The nature reserve dream of a 'gringo imperialist'

North Face millionaire environmentalist fights to set up vast wetlands park in Argentina

A A A

Douglas Tompkins, the US environmentalist and co-founder of the North Face outdoor clothing brand, has been nothing if not persistent in pursuit of his dream of creating a vast nature reserve in the province of Corrientes, in Argentina's sub-tropical far north.

Just three years ago Mr Tompkins had to put up with the country's land minister, Luis Delía, calling him a "gringo imperialist" and promising to expropriate the huge land holdings that the government claimed were a threat to national sovereignty. Mr Delía even posed for photographers with pliers in hand as he cut through the wire fencing protecting one of Mr Tompkins' properties.

But the nationalistic rhetoric has died down since the death of populist president Néstor Kirchner, and there has even been a rapprochement with his widow, the present Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. This week, the American announced plans to donate 370,000 acres of his land, valued at £120m, to the nation to help create a major new natural park.

The park would protect the Iberá marsh, the world's second-largest wetlands. Home to caymans, jaguars, wolves and anacondas, among numerous other species, Iberá is coming under increasing pressure from cattle ranching and agriculture.

Yet the deal now has to overcome one final obstacle, the strident opposition of Corrientes governor Ricardo Colombi, who claims it would put local farmers out of business. The governor has even accused Mr Tompkins of wanting to appropriate the region's freshwater supply and has warned darkly of "false environmentalists backed by a foreigner".

Iberá is already designated as a 3.2 million-acre provincial nature reserve, although that has afforded it only limited protection. Nearly half that area is privately owned and divided into farms. Mr Tompkins plan is to donate four ranches he bought and turned into private nature reserves while also encouraging Mr Colombi's administration to hand over the 1.36 million acres it owns to the national government as well. That would then place heavy pressure on the 1,800 farmers who own the remaining 1.2 million acres to end all agriculture and livestock rearing inside the boundaries of the new park.

The Conservation Land Trust (CLT), Mr Tompkins' nonprofit green group, and Ms Kirchner's administration are now waiting until Mr Colombi's term ends in 2013 to see if his successor is more supportive. "It is a political issue, between the national and regional governments. It is not our responsibility," CLT spokeswoman Marian Labourt told The Independent.

Mr Tomkins, now 68, launched his outdoor clothing and equipment company, North Face, in 1964. He then founded women's fashion label Esprit, and oversaw both companies as they grew into global empires. Yet disillusioned with the US's consumerist culture and keen to get back to his roots as an outdoorsman, Mr Tompkins quit North Face in 1989. After selling his shares in both companies, he used the profits on environmental work, including buying land in Chilean Patagonia and the Argentine north.

Mr Tompkins's environmental radicalism has run into serious hostility in both countries. El Litoral, Corrientes's regional newspaper, once wrote of Mr Tompkins's "tentacles" wrapping round Iberá.

But the environmentalist overcame objections in Chile in the 1990s when his land donations helped establish the Pumalín and Corcovado National Parks, preventing loggers from plundering two ancient forests. Now, despite the objections of Mr Colombi and local farmers, the long money may well be on Mr Tompkins to realise his dream in Corrientes.

Esteros del Iberá: A wetland wonder

The Esteros del Iberá, or Iberá Marsh, is thought to be the second- largest freshwater wetland system in the world. A network of rivers, streams, bogs and savannah, Iberá is home to more than 4,000 different species including jaguars, maned wolves, the threatened pampas deer, anacondas, howler monkeys and the endangered jabiru, South America's largest stork. If the area is designated a national park, the Conservation Land Trust would reintroduce several species that have been wiped out in the area.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam