On April 27th, 2016, Kristine Tompkins stood in front of an auditorium of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies students and spoke to them of conservation, philanthropy and beauty. Her story wove obstacles of the past with goals of the future as she outlined the three foundations that she and her late husband Doug Tompkins created, The Foundation for Deep Ecology, The Conservation Land Trust, and Conservacion Patagonica. Under the umbrella name, Tompkins Conservation, these organizations have actively worked to conserve, sustain and restore the unique landscapes of Argentina and Chile for over 25 years.
Although there is an incredible range of work being done, Kris’s speech focused on her top priority: national parks. Having already protected more than 2 million acres of South American wilderness in the form of five national parks, Kris is looking towards the future as she works with the governments of Chile and Argentina to permanently protect Pumalín, Iberá, and Patagonia Park by donating them to their countries of origin.
Through this work, and the eventual donation of this land, Kris and her team are actively cultivating national pride around the national park concept. Kris emphasizes the importance of collaboration, engaging community members in park leadership, maintenance and education. With 70% of Patagonian park staff from the local community and 90% from the province, local support is vital to the long term sustainability of the parks. Once a community feels pride for their natural spaces, Kris explains, they will have a deeper drive to sustain those wild places for generations to come.
When asked why she and Doug chose to make their lands into publicly accessible national parks, rather than preserve them, fenced off from human interaction, Kris’s answer was simple:
“We could have locked up our properties, but if you don’t make your lands public, then you’re losing over half the value of that land…..I can buy a Picasso, hang it in my living room for my friends to enjoy but if I donate it and hang in the MET, millions of people will see it.”
As she concluded her speech, Kris received an enthusiastic and warm reception. Yale students from various countries lined up to greet her and ask follow up questions. The positive response to her words was palpable. In the words of Jorge de Vincente, a Yale forestry student: “As far as conservation talks at Yale FES are concerned, Kris’s was by far the most inspiring and touching that I’ve attended in the past two years. A real privilege and treat to have Kris among us today!”