The Patagonia Land Trust: An opportunity we can't miss

We want to let our friends and customers know about a wildlands conservation project particularly close to our hearts. The Patagonia Land Trust (PLT) is a new nonprofit organization focused on buying, protecting and restoring grasslands, forests and coastal lands in the Patagonia region of South America. Established in 2000, PLT has already protected over a quarter of a million acres in Patagonia, and seeks funds to save at least a million acres more over the next five years.

Patagonia is one of the last great wild places on earth: granite spires, windswept pampas, turquoise rivers, evergreen beech forests, red rock canyons, salt lakes and high coastal cliffs. Imagine the American West of 100 years ago, both in the immensity of sky and the variety of landscapes, but with unfamiliar and mysterious wildlife: Magellanic penguin, flightless rhea, heumul deer, Andean condor, armadillo, guanaco and puma.

The World Wildlife Fund has identified the Patagonian steppe and marine ecosystems as "some of the most outstanding harbors of biodiversity on the planet." Yet, Patagonia is vulnerable to the same forces that have devoured wild country around the world: livestock grazing, logging, oil drilling, road construction and land subdivision into two – acre vacation ranchettes. Chopped up, sold off and built up, the wild heart of a place can be quickly destroyed.

The time to act is now. No other region of the world offers the potential to protect wildlands on such a grand scale. Recent economic problems in Argentina present an opportunity, rather than a threat to PLT. Large tracts of land are up for sale to any buyer at very low prices. Throughout Argentina's often turbulent history, both private land ownership and the national park system have remained inviolate.

Within the next five years, PLT hopes to raise enough money to purchase and protect at least one million acres that can be linked together to form new parks or added to existing parks. PLT is concentrating its initial efforts in three Patagonian ecosystems: the rugged coastline of the southern Atlantic, the mountain grasslands in the shadow of the Andes and the subantarctic beech forests. In each area, PLT will think "big, wild and connected," and protect native species by keeping habitat whole.

The Patagonia Land Trust is already at work on the creation of Argentina's first coastal national park, home to one of the Atlantic's largest colonies of Magellanic penguins. The historic Estancia Monte León, purchased by PLT in 2001, comprises 155,000 acres, including 25 miles of undeveloped coastline. In planning for the new park, PLT is involving local environmental groups, leading ecologists and governments at the community, provincial and national levels.

The founder and driving spirit behind the Patagonia Land Trust is Kristine Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. Since her retirement in 1993, Kris has lived in Chilean Patagonia. She knows the region, and South American wildlands conservation work, intimately.

Supporting the Patagonia Land Trust is our way of giving back to the place – and the spirit of place – that gave us our name and continues to inspire us. Our goal is to assist PLT in raising funds to help save one of the last great wild places on earth.