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From issue: The Environment (Fall 2009)

AQ Feature

What Role for Foreigners?

Matthew Aho

Photograph by Robin Hammond

Even eco-conscious foreign landowners are facing heat.

U.S. sporting-goods entrepreneur Douglas Tompkins first fell in love with Patagonia as a teenager on backpacking trips. Today, he is one of Latin America’s largest private landowners, controlling an estimated 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) straddling Argentina and Chile at the tip of the continent.

However, the 66-year-old New York native, who founded the North Face and Esprit clothing lines says he is willing to hand over title to his vast holdings to the Chilean and Argentine governments—but only with guarantees that the land will be turned into national parks and wildlife refuges.

Tompkins, in fact, purchased the land with that goal in mind, and he has already scored some major successes. In 2001, he secured an agreement with the Chilean government to turn Pumalín Park, a 700,000- acre (283,000 hectares) expanse of land into a nature reserve. He did the same for the Monte León National Park in Argentina and Corcovado National Park in Chile, both of which were created after Pumalín Park. Tompkins has been joined by others, including media mogul Ted Turner and financier and philanthropist George Soros who both made similar preservation-oriented purchases...

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