For decades, retail moguls Kris and Douglas Tompkins bought up huge swaths of South American wilderness in hopes of preserving ancient forests and the creatures that live in them.
Now, nearly a year after her husband’s death, Kris, who co-founded the outdoor apparel maker Patagonia, is donating enough land to create what will become Argentina’s largest national park.
The donation is part of an ambitious plan to preserve Argentina’s northeastern Iberá wetlands and restore populations of six species of wildlife, including jaguars, that had gone extinct in the region. When combined with wilderness already set aside by the government in Buenos Aires, the land is set to become Iberá National Park.
On Friday, Tompkins met with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to begin the formal process of turning over a portion of the 6 million hectares she owns in Chile and Argentina that she has designated for six new national parks, a spokeswoman from her nonprofit Tompkins Foundation told The Huffington Post.
It’s unclear how much land she donated on Friday, or how quickly it will become a park. The Tompkins Foundation spokeswoman did not respond to a request for further comment.
But the move comes nine months after Kris Tompkins offered 400,000 hectares of land in Patagonia, Chile ― the remote region after which she named her company ― to be made into national parks.
Her late husband, Douglas, died last December in a kayaking accident in Chile. The 72-year-old, an avid environmentalist, had lived there since retiring from the apparel industry. He founded the outdoor apparel brand North Face and the clothier Esprit. During his life, Douglas and Kris spent more than $300 million to preserve more land than any individuals in history. It’s that land Kris is now tasked with doling out to the governments of Chile and Argentina.
“They’ve really changed people’s perception of what you can do,” Amanda Maxwell, the director for Latin America projects at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg Businessweek in a 2014 profile of Kris. “There hadn’t been a tradition of donating land or a culture of philanthropy in Chile and Argentina in general. And wildlife conservation, like many things, is trial and error, and [the Tompkinses have] had some success.”
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