Ponying Up For The Pristine

by | May 29, 2008

A good friend described his time in Chile like this: California 100 years ago. That is, it’s uncrowded and it’s natural beauty is unspoiled. I’ve wanted to go for an extended visit ever since.

Now, I’m reading Yvon Chouinard’s classic business book, Let My People Go Surfing. In it, he mentions that his good friend and fellow adventurer Doug Tompkins married former Patagonia CEO Kris McDivitt and moved to Chile, where the couple is using their money to buy up vast stretches of wild land in effort to create national parks. That piqued my curiosity, so I Googled them to learn more.

Turns out San Francisco Chronicle did a lengthy piece on Doug and Kris in 2006.

Over the past decade and a half, the Tompkinses have spent about $150 million to buy two dozen properties covering 2.2 million acres of Chile and Argentina, in what collectively amounts to the world’s largest privately run land conservation project.

At stake throughout the region is a historic opportunity much like the North American West in the 19th century — an underpopulated vastness of prairie, glacier-capped mountains and majestic forests that can still be grabbed by anyone with money and ambition.

“In the States, we can only protect small areas, but here, for $10 million you can buy a million-acre ranch,” said Chouinard, chairman of Patagonia Inc., who purchased 8,000 acres next to Valle Chacabuco and has donated funds to the park project. “There are tons of opportunities for creating parks, and now is the time,” Chouinard said. “Everything’s for sale. Sheep ranching is finished.”

The Tompkinses are among the most prominent individual donors to ecological and anti-globalization groups. Last year, two Sausalito foundations that they fund and control — Foundation for Deep Ecology and Conservation Land Trust — spent $15.7 million on conservation projects and grants to environmental and anti-free-trade groups.