Chile creates 10 million acres of national parks in stunning environmental policy shift

As the United States government continues to reduce the size of protected lands, the government of Chile is doing the opposite, going so far as to preserve 10 million acres of lands by creating five national parks.

For years, Chile has been friendly to industries hell bent on raping the land and waterways for profit as the environment took a backseat. But under Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the South American nation has seen a monumental shift in environmental policy that is enraging industries for the benefit of wildlife.

In one of her final acts as president, Bachelet designated 10 million acres as protected lands and called for using natural resources responsibly and in a sustainable way.

“This is not just an unprecedented act of preservation,” Bachelet said. “It is an invitation to imagine other forms to use our land. To use natural resources in a way that does not destroy them. To have sustainable development – the only profitable economic development in the long term.”

Her action, of course, is causing industries such as the ranching and fishing industry along with loggers to cry foul because they think they are entitled to exploit lands and waterways as they please.

It’s a demand to return to Chile’s shameful past of ignoring the environment in favor of harmful industrial exploitation and little oversight.

Bachelet, however, is making it clear that she wants her legacy to be that she helped make the world a better place.

“President Bachelet is leaving behind a bold legacy of environmental protection,”Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy program adviser Maximiliano Bello told The Guardian. “This is more impressive because Chile is still a developing country, with a long history of development and exploitation of resources – in most cases over-exploitation. If Chile can take these huge environmental steps, there are few reasons why developed nations can’t act as well.”

Indeed, the United States used to be a conservation leader, but has succumbed to industrial greed in recent years, particularly by the fossil fuel industry as regulations are shredded and more lands are opened up for drilling and mining.

Ironically, two American citizens living in Chile owned one million acres of land that they donated to Chile to be included in the national park creation.

The North Face clothing brand founder Doug Tompkins and his wife Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, spent years developing the acreage into a wildlife sanctuary.

Sadly, Doug died in 2015, but his vision lives on because of these new parks.

“I am proud of my husband Doug and his vision which continues to guide us, in addition to our entire team, for completing these two national parks and the broader network, a major milestone of our first 25 years of work,” Mrs. Tompkins said. “All of us who love the earth can see how the threats to wild places and creatures are growing. This is crucial work – it’s the work we’ve been doing for decades. While we will continue to help promote and safeguard these parks, we are beginning to turn our attention to more new conservation and rewilding projects in Chile and Argentina as we work to save and restore big, wild and connected ecosystems.”

Both Patagonia and The North Face also continue the Tompkins’ vision of environmental protection. Patagonia recently donated a $10 million tax cut to environmental causes and The North teamed up with National Geographic to recycle single-use plastics into clothing.

And even though Bachelet is leaving office, her successor Sebastian Piñera shares her desire to protect the environment. He even purchased 350,000 acres of land to turn it into a national park and did so out of admiration for the Tompkins’. That means Bachelet’s legacy is secure for years to come as Chile becomes a beacon for environmentalism and conservation around the globe.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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