Douglas Tompkins

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Douglas Tompkins is an American conservationist and former businessman.

Tompkins co-founded and ran two clothing companies: the outdoor clothing company The North Face; and with his then-wife Susie, the ESPRIT clothing company. Since leaving the business world in 1989, Tompkins has dedicated himself to environmental activism and land conservation. Along with his wife, Kris Tompkins, he has bought and conserved over 2 million acres (8,100 km2) of wilderness in Chile and Argentina, more than any other private individual.[1] Together, the two have focused on park creation, wildlife recovery, ecological agriculture, and activism with the overarching goal of saving biodiversity while leading others to do the same. He is one of the largest private land-owners in the world.

Early life[edit]

Tompkins was born in Ohio on March 20, 1943, the son of an antiques dealer and decorator. He spent the first few years of his life in New York City before his family moved to Millbrook, New York. He graduated from Indian Mountain School, a pre-prep school in Lakeville, CT, in 1957. In his senior year at Pomfret School in Connecticut, Tompkins was expelled for various minor infractions. He returned to his hometown in Millbrook, but did not graduate from high school.

Tompkins spent the years between 1960 and 1962 ski racing and rock climbing in Colorado, Europe and South America. In 1963, Tompkins founded the California Mountaineering Guide Service.[2] It was during this time he met Susie, who would later become his wife, while hitch-hiking in California.

The North Face Company[edit]

In 1964, Tompkins and his wife started The North Face as a mail order and retail company, selling rock climbing and camping equipment. The early years set the design standard of good quality sleeping bags, backpacks, and mountaineering tents. Around 1966, Tompkins and his partner designed The North Face tents that were some of the first to avoid a pole in the middle, by using bendable rods that push out in their sleeves instead. This design also increased the strength of the tent because the domed shape allowed the wind to roll over the tents. These tents were widely copied throughout the world. In 1969, Tompkins sold The North Face to focus on adventure film making.

Outdoor Adventure[edit]

In 1968, Tompkins headed off on a six-month road/ adventure trip from California to Patagonia, along with Yvon Chouinard and two other climbing friends. They put up a new route on Mount Fitzroy, and made an adventure film, Mountain of Storms, about their experience. The 2010 film 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless describes a modern-day recreation of this journey.

"Rebel With A Cause" Doug Tompkins´ quest to save the wilderness - 2010 - A film by DreamTeam medienproduktion, arte, WDR, NDR 2010

Tompkins also became a skilled whitewater kayaker, claiming first descents of rivers in California, Africa, and South America.

In addition, he is a skilled bush pilot.


In 1968, Tompkins and his wife, Susie, and her friend Jane Tise began selling girls' dresses out of the back of a VW bus; in 1971, they incorporated the booming business under the name "Plain Jane" which later became ESPRIT.[3] By 1978, sales topped $100 million a year, and the company had formed partnerships in Germany and Hong Kong. Tompkins titled himself "image director", overseeing all aspects of the company's image, from store design to catalog layout, while his wife served as design director. Emerging as one of the hottest brands of the era, the company grew into a transnational company operating in 60 countries. At the same time, the company developed a reputation as a good place to work. In 1989, the Japanese art publisher Robundo published “Esprit, the Comprehensive Design Principle," which documented the all-encompassing design principles that Tompkins had created for the brand.[3]

Growing increasingly concerned about the ecological impacts of the fashion industry, Tompkins decided to leave the business world in the late 1980s. In 1989, he sold his share of the American company back to Susie, from whom he had separated, putting most of his profits into land conservation.[4] Subsequently, in 1989 and 1994, he sold his interests in the other Esprit entities around the world.

Land Conservation[edit]

After selling his interest in Esprit, Tompkins moved to south Chile, where he had spent much time climbing, kayaking, and skiing, to devote himself to land conservation and environmental activism. He founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 1990, which supports environmental activism, and The Conservation Land Trust in 1992, which works to protect wildlands, primarily in Chile and Argentina.

In 1993, he married Kristine Tompkins; since then the two have worked together on their conservation projects.

The Tompkins' conservation efforts focus on preserving wild landscapes and biodiversity. After purchasing large blocks of wilderness, they work to create national parks, believing that this governmental designation serves as the best mode of guaranteeing long-term conservation.

Pumalin Park[edit]

Tompkins's first major conservation project was Pumalín Park in the Palena Province of Chile, an 800,000-acre (3,200 km2) area of Valdivian temperate rainforest, high peaks, lakes, and rivers. In 1991, he bought the Reñihué farm, a semi-abandoned farm at the end of the Reñihué Fjord, planning to set aside 42,000 acres (170 km2) of this unique forest from possible exploitation. In the next decade, The Conservation Land Trust added another 700,000 acres (2,800 km2) in nearly contiguous parcels to create Pumalín Park. In 2005, then-President Ricardo Lagos declared this area a Nature Sanctuary, a special designation of the Chilean State, granting it additional environmental and non developmental protection. The Conservation Land Trust (a U.S. environmental foundation) has donated these protected lands to Fundación Pumalín (a Chilean foundation), for their administration and continual development as a type of National Park with public access under a private initiative.[5] Through creating public-access infrastructure, including trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, and a restaurant, Tompkins seeks to promote wilderness experience, in hopes of inspiring a deeper environmental ethic in the park's many thousands of visitors. Although the project initially provoked controversy—largely because this type of private conservation philanthropy was previously unheard of in Chile—the park continues to gain the support of locals and visitors alike.[5]

Corcovado National Park[edit]

Just to the south of Pumalin, Corcovado National Park (Chile) represents one of Tompkins' completed conservation projects. In 1994 The Conservation Land Trust, along with U.S. philanthropist Peter Buckley, acquired 208,000 acres (840 km2) of native forest that was slated for logging, adjacent to vast areas of federal land, under the jurisdiction of the Chilean Armed Forces. CLT offered to donate this parcel back to the Chilean state, provided that the whole area became a national park. In 2005, then-President Lagos accepted this proposal, and the 726,000-acre (2,940 km2) Corcovado National Park was born.

The Iberá Project[edit]

The Iberá project is a private conservation enterprise spearheaded by Doug Tompkins, the biggest landowner in the area together with billionaire George Soros and Harvard University[6] and the Conservation Land Trust[7] (Tompkins enterprise) with a goal of expanding land ownership and strengthening protection for the existing Iberá Wetlands natural preserve, in the Corrientes Province of Argentina. Since 1983, the Iberá Natural Reserve has consisted of 553,000 hectares of protected floodplains, providing safe habitat for a range of native species, and encouraging a transition from an exploitative economy to an economy of conservation and ecotourism. The Conservation Land Trust has acquired 150,000 hectares of old cattle ranches bordering the existing natural reserve, lands which include habitats not currently represented in the existing park. The goal is to donate these lands, including espinal, malezal grasslands, and forests, to the Argentine government to include in the reserve, creating a new strictly conserved park called the Great Iberá Park. This new park, which would total 700,000 hectares, would be the largest national park in Argentina.[8]

Other Conservation Projects[edit]

Some other conservation projects that Tompkins has spearheaded are:

--the Melimoyu and Isla Magdalena conservation projects in coastal Chile—the Yendegaia project in Chile's Tierra del Fuego

Ecological Restoration[edit]

In addition to preserving pristine wilderness, Tompkins has worked to restore damaged landscapes and protect threatened species. Ecological restoration has been a critical element of most of Tompkins' conservation projects, especially in the degraded grassland regions of Chile.

Organic Agriculture[edit]

Envisioning "conservation as a consequence of production," Tompkins has developed models of sustainable organic agriculture, which maintain soil health and ecological integrity at the same time that they provide for families and support the local economy.

In the area around Pumalin, the Hornopiren, Vodudahue, Ventisquero, Pillan, and Reñihue farms serve as both exemplars of small-scale ecological agriculture and as informal park ranger stations. Each of these farms produces a variety of products, including sheep, cattle, honey, berries, and organic vegetables. A small facility in the Pillan farm processes honey and berries for jams, which are sold under the name Pillan Organics.[9]

In northeastern Argentina, Tompkins manages cattle ranches in Corrientes Province and polyculture grain and fruit farms in Entre Rios Province. Each farm pays close attention to developing sustainable practices.

Environmental Activism[edit]

Unlike many land conservationists, Tompkins has always been both a conservationist and environmental activist. Through his Foundation for Deep Ecology, he has published a series of large-format, photo activist books on various environmental issues. These include Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy, Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West, and Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry. In addition, The Foundation for Deep Ecology had a long history as a generous grant-maker in categories such as Biodiversity & Wilderness, Ecological Agriculture, and Megatechnology & Economic Globalization, although in-house publishing is now its main focus. In addition, Tompkins has been involved in several large environmental campaigns in Chile and Argentina, such as the Chilean Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, which is opposing the construction of five dams on two of Patagonia's largest and wildest rivers.[10]


Despite considerable controversy within Chile and Argentina, Tompkins' environmental work has won him respect and accolades outside of South America: in 2012, the African Rainforest Conservancy awarded Doug and wife Kris their "New Species Award";[11] in 2007, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation awarded their "Good Steward" award to him and his wife Kris;[12] in 2008, the American Alpine Club awarded him the David R. Brower Award in 2009, for his work preserving mountain regions; in 2009, Latin Trade named him the "Environmental Leader of the Year".[13] In 2007, he was appointed as an honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, in recognition of his work restoring damaged landscapes.[14] Eco Barons Edward Humes's 2009 account of the "dreamers, schemers, and millionaires who are saving our planet," uses Tompkins as the first example of this new group of philanthropists.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Pleistocene Park” emerges from Patagonia’s rescued grasslands, nationalgeographic, 23.01.2010
  2. ^ The Conservation Land Trust
  3. ^ a b "company :: about us :: History". E S P R I T. 2010-09-16. Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  4. ^ Edward Humus, Eco Barons New York: Harper Collins, 2009
  5. ^ a b "Parque Pumalín". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The Conservation Land Trust". 
  8. ^ "What is the great ibera park?". 
  9. ^ "Pillan Organics - Chile". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  10. ^ "Página Principal Patagonia Chilena ¡Sin Represas!". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  11. ^ "Kris and Doug Tompkins receive the new - Species award from african rainforest conservancy". Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ "Environmental Leader of the Year: Douglas Tompkins – Preserver of the Land". Latin Trade. 2009-10-01. Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  14. ^ "ASLA Names 13 New Honorary Members". 2007-05-01. Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  15. ^ Edward Humes, Eco Barons (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)

External links[edit]