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The Nature Conservancy

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rancher

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Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is indisputably the wealthiest organization in the environmental movement with an budget approaching $300 million per year. The group's mission is to save environmentally valuable land through private acquisition. This private sector approach has earned The Conservancy praise from liberals and free market advocates alike. But The Nature Conservancy's approach to the environment is not as free market and mainstream as the group would have its supporters believe. Over the years, TNC has developed cozy relationships with conservation agencies at all levels of government. Not only have these relationships allowed The Conservancy to finance many of its supposed "private-sector" land purchases with taxpayer money, but, according to numerous accounts, it has allowed the group to profit handsomely from such deals. According to a June 12, 1992 Washington Times report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials paid The Nature Conservancy $4.5 million in 1988 and 1989 for land in the Little River National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, $1 million more than the land's appraised value. In 1989, the Bureau of Land Management gave The Conservancy $1.4 million for land the group had purchased for just $1.26 million in a simultaneous transaction. Washington Times author Ken Smith noted, "Up to the point of the transaction, The Conservancy had forked over exactly $100 for a purchase option agreement on the land. Wall Street investors in jail for insider trading never got a $140,000 return on a $100 investment." No doubt the deal was lucrative enough to make even Hillary Clinton, who turned a $1,000 investment in cattle futures into $100,000, green with envy.

Revelations that land trust groups such as The Nature Conservancy had made big profits off government land deals led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Interior's Inspector General in 1992. The investigation found that the department had spent $7.1 million more than necessary on 64 land deals between 1986 and 1991.

There have been other government reports critical of Nature Conservancy land deals as well. In 1991, the Missouri state auditor found that the state "paid $500,000 more than necessary on six land purchases from the Conservancy," according to a June 19, 1994 Newhouse News Service report. "The auditor claimed there was a conspiracy to jack up the sales price on these tracts to help the organization regain $400,000 in losses claimed on two state park deals that went sour. That was a violation of state financial regulations..."

The Nature Conservancy's favorable land deals may be more than mere coincidence. William Moran, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife whistle-blower reported to Congress that his superior continued to handle land deals with The Nature Conservancy while applying for a job with the organization. In another apparent case of conflict of interest, a director for a state office of the Bureau of Land Management presided over complex land deals involving The Conservancy while serving a member of the Conservancy's state board of directors.

The Conservancy has other ways of tapping into taxpayer funds as well -- and for purposes that have nothing to do with land acquisition. In 1993, for example, the group received a $44,100 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary outreach program. This "outreach" included developing and directing a "plan to counter opposition's push for county-wide referendum against the establishment of the sanctuary" and recruiting "local residents to speak out against the referendum at two Board of County Commissioners hearings." In other words, The Conservancy used taxpayer dollars to lobby. So much for the group's moderate reputation.

But government land deals and grants aren't the only controversies surrounding The Nature Conservancy. The group has frequently been accused of using intimidation tactics to force private landowners to sell their land. In one of the most flagrant cases of intimidation, a state director for The Conservancy threatened to have the government condemn a landowner's property if he refused to sell it for annexation to the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. "If your land is not acquired through voluntary negotiation, we will recommend its acquisition through condemnation," wrote The Conservancy's Albert Pyott in 1993 to the landowner, Professor Dieter Kuhn, a resident of Marburg, Germany.

Perhaps the greatest controversy involving The Conservancy occurred in 1994 when the group was found guilty by a federal judge of undue influence over a dying man. The man, Dr. Frederic Gibbs, a medical researcher who developed the electroencephalograph and conducted research in epilepsy, willed a 95-acre farm to The Nature Conservancy. Officials with The Conservancy apparently assisted Gibbs in changing his will after he had become mentally incompetent.

Despite its much-vaunted concern for preserving the environment, The Nature Conservancy nonetheless accepts contributions from such environmentally-harmful businesses as oil companies. The group is not particularly a friend of America's most disadvantaged Americans -- minorities. In 1990, it teamed up with the National Audubon Society to oppose a sheep grazing program by poor Chicanos in New Mexico even though the grazing was essential for an economic development project.

Selected Nature Conservancy Quotes

A Nature Conservancy official explaining how The Conservancy helps government agencies circumvent democracy....

"We do work closely with USFWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). We buy these properties when they need to be bought, so that at some point we can become the willing seller (to government). This helps the government get around the problem of local opposition." -The Nature Conservancy's William Weeks quoted by syndicated columnist Warren T. Brookes, January 23, 1991

The Nature Conservancy making a German landowner feel at home -- in Nazi-era Germany, that is...

"If your land is not acquired through voluntary negotiation, we will recommend its acquisition through condemnation." -Albert Pyott, former Illinois state director of The Nature Conservancy, threatening Dieter Kuhn of Marburg, Germany, quoted in The New Orleans Times Picayune, June 19, 1994
 

rancher

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That was a copy paste, my " " didn't show up
 

Big Muddy rancher

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Don't some projects like this help even things out. I don't agree with everything that most Organizations do but quite often they aren't all bad. I the one you posted above it looks like their is some corruption in Government as well.


The Setting
Centennial Valley is a high-elevation montane valley that supports diverse sagebrush, grassland, and forest communities, and is interspersed with intact riparian swathes and large wetland-marsh complexes. It is located in the far southwest corner of Montana, a mere 80 km (50 mi) from Yellowstone National Park. Today, Centennial Valley's wetlands and rangelands remain remote and undeveloped. As such, Centennial Valley provides essential habitat for more than 230 bird species (including trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, and peregrine falcons), mammals such as pronghorn, badgers, wolverines, grizzly bears, and gray wolves, native fish such as arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat trout, and several regionally rare plant species. In addition, this valley functions as a vital migration corridor between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Rocky Mountains for large mammals.

The Threat - Invasive Non-Native Species
Remote and largely intact, the Centennial Valley currently has few infestations of invasive weeds. Large populations of these habitat-transforming non-natives occur nearby however, and when they spread into and establish in native habitats, these undesirables can readily outcompete and displace the native plants that the rest of the ecosystem is built upon. Unfortunately, small populations of several species of invasive weeds are already present in the Valley, including: houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), Russian knapweed (Centaurea repens), and dyer's woad (Isatis tinctoria). Very small, isolated populations of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) and bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) are also present in the Valley. Especially troubling are the large populations of spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) that occur to the west and north of the valley. These invaders have the capability of completely transforming the biologically diverse grasslands into single-species stands of non-native weeds that provide little native food or habitat for grazing animals or native wildlife. They could also alter the hydrology and change nutrient cycling within the valley if allowed to invade and take over. The native biodiversity of the Centennial Valley was clearly threatened by the encroachment of these non-native pests.

Fortunately, a small group of people realized that now is the time to begin working cooperatively to prevent this currently small problem from spreading and becoming a big problem.

A Success Story
Alarmed by the approaching front of invasive non-native plants, two interns for The Nature Conservancy - Kelly Pohl and Bryan Gartland - set about generating a cooperative approach between the public agencies, private landowners, and other land-managers to combat weeds in Centennial Valley, while the weed infestations were still small and manageable. In 1999, they were instrumental in starting the "Red Rock Watershed Weed Project" (RRWWP), with the initial goal of inspiring and helping private landowners of the lower (western) Centennial Valley and the area around the town of Lima, MT to carry out noxious weed control. The RRWWP includes representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Beaverhead County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the Bureau of Land Management, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Montana Audubon Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and local landowners. The goals of the RRWWP were further refined to:

1. Involve as many landowners within the Valley as possible,
2. Control weeds by treating at least 2,500 acres within the project area,
3. Survey and map as much of the project area (for weeds) as possible, and
4. Provide educational resources for landowners and visitors to the project area.

The RRWWP secured nearly $26,000 in grant funding from the Montana Noxious Weed Trust Fund and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and matching funds were acquired from each of the cooperators. These funds were used for educational materials and to provide a 50% cost-share for herbicide and commercial herbicide application expenses for each of the landowners.

Early in that first year (1999), the two TNC interns contacted local landowners and invited them to join the group. Weed identification booklets and literature were created and distributed, and agreements between all partners were decided upon. The RRWWP now has many participants, and they agree that having interns on the ground to contact landowners and ensure that resources for implementing the project were properly distributed was, and continues to be, crucial to the project's success.

In 1999, 25 of the 34 landowners within the 400,000-acre project area committed to the program (representing 88% of the project area). A total of 2,091 acres of weeds were treated that first year, and 10,000 acres were surveyed for weeds and any infestations mapped. Additionally, brochures, pamphlets and other materials with information on how to prevent the spread of noxious weeds, with details about the ecology of specific species, proper herbicide use, and integrated weed management techniques, were distributed to landowners, tourists, and sportsmen's associations in the southwestern portion of the state.

The RRWWP is far from finished in its work and sustained vigilance will be required to protect the Centennial Valley from non-native species invasion. The participants know that it is imperative that this cooperative project continues into the future. The RRWWP is scheduled to continue for four years (from 1999 to 2003), and they plan to expand the border of the project area.

Current Status
As of early 2002, the RRWWP has now expanded to include the entire Red Rock River watershed as well as the nearby Big Hole River watershed, and encompasses a total area of greater than 1 million acres. Ten interns will be deployed in these watersheds during 2002 to sign-up landowners into weed management districts, coordinate weed management actions between the county and landowners, provide outreach and education, and help with community weed management events (e.g., Weed Days). When landowners in the Big Hole River watershed first approached Beaverhead County about forming a weed management district, the county commissioner told them that if they tried to form a weed management district without TNC, it would be a failure.

This project demonstrates that because rapid action was taken before the weed populations became insurmountable infestations, and with the active collaboration from all stakeholders, that large, pristine areas such as Montana's Centennial Valley can be protected for future generations from encroaching invasive weeds. The coordination of the RRWWP by TNC interns strengthened TNC's ties with the local communities, and gives the organization much greater credibility as a steward of the land and a trustworthy source of information and advice about land management. Because non-native species invasions threaten ranching, recreational uses and native biological diversity in the surrounding region, word has gotten out that TNC is a reliable, hard-working, perhaps even essential partner in the business of combating this shared threat. The strong relationships built in these efforts have, in turn, created more opportunities for conservation in the region.

Red Rock Watershed Weed Project (RRWWP) Partners
Private landowners, ranchers
Beaverhead County
Bureau of Land Management, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Montana Audubon Society
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
The Nature Conservancy
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program
 

sw

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Nice posts, but I have to kind of agree with BMR, for this reason only, it seems TNC is finally figuring out that if it weren't for ranchers, so many of the last great places would have million dollar homes on them and they are starting to listen to the people who live out here. I still don't trust them but I would rather see cows than condos anyday
 

Tom S

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This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't things. Good posts from both views, but what I don't like about any land grabbing org is the way the property owners rights are stripped away if they have your land in their sights. It's happening right now a few miles north of me.

But as always there's more to the story. "Some" of the property owners were considering on selling their farms and ranches to developers, (but by no means all of them). This is very beautiful land that I'm writing about. If TNC has their way it'll be preserved forever or at least until they decide to make a killing on it someday. If developers get it the land is destroyed in the very near future to never recover until some future tragidy depopulates the land. So to put it bluntly, who's right?? :???:
 

mrj

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I'm with you on this Tom S.

There are incidences of places where rampant development is threatening ranchland that TNC has either purchased, or in some other way protected that land and is leasing it to people who either were the owners, or who did not have land of their own to operate.

Abuses should be prevented, and the land should remain a "taxpayer", IMO. Better that than actual government ownership, anyway.

MRJ
 

Brad S

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"land should remain a taxpayer"

Exactly. I wonder if states or counties could pass laws requiring voters' consent to change private property into public property.
 

Sandhusker

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Brad S said:
"land should remain a taxpayer"

Exactly. I wonder if states or counties could pass laws requiring voters' consent to change private property into public property.

I think you're on to something there, Brad.
 

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