Staff Highlight: Tom Butler, Tompkins Conservation’s “Chief Philosophy Officer”

Tom ButlerTom Butler

Hometown: Huntington, Vermont
Year joined TC: 2005
Position: Vice President for Conservation Advocacy
Favorite mustelid: wolverine (Gulo gulo)
Favorite landscape: northern New York’s Adirondack Park

At Tompkins Conservation, our work is driven by the core values of the fundamentality of natural health and beauty, the intrinsic value of all life, the need for deep, systemic global change, and the obligation that each individual has to help ensure planetary health. Tom Butler is the guardian of these ideals, always encouraging the team to align organizational values with the philosophy of deep ecology that inspired Douglas Tompkins’s work. From overseeing the Foundation for Deep Ecology’s book publishing program to presenting our work to broader audiences, Tom is key to the dissemination of our collective voice. His title is Vice President for Conservation Advocacy, but the team truly views him as our “Chief Philosophy Officer,” acting as a guiding compass, ensuring we retain the values that sparked the creation this groundbreaking family of organizations and initiatives.

I posed a few questions to Tom to understand what brought him to conservation work and what inspires his activism. Below is our conversation:

How do you relate to the philosophy of deep ecology?

I’d say I am an enthusiastic but not very knowledgeable proselytizer for deeply ecological thinking and practice. I’m not particularly well read in the literature of deep ecology—but the happy news on this front is that it takes less than a minute to read the 8 point deep ecology platform written by philosophers Arne Naess and George Sessions and to understand its central tenet—that all life has intrinsic value. That is the foundation for recognizing, analyzing, and rejecting the dominant, anthropocentric (human-centered) worldview that undergirds the present global eco-social crisis. Understanding intellectually the ecocentric vs. anthropocentric dichotomy is a good start, but to create an emotional bond with wild nature, I think you have to spend time outside, at least sometimes in big wild places where the scale of the world teaches humility. Stroll down a mudflat in Lake Clark National Park and see brown bear paw prints the size of dinner plates—at such moments the idea that we human are masters of the universe will seem less convincing.

I am lucky to live in the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountains where I can walk out the back door and be immersed in wild beauty. We have moose and black bears, fishers and coyotes for neighbors, and we value them as much as our human neighbors. Last year my wife built a Shinrin-yoku trail in our woods, a path for “forest bathing” in the Japanese tradition. Almost every day, rain or shine, I walk (or ski) that short path, greeting the trees and rocks and plants. Not only are there health benefits including stress reduction from that kind of daily practice, but it’s a great way to reinforce an ecocentric worldview.

How did you first get involved with the Tompkins Conservation family of organizations and initiatives?

I became a grassroots wilderness activist in the 1980s, inspired by Dave Foreman and others on the leading edge of the conservation movement. In the 1990s I worked for the conservation journal Wild Earth, which Dave cofounded and which Doug Tompkins had long supported through the Foundation for Deep Ecology (FDE). So I first became acquainted with Kris and Doug as a grantee. I assumed the editorship of Wild Earth when its original editor John Davis went to work as a program officer for FDE in 1997. When Wild Earth folded in 2005, Doug hired me to work on a book project; that effort resulted in Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition, a book that was partly inspired by the Wild Earth theme issue on that topic that Doug had read. There are many examples in conservation history of people using their time, energy, and wealth to save parks and other nature sanctuaries. By that time Kris and Doug had already acquired, through their foundations, huge amounts of wild habitat in Chile and Argentina with the idea of saving it for nature, but initially I don’t think they were really aware of the historical examples of individuals buying and donating land for protected areas, including national parks. Of course they have done just that at an unprecedented scale.

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What recent project would you care to highlight, and why?

Putting together the recently released 25-year retrospective on Tompkins Conservation’s accomplishments was useful to me personally—I learned many new things about our team’s efforts—but also think it will be compelling to external audiences. Many people have the idea the Kris and Doug Tompkins are just those American entrepreneurs who bought up land in Patagonia for new national parks. Which of course is true, but there is so much more to the story—the activism, the organic farms and ranch operations, the reintroduction programs putting extirpated species such as giant anteaters back into their native habitat, etc. People looking through the 25-year book often have the reaction: “I had no idea that Tompkins Conservation is doing all this.” And in reality the book only scratches the surface of what the team has accomplished over the past quarter century. Moreover, it doesn’t cover the ongoing, and even accelerating, land conservation work underway currently.

What does the future of Tompkins Conservation look like, in your view?

Under Kris’s leadership, I see the team that she and Doug assembled over the years doing exceptional conservation work in Argentina and Chile. The scale and ambition of it—trying to breed captive jaguars and reintroduce their offspring to the Iberá marshlands, and working to add at least five new national parks to Chile’s national park system while jumpstarting ecotourism along the “Route of Parks”—these are audacious, but achievable goals. I think we will get them done, and it is tremendously exciting to be part of the effort.

You’ve written or edited books about various topics including population overshoot, the toxic energy economy, mountaintop-removal coal mining and the value of protected areas. What, in your view, is the greatest threat to nature and how would you suggest we combat that threat?

The key driver of the global extinction crisis—which is the greatest contraction in life’s diversity in the last 65 or so million years—is habitat loss. Overkilling, especially of marine wildlife, and invasive exotic species and climate change are also in that deadly-to-life mix. All of these stem from overpopulation and overdevelopment—that is, humanity has grown too large and we use the world badly. Our numbers and behavior are linked to the overarching question of how we view the world—is it a community of life to which we belong (as good neighbors!) or just a collection of “resources” for our use, enjoyment, and profit? Commodity or community—that is the fundamental question. The language we use helps undermine, or reinforce, the current dominant worldview of human supremacy. This is a particular interest of mine (see a brief talk on the “language of dominion”).

I could answer the second part of your question in the standard way—make family planning tools and education universally available, educate girls in the developing world and work for gender equity everywhere, reform the carbon-emitting energy economy, and protect lots more wildlife habitat in interconnected systems of protected areas on land and sea. Of course I believe in all those things, and we’d be on the way to a flourishing biosphere if we can make progress toward those goals. To do so, however, to really gain broad-based cultural support for such life-affirming policies, I think we need a cognitive revolution, something Doug Tompkins recognized decades ago when he launched the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

We need to change the way we think about our place on Earth, the language we use to describe our kin in the community of life (not “natural resources”!), and from that new worldview our behaviors and societal trajectory will change. And in the meantime, protecting wild habitat, especially in new national parks, can help buy time and save species, as well as mitigate climate chaos. It’s good work, and there is plenty to do: every individual can find their own place in a global effort to rewild the Earth, and rewild ourselves.

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Iberá Park Welcomes a New Male Jaguar to its Breeding Program

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2017 brought with it an exciting new addition to the Iberá Park rewilding program. At the beginning of January, Chiqui, a six year-old wild-born male jaguar was transferred to the park’s Jaguar Breeding Center from a zoo in Paraguay. After several months of negotiations and paperwork, our team, led by CLT Rewilding Coordinator Sebastian Di Martino, was able to translocate the jaguar across the Paraguayan border into Argentina. This international relocation was the first of this kind and an exciting step forward in the park’s groundbreaking jaguar breeding program.

Established in 2011, the Iberá Jaguar Breeding Center has become the crown jewel of the park’s rewilding and restoration projects. As the area’s original top predator, the jaguar is a keystone species of the Iberá wetlands, grasslands and forests, vital to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem. Having been extirpated from the region during 20th century industrial development, the jaguar no longer provides the balance that the area desperately needs. With 650,000 acres of prime jaguar habitat and an experienced team of experts, Iberá is the ready for the return of this iconic and fundamental species.

The first breeding pair to enter the park’s program, Tobuna and Nahuel, arrived at the center between 2015 and 2016 from zoos in Argentina. The pair has mated and we are waiting to see if the female is pregnant. However, in order for the program to have long-term success, we must have a range of viable animals. The addition of Chiqui to the program not only helps to increase the Center’s potential breeding numbers, but also helps to boost political interest and support across all levels of government. This support was demonstrated when Correntine authorities marked the arrival of Chiqui with a special press conference at the Breeding Center and bestowed the park’s new jaguar with a special Correntine Passport. The Iberá jaguar program is a point of pride for the region and we are looking forward to seeing how it continues to grow and evolve.

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Chiqui will be spending about a month in our quarantine facilities as he passes health screenings. Once he’s been cleared, the jaguar will be able to fully explore his new home.

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Kris Tompkins Accepts the BBVA Foundation Award for Biodiversity Conservation in Latin America

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From left to right: BBVA Foundation President Francisco González, Kristine Tompkins, and Isabel García Tejerina, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Environmental Affairs. Photo: BBVA Foundation

November 24, 2016, Madrid, Spain – Bringing together the leading voices in conservation from Spain, the 11th BBVA Foundation Gala at the Foundation’s Madrid headquarters was a celebration of the impactful work being done to find solutions to climate change and the world’s extreme loss of biodiversity. This year’s award was given to The Conservation Land Trust, the NGO founded by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, for Biodiversity Conservation Projects in Latin America, Group Para la Rehabilitation de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat (GREFA), for Biodiversity Conservation Projects in Spain; and naturalist and sound technician Carlos de Hita for Knowledge Dissemination and Communication in Biodiversity Conservation. Kristine Tompkins accepted the award in a ceremony led by BBVA Foundation President Francisco González (in the center of the image), and with the presence of Isabel García Tejerina, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Environmental Affairs, and the Director of the BBVA Foundation, Rafael Pardo.

“In addition to the direct benefits of their actions, the winners here tonight map out a path of promise that the rest of us can follow,” affirmed Francisco González, President of the BBVA Foundation. “The current situation is grave enough to warrant an alert call to society,” he continued, “and will require sustained and effective action from policy-makers in the public and the private sphere.”

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Francisco González, President of the BBVA Foundation, introduces Kris Tompkins at the Foundation’s Madrid headquarters. Photo: BBVA Foundation

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Tompkins Conservation/Conservation Land Trust team members from Argentina and Spain were there to celebrate and accept the award. Photo: BBVA Foundation

“Biodiversity conservation has been at the heart of our work since we left the business world. My husband always believed that the biodiversity crisis was the ‘mother’ of all our present crises,” said Tompkins, alluding to the “sad reality” that “only 3% of global philanthropic funding finds its way to the environment.”

This year Kristine Tompkins and the entities of Tompkins Conservation have been the recipient of several other notable awards including the Global Economic Prize from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the 2016 World Tourism Awards at the World Travel Market in London, the Explorer’s Club Lowell Thomas Award, and the Fundación Recyclapolis Award in Santiago, Chile. Kris has been nominated as National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2017.

The BBVA Foundation Awards

The BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation seek to foster knowledge, action and awareness-raising in ecology and conservation biology by distinguishing individuals and institutions that have marshaled scientific knowledge to implement informed actions on the ground or to influence public opinion by means of outreach and awareness raising. They come with a cash prize of 580,000 euros distributed across three categories: two reserved for conservation projects in Spain and Latin America, and one devoted to biodiversity awareness. Nominees are evaluated by an independent jury made up of scientists, communicators and NGOs.

Fundación BBVA

The BBVA Foundation expresses the Corporate Social Responsibility of the BBVA Group, in particular, its engagement with projects to advance the societies where it conducts its business activity. This commitment has given rise to an extensive body of work in diverse knowledge areas.

The Foundation engages in the promotion of research, advanced training and the transmission of scientific knowledge to society at large, focusing especially on the analysis of emerging issues in five strategic areas: Environment, Biomedicine and Health, Economy and Society, Basic Sciences and Technology, and Arts and Humanities. The BBVA Foundation designs, develops and finances research projects in these areas; facilitates advanced, specialist training through grants, courses, seminars and workshops; organizes award schemes for researchers and professionals whose work has contributed significantly to the advancement of knowledge; and communicates and disseminates such new knowledge through publications, debates and lectures.

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American Conservation Philanthropists Receive Highest Biodiversity Conservation Award in Latin America

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BBVA Foundation Awardee Kristine Tompkins Meets with Argentina’s President to Create the Country’s Largest Park

Media Contact: Astrid Vargas, astridvgu@me.com

September 23, 2016—Buenos Aires—The BBVA Foundation has awarded the 2016 Biodiversity Conservation Award of Latin America to the Conservation Land Trust, a Tompkins Conservation foundation. This is the highest award that exists worldwide in the field of biodiversity conservation and has been awarded to Tompkins Conservation for “their great contribution to the conservation of biodiversity in Chile and Argentina through the creation and expansion of eight large protected areas that span over one million hectares, gifted to the respective governments for public access.” The award also recognizes the range of Tompkins Conservation programs such as private land purchase, habitat restoration, endangered species recovery, and the creation of economic alternatives in collaboration with local communities. The other winners of the award include Grupo para la Rehabilitación de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat (GREFA), and journalist Carlos de Hita for his evocative “soundscapes” of nature.

The BBVA Foundation Award committee also recognized, posthumously, “the vision and leadership of Douglas Tompkins, founder of the Conservation Land Trust, and the value of altruistic participation in the conservation of nature.” Douglas died in December 2015 in a kayak accident on a lake in Chilean Patagonia.

Currently Tompkins Conservation is working in partnership with government to create six new national parks in Chile and Argentina, expand four existing parks, and help recover 12 endangered species of fauna. The total area preserved after the creation of these 15 national and 2 provincial parks will be over 6 million hectares (the size of six Yellowstone National Parks), presenting the world’s largest private land donation initiative for biodiversity conservation.

On the same day that the award became public, Kristine Tompkins met with the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, in the president’s official residence, to arrange the donation of Conservation Land Trust lands in order to create Iberá National Park. Once the donation is complete, the joint Iberá National Park and Iberá Provincial Park will be the largest protected natural area in Argentina. Tompkins Conservation has developed the most ambitious rewilding program in the Americas in Iberá, with the reintroduction of at least six locally extinct species of wildlife, including the jaguar, the largest cat in the Americas. Tompkins Conservation cooperates with authorities, companies, and foundations surrounding the park so that the approximately 100,000 people living in this vast region can benefit from the ecotourism that already exists in Iberá and is expected to increase dramatically with the creation of the new national park.

Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, both entrepreneurs of famous American sportswear brands including The North Face, Esprit, and Patagonia, Inc., decided to change the course of their lives over two decades ago and devote all their funds, their time and passion to fight the biggest crisis in the world: the crisis of biodiversity loss. After careful analysis of the best way to combat the crisis of biodiversity, Kristine and Douglas concluded that the most effective way would be through the creation of large national parks where evolutionary processes could take their course. National parks represent the “gold standard” of biodiversity conservation, offering a unique set of ecological attributes, cultural values, ​​and economic benefits to local communities, and presenting the best guarantee of long-term conservation. Tompkins Conservation are also leaders in the Americas in what is known as “rewilding”: the task of reintroducing and restoring wildlife species that have disappeared from a region due to human pressures.

The example Douglas and Kristine Tompkins have made in the field of nature-focused philanthropy is exemplary. Their generosity, altruism, and commitment to the protection and restoration of wild nature is helping to change the global mindset in the field of philanthropy, which overwhelmingly has focused on cultural and social issues. The positive, hopeful work of the Tompkins Conservation team shows how bold, strategic philanthropy can protect beauty and biodiversity while improving the quality of life and income of people living in rural areas.

About Tompkins Conservation: Tompkins Conservation’s mission is to rewild the planet. We pursue this mission by creating national parks, reintroducing missing species, conserving biodiversity, restoring degraded lands, encouraging environmental activism, and supporting ecological agriculture. This work is accomplished through a group of charitable organizations founded by Kristine and Douglas Tompkins that are known collectively as Tompkins Conservation and through agricultural businesses owned by them personally.

For more information please visit www.tompkinsconservation.org

About Conservation Land Trust (CLT): CLT is dedicated to creating and/or expanding national or provincial parks to ensure the perpetuity of their ecological and evolutionary processes with the strongest long-term protection guarantee possible. CLT also supports programs for the protection of wildlife, reintroduction of locally extinct species, land restoration and programs for local development, normally involved in ecotourism, sustainable farming, and environmental education. Our programs at CLT are sustained by values that are based on an ecocentric view of the world, prioritizing the importance of ecosystems and all forms of life therein, regardless of their use to humans.

For more information please visit: www.theconservationlandtrust.org

About the BBVA Foundation: The Foundation engages in the promotion of research, advanced training and the transmission of scientific knowledge to society at large, focusing especially on the analysis of emerging issues in five strategic areas: Environment, Biomedicine and Health, Economy and Society, Basic Sciences and Technology, and Arts and Humanities. The BBVA Foundation designs, develops, and finances research projects in these areas; facilitates advanced, specialist training through grants, courses, seminars and workshops; organizes award schemes for researchers and professionals whose work has contributed significantly to the advancement of knowledge; and communicates and disseminates such new knowledge through publications, debates, and lectures.

For more information please visit: http://www.fbbva.es/

U.S. Media Contact: Alison Kelman – alison.kelman@tompkinsconservation.org

Chile Media Contact: Carolina Morgado – carolina.morgado@tompkinsconservation.org

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The Corrientes Province Gives National Jurisdiction to Iberá Park, a Big Step Towards the Creation of Iberá National Park

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PRESS RELEASE September 7, 2016 — Corrientes Province, Argentina

A Project of The Conservation Land Trust and Tompkins Conservation

On September 1st, the Congressmen and Senators of the Corrientes Province in Argentina passed a law giving jurisdiction to the Argentinean nation over the 341,000 acres of lands owned by The Conservation Land Trust (CLT)—a Tompkins Conservation foundation devoted to the creation of national parks—sited within the Iberá region.

Sometimes called “the Argentine Pantanal,” Iberá is one of the planet’s great freshwater wetlands, covering more than 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares) of grasslands and marsh in the Corrientes Province of northeastern Argentina. The landscape supports fabulous wildlife including more than 360 species of birds. Doug and Kris Tompkins were introduced to the area’s biodiversity and conservation potential in the late 1990s. Since then, CLT has purchased several cattle ranches in the region in order to turn them into a national park, while restoring the extirpated fauna in what is now the largest rewilding program in America.

Since Argentina is a highly federal system and provinces have full autonomy on natural resources matters, getting a cession of this jurisdiction was a key step in the creation of the future Iberá National Park. This was especially challenging in a province like Corrientes, which has a long tradition of feeling independent from the Federal Government. The combined efforts of enlightened Correntino legislators, with full support from the provincial governor and CLT staff, made this change possible.

After this milestone, the issue of park creation will continue on to the hands of the Argentinean legislators, so they can establish Iberá National Park by law on what today are CLT lands. We are expecting this to occur in the coming months. When this national park is created, its combined area with the existing and adjacent provincial park will make it the largest conservation park in Argentina, covering over 1.6 million acres of wetlands, grasslands and forests.

Press contact: Ignacio Jimenez at i_jimenez_perez@proyectoibera.org

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