Category Archives: Activism

37,500-acre El Rincón donated to Expand Perito Moreno National Park

In one of the largest land donations in Argentine history, Doug and Kris Tompkins donated Estancia El Rincón to the national parks system of Argentina today, in a formal reception in Buenos Aires. In the northwest area of the Santa Cruz Province, the 37,500-acre El Rincón will expand Perito Moreno National Park. El Rincon encompasses the Lácteo River Valley, which provides access to the dramatic—and still-unclimbed—south face of San Lorenzo, Patagonia’s second-highest peak. Its granite walls and iconic pyramidal form make it the “Everest” of the region.  Now, climbers and hikers from around the world have the opportunity to explore this valley, and try their luck at this iconic peak, if they dare.

Doug Tompkins first visited El Rincón in 1992 to scout out routes on San Lorenzo’s south face, considered one of the greatest challenges of the Patagonian Andes. He recalls his first encounter with this property: “I first visited Perito Moreno National Park in 1992, to scout the south face of Cerro San Lorenzo. My plan was to return later to make a first attempt at this wall, the largest and possibly most challenging of all in the Patagonian Andes. We entered the park from the south and began making our way north toward the peak, crossing the Lácteo River Valley, which lies outside the park boundaries. To our surprise, we found that the most spectacular area of the zone, for some reason, had been excluded from the National Park. My climbing partners and I had a clear feeling that this property must be purchased and integrated into the National Park. A year and a half later, I had the opportunity to buy Estancia El Rincón, which I did with the express intention of donating it someday into the national parks system.”

As Kris Tompkins said this morning, “This donation has been in the works for some time, largely because it took a long time to hammer out the details of future use and zoning within this new section of the park. We finally feel secure that our vision for this land is permanently designated through the legal donation documents–and off it goes. It’s a great day for us.”

The expansion of Perito Moreno National Park follows in the footsteps of Conservacion Patagonica’s donation of Estancia Monte Leon to Argentine National Parks to establish Monte Leon National Park, as well as the Conservation Land Trust’s contribution of private lands to create Corcovado National Park in Chile. This donation today represents a key milestone in our plan to contribute all our conservation properties into the national parks system of their respective countries.

We are thrilled to share this news and hope that one day you’ll have the opportunity to visit Perito Moreno National Park, surely one of Argentina’s most beautiful national parks.

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Confronting our energy reality: The campaign for energy literacy and FDE’s latest book

“What magic, or monster, lurks behind the light switch and gas pump? Where does the seemingly limitless energy that fuels modern society really come from – and is that perception of limitlessness delusional?”

The latest large-format book, a collaboration between the Foundation for Deep Ecology and Post Carbon Institute.

Over the years, the Foundation for Deep Ecology (one of the numerous organizations and initiatives that comprise Tompkins Conservation) has helped build the intellectual infrastructure of the conservation movement through grantmaking and an activism-oriented book publishing program. The latest effort is a new large-format book— ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth—and a related campaign to promote “energy literacy.” A collaboration between the Foundation for Deep Ecology (FDE) and the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), ENERGY features essays from leading writers in the field accompanied by hard-hitting photographs.  The goal? Illustrate the true costs—ecological, social, economic–of our out-of-control energy consumption.

Tar development sands, Alberta, Canada. (George Wuerthner)

As Richard Heinberg, contributing author to ENERGY and senior fellow at PCI, notes: “[This is] really the most important moment in all of human history; if we consciously and deliberately move away from our dependence on fossil fuels, we have the opportunity of reinventing civilization. If we don’t, civilization probably won’t survive.”

Edited by Foundation for Deep Ecology staffers Tom Butler and George Wuerthner, ENERGY is the educational centerpiece of PCI’s Energy Reality Campaign. Now in full swing, the campaign promotes energy literacy with a strong emphasis on the issue of how much energy we use, in contrast to the oft-promoted alternative energy sources. Central to the campaign is challenging the notion that the world is infinite and can support endless economic growth. As Heinberg says, “We’ve gotten ourselves into this bizarre situation where if we do what’s actually good for us, which is to become more self-sufficient, to consume less and to share more, we hurt the economy.”

Gas refinery in Bloomfield, New Mexico. (George Wuerthner)

Together, FDE and PCI are distributing upwards of 4,500 copies of ENERGY to environmental NGOs working on energy and climate issues, targeted policymakers and thought-leaders, and others identified as influencers of energy conservation by partner organizations. A text-only volume suitable for course adoption, The ENERGY Reader, was published simultaneously and has been widely distributed to academic institutions and professors around the country. The book’s content is also available on the campaign website and through digital editions.

Select essays from the book have been released bi-monthly over the course of the campaign, are shared via social media, and are sent out to targeted email lists by topic. Photographs from the book have been shared with a wide range of social media sites and partner NGOs. Additionally, PCI just released the first of many shareable image decks; over the course of this coming year, PCI will publish image deck photo-essays on each of the issue areas covered in ENERGY, to be widely promoted on partner Facebook pages and Twitter.

Mountaintop-removal coal mining, Appalachia. (George Wuerthner)

Additionally, PCI has begun work on a public art campaign to further engage the public in energy literacy. Tod Brilliant, Creative Director at PCI, explains, “This has been an incredible opportunity to deeply engage with and educate what is arguably the most influential community: propagandists aka artists and creatives. While we always involve artists in our projects at PCI, this time thanks to FDE we’re working with them more intimately than ever before. By showcasing creative interpretations of academic materials, the Creative Community Outreach phase of the Energy Reality campaign will, I think, have great impact and reach a broader, more diverse audience.”

We want this campaign to have the greatest impact possible — fostering widespread energy literacy is crucial if we are to transition toward a future energy economy that supports beauty and biodiversity, assumes a steady-state economy (not perpetual growth), and is anchored by appropriately scaled renewables. Please check out some of these links, spread the word, and even request a copy of the book!

Additional links and interviews:

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Town pride with paint: Village beautification speeds along in El Amarillo

Where’s the center of the world? Signs tell us that it lies in the small village of El Amarillo, at the southern entrance of Pumalin Park. On the Carretera Austral just a few kilometers south of the volcano-impacted town of Chaiten, El Amarillo is becoming a hub for tourists to Pumalin—and a pleasant place to live for its 100 or so residents.

Eight years ago, the Conservation Land Trust launched a village beautification project in El Amarillo, spearheaded by young local architect Marcela Ojeda. At the time, the village consisted of a few dozen houses, almost all rundown. A few small markets sold basic goods, and a few houses had rooms for travelers to rent, but for the most part, tourists had to stop in Chaiten or further south on the Carretera Austral to find services.  Although in a prime location—next to Pumalin, with phenomenal views of Volcan Michimahuida and the Tabiques Mountains—El Amarillo had not developed much of its ecotourism potential. Visitors would zoom past on the road, and many younger residents aimed to move away to find other opportunities.

El Amarillo’s natural beauty; here, looking toward Michimahuida

Since 2005, the village beautification project has worked with many families to put their houses in order, with paint, repairs, yard work, and landscaping. The Pumalin project sponsors the initial fix-up of houses, with the owners agreeing to cover maintenance and repairs in the future. The team works with families on the design and schedule of the repairs, and asks for their participation when possible.

A bit of paint, carpentry and yard work can go a long way. Many of the seemingly unredeemable structures in town have been reborn as full-of-character homes with simple but well-planned facelifts. With help from volunteers from around the world, over a dozen houses in the village have been transformed.

A home made of an old shipping container, transformed into a cute country cottage

Meanwhile, the team has designed and constructed a new supermarket and gas station in town, to put El Amarillo on the map of tourist services in the region.

Running a gas station never topped the list of projects for conservationists before, but given the distance to the next place to refill, the station offers an important service, and draw for the community.

The supermarket carries a different variety of goods from those offered in the preexisting markets: hardware, organic vegetables, woolen goods, books, and souvenirs, among other items.

The basic idea of the project, as Doug explains it, is to build house pride through simple fix-ups, painting, and landscaping. House pride extends to pride for community, as the whole village becomes more orderly and pleasant, and an appealing destination for visitors. As the foreground—houses, yards, and common spaces—grows more beautiful, locals and visitors alike can admire and savor the spectacular natural setting of the village, gaining respect for the wilderness that surrounds them.

Explaining the big idea of El Amarillo to visitors

Care for house and connection to community grow into responsibility to place and land.  Without preaching ecological values, the village cleanup effort improves locals’ living conditions and economic opportunities while encouraging them to embrace the area’s remarkable natural surroundings.

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Documenting (and advocating for) the Carretera Austral, a window into Chilean Patagonia

The Carretera Austral, Chile’s spectacular Southern Highway

You might think that advocates for wild places would oppose all road construction or improvement.  Certainly, most road construction is a curse to natural systems: disrupting habitat, permitting exploitative development, and promoting fossil fuel consumption.  Yet here in south Chile, our team has started a campaign for the Carretera Austral, the “Southern Highway.”  The goal: the designation of this rugged 700-mile road as a Scenic Highway, establishing legal standards for signage, road maintenance, and roadside development.  Blessed with endless glorious vistas, the Carretera Austral should become one of the world’s great road trips, jumpstarting the growth of ecotourism along its length.

For decades, The Conservation Land Trust has pushed for more ecological, aesthetic road development through conservation areas: the road through Pumalin became Chile’s first Scenic Route in 1997, and the road through the future Patagonia National Park (Paso Roballos) is under consideration for that status.  But the Carretera Austral campaign represents the largest and most community-oriented project to date.

Left: Poster for the Scenic Highway project at the future Patagonia National Park
Right: Scenic Highway through Pumalin Park


During November 2012, we published a new photo-format book, La Carretera Austral: El Camino Más Espectacular de Sudamérica (“The Southern Highway: the Most Spectacular Road in South America”).  With help from other team members, Ingrid Espinoza and Jose Suarez are leading the charge in organizing community book launches in towns along the road, to raise awareness for the initiative, discuss its implications for local economies, and give supporters a tool for sharing the Scenic Highway concept.  During the summer months, we plan to hold nine launch events and distribute over 1,000 copies of the book to government officials, business owners, civic leaders, journalists, and other stakeholders.

The book showcases the landscape photography of Linde Waidhofer, who spent months exploring the length of the route along with her partner Lito Tejada-Flores, who wrote the accompanying descriptions of the landscapes.  Accompanying essays explore the history of the Carretera Austral and of the Scenic Highway concept globally, as well as the significance, current and potential, of the road for the region at large.

The Carretera Austral serves as the sole north-south highway through the Palena Province and the Aysen Region of south Chile. Running from the bustling city of Puerto Montt in the north to the remote town of Villa O’Higgins in the far south, the Carretera Austral represents one of the major accomplishments of Pinochet’s dictatorship.  Before the 1980s, these remote and sparsely populated remained disconnected, by road at least, from the rest of the country.

Yet as Rolando Toloza, the engineer overseeing the road, asserts, the Carretera Austral accomplishes more than connecting this region to central Chile.  This spectacular route is:

the main window through which the traveler experiences a territory of pristine and geomorphologically diverse ecosystems, replete with lakes, mountains, valleys, forests, rivers, ice fields, and volcanoes.

For better or worse, most tourists gain their first impressions of a place while driving.  Dramatic vistas in the background may serve as the chief inspiration for sightseeing, but the conditions of roadsides in the foreground shape an image of the cultural landscape.  Whether dotted with wildflowers or trash, roads signal a community’s care for place and occupy a prime position in travelers’ perception of landscape.

The Carretera Austral passing through the town of La Junta, in the north of the Aysen Region

As Toloza points out, landscapes are a cultural and economic product, which Chilean Patagonia has ample opportunities to develop.  Relatively small investments in signage, lookout areas, and landscaping should more than repay themself, as the Carretera Austral becomes an internationally recognized wild adventure.  We hope that the publication and launching of La Carretera Austral will advance the project of transforming this unusual route into a vehicle for ecologically sound local development throughout Chilean Patagonia.

The lush northern stretches of the Carretera Austral, bordering the sea.

Mighty Alerce trees, millennia old, along the route

The distinctive Cerro Castillo (with wildflowers in the foreground)

Wild geography at its most extreme!

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Conservation connections across continents

Unfamiliar landscapes and new models for protecting them can provide invaluable insight for saving our home places.  Field trips to different conservation projects combine work and play, giving invaluable perspective and forming new connections.  In June and July, Doug and Kris traveled to the Serengeti and Namibia to visit conservation colleagues—and watch a spectacular array of wildlife.

One of the last stops of their trip was with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which is dedicated to saving the cheetah in the wild in face of ever-mounting environmental and developmental pressures.  Kris met Laurie Marker, CCF’s founder and CEO, years ago, but never before had the chance to see her cheetah conservation work in action.   When Laurie heard Doug and Kris planned to visit Namibia, she asked them to act as the special guest speakers at the CCF 14th Annual Gala, in Windhoek, Namibia.  The gala, themed “Making Strides for Cheetahs,” honored key Namibians and Cheetah Conservation Fund staff and volunteers who are at the forefront of cheetah conservation.

Kris and Doug were were delighted to act as special guest speakers for the event.  They recounted their tale of conservation, and made an impassioned call to the audience to pursue the work of conservation and philanthropy with dedication.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole trip, however, was this moment:

Kris: “Yesterday with Laurie Marker here in Namibia.  I was in heaven!”

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