• Helen Avery

Patagonia's Project Finance for Permanence

In March 2017 on the grasslands of the new Patagonia National Park in Chile, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the president of Tompkins Conservation, and Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet signed a pledge to dramatically expand national parkland in Chile by approximately 11 million acres. One million of those acres were from Tompkins – the largest donation of land from a private owner to a country in history. On that day Chile’s national parklands expanded by nearly 40 per cent, and a network of 17 national parks that span 1,700 miles from Puerto Montt in the north to Cape Horn at the tip of the Southern Cone was created.

Chile, and Patagonian Chile in particular, is one of the few places left on Earth that can be described as wilderness. A landscape of non-polar icefields, lakes, rivers, forests, coastal bluffs and untouched islands, here there are mountains that don’t even have a name yet. It is home to the Alerce trees, the second oldest tree species in the world, that were there before the first wave of Spanish conquistadors arrived 5000 years ago. There are puma and guanaco, and thanks to conservation efforts, the Andean condors, the Andean deer and Darwin’s Rhea – a reminder that it has been 200 years since explorer and botanist Charles Darwin alighted The Beagle onto Chile’s shores.

“It was an emotional day,” says Tompkins speaking about the decree-signing. “It was saying goodbye to the people we had worked with for 20 years that was emotional – and still is.” The donation was part of the vision of her and her late husband Doug Tompkins – one of restoring and conserving as much of nature as possible. Both conservationists and former business leaders (Doug had co-founded both The North Face and Esprit and Kristine had been the CEO of Patagonia) the two had purchased 2.5 million acres of Patagonia across Argentina and Chile with the sole intention of donating them. For more than twenty years they had worked alongside a team to buy contiguous land, restore it, rewild it, and had created a national park larger than Yosemite to be handed over as turn-key to the government.

For Tompkins, national parks are crucial in conserving and protecting nature. Not only do we need more, but we need to protect the ones we have, she urges. “Take US National Parks. There’s $12 billion in deferred maintenance there.” If we stand a chance at preserving the little wilderness we have left, then national parks will be key, and financing is urgently needed. So the Tompkins’ donation has not stopped there. It is perhaps just the first step in a two-phase project that hopes to see the entire Ruta de los Parques (Route of Parks) be managed and preserved in perpetuity using the mechanism of project finance for permanence (PFP).

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