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|Headquarters||Arlington, Virginia, United States|
|Method||Conservation by design|
|More than 1 million|
|US$1.29 billion (2018)|
Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy has over one million members, and has protected more than 119,000,000 acres (48,000,000 ha) of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide. It is the largest environmental nonprofit by assets and revenue in the Americas.
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The Nature Conservancy developed out of a scholarly organization initially known as the Ecological Society of America (ESA). The ESA was founded in 1915 and later formed a Committee on Preservation of Natural Areas for Ecological Study, headed by Victor Shelford. The primary aim of Shelford was to find areas of land that would be beneficial for long-term research. By the 1930s Shelford and his colleagues such as Aldo Leopold increasingly sought to advocate for conservation. The divide in viewpoints regarding scholarship or advocacy led the Society to dissolve the committee and in 1946, Shelford and his colleagues formed the Ecologists' Union. The latter group eventually took the name "The Nature Conservancy", in emulation of the British agency of that name, which pursued a mission of conserving open space and wildlife preserves. The Nature Conservancy was incorporated in the United States as a non-profit organization on October 22, 1951.
As the organization grew, the organization focused largely on buying as much land as possible in the name of conservation with little scientific research conducted on land before being purchased. It was not until 1974 that the organization hired its first staff scientist, Robert Jenkins, Jr., who helped the organization refocus its mission to a more representational approach to conservation. Jenkins began to focus on gathering detailed information on all the species present in a particular area which later morphed into the Natural Heritage Network, a network of state natural heritage programs.
After service as The Nature Conservancy's President for one year, Brian McPeek, resigned on May 31, 2019 after a report on an internal investigation of sexual harassment was revealed by POLITICO and two other senior executives were ultimately dismissed based on its findings. On June 7, 2019, Mark Tercek, CEO since 2008, announced his resignation following the resignation of McPeek. On June 10, 2019, Luis Solorzano, executive director of The Nature Conservancy's Florida-based Caribbean chapter, became the fifth senior official to depart the organization. On June 11, 2019 The Nature Conservancy's board chairman Thomas J. Tierney announced that board member and former US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell would serve as interim CEO effective September 2019.
The Nature Conservancy and its conservation partner, Pronatura Peninsula Yucatán, are working to halt deforestation on private lands in and around the 1.8 million acre (7,300 km²) Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, along the Guatemala-Mexico border. In November 2004, 370,000 acres (1,500 km²) of threatened tropical forest in Calakmul were permanently protected under a historic land deal between the Mexican federal and state government, Pronatura Peninsula Yucatán, four local communities and the Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy's programs in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are working together to build partnerships and enhance the profile of the conservation needs in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting voluntary, private land conservation of important wildlife habitat.
In 2007, the Nature Conservancy made a 161,000-acre (650 km2) purchase of New York forestland from Finch Paper Holdings LLC for $110 million, its largest purchase ever in that state. In June 2008, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land announced they reached an agreement to purchase approximately 320,000 acres (1,300 km2) of western Montana forestland from Plum Creek Timber Company for $510 million. The purchase, known as the Montana Legacy Project, is part of an effort to keep these forests in productive timber management and protect the area's clean water and abundant fish and wildlife habitat, while promoting continued public access to these lands for fishing, hiking, hunting and other recreational pursuits. As a follow-on, in 2015 The Nature Conservancy made a $134 million transaction to purchase 165,073 acres - 257 square miles - of forests, rivers and wildlife habitat in the Cascade Mountain Range of Washington and in the Blackfoot River Valley in Montana. The Conservancy also acquired this land from Plum Creek, including 47,921 acres in the Yakima River Headwaters in Washington and 117,152 acres in the Lower Blackfoot River Watershed in Montana.
In December 2015, The Nature Conservancy announced the finalization of the first ever debt swap in Seychelles aimed at ocean conservation. The new protected area increases the country's marine protected waters from less than 1 percent to more than 30 percent including support for the creation of the second largest Marine Protected Area in the Western Indian Ocean. The debt swap deal was made possible through a partnership with the Seychelles Ministry of Finance, support of debt-holding nations including France, and grants from private organizations led by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Financing for this effort was organized by The Nature Conservancy's impact investing unit called NatureVest. NatureVest was created in 2014 with founding sponsorship from JPMorgan Chase with the stated goal of sourcing and putting to work at least $1 billion of impact investment capital for measurable conservation outcomes over three years. For their work on the Seychelles debt restructuring, The Nature Conservancy and JPMorgan Chase were given the FT/ITC Transformational Business Award for Achievement in Transformational Finance. The award is given by the Financial Times and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) for ground-breaking, commercially viable solutions to development challenges.
The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees campaign is an effort to plant one billion trees by across the globe in forests with the greatest need.[better source needed] As a part of this launch, The Nature Conservancy pledged to plant 25 million trees as part of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)'s Billion Tree Campaign.[better source needed] This campaign encourages individuals and organizations to plant their own trees around the world and record this action on the website as a tally.
The Plant a Billion Trees campaign has also been identified as a tool to help slow climate change with forest restoration being an effective way to help regulate emissions in the atmosphere and stabilize global climate.
The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees campaign also aims to protect 10 critical watersheds in the Atlantic Forest that provide water and hydro power to more than 70 million people, create 20,000 direct jobs, and an additional 70,000 indirectly as part of this effort.[better source needed]
The Nature Conservancy plants trees for every contribution donated by supporters. Some of the seeds being planted in Brazil consist of:
The Nature Conservancy has ties to many large companies, including those in the oil, gas, mining, chemical and agricultural industries. Its board of directors currently includes the retired chairman of Duke Energy, and executives from Merck, HP, Google and several financial industry groups. It also has a Business Council which it describes as a consultative forum that includes Bank of America, BP America, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, General Mills, Royal Dutch Shell, and Starbucks. The organization faced criticism in 2010 from supporters for its refusal to cut ties with BP after the Gulf oil spill.
Writer and activist Naomi Klein has strongly criticized The Nature Conservancy for earning money from an oil well on land it controls in Texas and for its continued engagement with fossil fuel companies.
In 2020, Bloomberg published an article claiming that some of the companies (such as JPMorgan Chase, Disney, and BlackRock) that purchase carbon credits from The Nature Conservancy were purchasing carbon credits for forests that did not need protection.
Like many large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, the Conservancy including allowances for hunting and fishing within its management policies. The organization does not totally ban hunting or fishing but defers to state hunting and fishing regulations.
There have been allegations of The Nature Conservancy obtaining land and reselling it at a profit, sometimes to supporters and sometimes to large organizations that allows them to claim tax breaks. The Nature Conservancy argues that the profit from such sales allows The Nature Conservancy to increase its preservation of what the Nature Conservancy claims are more important locations. The Conservancy has established a no-net-profit policy that has been in effect for years for all transactions of this type, and a policy of ensuring that its disbursements offset any illicitly-generated revenues.