Thursday, 7 September 2006

Why the WLT does not own land

I am often asked why the WLT does not own the land itself, and I think the following news item, goes a long way towards explaining why:

BUENOS AIRES (EFE). A project to expropriate land in the north east of Argentina, which was acquired by a magnate from the United States, Douglas Tompkins, and the Chilean firm Forestal Andina yesterday triggered controversy between those driving and those affected by the plan.

The idea was created by the argentine sub-secretary of Land for Social Habitat, Luis D'Elía, who proposed to expropriate 296,000 hectares in the Esteros de Iberá, a region of marshland in the Corrientes Province, in order to create a national park.

Local people from the area have resorted to the justice system against the decision of Tompkins and Andina to fence off large extensions of land leaving several neighbours with small and practically isolated properties.

A week ago, D'Elía lead a protest made by the affected neighbours, mostly farmers, and broke into the ranch, "El Tránsito", owned by Tompkins.

"If I see again another social route or path wired off by a foreign millionaire who ignores the Argentine laws and who holds in contempt the judgments of the Argentine courts, like Mr Tompkins, we will return to cut wires", D'Elía said yesterday in a declaration given to Radio América de Buenos Aires.

The idea of the official was translated into a project of expropriation that was presented to the Argentine Parliament by Araceli Méndez de Ferreyra, with the endorsement of forty other members of parliament. Sofía Heinonen, environmental adviser of Tompkins projects, said yesterday that "to expropriate is not the way to create a national park" and that it "should be negotiated with the owners" of the land.

"We draw attention to the speed with which this happened, without consultation of the Corrientes Province which is the landlord of these natural resources and who must first cede jurisdiction", she said.

The Esteros de Iberá, one of the principal aquatic reserves in the world, covers an area of 1.3 million hectares of which 700,000 are in private hands.

Tompkins, previously a textiles businessman from New York, has dedicated his time for years to the purchase of large extensions of land for conversion into natural conservation areas through his foundation Land Trust.

In contrast to Tomkins (and other wealthy owners) the WLT simply funds the acquistion, always through a locally controlled and managed NGO. We strongly believe that foreign ownership of such areas is usually counterproductive to the long-term and sustainable conservation objectives. The actual title deeds are vested in the local NGO and all the day to day management is vested in them. The WLT will provide technical support (if asked) and will also encourage international tourism and scientific research when appropriate. We also ensure that we work with local NGOs that will encourage community participation.

This extract was translated in office from an article that can be found at yahoo brazil


  1. Ok, ok. Fools rush in..etc etc.

    But, maybe we should cut rich men with good intentions some more slack, before we righteously lambast their designs. Tompkins' plans to create 'wilderness areas' has GOT to be a better expenditure of his wealth compared to most other things super-rich men piss their money away on, vis: football clubs, yachts, wives, villas, charid-ees usually involving sick children preferably brownish (not too black - bad for business).

    Should we not at least encourage the old boy but also offer some hard won wisdom and advice?

    I learn that CERN is puffing away several BILLIONS on a big underground toy to mash up er, particles an' stuff, because you know, er, who knows whaddal come out on the laboratory floor.

    Hey - think what we (you ! WLT) could do with just one billion (euro, $, £, whatever). As JB keeps saying: Rome is burning. Priorities PLease!!!!

  2. Yea, a lot of sense in anonymous. But if only the super-rich would not behave like Medieval war lords. There's plenty of advice out there, but all too often it is disregarded. And as for CERN and thousands of other 'initiatives'..... such as putting men on the moon, before we have saved our own planet.....
    Sometimes I dispair, and wonder why we bother.... But it's Friday afternoon, and conservation can be a pretty depressing way of spending the week....
    Have a good weekend.

  3. Accepting your despair, and recognising your experience of such matters, can I not though, as a committed supporter, nonetheless encourage you to maybe formulate an active policy/position paper ready, waiting and targeted at rich benefactors as they may emerge?

    I'm thinking that, rather than decry them, WLT could be ready to pounce! With a bank of solid experience, wisdom and sound advice ready on offer, we might just nab 'em and grab them and then steer them in truly productive directions.
    For a minor investment in time and input, WLT would then be on 'permanent' stand-by.

    F' Pete's sake - you at WLT have got a bank of fabulous success stories to tell. And with the new US ally, you're primed on both sides of the Atlantic!
    Woh - the potential! Mind-blowing! If I had a squillion, you would be THE first place I'd go to do a little sure-footed good in the world.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, anonymous. But don't worry, we're always ready to pounce. Anyonoe who is happy to work with us. The problem with some of the super-rich is that they are not only super-rich but believe they know the best way of doing everything. But not all are like that, and we have some excellent supporters, who believe in doing things the way we operate.

  5. I've just come back from a trip to the area in question, and went on a horseback tour of lands adjoining Tompkins' place. Owners of these small estancias (one of them was my guide), all local and not wealthy at all judging from their homes, seemed to welcome Tompkins' presence and ideas. And many of their family members have found jobs with their new neighbor. And speaking of fences, they are absolutely necessary to confine the animals, and we went through a dozen gates, all unlocked, of different family estancias during our horseback ride. Incidentally. I found people in Argentina absolutely gracious and kind, and nothing like descriptions of them found in many guidebooks.