Santiago (AFP) - Chile is greatly expanding protected parkland in its stunning southern Patagonia region under a decree signed Monday that will incorporate reserves owned by a late American philanthropist who founded the North Face label.
The order signed by President Michelle Bachelet will boost the amount of parks in Chile by more than a third.
"Chile needs to take this decisive step to protect and preserve our biodiversity, our unique landscapes, the habitat associated with endangered national species," including trees, indigenous deer and the Andean fox, Bachelet told reporters in the southern town of Cochrane.
The signing was attended by the widow of Douglas Tompkins, the US millionaire founder of North Face who died in a kayak accident in Chile in December 2015.
Tompkins and his wife Kristine McDivitt Tompkins had dedicated decades to preserving Chile's wilderness and buying vast tracts of land to create parks and reserves.
The increased national parks will include 400,000 hectares (nearly one million acres) of land the Tompkins had handed over to the government.
In all, 4.5 million hectares are being added to Chile's protected zones, with the ancillary aim of them also boosting tourism to the unspoilt reaches of South America.
Some 10 million tourists have already visited Patagonia's wilderness over the past four years, according to official statistics.
The decree was one of the last big flourishes of Bachelet before she leaves office in March, handing over power to Sebastian Pinera, a conservative billionaire who won a December runoff election.
Under Chile's constitution, a president cannot try for immediate re-election.