"Buying the land was the easy part," Kristine Tompkins told a packed house during a presentation at the San Francisco Patagonia retail store last week. She was referring to the 2.2 million acres that she and her husband Doug Tompkins have acquired in Chile and Argentina over the past 20 years as part of their Herculean efforts to conserve and rehabilitate the grasslands, forests, wetlands, rivers, high alpine, and biodiversity of the Patagonia region.
The slideshow the audience watched offered an update on the Tompkins' current project, Patagonia National Park, a 200,000-acre tract that includes the Chacabuco Valley and was formerly a major sheep and cattle ranching area.
The Tompkinses are outdoor recreation industry legends and environmental firebrands. She is a founder and former CEO of Patagonia—the company—and he started both The North Face and the clothing company Esprit. Doug Tompkins started acquiring land in Chile in the early 1990s, adding adjacent parcels until he had amassed more than 700,000 acres to form Pumalin Park, which he donated to the Chilean government. But this initial foray into private wildlands philanthropy was not a smooth process, as Doug Tompkins was met with much suspicion and a fair amount of hostility over the scheme. Some Chileans and Argentineans asked: How can this foreigner waltz in, buy up the land, and tell us what we can and cannot do with it?
"It was a difficult time for me, personally," said Kris Tompkins, referring to the Pumalin Park development. As we noted in this 2001 story about the couple, the shift to Kris at the helm was an effort to put a more diplomatic foot forward, for ongoing deal-making with the Chilean and Argentinean governments.