Chile creates 10 million acres of new national parks (VIDEO)

SANTIAGO – Chile has created five sprawling national parks to preserve vast tracts of Patagonia, after U.S. philanthropists Doug Tompkins and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins donated 1 million acres of private land to government – the largest in South America.

The five parks, spanning 10.3m acres, were signed into law on Monday by Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet, launching a new 17-park route that stretches down the southern spine of Chile to Cape Horn.

Patagonia National Park Chile and Pumalín National Park will be key destinations in the network of parks of Chilean Patagonia. These parks are already open to the public, welcoming visitors from Chile and around the world to experience Patagonia’s natural beauty, which will now be permanently protected for all visitors and the creatures that call these parks home.

McDivitt Tompkins, the former chief executive of the outdoors company Patagonia, handed over 1m acres to help create the new parks. The Chilean government provided the rest in federally controlled land.

McDivitt Tompkins has spent 25 years working on land conservation in Chile with her late husband Doug, who founded North Face and Espirit. Doug Tompkins died in a kayaking accident in Chile in 2015.

“This is not just an unprecedented act of preservation,” said Bachelet, who flew to this remote Patagonian valley on Monday to receive the donation.

“It is an invitation to imagine other forms to use our land. To use natural resources in a way that does not destroy them. To have sustainable development – the only profitable economic development in the long term.”

Last month, Bachelet – who leaves office in March – completed a five-year negotiation with residents of Easter Island to form one of the world’s largest Marine Protected areas, which will protect some 720,000 sq km of the Pacific Ocean.

Chile creates marine protected area around Easter Island

Incoming president Sebastian Piñera – a billionaire businessman supported by an extreme rightwing coalition – has indicated his intention to reverse efforts to loosen the country’s draconian abortion laws and provide free university education to more students, but he is a keen supporter of the Tompkins conservation model.

In 2004, Piñera purchased an estimated 250,000 acres of wild lands on the Chilean island of Chiloe, which he converted into Parque Tantauco – inspired, he said, by the Tompkins example.

To date, Tompkins Conservation has donated roughly two million acres of land for conservation purposes, and together with governments and other partners have protected roughly 13 million acres in total. Tompkins Conservation is also the leader in the Americas in what is known as “rewilding,” restoring natural ecosystems and reintroducing wildlife that has disappeared from a region because of human pressures.