Two Americans take political heat for preserving Chilean wilderness

Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kristine McDivitt own more than 2,000 square miles of Patagonian wilderness, and they’re determined to preserve it — even if some Chileans don’t appreciate the conservationist gesture. Their Pumalín Park holding encompasses huge swaths of virgin forest, free-flowing streams, and scenic coastlines — territory that timber, agricultural, and energy industries covet. Tompkins, founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing companies, says he hopes to turn his land into national parks, but many Chileans see him as an imperialistic land-grabber. He figures he just has to sweat it out politically while Chile — notable for a dynamic, American-style, free-market economy unusual in South America — comes around to Western capitalism’s philanthropic heritage as well. Chile’s national forests director, Carlos Weber, is one who appreciates Tompkins’ efforts; he predicts that in 30 years, “after people’s thinking has matured and they see results, no one will be against him.”