Chile lines the West Coast of South America. At 4,270 km long, the country hosts a diverse and unique set of ecosystems, with many of the plants and animals being found only in those regions. These ecosystems are at risk though with the threat of droughts, desertification, devastating wildfires, deadly heat waves, sea level rise, coastal erosion and the increasing intensity of extreme weather events ruining them.
The threat of the collapse of these ecosystems not only affects the plants and animals in Chile but also the people. It has been proven that the preservation and conservation of these lands have helped to reduce poverty in Chile; therefore, it is imperative that efforts are made to ensure the continuation of these ecosystems. The Tompkins Foundation has made it their mission to both conserve land in Chile by creating national parks and rewild Chile by reintroducing native species that have already disappeared from these lands. These efforts directly impact poverty reduction, allowing the Chilean people to thrive.
The Tompkins Foundation
In the 1980s, both Douglas and Kristine Tompkins decided to sell their shares of the companies they owned and operated from the United States down to Chilean Patagonia. Douglas had started the multimillion-dollar companies The North Face and Esprit, and Kristine was the former CEO of the company Patagonia as well as a lifelong conservationist.
Using their funds, they founded the Tompkins Foundation and over the next 30 years they were able to purchase and preserve over 14 million acres of land in both Chile and Argentina. They felt a duty to give back to an earth that they had grown up in, explored and enjoyed. The couple then worked tirelessly to convert the lands that they had purchased into parks.
In 2017 they reached an agreement, in collaboration with the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, to transform many of these privately owned parks into national parks for the Chilean people. Douglas, unfortunately, passed away in 2015 before he was able to see their plan to fruition. Kristine and the rest of the Tompkins Foundation continue to be dedicated to the mission of “preserving [the] land and sea, restoring biodiversity, and helping communities to thrive.”
Poverty Reduction and National Parks
One of these aforementioned parks donated by the Tompkins Foundation in 2017 was Patagonia National Park. Subsequently in 2020, the Conservation Strategy Fund conducted a study commissioned by The PEW Charitable Trust that found that living near these protected areas has helped Chileans avoid poverty. The research done by the Conservation Strategy Fund highlights a broader conversation on how conservation is obtainable while fitting in with economic development and human well-being.
This study focused on the economic indicators of poverty in Chilean households both close to Patagonia and far away, by looking at access to running water, electricity and if the household had a refrigerator. Over a 20-year period, they found that people living near protected areas had higher access to these economic indicators in comparison to people living far away from them.
Although the study took place over many regions both protected and unprotected in Chile, they found that the greatest positive impact was in the Patagonia region, which was the region with the largest amount of newly protected land added during the study. The reasoning for this is still unclear. Overall though, the study found two reasons as to why a decrease in poverty was seen for people situated near public lands; tourism and infrastructure.
These two factors go hand in hand. As the beautiful lands of Chile are turned into National Parks, tourism increases boosting the economies of both these regions and the country. Furthermore, as more tourists flow into the country federal funds are directed towards creating and updating infrastructure to accommodate them. One of the most influential additions to infrastructure is road connectivity, allowing the flow of goods and services, as well as people, to reach these areas further benefiting the economy.
Regardless of the apartment positive attributions public lands make to poverty reduction, they are still controversial. Many see conservation as a roadblock to economic development and poverty reduction because it does not allow access to lands that could be used for their natural resources. The two contrasting viewpoints regarding the purpose of protected areas, one that emphasizes conservation without direct socioeconomic benefits and the other that advocates for using protected areas to contribute to local well-being, are not new.
A Conversation With The Tompkins Foundation
Regarding this debate, The Borgen Project was able to speak with Carolina Morgado, the Executive Director of Rewilding Chile, a legacy foundation of Tompkins Conservation continuing the work in Chile today. Her take on the aforementioned debate was that “The notion that conservation doesn’t yield direct socioeconomic benefits relates to a failure to appreciate nature’s inherent value and its services to communities, relegating it solely to considering its instrumental value.” This comment contributes to the aforementioned study demonstrating a different and more sustainable perspective on how lands can contribute to human well-being. Both humans and the planet are taken into consideration and are able to thrive simultaneously.
Morgado underscores the importance of “framing access to public lands in Chile as advantageous for its citizens, highlighting benefits beyond the failure of valuing nature as an unlimited resource.” Notably, these insights align with the United Nations’ 2015 agenda, aiming to achieve global sustainable development by 2030 through the harmonization of human well-being and ecological preservation.
The amalgamation of the Conservation Strategy Fund’s recent discoveries with preceding research forms a compelling argument advocating for heightened financial support from the Chilean government to effectively manage the nation’s protected areas. Beyond demonstrating the societal merits of safeguarded regions, the presented findings hold the potential to attract fresh investments and crucial financial backing for presently underfunded Chilean protected areas.
– Ada Rose Wagar