threatened ecosystems in Argentina and Chile.

“This is a key step to treasuring this giant source of biodiversity and safe keep it in the public interest,” Bachelet said at a ceremony on the edge of Pumalín Park in southern Chile.

The agreement will provide land to create three new national parks, expand three existing national parks and unite some national forests into two national parks. Bachelet is expected to sign the decrees to create the parks before she ends her presidential term in March 2018.

The proposal will eventually help create the “Route of Parks,” a network of 17 parks spanning more than 240,000 kilometers from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn. In all, the plan ultimately seeks to increase Chile’s national parkland by more than 10 million acres (4,047,000 hectares). Tompkins Conservation said the area that will be protected is three times the size of the United States’ Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks combined.

Doug Tompkins, co-founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing companies, used much of his fortune to buy large tracts of land in Patagonia, a sparsely populated region of untamed rivers and other natural beauty straddling southern Chile and Argentina.

Since her husband’s death in a kayaking accident in 2015, McDivitt Tompkins had been working nonstop to permanently protect from development the millions of acres the couple acquired over a quarter-century.

“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,” she said. “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.”