US billionaire donates 94,000 acres for new national park in Tierra del Fuego

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Published On : Thu, Dec 12th, 2013

Outdoor gear magnate Doug Tompkins strikes agreement with President Piñera, spearheading the formation of another national park in southern tip of the continent.

The new Yendegaia park will form a ‘biocorridor’ across the southern tip of Patagonia. Photo via Tompkins Conservation

The new Yendegaia park will form a ‘biocorridor’ across the southern tip of Patagonia. Photo via Tompkins Conservation

Vast tracts of public and privately-owned land in far Southern Chile will become the country’s newest national park after the president and a controversial, billionaire conservationist both announced donation of land Thursday.

Located in the rugged and spectacular Magallanes Region in southern Patagonia, Parque Nacional Yendegaia will comprise approximately 370,000 acres of glaciers, coast, rivers and forests thanks to a donation of roughly 94,000 acres by U.S. business magnate and environmentalist Doug Tompkins, as well as an additional 274,000 acres promised by the state.

The national park will comprise land surrounding the Yendegaia Bay on the southern tip of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, which was bought by Doug Tompkins’ U.S. based charity, the Conservation Land Trust, in 1998.

Yendegaia national park will form a “biocorridor” between two other national parks, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to the east and Alberto D’Agostini in Chile to the west.

According to Nadine Lehner, the executive director of Conservación Patagonica, which was founded by Doug Tompkins’ wife, Kris, formation of the Yendegaia park is a crucial step in preserving the region’s unique natural features.

“It’s some of the last subantarctic forest there, which is a remnant from the days of the Gondwana supercontinent,” she told The Santiago Times. “There are three endangered species there, the red fox, the river otter, and the ruddy breasted goose, as well as a broad range of native fauna, in fact, they’ve identified 128 species of vascular plants and 49 bird species native to the area.”

President Sebastián Piñera will officially inaugurate the park with a personal tour of the glacial Magallanes Region, home to the nation’s four southernmost provinces, in January. The presidential tour will be accompanied by an opening ceremony attended by the Tompkins to officiate the transference of their lands to the state reserve.

A council of ministers for sustainability, chaired by the Environment Minister María Ignacia Benitez and originally formed by the the Piñera administration to generate proposals for a new park, approved the Yendegaia park in the Magallanes Region on Nov. 20.

Doug Tompkins, however, is a figure of some controversy in Patagonia. After traveling to the region in 1968, the founder of The North Face and co-founder of Esprit began buying up tracts of land in the region.

He is now the region’s largest individual landholder with over 2.2 million acres of wilderness in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.

Critics, such as Aysén Region National Renewal (RN) party Sen. Antonio Horvath, claim that landowners such as Tompkins, with their enormous tracts of private land, wield too much power over the lives of native Chileans in the region, blocking economic growth and infrastructure development that would make local and tourist travel in the region easier.

However, the new Yendegaia national park marks another land contribution the wealthy Tompkins couple has made to the country’s protected lands. Previous donations spearheaded the Parque Nacional Corcovado and the Pumalin and Patagonian parks, which cover tracts of Valdivian temperate rainforest and steppe grasslands, respectively

“This is a historical moment, like all creations of national parks, it is really gratifying to be a part of it,” Douglas Tompkins told La Tercera on Thursday.

The park will open to the public in January.

By Emily McHugh (mchugh@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of land which Doug Tompkins owns in Patagonia, the status of the Pumalin and Patagonia parks and the name of the supercontinent to which the subantarctic forest of Yendegaia is a remnant. The Santiago Times regrets these errors, which have now been addressed. 

About the Author

Emily McHugh
Originally from the U.S., Emily studied journalism at The Evergreen State College before coming to Santiago. Most frequently, she writes about issues of social justice, human rights and the environment. She also enjoys reporting on the arts. Contact her at mchugh@santiagotimes.cl.