Nature Conservancy, The

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Nature Conservancy, The

The Nature Conservancy is America's fourth-largest environmental organization, with 1 million members and a budget of over $300 million. It owns or helps manage over 1,400 nature preserves worldwide, covering more than 12 million acres (4.8 million ha) (2 million acres [809,000 ha] of which is owned outright by the organization) in the United States alone. It is the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world, helping like-minded partner organizations to preserve more than 80 million acres (3.2 million ha) (7 million acres [2.8 million ha] of which The Nature Conservancy manages directly) in the Asia Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The organization is dedicated to protecting nature and its animal inhabitants by preserving their habitats. This is accomplished with a strategic, science-based planning process, called Conservation by Design. Conservation by Design helps The Nature Conservancy identify the highest-priority places (landscapes and seascapes) that, if conserved, promise to ensure biodiversity (the variety of life that can be found on Earthplants, animals, fungi , and micro-organismsas well as to the communities that they form and the habitats in which they live) over the long term. Conservation is achieved by the organization through: buying and managing ecologically important areas; negotiating agreements to manage areas without holding title to them, partnerships or conservation easements ; offering training to partner organizations and government agencies that manage land; educating people who live in ecologically sensitive areas about the importance of biodiversity and helping them to live in better harmony with the natural environment ; working with resource-based industries to alter their business practices to have less environmental impact; and helping government agencies work together and better allocate public resources toward conservation.

The organization was incorporated in 1951 by American Richard Pough, who had been inspired by the British government's nature preserves of the same name. Unlike the English version, Pough's organization was funded privately. The Conservancy's early years were difficult financially, but Pough eventually secured two major endowments that made the society solvent: a $100,000 donation from Mrs. DeWitt Wallace, co-owner of Readers Digest, and a $55-million bequest from Minnesota Mining heiress Katharine Ordway. Most of the latter money went for land purchases. Subsequent purchases have acquired millions of acres, although some tracts are later traded or sold to the government, individuals, or other environmental organizations.

One example of The Nature Conservancy's international programs is the Debt for Nature Swaps that have been contracted in Central America. These allow The Nature Conservancy, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, to conduct ecological inventories and supervise over 25 million acres (10 million ha). Other projects, such as Parks in Peril, have given The Conservancy charge of over 28 million acres (11.3 million ha) in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the United States, a partnership with Ducks Unlimited restored riparian forests and wetlands in several states. A three-year program called The Rivers of the Rockies, spent $5 million to preserve 20 sites along Colorado rivers and tributaries. Similar projects are underway in other states as well.

The Nature Conservancy cooperates with federal land and wildlife agencies, as well as other environmental associations, and is instrumental in helping to identify land of critical environmental interest. In addition to its local and foreign activities in land preservation, the Nature Conservancy identifies and protects animal life, especially the "rarest of the rare," those species most in need of preservation.

In November, 2001, the Nature Conservancy and the United States Forest Service signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote cooperation and partnership as the two organizations work to preserve, protect, and monitor forests and grassland ecosystems. The MOU is in effect for five years, during which The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service will work together to, among other things, protect migratory bird habitat , prevent the spread of invasive species, and to carry out prescribed burns in natural areas to promote biodiversity and ecosystem health . The two organizations will also jointly establish outreach, educational, and training programs for communities, and will promote partnerships and liaisons with foreign and local governments, tribal interests, landowners, and non-government agencies.

In response to its mission statement, which is "to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive." The Nature Conservancy instigated its "$1 Billion Campaign," which commits the organization to the investment of one billion dollars to save 200 of "the world's last great places,". As of the middle of 2002, more than $960 million had been raised toward this goal. The organization maintains its Heritage database at its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, in which endangered species are ranked by status both globally and within each state.

[Marie H. Bundy ]


The Nature Conservancy, 1815 N. Lynn Street, Arlington, VA USA 22209, <>