The Nature Conservancy: quiet protector of land

The Nature Conservancy at Table Rocks

Table Rocks environmental education, southwest Oregon. Joint project of the Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy

Perhaps you, too, have heard of The Nature Conservancy, but don’t know much about it. I recently attended an eye-opening presentation.

I have visited and enjoyed places that The Nature Conservancy helped preserve, but I never knew it.

Founded in 1951, it’s not as old as the Audubon Society or Sierra Club. It’s not as confrontational or headline seeking as Greenpeace.

It’s not built around highly visible and controversial issues as climate change or renewable energy

Many of our pressing environmental issues have easy, absolute answers. On close examination, they turn out to be at least partly wrong. Here are some that much of the public equates with the term “environmentalist”:

  • Climate change is the world’s most pressing problem. The government must take drastic action.
  • Overpopulation is a major environmental problem.
  • Large corporations value profit above the environment.
  • GMOs are evil.
  • Pesticides are evil.
  • Organic farming is better than conventional farming.
  • Urbanization must be stopped.

Non-confrontational, cooperative approach

In their most absolute form, these ideas are not mainstream. The louder progressive activists assert them, the more difficult it is for most of the public to hear the message of taking care of the environment.

The Nature Conservancy’s practices and priorities are rooted in science, not political action. It has been criticized, for example, for not opposing oil drilling and logging.

They’re happening and will continue for the foreseeable future, like it or not. The Nature Conservancy encourages companies to do them with the least environmental harm.

Its website lists a number of corporate partners. Back to Nature. Ecolab. Microsoft. Neutrogena. Odwalla. Whole Foods. No surprises there.

But BP? Dow Chemical? Certainly. Why not?

Dow is infamous for supplying Agent Orange and napalm during the Vietnam War. The Nature Conservancy and Dow are collaborating to integrate the value of nature into business planning.

Indeed, more and more businesses realize that good environmental stewardship enhances their bottom line. Many progressive environmentalists reflexively hate large corporations and the whole concept of profit. Nonetheless, they should rejoice about anyone accepting responsibility for the environment for any reason.

Georgia Pacific represents the paper industry, an environmental villain. Worse, it is owned by the infamous Koch Brothers. The Nature Conservancy bought 10,626 acres of land from Georgia Pacific along the Roanoke River in North Carolina in 1989. That property has become the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge.

It began to manage and protect another 21,000 acres of land on the river jointly with Georgia Pacific in 1994. It added 22,000 acres purchased from International Paper in 2006.

Power companies are also environmental villains. Dominion Power owns hydroelectric dams on the Roanoke. The Nature Conservancy is working with it to operate its dams to restore a more natural flow. Without these partnerships, The Nature Conservancy could not carry out its work to restore the entire length of the river.

The Nature Conservancy red cockaded woodpecker

Red-cockaded woodpecker, protected at Fort Bragg by The Nature Conservancy and Department of Defense

The Nature Conservancy has a 30-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense. It has helped protect and recover nearly 330 endangered and threatened species on military property.

That partnership is not as strange as it seems at first glance. The military needs to train troops in deserts, swamps, forests, and all kinds of other kinds of land.

It has to take good care of what it owns. It’s not like it can ruin an area in the course of training and then go out and find another just like it.

Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, included the habitat of an endangered woodpecker. Federal law required its protection. In the 1990s the two agencies marked trees to make certain areas off limits to motorized vehicles.

The Nature Conservancy bought land near the fort to create a woodpecker habitat off base. It had the added benefit of providing a buffer between the base and private development.

The effort succeeded so well that Congress authorized similar partnerships at other bases. The Nature Conservancy works or has worked with the military on more than two dozen other bases.

Grandfather Mountain

The Nature Conservancy project Grandfather Mountain

Mile High Swinging Bridge, Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain is now a popular state park in North Carolina. It can serve as an example of The Nature Conservancy’s work with private families.

Commercial development and large settlements came slowly to the Appalachian Mountains.

Samuel Kelsey bought 16,000 acres of mountain country, including the Linville River Valley, in 1885.

He started a partnership with Donald MacRae to build a resort. The MacRae family eventually acquired a controlling interest.

The Linville Company dissolved in 1952. Hugh MacRae Morton became the sole owner of Grandfather Mountain, Inc. He widened an existing road and extended it to just below the summit, where he built the Mile High Swinging Bridge. He established wildlife habitats at the foot of the mountain.

Grandfather Mountain and The Nature Conservancy began a partnership in 1989 to preserve the land near the mountain. The Nature Conservancy secured donation of conservation easements from neighboring landowners. The corporation sold 2,700 acres to the state of North Carolina to create the state park.

The Nature Conservancy does not purchase every property offered to it. It has a greater interest in Grandfather Mountain than simply protecting a tourist attraction. Grandfather Mountain is a globally significant ecological site.  It offers habitat for a greater variety of rare species than any other mountain in the eastern United States.

The organization has preserved 700,000 acres in North Carolina alone. It manages environmentally sensitive and significant preserves in all 50 states. It also operates on every continent except Antarctica.

The Nature Conservancy
Grandfather Mountain and The Nature Conservancy (Grandfather Mountain website)
History of the Mountain (Grandfather Mountain website)

Photo credits:
Table Rocks. Some rights reserved by Bureau of Land Management
Red-cockaded woodpecker. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Grandfather Mountain. Photo by David M. Guion

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