The Nature Conservancy

Founded 1951 (1951)[1]
Headquarters Arlington, Virginia, United States
Area served
Method Conservation by Design
More than 1 million[2]
Key people
Mark R. Tercek (CEO)
US$949 million (2013)[3]

The Nature Conservancy is a charitable environmental organization, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, United States.

Its mission is to "conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends."[2] The Conservancy pursues non confrontational, pragmatic solutions to conservation's challenges working with partners including indigenous communities, businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, and other non-profits.[4]

The Conservancy's work focuses on the global priorities of Lands, Water, Climate, Oceans, and Cities.[5] Founded in Arlington, Virginia, in 1951, The Nature Conservancy now impacts conservation in 72 countries, including all 50 states of the United States. The 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.[4] The Nature Conservancy also operates more than 100 marine conservation projects globally.[6] The organization's assets total $6.71 billion as of 2015.[7] The Nature Conservancy is the largest environmental nonprofit by assets and by revenue in the Americas.[8]

The Nature Conservancy rates as one of the most trusted national organizations in Harris Interactive polls every year since 2005.[9][10][11][12] Forbes magazine rated The Nature Conservancy's fundraising efficiency at 88 percent in its 2005 survey of the largest U.S. charities.[13] The Conservancy received a three-star rating from Charity Navigator in 2016 (three-star in 2015)[14] The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the Conservancy a B+ rating and includes it on its list of "Top-Rated Charities".[15]

The Nature Conservancy is led by President and CEO Mark Tercek, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs. He is the author of the book Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.[16] The Nature Conservancy's Chief Scientist is Australian Hugh Possingham, who was named to this position in 2016.[17] The current board chairman is Craig McCaw, the Chairman & CEO of Eagle River Inc. Other current members include former U.S. Senator Bill Frist, chairman of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma, and Chairman and Co-founder of The Bridgespan Group Thomas J. Tierney.[18]


The Nature Conservancy developed out of a scholarly organization known as the Ecological Society of America (ESA).[19] The ESA was founded in 1915 and two years later formed a Committee on Preservation of Natural Areas for Ecological Study, headed by Victor Shelford.[19][20] Whereas the Society primarily focused on promoting research, in the course of the 1930s Shelford and his colleagues increasingly sought to advocate for conservation.[19] 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.[19][20] 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.[20]


The Nature Conservancy takes a scientific approach to conservation, setting goals that describe the results it wants to achieve for biodiversity. The Nature Conservancy sets both long-term and near-term goals for conserving the abundance and geographic distribution of critical species and ecological systems. The organization's overall goal is to ensure the long-term survival of all biodiversity on Earth.[21]

The Nature Conservancy works with all sectors of society including businesses, individuals, communities, partner organizations, and government agencies to achieve its goals. The Nature Conservancy is known for working effectively and collaboratively with traditional land owners such as farmers and ranchers, with whom it partners when such a partnership provides an opportunity to advance mutual goals.[22] The Nature Conservancy is in the forefront of private conservation groups implementing prescribed fire[23] to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems and working to address the threats to biodiversity posed by non-native and invasive plants and animals.[24]

The Nature Conservancy has pioneered new land preservation techniques such as the conservation easement and debt for nature swaps. A conservation easement is a way for land owners to ensure that their land remains in its natural state while capitalizing on some of the land's potential development value. Debt for nature swaps are tools used to encourage natural area preservation in third world countries while assisting the country economically as well: in exchange for setting aside land, some of the country's foreign debt is forgiven.[25][26]

The Conservancy believes that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing its conservation mission. The organization works to help businesses make better decisions, understand the value of nature, and ultimately protect it.[27] Among the companies it works with are: 3M/3M Foundation, Alcoa Foundation, AmazonSmile, AT&T, Avon, Bank of America, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Cargill, Inc., Caterpillar/Caterpillar Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, Discovery Channel: North America, Disney, The Dow Chemical Company, FEMSA, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Harley-Davidson, IBM, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Lowe’s/Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, Microsoft, Oracle, Patagonia, PepsiCo Recycle for Nature, Swiss Re, UPS, Whole Foods Market.[28]

The Nature Conservancy's expanding international conservation efforts include work in North America, Central America, and South America, Africa, the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, and Asia.[29] Increasingly, the Conservancy focuses on developing global solutions at the intersection of nature’s and people’s needs. The solutions are areas where it aims to develop specific strategies and link them to its place-based work at the system scale.[30] Below are a few examples of such work:

The Nature Conservancy was instrumental in the creation in 2004 of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The Conservancy's efforts in China's Yunnan province, one of the most vital centers of plant diversity in the northern temperate hemisphere, serve as a model for locally based ecotourism with a global impact. 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.[31]

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.[30][32] 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.[33][34][35] 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.[36][37]

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.[38] 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.[39]

Financing for this effort was organized by The Nature Conservancy's impact investing unit called NatureVest.[40][41] NatureVest was created in 2014 with founding sponsorship from JPMorgan Chase & Co. 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.[42][43] 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[44] 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.[45]

Plant a Billion Trees campaign

The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees campaign is an effort to restore 2,500,000 acres (10,100 km2) of land and plant one billion trees by 2025 in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. Each donated dollar results in one planted tree in the Atlantic Forest.[46]

Environmental benefits

The Plant a Billion Trees campaign has also been identified as a tool to help slow climate change, as the Atlantic Forest – one of the biggest tropical forests in the world – helps regulate the atmosphere and stabilize global climate. The reforestation of the Atlantic Forest has the capability to remove 10 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. The Nature Conservancy states that this is equivalent to taking two million cars off the road. The Atlantic Forest's restoration could help to slow the process of climate change that is affecting the Earth.

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. The Plant a Billion Trees campaign is also associated with The Nature Conservancy's Adopt an Acre program, which consists of nine locations, including Brazil.[47]

Involvement in the community

The Nature Conservancy also features e-cards from the Atlantic Forest, as well as video of the Atlantic Forest and detailed information about the seedlings on their website.[48] The website also features a news feed and an interactive map of the Atlantic Forest region in Brazil, as well as information on many of the plants, animals, and people that are impacted by the plight of the forest and who may benefit from its restoration.[48]

Tree planting

The Nature Conservancy plants one tree in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil for each dollar donated by supporters. Some of the seeds being planted consist of:

  • Guapuruvu Tree (Schizolobium parahyba) – An indigenous plant of Atlantic Forest, this has one of the fastest growth rates of all the native species.
  • Golden Trumpet Tree (Tabebuia umbellate) – According to popular belief, when this tree's yellow blooms appear, no more frosts will occur. The wood of a Golden Trumpet Tree has the same fire rating as concrete and is denser than water. Illegal logging activity has grown due to this tree's growing popularity.
  • Ice-Cream Bean Tree (Inga edulis) – Leafy and abundant, this tree controls weeds and erosion. Its popular fruit is a long pod up to a few feet, containing a sweet pulp surrounding large seeds.
  • Capororoca Tree (Myrsine ferruginea) – Birds like the Rufous-bellied Thrush enjoy the fruit off of this tree.[46]

History of the campaign

The Nature Conservancy launched the Plant a Billion Trees campaign in 2008 with a micro-site that is affiliated but not hosted by The Nature Conservancy's website.

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.[49] This campaign encourages individuals and organizations to plant their own trees around the world and record this action on the website as a tally.

On Earth Day 2009, Disneynature's film Earth debuted, promising to plant a tree for every ticket sold to the film in its first week. This resulted in a donation of 2.7 million trees to the Plant a Billion Trees program.[50]


The Plant a Billion Trees campaign has followed The Nature Conservancy's approach of partnering with larger organizations (such as Disneynature, Planet Green, Penguin Books, Payless Shoesource, AT&T, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and Visa) to leverage donations from supporters and increase efficiency and effectiveness of the campaign.[46]

  • Penguin Classics sponsored a Penguin Walk[51] to benefit the Plant a Billion Trees Campaign on June 6, 2009 as well.[52]
  • Payless Shoesource sponsored the Plant a Billion Trees campaign[53] by giving $1 to The Nature Conservancy for every Plant a Billion Trees reusable bag sold between April 13, 2009, and December 31, 2009 (sold at a retail value of $1.99) and $1 from each zoe&zac branded product sold between 4/13/09 and 5/4/09. Payless guaranteed a minimum total contribution of $100,000 in 2009 from these sales and the sales of other merchandise during 2009.
  • Panasonic has been involved by planting a tree for each customer who selects The Nature Conservancy in its "Giving Back" program.[49]
  • Organic Bouquet donated ten percent for every flower and gift purchased during the month of April 2008 at[49]

The Nature Conservancy and its scientists also work with other conservation organizations, local landowners, state and federal officials, agencies, and private companies to protect, connect, and buffer what is left of the Atlantic Forest.[49]


Over the years, The Nature Conservancy has faced a number of criticisms. They fall into the following main categories:

Nearness to big business

The Nature Conservancy has ties to many large companies, including those in the oil, gas, mining, chemical and agricultural industries.[54] Its Board of Directors currently includes the retired chairman of Duke Energy, and executives from Merck, HP, Google and several financial industry groups.[55] It also has a Business Council which it describes as a consultative forum that includes Bank of America, BP America, Cargill, Chevron, The Coca-Cola Company, The Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy, General Mills, Royal Dutch Shell, and Starbucks Coffee Company.[56] The organization faced criticism in 2010 from supporters for its refusal to cut ties with BP after the Gulf oil spill.[57][58]

Writer and activist Naomi Klein has strongly criticized The Nature Conservancy for earning money from an oil well on land it controls in Texas.[59] Klein has also criticized The Nature Conservancy and other large environmental NGOs in an article by The Nation for their continued engagement with fossil fuel companies.[60]

Questionable resale

There have been allegations of The Nature Conservancy obtaining land and reselling it at a profit, sometimes to supporters,[61] who have then made use of it in ways which many perceived as being insufficiently environmentally friendly. 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.[62] 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.[63]


Like many large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, the Conservancy has also been criticized for using hunting in its management policies. Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf, the Commander of coalition forces during the First Gulf War, and a member of the President's Conservation Counsel of the Conservancy, was also a member of the trophy hunting organization the Safari Club International.[64]


The organization publishes The Nature Conservancy magazine (ISSN 1540-2428; six issues per year).

See also


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  2. 1 2 "About The Nature Conservancy". January 23, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  3. Archived August 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. 1 2 "Non Profit Organization | About Us | The Nature Conservancy". Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  5. "Global Environmental Issues | The Nature Conservancy". Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  6. "Non Profit Organization | About Us | The Nature Conservancy". January 17, 2013. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  7. "Our World : 2015 Annual Report" (PDF). Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  8. "The 200 Largest U.S. Charities List: Environment/Animal". Forbes. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
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  11. "2006 Harris poll". Retrieved February 21, 2014.
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  14. "Rating for The Nature Conservancy". Charity Navigator. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  15. "Nature Conservancy | Charity Ratings | America's Most Independent Charity Watchdog". CharityWatch. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
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  19. 1 2 3 4 Adams, Jonathan S. (2006). The Future of the Wild: Radical Conservation for a Crowded World. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807085103. p. 50-51. The author is a conservation biologist and (as of 2016) a program director at the Nature Conservancy.
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  30. 1 2 "Global Solutions". Retrieved September 15, 2016.
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  38. "Seychelles to protect more than 400,000 square kilometers of Ocean - Reef Builders | The Reef and Marine Aquarium Blog". Reef Builders. March 18, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
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  43. "Why TNC and JPMorgan Chase are investing $1 billion in nature". April 29, 2014. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  44. "FT/IFC Transformational Business Awards organised by FT Live". Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  45. 1 2 3 "Plant A Billion Trees – one dollar at a time – with The Nature Conservancy". Retrieved February 2, 2013.
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  49. "Disney joins forces with the nature conservancy to plant 2.7 million trees in conjunction with first week ticket sales for Disneynature's debut feature, 'Earth'" (PDF). April 29, 2009. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
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  52. "Customer Service – Payless Shoes". Payless ShoeSource. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
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  55. "Business Council | The Nature Conservancy". July 1, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  56. "Nature Conservancy faces potential backlash from ties with BP". Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  57. "Reaching for a longer spoon". The Economist. June 3, 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  58. "Group Earns Oil Income Despite Pledge on Drilling". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  59. Klein, Naomi (May 1, 2013). "Time for Big Green to Go Fossil Free". The Nation. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  60. The Chronicle of Philanthropy. October 18, 2007.
  61. Staff (June 14, 2003). "In Wake of Criticism, Nature Conservancy Changes Policies". The New York Times. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  62. "Nature Conservancy". Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  63. "Schwarzkopf Shines at Safari Club International Life Members Breakfast". Retrieved February 2, 2013.
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