The Nature Conservancy, Inc. Address: 4245 North
Fairfax Drive, Suite 100 Arlington, Virginia 22203-1637 Telephone: 703-841-5300 Email:
most controversial environmental group that claims to be
"non-controversial." As detailed below, TNC was involved in
a lobbying scam using front groups to
stop a dam project; threatened to have the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service take a landowner's property if he refused to sell to The
Nature Conservancy; used undue influence to get property from an
elderly victim and lost the court case brought by the proper heirs;
and continues to sell private land to the government despite the wishes of those
who sold it to the Nature Conservancy. TNC receives millions in
government funds and uses tax money to forward its own agenda of
nationalizing private land at a profit. Although The Nature
Conservancy claims to be a land preservation group, it pays Michael
J. Coda a salary of $154,082 (and benefits of $17,652) as Director
of their Climate Change Program, getting into the highly contentious
global warming controversy. To keep their media spin on being
"non-controversial", The Nature Conservancy paid $1,251,150 to Media
Strategies and Research company for consulting services.
Profile from Undue Influence,
Chapter 3: Grant Driven Greens
(Includes updated numbers and situations)
The Nature Conservancy is by far
the richest environmental group in terms of assets and income stream, with
2009 total revenues of $856,246,824and assets of
TNC, as it likes to abbreviate
itself, also has a squeaky clean reputation for being "science driven,
non-confrontational and businesslike," in the words of Daniel R. Efroymson,
former Chair of TNCís Board of Governors. It calls itself "Natureís real estate
TNC operates the worldís largest
private nature preserve system, 1,340 preserves under Conservancy management
consisting of 1,177,000 acres the Conservancy owns or has under conservation
easement. TNCís membership stands at 900,000. It has protected 10.5 million
acres in the U.S. since its incorporation in 1953.
Millions of people reading upscale
magazines have seen TNCís wonderful print ad picturing an eagle soaring above a
majestic landscape with the great cutline, "We have friends in high places."
Certainly such a popular and
non-controversial organization canít be grant driven, can it?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that in 1996 it
received a whopping $203,886,056, or "60 percent of its annual revenue from
grants awarded by foundations, businesses, and individuals."
No, in the sense that The Nature
Conservancy itself gives so many grants "to partner organizations" and
has so many foundation and corporate moguls on its Board of Governors that it
constitutes a consolidated power center rivaling even the archetypal
Environmental Grantmakers Association.
It is difficult for the ordinary
person to grasp the power, wealth, and connections controlled by the Nature
Conservancy elite. The thirty-two members of TNCís Board of Governors, plus
officer, include at least seven foundation officers
and at least nine corporate officers, current or former. Retired or former
corporate and foundation officials do not entirely lose their influence, and in
fact may gain through board positions such as the popular Nature Conservancy.
The public policy influenced by this small group of people touches millions of
lives every day, but few are aware.
John C. Sawhill was president and chief executive
officer of The Nature Conservancy ($203,723 salary, 1998) and
was a walking influence center by himself. He was
president emeritus of New York University, chair of the H. John Heinz, III,
Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, and chair of the Electric
Power Research Institute Advisory Council. He was a
member of the Presidentís Council on Sustainable Development and the Commission
on the Future of the Smithsonian Institution, a board member of Environment for
the Americas, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and the Center
for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He was
a former partner of McKinsey & Company, Inc.and a
former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy.
Sawhillís unpaid position with the
Heinz Center indicated that he was
one of Teresa Heinzís favorite people. It was her $20 million grant that
created the Center, recall. And she gives generously to TNC.
TNC has 274 employees and officers
who are paid over $50,000 a year each. In 1996, TNC paid 50 firms or individuals
over $50,000 for consulting, fundraising, legal counsel and other professional
services. TNC paid out $15,792,253 in grants to partner organizations.
TNC is not only Natureís real
estate agent, itís not doing bad as Natureís securities investor, either: in
2000 it received
from its securities investment
portfolio. What exactly all this securities trading has to do with saving
nature is open to question, since TNCís securities
investment portfolio is standard rich folks stuff with a lot of common and
preferred stock in "capitalist, polluting, toxic, desecrating, bad-nasty
corporations," mixed with mutual funds, bonds and U.S. government obligations
totaling $1,051,959,170 in 2000.
That doesn't count other investments worth $165,202,224.
Then thereís the real estate. TNC
say it owns or has under conservation easement 1,177,000 acres in its private
preserve system. Good. TNC also says it has protected 10.5 million acres in the
United States. Good. If they own only 1.17 million of that 10.5 million, what
happened to the other 9.3 million acres?
They sold a lot of it to the
The Nature Conservancy bought
private land from private owners who thought it would remain in private hands
and sold it to the government?
Isnít that illegal?
The government asks them to do it
some of the time.
A letter from the Deputy Regional
Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to the Nature Conservancy
dated August 30, 1985, reveals a long-standing government agreement for TNC to
buy private land: "We are appreciative of The Nature Conservancyís continuing
effort to assist the Service in the acquisition of lands for the Connecticut
Coastal National Wildlife Refuge."
In this and numerous other letters,
the government clearly agrees to pay TNC "in excess of the approved appraisal
Similar agreements for the federal
government to buy TNC property at top-dollar prices exist all over the nation.
One federal officer who conducted
such excess-cost purchases, Robert Miller, a chief of the realty division of the
USFWS, was later hired by TNC at a high salary.
The Nature Conservancy is a conduit
for the nationalization of private property. Nearly ten million acres so far.
Is it still going on?
According to the most recent
figures available, in 1996 TNC received $37,853,205, or 11% of its total income,
from sale of private land to federal, state, and local governments for use as
parks, recreational areas, and nature preserves. Such land goes off the local
On top of that, The Nature
Conservancy gets government grants and contracts worth millions each year. Green
welfare. In 1996 they got $33,297,707, or 10% of their total income, from
So Natureís real estate agent,
which asks you to join up for 25, 35 or 50 bucks, was already in your taxpaying
pockets to the tune of $71,150,912 in 1996.
TNC is a public charity, according
to the IRS. Why doesnít TNC give the land to the government? What, and
miss 37 million bucks?
Maybe TNC is a little greedy, and
maybe not very "science driven," but those quiet land deals are more or less
"non-confrontational and businesslike," as board member Efroymson claimed. Two
out of threeís not bad.
Then thereís the case of the
Moraine Nature Preserve in Indiana. Itís also known as Gibbs v. The Nature
Conservancy, Case H92-0371, Federal District Court for the State of Indiana,
TNC helped create Indianaís Moraine
Nature Preserve and wanted to enlarge it. They particularly wanted to enlarge it
with the 135-acre farm of Professor Frederic A. Gibbs, M.D., now deceased.
According to court papers, TNC also wanted to increase their income with Dr.
Gibbsí entire estate.
Professor Frederic A. Gibbs, M.D.
was a world famous neurologist. He and his wife, Erna, pioneered the field of
electroencephalography (EEG) and in 1951 they received the coveted Lasker Award
in Medicine for their work.
Their son, Dr. Erich Gibbs, said:
"After my mother died of cancer in 1987, Dadís health declined sharply. He
transferred responsibility for his affairs to my brother and me."
Both sons are also medical
"In his waning years, my father
became legally blind, physically frail, and increasingly confused. By the time
he was 84, he could not read, even with powerful magnification. As his
Alzheimerís-like condition worsened, he became increasingly irascible, hating to
be supervised. Caring for him became more and more difficult.
"Toward the end, the only place
that he seemed reasonably at peace was on the Gibbs family farm in the northwest
corner of Indiana, very close to Valparaiso. Here, with the help of dear
friends, we carefully choreographed round-the-clock care so as to avoid fueling
his paranoia about being supervised.
"During the summer of 1991, a
neighbor accidentally wounded himself in the side with a shotgun and struggled
to Fredís home. While the frantic caregivers called for emergency response and
rendered first aid, this great physician, who had more than once in his career
tended an injured person in circumstances of great personal risk, just wandered
around the yard unconcerned, unable to grasp the significance of the situation.
"Things went as well as could be
expected until The Nature Conservancy and local TNC supporters barged onto the
"Behaving as friends and loved
ones, this group offered to take Fred for outings and to participate in his
care. In point of fact, they charged expensive lunches to his credit cards;
secretly rifled through all the private papers in his home; took him to meet
with attorneys; and turned him against his family.
"They wanted the Gibbs farm and
Fredís estate, which they imagined to be worth millions, in order to expand
their pet project, the Moraine Nature Preserve. This Ďpreserveí is hardly
pristine. It is adjacent to what is perhaps the most notorious landfill in
Indiana. And almost all of the land that has been acquired for the preserve has,
like the Gibbs farm, been completely plowed and grazed during the past century.
"When the plot surfaced, TNC
believed it had already acquired critical documents that would turn over Fredís
estate and the farm to TNC upon his death. Supposedly he had carefully read,
fully understood, and signed a new will that would leave virtually everything to
TNC and nothing to his family.
"The Gibbs family, accompanied by
legal counsel, met with TNC attorneys to explain that TNC had all its facts
wrongóFred had not been competent for years; had actively campaigned against TNC
when he was vigorous, was not wealthy (having donated large sums to medical
research); and had no control over his estate, which included only a partial
interest in the family farm. We had what we perceived to be overwhelming medical
and legal documentation, which included affidavits from scores of Fredís
esteemed medical colleagues. This information was offered to the highest levels
of TNC management. TNCís response was to ignore the evidence and accuse the
family of having defrauded Fred and thereby TNC, as the beneficiary of Fredís
"There was nothing the family could
legally do to deny TNC and their supporters access to him. At one point, TNC
supporters put Fred on a commercial jet, unaccompanied, so he could attend the
annual meeting of one of the societies he had founded. He collapsed on arrival,
disoriented, hallucinating and his heart unstable. He had to be hospitalized in
a strange location. When he was sufficiently stable to fly in the company of a
physician, he was transferred back to the Chicago area for further
hospitalization, which included surgery.
"Shortly afterwards, TNC supporters
sneaked Fred out of the nursing home where he was recuperating, and had him meet
with one of the lawyers in their group. TNC and its supporters turned the last
years of Fredís life into a torment. We will never forget him weeping in one of
his more lucid moments and trying to ask our forgiveness for having fouled up in
some way that he could not understand.
"After Fred passed away in 1992,
the family sued TNC in Federal Court. From our point of view, the case was open
and shut. We were convinced TNC would not have the audacity to go to court and
risk a directed judgement. We were naive.
"The first few law firms that we
retained withered under TNC pressure and abandoned us in the midst of critical
proceedings. Fortunately we finally obtained extremely capable and courageous
"At trial, TNC presented witnesses
to testify that Fred read the newspaper every day and that he was actively
involved in doing research. They even presented a nationally recognized medical
ethicist, who testified that individuals can make rational decisions about the
disposition of their estates, though they might be incapable of making rational
decisions regarding their daily affairs.
"TNC might actually have won this
case, were it not for the fact that the secretary for an attorney on the TNC
side turned over the attorneyís phone log to the Gibbs family. This phone log
proved to be the missing link that tied everything together.
"When the messages were enlarged on
huge posters for the jury to see, the effect was dramatic. There were messages
stating that Fred could not be convinced to sign TNCís documents and asking the
attorney what to do next. There was a message that Fredís Alaska State bonds
were coming due and asking if the caller should get a safe deposit box in which
to put the papers.
"It became so absurd that the jury
began to laugh as the attorney repeatedly said during cross-examination that he
could not recall the significance of his own messages, one message after
"On October 27, 1993, the jury
found that undue influence had indeed been exercised over Dr. Frederic Gibbs.
TNC was ordered to pay court costs and relinquish any claim on his estate.
"Without missing a beat, TNC
attorneys filed a motion to set the jury verdict aside and asked for a retrial.
When that was denied, TNC filed an appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals. They lost the appeal."
The sad postscript to this
horrifying story is that the Gibbs family could not recover its staggering
half-million-dollars in legal fees and other trial-related costs and losses. In
order to cover these expenses, the Gibbs farm was sold.
Another story of land grabbing:
In 1993 TNC tried to bully a German
professor, Dr. Dieter Kuhn, into selling some land he owned in rural Illinois.
Al Pyott, Illinois director of TNC, threatened Dr. Kuhn that if he did not
cooperate in the creation of Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, his land
would be taken by force of condemnation through Pyottís influence with the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service, which was listed in the local phone book in the same
entry with TNC. Pyott wrote:
The Nature Conservancy has,
starting in 1987, made numerous efforts to contact you by letter, by phone,
and through your agent, Mr. Clay, in an effort to discuss some basis for the
acquisition of your property in Pulaski County.
If your land is not acquired
through voluntary negotiation, we will recommend its acquisition through
TNC head at the
time, the late John Sawhill, had to write a
letter of apology to Dr. Kuhn.
Sawhill may have been prompted to
apologize by Congressman Glenn Poshard (D-IL), who told TNC that if they
continued their campaign of threats and bullying land owners, he would withdraw
support for future refuge acquisition funding.
Such clashes led to a 1994 General
Accounting Office report titled, "Land Acquisitions Involving Nonprofit
Conservation Organizations." It had been requested by Congress in the wake of a
May 1992 Interior Department Inspector General Report on problems with these
types of acquisitions, including undue benefits in financial gains.
The GAO tried to determine the
actual profits made by nonprofit groups selling private land to the federal
government, but could not. Two groups, the Trust for Public Land and the River
Network refused to provide Congress with their financial information "because of
contractual obligations concerning confidentiality." Others used bookkeeping
methods that made each transaction look like a loss (compared to an imaginary
"market value" on land for which there was no market).
The Nature Conservancy was found to
have sold one property to the Forest Service for over $1 million that had been
donated to it. The profit on this parcel, after expenses, was calculated at
Stung, The Nature Conservancy
responded to this controversy by declaring that it would in the future donate
lands to the government that had been donated to it, but said this would
"pressure them into fund raising."
Overall, TNC said its bookkeeping
methods showed it took a net loss on the private property it sold to the federal
government. TNC did not calculate the loss to county and school district tax
rolls as part of the social costs of its transactions.
Maybe TNC is not very "science
driven" and "non-confrontational" when it comes to land and money, but theyíre
certainly "businesslike," as board member Efroymson claimed. One out of threeís
not totally bad.
Okay, so TNC has its hand in the
taxpayerís till and plays hardball in court and claims to have government bully
boys backing up threats to condemn some property. But they wouldnít violate that
"businesslike" ethic of theirs by playing dirty politics in lobbying, would
The following entry in TNCís
internal Bioreserve Handbook describes the Norden Dam farmland irrigation
proposal on the Niobrara River in Nebraska back in the early 1980s. The TNC
description below was written in 1991 by John Flicker, then-vice president, to
describe how TNC defeated the project:
We developed three theaters of
1. All "swing" Members of the
In a typical water project
vote, about 1/3 of the House will always vote no, about 1/3 will always vote
yes, and about 1/3 are swing votes. Using a Sierra Club computer program, we
applied several criteria, such as the 22 previous water project votes, to
determine who the swing members would be. It gave us a target audience of
about 130 swing members.
2. The Nebraska Delegation
The House will tend to support
the united local delegation. If the delegation is split, other members feel
free to vote their conscience. We needed a split Nebraska delegation.
3. Nebraska State Government
Congress expects the Governor
and the state legislature to strongly support a local water project. If they
donít, Congress wonít throw money at them that they donít want.
Each theater of action had
strategy. The strategy started with
theme. It positioned the issue as a taxpayer issue instead of an
environmental issue. Several messengers were brought into the strategy to
deliver the message to particular audiences:
ó The Nebraska Tax Limit
Coalition: Conservative anti-tax, anti-government organization.
ó The Nebraska Water
Conservation Council: New organization created to conduct door-to-door
ó Save the Niobrara Rivers
Association: Local landowners group who serve as the plaintiff in the NEPA
litigation in federal court.
The information, the players, and
the money were the key factors in the
We had a personal relationship of
trust with one member of each organization who controlled that organization.
We then sent money to each organization to assist them in carrying out the
strategy. No one but TNC knew the entire strategy.
In Nebraska, TNC was always
behind the scenes. We never made public statements. Everything was done
through surrogates who were credible in their own right.
Outside of Nebraska, TNC was more
open. We designed a national campaign for each TNC state chapter to secure the
swing congressional members in each state. Chapters agreed to take on local
campaigns to assure votes from their states....
It took three years to implement
the strategy. In the end, the Nebraska delegation split on the issue. A
resolution in the Nebraska legislature supporting the project was blocked. The
Governor withdrew support. The House of Representatives voted to withdraw all
funding and to kill the project [in 1982].
More importantly, we did it in a
way that did not alienate TNC in Nebraska. Since then, the Kiewit Foundation
has given money to TNC, and the editor of Omaha World Herald has become
chairman of the Nebraska Chapter.
"Everything was done through
surrogates." We will see that again and again in environmental group projects.
TNC must be delighted with this
science driven, non-confrontational, businesslike deal.
That was a long time ago. Is TNC
still doing this kind of lobbying? In fiscal year 1996, TNC spent $419,729 on
lobbying. In 1997-98 TNC spent $993,396 on lobbying. TNC
spent $3,191,930 on lobbying in 2000.
Perhaps The Nature Conservancy will
open their current handbooks to public inspection so we can see what dirty
tricks they might or might not be playing these days.
The Nebraska Chapter of The Nature
Conservancy said in April 1999 that John Gottschalk, publisher (not editor) of
the Omaha World Herald, was once on their board of directors. In April, 1999,
Gottschalk denied ever being chairman of TNCís Nebraska Chapter. The Kiewit
Foundation had no idea TNC was behind the killing of the Norden Dam project.
A substantive question arises about
the 1,385 corporate associates and the large number of businesses that work with
and donate money to The Nature Conservancy: Why?
Why corporations give to
environmental groups, which, given their "progressive" colleagues, appear to do
nothing but harm corporate interests, is a question addressed by two scholars in
Marvin Olasky, who teaches
journalism history and media law and ethics at the University of Texas at
Austin, pointedly noted that "love of mankind" (the dictionary definition of
philanthropy) plays a relatively small part in corporate grant making.
Professor Olasky wrote that
personal, ideological and utilitarian reasons prevail:
Contributions are made for one or
more of three very practical reasons. First, corporate executives may direct
funds to groups personally important to them, a choice often based on peer
pressure or spousal involvement. Second, ideological considerations come into
play because liberals and conservatives generally view the world in different
ways. Third, public relations managers make calculated professional judgements
as to which potentially critical groups need to be placated.
In other words, how can we get the
most public relations bang for the buck and help a few groups that subscribe to
our own beliefs (or those of our spouses)?
Of Professor Olaskyís three, public
relations approval clearly outweighs everything else in corporate giving to
Robert H. Nelson, a professor of
environmental policy at the School of Public Affairs at the University of
Maryland and a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has a more
Machiavellian take on corporate giving to the environmental movement: It is a
way for strong corporations to obtain government regulations so expensive they
will price weaker competitors out of business. The result is a legal monopoly in
a high-cost market.
Professor Nelsonís way of stating
it is more elegant: "Regulations behave as the private rights of the regulated."
The result is the same.
Bob Nelson first explained his
theory to me while I was interviewing him in 1981 for a book I was working on.
He was then a policy analyst at the Department of the Interior, working in the
Office of Policy Analysis, which serves the Office of the Secretary.
I told him it was difficult for me
to grasp that an industry would commit suicide by giving rope to its hangmen. He
patiently explained that only the weakest part of an industry dies under heavy
regulation, and those weaker firms donít contribute to environmental groups. The
stronger survivors have bought a valuable service from environmentalists:
lobbying by those who can occupy the moral high ground with strength sufficient
to win against industryís vigorous pretense of defense.
The implications of Nelsonís theory
are disturbing. Is there collusion to influence public policy between corporate
or trade association leaders and environmental group leaders that are not the
strictly armís-length relationships of adversaries?
Is the adversary process of
lobbying environmental policy being compromised by "sweetheart deals" between
the most powerful on both sides, corporations and environmental groups?