Chile Creates 10 Million Acres of Protected Parkland

©. Tompkins Conservation/YouTube

Rainforests, grasslands, and other wild terrains are now safe, thanks to the creation of five new national parks.

I always thought that if I won the lottery, I would buy as much rainforest as I could afford to keep it safe from harm. As it turns out, Kristine Tompkins and her late husband Doug beat me to it. The American philanthropists, CEO of the clothing company Patagonia, and founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing companies, respectively, completed the world’s largest donation of privately held land when they handed over more than one million acres to the government. The Chilean government added nine million acres of their own to create five new and three expanded national parks. In total, the new parklands are more than three times the size of Yosemite and Yellowstone combined.

"With these beautiful lands, their forests, their rich ecosystems, we ... expand the network of parks to more than 10 million acres," Chilean president Michelle Bachelet said in a statement announcing the signing of decrees. "Thus, national parks in Chile will increase by 38.5% to account for 81.1% of Chile’s protected areas.”

“This is a day we've been working toward for twenty-some years,” said Tompkins. "It's like watching your chicks fledge.”

The outdoors-loving Tompkins husband and wife spent more than two decades collecting land in the southern part of the country and coaxing it back into wilderness. It was often a tough row to hoe, or unhoe, as the case may be. Michael Greshko from National Geographic writes:

Initially, locals bristled at what they considered a foreign land grab and at the couple’s successful opposition to a massive hydropower scheme. Some castigated the Tompkins for taking land out of production—logging and sheep and cattle ranching—and eliminating the jobs those industries produced in favor of restoring what the Tompkins considered degraded grasslands and forests. As puma populations in the region have crept upward, so have complaints from ranchers who have lost sheep.

But with the problems came progress as the Tompkins foundation learned to work with the communities in planning and working to create more jobs. Greshko notes that the parks bring employment and cash to local communities, as well as ensuring long-term conservation of biodiversity, “including iconic South American species such as the endangered huemul deer, Darwin’s rhea, and pumas, all of which Tompkins Conservation is working to reestablish.”

In the end, an expanded park system brings with it an earnings potential of $270 million in revenue a year and the employment of 43,000 people, according to a study commissioned by Tompkins Conservation.

It’s hard not to note the contrast of this ambitious and integral work with what’s going on in the United States, where the administration is moving in the opposite direction: downsizing parks and opening up wilderness to energy exploration. “Right now, leadership in the United States is turning its back on the country's [natural] and cultural masterpieces,” says Tompkins. “You have to come to terms with the fact that not all nature can be exposed and utilized for man. It’s a mathematical fact, it’s an ecological fact, it’s a social fact.”

And in Chile, now it’s an actual fact, thanks to an enlightened government that understands the value of wilderness.

See more in the video below: