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For the Wild, 7: Giving Nature

Wildlands Network published For the Wild in 2017 to celebrate 25 years of reconnecting nature in North America. Every couple of weeks, we’ll be posting a new excerpt from this inspiring collection of prose, poetry, and photographs as a special feature on our website. Please join the Rewilding Society or our Wildlands Stewards giving circle to receive a bound copy of For the Wild. Visit our Donate page to learn more.

Giving Nature

by Tom Butler

Colorful, aerial view of braided rivers leading to snowcapped mountains.
Yendegaia National Park, Chile. Photo: Antonio Vizcaíno

NINETY-ONE YEARS HAVE PASSED since Chile’s first national park was established, and every full-term Chilean president since has expanded the country’s park system. When the presidential photo-op occurred during the recent administrations of Chilean presidents Sebastian Pinera and Ricardo Lagos (governments of the political right and left, respectively), there also stood Douglas Tompkins—whose private philanthropy prompted the birth of Chile’s Yendegaia and Corcovado National Parks, among others.

Tompkins’s philanthropy is deeply connected to the history and work of Wildlands Network. After leaving his business life as founder of The North Face and cofounder of the Esprit clothing company, Tompkins began his full-time career in nature conservation in the early 1990s. Soon after he established and endowed the Foundation for Deep Ecology, he hosted a gathering of wilderness advocates and conservation biologists to discuss large-scale wilderness recovery. That meeting led to the formation of The Wildlands Project, for which Tompkins long remained a major funder.

Also a long-time supporter of Wild Earth journal, Tompkins was intrigued by the 1998 issue devoted to wildlands philanthropy—individual citizens using private wealth and initiative to protect natural areas. Learning that the work he and his wife, Kris McDivitt Tompkins, were doing to acquire conservation lands and donate them for the creation of new national parks was part of a venerable tradition (resulting in American treasures like Muir Woods National Monument and Acadia, Grand Teton, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks) gave Doug and Kris fortitude, even when their efforts in Chile became highly controversial.

Over the past quarter century, the Tompkins Conservation family of nonprofits has helped to create five national parks in Chile and Argentina, dramatically expand another, establish two provincial parks, and launch the most ambitious rewilding programs in the Americas. The current flagship effort on that front is a jaguar captive breeding center at a private reserve within Argentina’s great Iberá marshlands, where soon, hopefully, wild jaguars will again roam free after decades of absence. In sum, the result has been millions of acres protected for wild nature, where active and passive rewilding is under way—in perfect alignment with the Wildlands Network’s original vision of big, wild, interconnected landscapes in which all life may flourish.

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