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notes on The Nature Conservancy

2003-06-09 15:43:00.422973+00 by Dan Lyke 1 comments

Looong meanderings ahead, scroll down and see the pictures in subsequent entries even if this entry is boring.

With the recent PipeVine fiasco and the alleged misconduct of the Santa Clara Goodwill exec, it seems a good time for reevaluating charitable giving. Weeks ago, I got a note asking if I was following the controversy around The Nature Conservancy. The correspondent had been Googling around trying to find weblog coverage of it. I asked "what controversy?", which lead to a bunch of Washington Post articles:

I'm cynical. I don't expect my charities to be squeaky clean, I understand that non-profits are usually set up to help someone make a living doing what they love. So I wasn't all that surprised to find out that Steven J. McCormick, the president of the operation, is paid about $420k a year, which is above the $275k+health & benefits that the charity initially reported. Given that the guy was hired away from a law practice in San Francisco, that seems about in-line. Comments about the contributions to the economy made by the legal profession elided because this isn't that sort of rant.

It also doesn't bother me too much that they buy land and sell it at a loss, that they seem to let people donate money to buy the land that later gets resold to the donors with deed restrictions and that some attempts at promoting ecotourism businesses to preserve areas have failed. Part of what I respect about The Nature Conservancy is that they're pragmatic and that they're not "smash the Starbucks" anarchists, but folks who acknowledge that this economy has brought us some good things.

It bothers me a little more that an attempt to develop prarie chicken habitat was harmful to the species, and that co-branding standards might have been sketchy, but that The Nature Conservancy has amassed billions and has members of large polluting corporations on the board is less of a concern: This is a big operation, and big operations require big money.

Obviously all of these are The Washington Post trying to sell papers, and I haven't gone back through and done the journalistic thing and tried to find my own cites and track anything further. My conclusion is that these "revelations" are roughly what I'd expect of the operation, I'd prefer it if they dropped the glossy magazine and cleaned up a few operations, but compared to some of the misinformation campaigns waged by operations like the National Resources Defense Council and mixed political messages of various other "conservation" organizations, this is about as good as I can expect from a national group. As always, if you want to feel best about your charitable dollars, be directly involved and make a difference locally.

[ related topics: Politics Nature and environment Food Bay Area Law Journalism and Media Birds ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2003-06-15 16:14:16.856862+00 by: ksherwoodf

Let me add an insider's perspective to The Nature Conservancy articles: The reporters, David Ottoway and Joel Stephens, lied through their teeth in those articles. I know this because I have personal knowledge of many of the specific situations described in them. I pains me to say this, because I read that darned paper every day for thirteen years, and mostly believed it. But I will no longer.

No wonder the ultra-right wing property rights web sites have links to the Post articles. It is *their* kind of jounalism.

I won't leave my name because you don't want to get into a fight with a newspaper -- they always get the last word.

But here are a couple of examples of what they did:

That $3 billion in TNC assetts? It's all conservation land! They don't bother to mention that!

The 137,000 acres cut by TNC on our 185,000 acre purchase on the St. John River in Maine? It is being cut over 20 YEARS under a forest management plan that is (or soon will be) green certified. THEY INTENTIONALLY made it sound like we cut that in one year! (BTW, had we locked that land up, we would never have done another deal in the North Woods, almost all of which is harvested and in fact is still in timber because of this history).

Furthermore, in that same deal, The Post implied there was something improper in TNC purchasing the land from IP (who is on our National Board of GOvernors). But they did not mention that we purchased that under a SEALED BID process, IP had NO IDEA who was bidding; that we were only a small part of the THIRD HIGHEST bid; and that we purchased the land (on six weeks notcie!!!!) only after the first two bidders fell through AND our partner withdrew.

Ottaway had all this in his notes, and neglected to mention any of it. Instead, he again chose to mislead, misconstrue, and lie. He made one of the greatest conservation success stories in history look somehow shady or less than was advertised.

Almost every single incident they mentioned in those articles was intentionally distorted. The more than $20 million 'lost' on the Virginia Eastern Shore project? It was actually a little over $2 million. The rest went into conservation land.

All this stuff they dug up, by the way, was based on internal reports and audits that we freely provided to them (including one on the praire chicken incident). They were never any secret, all was common knowledge in the Conservancy community, and we learned from our mistakes and moved on.

Ottaway and Stephens clearly pitched a story two years ago about TNC being the 'Enron' of the nonprofit world; spent two years being led over dunes and floated down rivers by our staff; were welcomed into our offices and given our files. And after two years of junkets, realized they didn't have four days worth of copy.

So they made stuff up and threw out anything that did not support their 'story.'

GRRRR. They have done incredible damage to conservation. An important bill may not pass because of this, and many tools mentioned in the story, which are highly effective (and used by ALL land trusts) will now need to be curtailed. Their articles will be waved in the faces of project managers and conservationists for the next twenty years.

Ottaway and Stephens have done the property rights nuts a huge service. All it took was some lying and the worst kind of journalism.