Wednesday, September 23, 2009

See both sides of Patagonia

Clothing company co-founder seeks to raise awareness about land conservation

Express Staff Writer

The future Patagonia National Park in Chile will be the subject of a presentation by a former CEO and co-founder of Patagonia clothing company, Kristine Tompkins, at The Community School in Sun Valley on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Photo by

Patagonia, a land of many faces, spans southern Argentina and Chile. Its varied environment includes coastal rainforests, fjords, snow-capped volcanoes, lakes, rivers and grassland. Preserving the ecosystem of this region has become the main objective of Kristine and Doug Tompkins, two of the founders of the Patagonia clothing company.

Kristine has been living in Chile for many years and in 2000 created Conservacion Patagonica to protect more than 450,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Chile and Argentina, which she hopes will become Patagonia National Park. The group is buying land to help protect it for future generations.

"The first purchase was under 200,000 acres in the area where every 'eco-type' known to the region exists on either side of the Chile and Argentinean border," Kristine said. "It has all its original species intact, but has been very damaged from 100 years of overgrazing."

The cost of the land is roughly $200 per acre. The couple has bought more than 2.2 million acres of critical wildlands in Chile and Argentina since 1993. The land is under permanent protection through the Conservation Land Trust, created by Doug Tompkins, and Conservacion Patagonica. Kristine said Conservacion Patagonica has an agreement with the Chilean government for it to take over the land at an as-yet-unspecified date. Under the agreement, if the park is not maintained, Conservacion Patagonica will be able take it back.

Kristine said most people in the area understand what is happening, but conservation of land is not yet as well understood in countries such as Chile as it is the United States. The Patagonia region is enormous and most of the southern cone of Chile and Argentina is only 5 percent protected today.

"We have a responsibility to understand what is happening to the ecosystem, especially when we remove livestock," Kristine said. "What does that do to the puma population? How do you replace the meat?"

The Patagonia National Park lands project has a volunteer program that boasts participants from all over the world. People volunteer for activities—such as taking down fences—for as long as three weeks. The program is open to anyone at least 17 years old.

"We love what we do and that makes a big difference because what we are doing has nothing do with us," Kristine said. "It's so humbling and we are doing it on a shoestring."

Kristine will give a lecture about the Patagonia National Park project at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, in The Community School theatre in Sun Valley. A short documentary film will be shown followed by a discussion.

The event is free and refreshments will be served. For details, visit

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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