IP-20-93 (May 1993)
Author: David Petteys
Independence Institute Issue Briefs are short essays dealing with public policy questions. The Issues Briefs are meant to be suggestive rather than definitive, and to serve as starting points for further thoughts and inquiry.
“Our endangered plant and animals need you and The Nature Conservancy,” the bold type reads. As the brochure explains: “When you join the 600,000 members of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), you team up with a unique nonprofit environmental force. Unique, because we do more than advocate conservation, we practice it – by purchasing the deserts, marshes, mountainsides, prairies, islands and wetlands that are threatened homes to endangered plants and animals.”
While the Nature Conservancy’s approach, as stated in its brochure, is laudable, the Conservancy’s relationship to the federal government may be more controversial. The Nature Conservancy’s does not always retain land which it acquires. Instead, the Conservancy frequently sells or swaps its land to the federal government. Federal land acquisitions from groups such as the Nature Conservancy may be carried out at a substantial disadvantage to the federal taxpayers.
Between 65% and 90% of Nature Conservancy land acquisitions are eventually transferred to the federal government. After investing $25 million into the Virginia Conservation Reserve, past TNC President Patrick Noonan told his staff not to worry: “You can sell it to the feds and get all your money back.” Form the Nature Conservancy’s viewpoint, sales to the federal government make sense. Selling the land gives TNC capital with which to acquire more land, which themselves can be sold, to generate capital for further land acquisitions. As long as the land transfers to the federal government are under terms which effectively prevent use of the…