The Nature Conservancy
Founded1951 (71 years ago) (1951)[1]
Type501(c)3 non-profit[2]
FocusEnvironmental conservation
HeadquartersArlington, Virginia, United States
Area served
MethodConservation by design
>1 million
Key people
US$1.29 billion (2018)[3]

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global environmental organization, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, United States. As of 2021 it works via affiliates or branches in 79 countries and territories, as well as across every state in the US.

Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy has over one million members globally as of 2021, and has protected more than 119,000,000 acres (48,000,000 ha) of land in its history.[4] As of 2014, it is the largest environmental non-profit organization by assets and revenue in the Americas.


The Nature Conservancy developed out of a scholarly organization initially known as the Ecological Society of America (ESA).[5] The ESA was founded in 1915, and later formed a Committee on Preservation of Natural Areas for Ecological Study, headed by Victor Shelford.[5][6][7] The primary aim of Shelford was to find areas of land that would be beneficial for long-term research.[5] By the 1930s, Shelford and his colleagues such as Aldo Leopold increasingly sought to advocate for conservation.[5] 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.[5][6] 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.[6]

The Nature Conservancy at 2017 Capital Pride
The Nature Conservancy at 2017 Capital Pride

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.[5] Patrick Noonan served as President from 1973 to 1980 and spearheaded major land acquisitions, fundraising and decentralized growth of state programs.[8] In 1970 the organization hired its first staff scientist, Robert E. Jenkins, Jr., who helped the organization refocus its mission to conserving natural diversity. [8][5] With Noonan's support, in 1974 Jenkins began to partner with state governments to develop state-by-state inventories which assembled and stored data on the “elements” of nature (e.g. rare species and natural communities) and on “element occurrences” (the specific locations where they occur),[8] which later morphed into the Natural Heritage Network, a network of state natural heritage programs.[5]

Land deals controversy

In 2003 the Washington Post ran an investigative series about the Nature Conservancy with allegations of improper dealing and other improprieties that the Nature Conservancy contested.[9] In part, the Post alleged the Conservancy had, time and again, bought ecologically significant tracts of land, attached some development restrictions and then resold the properties to trustees and supporters at greatly reduced prices.[9][10] The sales were part of a program that limits intrusive development but generally allows buyers to build homes on the land.[10] The buyers then gave the Conservancy cash that was roughly equivalent to the amount of the discounts.[10] That allowed the new owners to take significant tax deductions for charitable gifts.[11][12]

The Nature Conservancy suspended a range of practices shortly after the articles ran including these sales, licensing its logo to corporations whose executives sat on the Conservancy's governing board and council, all new logging and other "resource extraction activities" such as oil and gas drilling on its nature preserves, and all new loans to employees.[10] The Conservancy launched an independent review that issued its final report in 2004, calling for sweeping reforms aimed at making the Conservancy a model of ethical standards for nonprofit organizations.[13]

Sexual harassment investigation

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.[14] On June 7, 2019, Mark Tercek, CEO since 2008, announced his resignation following the resignation of McPeek.[15] On June 10, Luis Solorzano, executive director of The Nature Conservancy's Florida-based Caribbean chapter, became the fifth senior official to depart the organization.[16] On June 11, 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.[17]

Project sites

Nature Conservancy of Tennessee's William B. Clark, Sr., Nature Preserve on the Wolf River at Rossville, Tennessee
Nature Conservancy of Tennessee's William B. Clark, Sr., Nature Preserve on the Wolf River at Rossville, Tennessee

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.[18]

North America

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.[19]

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.[20][21] 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.[22][23][24] 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.[25][26]

Nature United is the Canadian affiliate of The Nature Conservancy. Nature United was founded as a Canadian charity in 2014, building on decades of conservation in Canada. Headquartered in Toronto, the organization has field staff located across the country. Nature United supports Indigenous leadership, sustainable economic development, and large-scale conservation, primarily in the Great Bear Rainforest, Clayoquot Sound, the Northwest Territories, and northern Manitoba.[27]


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.[28] 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.[29]

Financing for this effort was organized by The Nature Conservancy's impact investing unit called NatureVest.[30][31] 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.[32][33] 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.[34]

Plant a Billion Trees campaign

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.[35][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.[36][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.

Environmental benefits

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.[37]

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.[38][better source needed]

Tree planting

The Nature Conservancy plants trees for every contribution donated by supporters.[39] Its "Plant a Billion Trees" campaign aims to restore Brazil's Atlantic Forest by planting 1 billion native trees on 2.5 million acres that have been deforested.[40]


The Nature Conservancy has over one million members across the world as of 2021.[41][42] As of 2014, it was the largest environmental non-profit organization by assets and revenue in the Americas.[43]

Big business ties

The Nature Conservancy has ties to many large companies, including those in the oil, gas, mining, chemical and agricultural industries.[44] As of 2016, its board of directors included the retired chairman of Duke Energy, and executives from Merck, HP, Google and several financial industry groups.[45] 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.[46] The organization faced criticism in 2010 from supporters for its refusal to cut ties with BP after the Gulf oil spill.[47][48]

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.[49][50] The Nature Conservancy responded by arguing that it had no choice under the terms of a lease it signed years prior with an oil and gas company and later came to regret.[49]

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.[51]

In 2021, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Amazon to compensate local farmers for restoring and protecting rainforests in Para, Brazil.[52]

Efficiency and accountability

The Charity Navigator gave The Nature Conservancy a 3-star overall rating, a 2-star financial rating and a 4-star accountability and transparency rating for the 2019 fiscal year.[53]


Like many large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, the Conservancy includes 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.[54]


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


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.[55][56][57] 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.[58]

See also


  1. ^ Grove, Noel (December 1988). "Quietly Conserving Nature". National Geographic. 174 (6): 818–844.
  2. ^ "Articles Of Incorporation". Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  3. ^ The Nature Conservancy. Consolidated Financial Statements for the year ended June 30, 2018 and report thereon. Accessed November 22, 2018.
  4. ^ Yachnin, Jennifer (August 27, 2021). "Could 'non-use' rights boost conservation lands?". E&E News. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Adams, Jonathan S. (2006). The Future of the Wild. Beacon Press. pp. 51–54. ISBN 978-0-8070-8537-0.
  6. ^ a b c "Our History Archived December 20, 2016, at the Wayback Machine". The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  7. ^ "About Us". The Nature Conservancy. Archived from the original on September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Birchard, Bill (2005). Nature's Keepers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-7158-8.
  9. ^ a b Ottaway, David B.; Stephens, Joe (May 4, 2003). "Nonprofit Land Bank Amasses Billions". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d Stephens, Joe; Ottaway, David (May 13, 2003). "Nature Conservancy Suspends Land Sales". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved March 12, 2022.
  11. ^ Stephens, Joe; Ottaway, David B. (May 6, 2003). "Nonprofit Sells Scenic Acreage to Allies at a Loss". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved March 12, 2022.
  12. ^ Stephens, Joe (May 10, 2003). "Charity's Land Deals To Be Scrutinized". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved March 12, 2022.
  13. ^ Stephens, Joe (March 31, 2004). "Overhaul of Nature Conservancy Urged". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 18, 2022.
  14. ^ Colman, Zack. "Nature Conservancy president resigns in wake of sexual harassment probe". POLITICO.
  15. ^ Colman, Zack. "Nature Conservancy CEO Tercek exits as shake-up widens". POLITICO. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  16. ^ Colman, Zack. "Nature Conservancy's Caribbean program chief to exit after probe". POLITICO.
  17. ^ Colman, Zack (June 11, 2019). "Nature Conservancy taps Obama Interior secretary as interim CEO". POLITICO. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  18. ^ "Where We Work | The Nature Conservancy". Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  19. ^ Adams, Lisa (November 13, 2004). "Plan would protect swath of Yucatán forest". San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
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  40. ^ Watson, Tom (2009). CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0470460108.
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  44. ^ "Working with Companies – Companies We Work With | The Nature Conservancy". Archived from the original on August 18, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
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  46. ^ "Business Council | The Nature Conservancy". July 1, 2016. Archived from the original on September 23, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
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  49. ^ a b Gillis, Justin. "Group Earns Oil Income Despite Pledge on Drilling". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 24, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
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  52. ^ Freedman, Andrew (September 7, 2021). "Amazon, Nature Conservancy launch initiative to help preserve the Amazonian rainforest". Axios. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
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  57. ^ The Chronicle of Philanthropy. October 18, 2007.
  58. ^ Staff (June 14, 2003). "In Wake of Criticism, Nature Conservancy Changes Policies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 1, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2014.