Douglas Tompkins: A Savior of Patagonia?

In December of 2015, Douglas Tompkins died of hypothermia after his boat capsized on a kayaking trip on General Carrera Lake in Patagonia, a region in southern Chile and Argentina. Douglas Tompkins was a co-founder of the clothing companies The North Face and Esprit, but his biggest legacy is that of a philanthropist and environmentalist.

Tompkins was an avid outdoorsman and adventure enthusiast whose unconventional lifestyle and visionary conservation efforts made him a hero to many but an eccentric millionaire meddling in Patagonian affairs to others. As a young man, Tompkins never finished high school or attended college, choosing a life of adventure and traveling over a traditional education.1

Later, he went on to create The North Face and Esprit brands, which grew to largely profitable corporations. In the 1990s, Tompkins became disenchanted with the corporate culture, selling all of his shares in Esprit and moving to Patagonia with his second wife Kristine, who was formerly the CEO of the Patagonia clothing company.1

Through his conservation efforts, Tompkins and his wife Kristine have bought large swathes of land in Chile and Argentina, roughly equivalent to twice the size of Rhode Island.2 The Tompkins have bought land through a plethora of environmental organizations that they have created such as The Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Tompkins foundation.2 Ultimately, the pair wish to donate these lands to their perspective governments to be preserved. While it seems that the Tompkins have bought land for altruistic reasons, there has been much skepticism surrounding their involvement in the region. Far-fetched rumors such as the creation of a second Israel or the monopolization of a large supply of fresh water have abounded.2

Also, locals have been in opposition to Tompkins’ land acquisition because they have taken away land from those who rely on livestock to survive.2 In 2013, a local group, La Voz de la Patagonia, held a fundraiser and were discussing their objectives such as “Reject the massive purchases of land by foreigners” and “request [that] the state restore the ranch in the Chacabuco Valley to the children of the Baker [River] as a productive livestock area.”

Recently, Tompkins’ widow Kristine Tompkins has stated that she offered 400,000 hectares to the Chilean government be turned into a state park.3 She was quoted by a Chilean newspaper as stating, "If we manage to work together and the state accepts the donation, it will be the biggest handover of private land in the world.”3If the Chilean government accepts the land under the condition of preservation, it would permanently impact the region. On one hand, the land would be preserved for the use of future generations, but there would also be ramifications for the local people. Their way of life would be altered and there would be no opportunity for the land to be used for local industry or agriculture.




1) Abrams, Rachel, and Ashley Southhall. "Douglas Tompkins, 72, North Face Founder, Dies in Kayaking Accident." The New York Times. N.p., 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. Available at: <

2) Saverin, Diana. "The Entrepreneur Who Wants to Save Paradise." The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. Available at: <

3) "North Face Founder's Widow Donates Land to Chile State." Yahoo News. N.p., 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. Available at: <


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