- Who are Kristine and Douglas Tompkins?
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and the late Douglas R. Tompkins (1943–2015) are American conservationists who have worked to save wildlife and wild habitat for a quarter century, achieving unprecedented success as park-focused philanthropists. After prominent careers, she as the former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. and he as the founder of the North Face and cofounder of Esprit clothing companies, the Tompkinses left the business world in the early 1990s and turned their entrepreneurial talents to saving nature’s beauty and diversity. They are best known for donating privately acquired land to become new national parks in Chile and Argentina, where they have directed conservation projects resulting in multiple new national and provincial parks.
- What is Tompkins Conservation?
Tompkins Conservation is the umbrella name for the diverse range of conservation initiatives directed by Kristine and Douglas Tompkins. These efforts to create parklands, sustain biodiversity, restore degraded lands, reintroduce missing species, encourage environmental activism, and promote ecological agriculture are accomplished through a group of nonprofit organizations founded by Kris and Doug Tompkins and through various agricultural businesses not connected to the foundations. (These family farms and ranches, while privately funded, also focus on protecting wildlife habitat, conserving soil, and other components of the Tompkins family’s conservation goals.) The key organizational vehicles for the Tompkinses’ philanthropy and conservation work are two foundations—the Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Conservation Land Trust—and a publicly supported charity, Conservacion Patagonica; all three are incorporated in California.
- What ideas drive our work?
We recognize that the sixth great extinction event in Earth history is here, precipitated by human numbers (overpopulation) and human behavior (overdevelopment) leading to a global loss of wildness, integrity, and beauty. Techno-industrial civilization based on endless growth is ultimately doomed to fail on a finite planet, but is presently accelerating and causing a wildlife holocaust. We believe that this preventable tragedy is wrong.
Our core values:
• Nature’s health is fundamental.
• All life has intrinsic value.
• Beauty matters.
• Because the natural processes that create and shape life’s beauty and diversity are being subverted by human activity, as evidenced by climate change, societal shifts at a deep, systemic level are needed.
• The present global extinction crisis—the greatest contraction of biodiversity since the age of dinosaurs ended 65 million years ago—is the clearest marker that our current trajectory is not merely unsustainable, but unethical.
• We believe that everyone who is blessed to spend time on this majestic blue orb in space has an obligation to help pay his or her “rent” for living on Earth.
- What is the overarching goal of Tompkins Conservation?
To help rewild at least half of the Earth, reverse the current extinction crisis that is decimating wildlife, and begin to reestablish a more harmonious and equitable relationship between humans and the rest of life. We anticipate the day when humans again remember that we are not owners or managers of the planet, but plain members and citizens of the biotic community, as the great American conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote.
Because conservation is ultimately about preventing human-caused extinction of other species, all of which have inherent value, we endorse the idea of “Half-Earth”—a global conservation agenda that works to secure enough habitat—in interconnected systems of terrestrial and marine protected areas—to support vibrant populations of all species. Based on decades of published research in the conservation biology literature, it appears likely that this goal of adequate habitat for all Earthlings—from beetles and bears to warblers and whales—could be met if at least 50 percent of the planet were set aside in strictly protected natural areas. A key benefit of such an outcome would be thriving ecosystems and a stable climate in which human society might flourish.
- Where is Tompkins Conservation located?
The San Francisco Bay Area has been the financial and administrative headquarters of Tompkins family philanthropic work since Doug Tompkins launched the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 1990. Through the years, Doug and Kris Tompkins and their project teams have variously maintained Chilean offices in Puerto Montt, Chaiten, Pillán, El Amarillo, and Patagonia Park near Cochrane; currently the main administrative office for Tompkins Conservation in Chile is at Puerto Varas. Primary offices in Argentina have been in Buenos Aires and at the Estancia Rincon del Socorro in Corrientes Province, which is the administrative headquarters for our rewilding efforts in the Iberá marshlands region.
- On what issues and geographic areas does Tompkins Conservation focus?
During its first decade, the Foundation for Deep Ecology made hundreds of grants to grassroots organizations, primarily in North America, working to protect wilderness and wildlife, advance ecological agriculture, and oppose destructive forms of megatechnology. Later, the grantmaking focus shifted toward South America, where Doug and Kris Tompkins were developing and administering various land conservation projects, dividing their time between Chile and Argentina, with frequent travels to North America and Europe. These core areas of work—protecting parklands, restoration and rewilding, ecological agriculture, and activism—have remained central to the Tompkins Conservation team through the years.
- Why does Tompkins Conservation focus its land and wildlife protection activities on South America?
The regions where Tompkins Conservation has focused its park-making efforts—Chile’s Lakes District, the Aysén Region of Chilean Patagonia, Santa Cruz Province and Corrientes Province, Argentina—are places with exceptional conservation potential. Each area presented an opportunity for public-private collaboration that would enhance biodiversity protection and stimulate local economic development. Land values were reasonable and governance structures (in particular the national park systems of Chile and Argentina) were strong.
There is also a longstanding personal attachment to the region. As an alpine ski racer and mountaineer, Doug Tompkins began spending time in remote areas of Argentina and Chile as a young man in the 1960s. He fell in love with Patagonia; during numerous expeditions to the region he notched many first ascents of mountains and first descents of wild rivers by kayak. Kris Tompkins became similarly devoted to Patagonia the place after a career at Patagonia the company.
- What are the major accomplishments of Tompkins Conservation?
Working collaboratively with fellow conservationists, philanthropic partners, and four different presidents, the Tompkins Conservation team as of 2016 had helped create six new national parks, expand one national park, establish two provincial parks, and assemble the world’s largest privately owned nature sanctuary open to the public. That latest national park is taking shape: in September 2016 Kristine Tompkins and Argentine President Mauricio Macri joined together to sign the donations protocol prompting the birth of a new Iberá National Park in the great Iberá marshlands region of Corrientes Province, one of South America’s largest wetlands and a globally important habitat for birds and other wildlife. Tompkins-affiliated nonprofits will donate roughly 315,000 acres for the new park, which has been established administratively and will be legally codified by the National Congress of Argentina in the near future.
Complementing these successes in parklands expansion, the Tompkins Conservation team has become widely known for its work to protect imperiled species such as huemul deer and pumas, and to reintroduce native species now missing from the project areas where we work. We have successfully reintroduced pampas deer, giant anteaters, collared peccaries, tapirs, and other species to the Iberá marshland region, and are expanding the scope of this initiative to restore and “rewild” formerly degraded landscapes.
Tompkins family foundations also have made grants totaling more than $100 million to nonprofit organizations working for a permanent peace treaty between humanity and wild nature, including funding that helped launch several groups and campaigns. These include the International Forum on Globalization and the ¡Patagonia Sin Represas! campaign, which waged an ultimately successful seven-year-long effort to stop a massive hydroelectricity development scheme that would have dammed two of Chilean Patagonia’s wild rivers.
Following in the tradition of the Sierra Club’s exhibit format books published in the 1960s and 70s that were linked to advocacy campaigns, the Foundation for Deep Ecology’s book-publishing program has released more than 25 titles since 1994, focused on stimulating environmental activism. These award-winning books include Wildlands Philanthropy; Clearcut; Plundering Appalachia; ENERGY; and Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot. On behalf of the Conservation Land Trust, the foundation’s publishing team has also produced a series of photo-format books on Tompkins Conservation’s successful park projects. These include Monte León National Park, Corcovado National Park, and Yendegaia National Park; the latter two volumes included essays by Chilean Presidents Ricardo Lagos and Sebastián Piñera, respectively.
- Why donate land to the public for national parks?
National parks are the oldest, most durable, and best loved mechanism for permanently protecting exceptional landscapes. They provide indispensable ecological, cultural, and social values, from personal recreation and spiritual renewal to helping develop widespread public support for conservation. They highlight the best attributes a country has to show the world—outstanding beauty, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and noteworthy cultural/archaeological sites. And beyond all these benefits, they are a fundamentally democratic institution—open to all, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, etc.
National parks have an unparalleled track record for permanence and cultural support. As one would expect in affluent and stable regions such as Western Europe and the United States, park systems have flourished despite budget constraints and occasional political turmoil. But in general, national parks have fared well even in politically unstable areas of the planet. The vibrant democracies of Chile and Argentina have a proven commitment to national parks. The genesis of Argentina’s park system stretches back to 1903 when revered explorer and naturalist Francisco “Perito” Moreno donated land to the State for the country’s first national park. The year 2016 marked the 90th year of Chile’s national parks. Both countries have excellent systems of protected areas with flagship national parks such as Torres del Paine in Chile and Iguazu Falls in Argentina that are world-famous destinations.
- Will the donated parklands be funded, maintained, and protected by the government?
Certainly the national park systems of Chile and Argentina would benefit from greater financial and public support, but this can be said of essentially every country that designates national parks. Every full-term Chilean president since 1926 has expanded the park system, and no national parks have been stripped of their protection, even during the military government of Augusto Pinochet. The Argentine national parks have similarly weathered tumultuous political events. The long-term solution to the question of adequate budgets and administrative capacity is to develop a broad societal commitment to national parks as an institution. Toward that end, Tompkins Conservation has fostered conservation activism and will devote significant future funding to helping support a “friends” group devoted to Chilean national park advocacy and continue the vital partnerships that the Conservation Land Trust-Argentina has pioneered with provincial and national park officials.
- How much land have Tompkins-associated conservation projects protected?
An enormous amount—more than 3.4 million acres—as of late 2016. For comparison, this is roughly the size of Connecticut. This figure includes the lands donated for permanent conservation by Tompkins Conservation-affiliated nonprofits, plus additional government land that those donations leveraged into new protected areas, plus lands we have helped preserve through other conservation tools.
This record of success, made possible through collaboration with government officials, fellow philanthropists, other NGOs, and conservation colleagues, is a testament to how a positive vision, backed up with relentless activism and financial resources, can make great advances for nature despite ominous global trends. And we anticipate even greater accomplishments in national park creation in the years to come from Tompkins Conservation efforts.
- What is “rewilding” and why is it important?
At its simplest, rewilding means helping nature heal, means helping damaged areas regain wildness. In a world as damaged as the one modern humans are making, ecological restoration is a necessity—both to help prevent human-caused extinction of other species and also to support human well-being. Everywhere there are opportunities to help wounded landscapes return to health by protecting habitat, controlling or removing invasive species, reintroducing missing wildlife (including keystone species such as large carnivores), repairing exploited and overused landscapes, and helping natural processes again operate freely.
This idea of large-scale wilderness recovery—ecological restoration writ large—has come to be known as rewilding. While the goal of rewilding is to have missing species and processes reassembled into functional ecosystems and then get out of nature’s way, the means to this end will generally include active restoration techniques, passive recovery, and ongoing monitoring. Site-specific activities such as countering hillside erosion or rehabilitating a former gravel pit are small steps toward this larger vision of restored beauty and health. Once habitat productivity and security are assured, returning missing species to the system and helping them achieve sufficient population size to perform their normal ecological roles is the capstone to a rewilding project.
Tompkins Conservation has undertaken the most ambitious rewilding efforts in the Americas, employing all of the aforementioned tools—from replanting Alerce tree seedlings in Chilean rainforest watersheds where their seeds were gathered, to ripping out hundreds of miles of former ranch fencing after the livestock was sold, to reintroducing missing species to their former home in the Iberá marshlands. Pampas deer, giant anteaters, collared peccaries, tapirs, and other species have been returned to the Iberá; these projects have helped the Tompkins Conservation rewilding team gain expertise for its latest challenge—breeding jaguars in captivity for eventual return to the wild.
- Shouldn’t conservation philanthropists focus on climate change?
The accelerating threat of climate chaos resulting from human activity— deforestation and other land-use changes, as well as a century-long frenzy of fossil fuel use—should be the focus of every citizen. Philanthropic engagement on the issue of climate change has grown significantly in the past decade, with most attention being paid to renewable energy. Such initiatives are crucial, but insufficient, to mitigate climate change if deforestation and other wilderness-destroying land use changes proceed apace.
Habitat protection—saving large expanses of wild forests and grassland that naturally sequester carbon—is a crucial tool for mitigating climate change. The parklands conservation projects developed by Tompkins Conservation in aggregate assure that millions of acres of wild habitat will never be developed and continue to provide climate-supporting carbon uptake and sequestration in the soils and biomass of these protected areas.
While our organizational activities remain directly focused on land and wildlife conservation, we recognize how protected areas around the globe—the result of a century and a half of successful campaigning by conservationists—is threatened by runaway climate change. We believe that the failure of political and corporate elites to exercise bold leadership to reorient the global energy economy away from its present, dire course, is exceedingly dangerous to the diversity of life on Earth, and that this tragic failure is often motivated by “elective ignorance” fueled by short-term, often personal, goals. A mass movement of engaged citizens is needed to counter political inertia.
- How does parklands creation and wildlife recovery affect economic development and local communities?
Tompkins Conservation projects have employed many hundreds of people through the decades, from carpenters, architects, and equipment operators to veterinarians, biologists, and park rangers. Roughly 80 percent of the staff working on TC projects comes from nearby communities. In all cases, the management of our lands for conservation and wildlife recovery has provided more local jobs than the previous uses, typically with better pay and working conditions.
Moreover, the new parklands Tompkins Conservation has helped create are a building block for regional economic transformation as the Carretera Austral (southern highway) in southern Chile becomes known as the “Route of Parks.” Similarly, in the Iberá marshlands, our initiative to establish and brand the Iberá region as the premier wildlife-watching destination in Argentina has created a scenic route around the watershed, linked the local communities with consistent signage and marketing, and helped build widespread political support for conservation efforts because of their economic benefit to local communities. Locally trained guides for wildlife tours, hosteria operators, and many other employment opportunities are being created from this effort.
- What is the future for Tompkins Conservation?
We anticipate more wildlife habitat secured, more transformative progress where local economic vitality is a consequence of conservation! Under the leadership of Kristine Tompkins, the Tompkins Conservation team is presently working on projects that would, if successful, add at least 10 million additional acres to the national park systems of Chile and Argentina. And our commitment to grassroots activism remains steadfast.
- Will Tompkins Conservation persist following the lifetimes of its founders?
Doug and Kris Tompkins never intended that their family foundations exist in perpetuity, and have pledged to deploy all of their foundations’ assets to support projects that sustain beauty, biodiversity, and the well-being of nature and people. Since Doug’s untimely death in December 2015, Kris Tompkins has been adamant that she will remain an advocate for the wild places, wild creatures, and wild ideas she loves until the end of her days. She challenges each of us to take up a place in the movement for a flourishing planet:
"Whoever you are, wherever your interest lies, whatever you’ve fallen in love with, you get out of bed every morning and you do something. You act, you step into the fray, and you fight for a human society that is in balance with the natural world."
—Kristine McDivitt Tompkins
- Tompkins Conservation by the Numbers
Acres purchased for conservation: 2.1+ million
Acres donated to create and expand national parks: 591,154
Additional national park acres leveraged from Tompkins Conservation land donations and other tools: 1,291,688
Total area (in acres) conserved by Tompkins Conservation and partners to date: 3.41 million
New national parks designated; existing national parks expanded: 6 / 1
New provincial parks established: 2
Global rank of Pumalín Park, in size, for privately owned nature sanctuaries: #1
Additional national parks Tompkins Conservation hopes to create with future land donations: 5
Public campgrounds constructed: 18
Campgrounds destroyed by volcanic eruptions: 1
Sheep removed from Estancia Valle Chacabuco to start Patagonia National Park project: 25,000
Percentage of the global population of endangered huemul deer conserved at Patagonia Park: 10 percent
Miles of ranch fencing removed by Patagonia Park volunteers: 400+
Cows removed from private conservation lands at Iberá Natural Reserve: 15,000
Properties improved for residents of El Amarillo, gateway to Pumalín Park: 30
Initiatives to reintroduce missing species or recover imperiled species in parklands established by Tompkins Conservation: 12+
Giant anteater cubs born in the wild following the species’ successful reintroduction: 39 (at least)
Number of pampas deer born in the reintroduced populations at Iberá: 65
Annual percentage growth in the imperiled pampas deer population: 33 percent
Schools established at conservation projects implemented by Tompkins Conservation: 4
Children participating in 2015 Patagonia Park outdoor education program: 713
Iberá gateway communities assisted for ecotourism economic development: 6
Agricultural properties purchased and restored by Doug and Kris Tompkins: 23
Agricultural jobs created from farm/ranchland operations: 162
Acreage devoted to agro-ecological projects (organic farms, ranches, habitat): 315,499
Grants made to nonprofit organizations working to protect the Earth: 2,210
Years spent fighting to stop proposed Patagonia dams: 7
NGO s engaged in ¡Patagonia Sin Represas! anti-dam campaign: 80+
Funds directed to book publishing and associated activist campaigns: $13.5 million
Book titles published: 26
Books granted to activists, NGOs, and distributed commercially: 135,751
Publishing awards: 4