Ron Arnold's Green Tracking Library

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy, Inc.

Address: 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100
Arlington, Virginia 22203-1637
Telephone: 703-841-5300

Status: 501(c)(3)
EIN: 53-0242652

The 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.

The Nature Conservancy is profiled in Ron Arnold's book, Undue Influence: Wealthy Foundations, Grant Driven Environmental Groups and Zealous Bureaucrats That Control Your Future.

The Nature Conservancy is mapped on Muckety.

2009 Income: $856,246,824
2009 Assets:
Founded: 1951
Exempt since: March 1954

Officers, Directors, Trustees, and Key Employees:
Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2009

Name Title Compensation
Stephanie K Meeks Acting Pres & CEO/COO - Part Year $366,199
Stephen C Howell Chief Fin and Admin Officer $283,024
Rebecca L Patton Chief Conservation Start Officer - Part Year $263,539
Robert Bendick Regional Director - Part Year $225,674
Mark A E Burget Chief Conservation Pgms Officer - Part Year $224,891
Philip Tabas General Counsel $224,693
Craig Neyman Vice President and Chief Investment Officer $221,450
Amy Golden Acting Chief Marketing, Member & Philan Officer $221,012
Mark R Tercek Director and President - Part Year $202,696
Terry Richey Chief Mkting, Member & Phil Officer - Part Year $192,059
Michael Sweeney State Director $184,633
John Cook Regional Director $181,697
William Ginn Chief Conservation Programs Officer - Part Year $179,940
Bruce Runnels Regional Director $174,150
Robert McKim Regional Director $173,769
Karen Berky Regional Director $172,303
Brian McPeek Chief Conservation Strategy Officer - Part Year $153,578
Rebecca Girvin-Argon Chief Philanthropy Officer - Part Year $152,865
Katherine Skinner Acting Regional Director - Part Year $149,859
Harry Groome Chair, Gov, Nom, & HR Comm $0
John P Morgride Chairman - Part Year $0
William W Murdoch Director $0
Christine M Scott Director $0
George Welles Secretary $0
Robert J Portman Director - Part year $0
Steven A Denning Director $0
Roger Milliken Jr Chairman - Part Year $0
James C Morgan Director $0
Joel E Cohen Director $0
Gordon Crawford Vice Chair $0
Gretchen C Daily Director $0
Carol E Dinkins Director - Part Year $0
Roberto Hernandez Ramirez Vice Chair - Part Year $0
Teresa Beck Chair, Conser Act Review Comm $0
Thomas Middleton Director $0
Thomas J Tierney Director $0
Frank E Loy Director $0
John P Sall Chair, Audit Committee $0
Muneer A Satter Treas & Chair, Finance Comm $0
Shirley Young Director $0
Stephen Polasky Director - Part Year $0
Cristian Samper Director - Part Year $0

Five highest paid employees

Name Title


Joseph J Keenan Regional Director $363,944
David M Cleary Director of Conservation Strategies $350,343
JeanLouis B Ecochard Chief Information Officer $252,854
Catherine Nardone Director of Philanthropy - California $231,923
Cynthia Smith Vice President of Human Resources $225,784

The Nature Conservancy 2009 Revenue

Contributions $531,882,088
Government Grants $105,423,426
Program Services $261,540,942
Investments ($53,283,950)
Special Events $163,985
Sales $3,818,332
Other $6,702,001
Total Revenue: $856,246,824

The Nature Conservancy 2009 Expenses

Program Services $639,890,857
Administration $107,062,615
Fundraising $75,038,298
Total Expenses: $821,991,770
Net Gain/Loss: $34,255,054

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 $856,246,824 and assets of $5,636,393,924

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 agent."

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 its president and chief executive 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.

The late 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 $171,764,755 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 government.


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 value."

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 tax rolls.

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 government contracts.

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, Northern District.

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 researchers.

"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 scene.

"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 estate.

"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 representation.

"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 another.

"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 condemnation.166b

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 $877,000.

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 they?

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 action:

1. All "swing" Members of the House

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 canvassing.

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 campaign.

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 some depth.

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.169b

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 environmental groups.

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?

Serious questions for future public policy.

1,831 GRANTS TO THE NATURE CONSERVANCY (Adobe Acrobat PDF document, 317k file)