Brazenly Successful Conservation Practice: The Passing of Doug Tompkins

Brazenly Successful Conservation Practice: The Passing of Doug Tompkins


A 72-year old fellow - slight of build, lean and wiry, weathered from years of climbing, paddling and adventuring but still exceptionally strong and a warrior – died of hypothermia in an icy Chilean lake kayaking last Tuesday.  While at first Doug was distrusted and discounted (and worse) by some of the power elite in Chile as a North American industrialist, according to his son-in-law Dan Imhoff, “there has been an outpouring of emotion in Chile and Argentina not seen since the death of Evita Peron.” No question, Douglas R. Tompkins has left an enormous mark on this earth, the wild corners of which he loved in a way perhaps that only great adventurers ever can. 

Locally he left behind members of his immediate family – all of whom are deeply involved with Doug’s conservation work through the Foundation for Deep Ecology, and in their own related work publishing books on ecologically-considered food and farming.  These family members are also friends of LandPaths and dear personal friends – and we are incredibly fortunate to have benefit of their practice and voice in Northern California.  Beyond the region and even our continent, Doug was and will long-be known for championing conservation of vast areas – saving entire landscapes and ecosystems that might have otherwise been lessened by ill-placed development and complete fragmentation.  His wife of the past 20 years, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins – a former Patagonia Inc CEO and conservation leader – will need both our prayers and our support as their organization, Conservacion Patagonica, continues its work. 

On a personal note, I first met Doug at a book signing a a number of years ago in the Marin Headlands, where I was accompanying the benefactor of our recently-created wildland Riddell Preserve – Mrs. Kay Riddell.  Doug appreciated Kay for her foresight and philanthropy, even referencing a recent gift later in the day to all those assembled that Kay had granted towards the stewardship of her family’s beloved 400 acres of madrone, oak, redwood and prairie.  Years later, at the home of his daughter Quincey outside Healdsburg, when others in his family were enjoying their “down time” from being in South America – time spent in part organizing and surveying, selling the idea of these protected regions to people of all walks and even cutting their hands deeply through the act of pulling errant fences from their preserves (the largest privately-owned preserves in the world – ones being transferred to the people and governments of Patagonia forever), I spied Doug bent over air photos from the Patagonia region on his Apple laptop at the kitchen counter.  “Those are beautiful images” I remarked, “I took those from my plane” Doug replied.  When he found that I knew a just a little bit more than ‘garden-level-knowledge’ about erosional gullies and sediment moving through a system, he focused on me with what I can only imagine was standard Tompkins-laser-gaze and we discussed in broad and specific terms the formation of such gullies from human activity, addressing them with restoration treatments, the plight of water quality and habitat and on the conversation went.  

After Doug’s burial last week, paddler and conservation supporter in his own right, Jib Ellison - who is on the board of Russian River Keeper and was paddling in this small group of adventurers last week with Doug – sent an email to those of us who had reached out to him with our thoughts after hearing the news.  In the note, Jib wrote: “please hasten personally working hard to influence the trajectory of society towards one where people live in balance with nature, wild creatures and each other. Let beauty guide you. Do your part. Start now if you’re not doing something already. If you’re doing something already, take it to the next level.  This is what Doug would have wanted. So let’s impress him.”

It is my fervent desire – one that I know I share with our staff, board of directors and volunteers – that we do just that.  The planet figuratively and literally burns as do the hearts of those that are disconnected from both the land and their fellow humans.  Being connected provides opportunities that engender respect, communal and hard (!) work outside and finding joy – curiosity - inspiration in lands open to the sky.  May LandPaths’ work continue to inspire those of us that seek this real and striving-towards-reciprocal connectivity to land, to individual and community health and to one another. 

-Craig Anderson

Posted at 19:18


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