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Conservancy Founders Aimed to Take Action

May 20, 2013

Since 1951, The Nature Conservancy has worked with communities, businesses and people to protect more than 117 million acres around the world.

The Conservancy's mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters each need to survive.

In 1946 a small group of scientists formed the Ecologist Union, resolving to take direct action to save threatened natural areas. They changed their name to The Nature Conservancy in 1950.

For the next five years the conservancy grew, establishing offices throughout the nation. In 1955, land acquisition, a key protection tool for the conservancy, began with a 60-acre purchase along the Mianus River Gorge on the border of New York and Connecticut. The conservancy provided $7,500 to finance the purchase, with the provision that the loan be repaid for use in other conservation efforts. The revolving loan fund that resulted was the Land Preservation Fund and is still the organization's foremost conservation tool.

As years passed, the conservancy grew stronger, receiving donated land and embarking on new partnerships. In 1965 a gift from the Ford Foundation enabled the conservancy to hire its first full-time, paid president.

In 1970 a vice president was hired, Robert E. Jenkins, who leads the organization to create a biological inventory of the nation, introducing heightened scientific rigor to land acquisition choices. The inventory provided the impetus to create the state Natural Heritage Network. This network covered all 50 states by 1970.

The conservancy spread its wings and launched the International Conservation Program in 1980. The objective was to identify natural areas and conservation organizations in Latin America in need of technical and financial assistance.

During the next 11 years, the conservancy continued to grow by protecting more land in the U.S. and overseas, while still instituting new programs. One such program was started in 1991, named Last Great Places: An Alliance for People and the Environment.

The alliance was a multinational, $300 million initiative to protect large-scale ecosystems by making people part of the solution. The initiative emphasizes core reserve areas surrounded by buffer zones, where appropriate human uses were encouraged.

For its innovative work at the Virginia Coast Reserve, a flagship site for the initiative, the conservancy received the first President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award.

By 1999 the conservancy's membership was more than 1 million people. In 2001, Steve McCormick became president and chief executive officer of the conservancy. This same year the conservancy also turned 50 years old. In celebration, 12 renowned photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and William Wegman, captured the rich and complex splendor of some of the Last Great Places in a photography exhibit.

Also in 2001, the conservancy acquired property for Oregon's Zumwalt Prairie Preserve on the edge of Hells Canyon in Wallowa County. The conservancy's 42-square mile preserve includes extensive native bunchgrass prairie habitats and wooded canyons descending to the Imnaha River. Creeks on the preserve harbor spawning grounds for endangered Snake River steelhead and chinook salmon. Zumwalt Prairie is also renowned for its concentrations of breeding hawks and eagles and other wildlife.

In 2003, the conservancy, Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund, partnered with Chilean environmental organizations to protect the rare plants and wildlife on 147,500 acres of biologically rich temperate rainforest in the Validivian Coastal Range in southern Chile.

Also in 2003, the conservancy and the National Park Service jointly purchased the 116,000-acre Kahuka Ranch in Hawaii to add to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The purchase increases the size of the 217,000-acre park by 50 percent, and is the largest conservation transaction in Hawaii's history.

To date, the conservancy has 15,274,000 cumulative acres protected in the U.S; 83,503,700 cumulative acres protected in Canada, Latin America & Caribbean; and 18,393,225 cumulative acres protected in the Asia-Pacific region.

The current number of conservancy preserves is about 1,400.

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