On a beautiful sunny and windless day in March, 2015 I boarded a small airplane piloted by Phil Benham with a tight crew of Baja wilderness enthusiasts. We were bound for San Ignacio Lagoon, to pick up Kris Tompkins, who together with her husband Doug, the founder of North Face, preserved two million acres of pristine Patagonian wilderness in Chile and Argentina. The purpose of the trip was to show Kris WILDCOAST’s successful work in preserving a large swath of Baja’s coast.
At the dirt strip of San Ignacio Lagoon, I greeted Kris and we flew back north across the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, a six million-acre federal protected area, Mexico’s largest, that includes San Ignacio and Scammon’s Lagoon. There, our conservation efforts over the past 15 years have resulted in the protection of 450,000-acres around the lagoon in addition to 150 miles of shoreline and mangroves.
After flying over Scammon’s Lagoon, we caught sight of Los Cirios, a beautiful and wild coastal region famous for its giant cardon cactus and Boojum Trees, endless coastal wetlands, and mountain lions that roam desert beaches. Los Cirios is where we have spent the last ten years preserving more than 40 miles of pristine shoreline. As we neared our Los Cirios Pacific Reserve, where we own more than 40,000-acres of coastline, Phil brought the plane closer to the coast and we had a bird’s eye view of our sprawling reserve.
Kris was enthralled by the sheer magnitude of what we achieved and I let her know how inspired our team at WILDCOAST was by the efforts of her and Doug in Patagonia. As we neared the desolate sandstone cliffs of Punta Canoas, we caught sight of a pod of gray whales. The ocean was crystal clear and we could see them in all their majesty, swimming northward, on their journey to the Bering and Chuchki Seas.
It was a fitting end to an amazing flight over a desert, coastal and ocean wilderness that sustains gray whales, mountain lions, sea turtles and the hardscrabble ranchers and fishermen who call it home. I have thought a lot about that trip today, because this morning I learned that Doug Tompkins, Kris’s husband, was killed in a tragic kayaking accident in Chile. That news came just a week after we achieved another wilderness and conservation milestone—the permanent protection of 50 miles of mangrove shoreline and sea turtle feeding area in Magdalena Bay in southern Baja.
Not only was I saddened by the personal loss that Kris and her friends, family and conservation colleagues and partners around the world suffered, but because Doug inspired WILDCOAST to achieve a dream of wilderness preservation as big as Baja itself. As a grad student back at the University of Texas at Austin back in the early 1990s, I first learned of the work of Doug and Kris to preserve Patagonia and was so inspired by their efforts that I faxed them a congratulatory letter and let them know that my wife Emily and I were preparing for our own sojourn to the Baja wilderness. Doug immediately faxed me back a very supportive hand written letter and wished me well.
I still have that letter, and I always think of how Doug’s support and vision turned reality has meant so much to me all these years.
So, thank you for continuing to support our efforts to conserve the world's most beautiful coastal and marine wildernes. We will forever be inspired by Doug's vision of preserving the last remaining wild places.
Serge Dedina, Ph.D.