In the early 1990s, using the money they earned from their leadership roles at Patagonia Inc., The North Face, and Esprit, Kris and Doug Tompkins began buying up vast amounts of land in Chile and Argentina and setting it aside for conservation. Their acquisition of large blocks of forest, wetlands, and steppe — along with their plan to do “nothing” with it in terms of logging, mining, or agriculture — raised suspicions that they had nefarious intentions. In Chile, their phones were tapped, their movements monitored, and their property subject to military flyovers.
After an intense few years, the public and government came to understand the Tompkins’ aim of protecting and restoring wilderness so it could be enjoyed by everyone. Since the early 2000s, their non-profit Tompkins Conservation has donated over 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of wilderness in Chile and Argentina, which spurred the permanent protection of nearly 6 million hectares (15 million acres) and the establishment of 13 new national parks.