Disney, whose environmental legacy spans more than sixty years, is committed to responsible development. Disney has worked closely with The Nature Conservancy and other nonprofit organizations for more than two decades to create the Disney Wilderness Preserve (DWP) in central Florida, the first large-scale, off-site wetlands mitigation project in the country.
Heralded as a model, the DWP effort was a visionary approach to responsible development while acknowledging the need for growth. Rather than take the traditional path of patchwork mitigation projects as the needs arose, Disney took the risk of asking the big question: “what approach would yield the best results for the environment and habitats?” That question led them to The Conservancy, and the answer was the Disney Wilderness Preserve.
Working with The Conservancy, Disney pursued its mitigation needs in what became one of the largest off-site, system-focused projects at the time. The Company entered into a 20-year agreement with The Conservancy to restore a complex of wetlands and longleaf pine on a former ranch in Central Florida. To start, Disney purchased 8,500 acres that had already been deemed significant environmentally sensitive habitat in Central Florida and donated that plot to The Conservancy. Disney provided The Nature Conservancy restoration funding in annual payments, an endowment to assist with operations, and additional support to build a green visitors center and learning facility. In all, Disney invested $45 million over 20 years to establish the preserve. In 2012, final permitting of this unique mitigation project was completed ahead of schedule, in the 19th year of the 20-year agreement.
Solutions in Action
The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve marked an historic beginning of a new philosophy in land conservation and mitigation, one that embraces whole ecosystems. Now encompassing 11,500 acres of pine savanna and wetlands in the upper Kissimmee River chain of lakes, it serves as a model for the environmental mitigation banking industry in Florida. This innovative approach to environmental stewardship resulted in more than 50 mitigation banks throughout the state today.
More recently, the DWP was named as a key element of a U.S. Department of the Interior/National Wildlife Refuge land management corridor that stretches south hundreds of miles to the Everglades. The Conservancy has restored the former cattle ranch so that approximately 4,000 acres of wetlands once again exist within its boundaries. As “nature’s sponge,” wetlands are the life-blood of peninsular Florida. Rain filters through the DWP uplands into lower-lying wetlands that capture water, filter nutrients, replenish Florida’s aquifer, and provide essential habitat for plants and wildlife.
Scientists and land managers employ methods developed at the DWP as a model for Northern Everglades wetlands restoration. Data from the DWP and other sites are used to estimate potential water storage and water quality gains achieved through large-scale wetland restoration.
During the time that Disney and The Nature Conservancy were collaborating on the Disney Wilderness Preserve, other collaborations began to emerge and flourish. For example, Disney has supported multiple programs of The Conservancy through philanthropic contributions provided by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney Friends for Change. The most recent contribution was a $100,000 grant to support LEAF, The Conservancy’s Leadership in Environmental Action for the Future youth program. Specifically, the funds helped establish LEAF in two new urban markets—Central Florida and Greater Los Angeles—in summer 2012. In this way, Disney is supporting The Conservancy’s objective of building a new constituency and nurturing the next generation of conservation leaders. Disney Friends for Change is also currently sponsoring The Conservancy’s Nature Rocks program, an internet-based tool aimed at inspiring and encouraging parents to take their children out into nature.
Disney and The Conservancy have worked together on two highly visible movie promotions involving conservation impacts tied to the Disneynature Earth and Oceans films. The Disneynature Earth collaboration led to the planting of close to 3 million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest in honor of every moviegoer who saw the film during opening week. Disneynature’s Oceans supported the protection of more than 40,000 acres of coral reef through The Conservancy’s Adopt a Coral Reef program and the expansion of an important Caribbean conservation program in The Bahamas. In addition to the funds raised, Disney’s strong global brand helped The Conservancy gain significant visibility with new audiences for the organization’s mission and conservation projects. These promotions were also extended to the first week of sales for the Blu-ray DVD release of both films.
For the Oceans promotion, The Nature Conservancy developed an extensive outreach program that provided tips on how each of us – regardless of where we live – can have a meaningful impact on the health of our world’s oceans. This content was supported by a robust social media campaign and inclusion of The Conservancy’s logo in the movie trailer and advertising. Leading up to the opening of the film, Disney and The Nature Conservancy co-hosted film screenings in major markets. Post opening, an event celebrating the impact of the collaboration between Disneynature, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy and The Bahamas on a significant marine protected area in The Bahamas was held with the country’s Prime Minister and Secretary of the Environment, and the U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas.
Working Together For A Sustainable Future
Disney has more recently worked with The Conservancy to develop large-scale, forest carbon projects, including three in China, one in the Lower Mississippi Valley of Louisiana, and one in Virginia’s Clinch River Valley —with a total value of approximately $10 million. The projects will reforest thousands of acres and sequester carbon dioxide, helping Disney to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction target.
As we look forward to the future, Disney and The Nature Conservancy will continue their work together to protect nature and to inspire others to join them in taking conservation action.