The Nature Conservancy began when leading scientists, committed citizens and dedicated leaders came together with a shared vision to protect and care for nature. Today, as we take on the most complex environmental challenges of our lives, our diverse staff, partners and members impact conservation across more than 70 countries and territories.
The Nature Conservancy Through the Years
More than a century ago, leaders gathered, debated and laid the groundwork for what would become The Nature Conservancy.
The research-focused Ecological Society of America is formed. From the beginning, members debated over the mission. Should the organization exist only to support ecologists and publish research or should it also pursue an agenda to preserve natural areas?
From the activist wing of the Society, some members form the Committee on Preservation of Natural Areas for Ecological Study, led by Victor Shelford, a scientist who helped establish ecology as a distinct field of study.
To retain its focus on research, the Society dissolves the Committee. Shelford and a small group of scientists form the Ecologists Union and resolve to take “direct action” to save threatened natural areas.
The Nature Conservancy officially forms and is launched into land protection on Christmas Eve 1954 when neighbors of a 60-acre forest in New York were given an ultimatum: bid on the wooded ravine or see it developed.
The Ecologists Union changes its name to The Nature Conservancy, and the organization is incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the District of Columbia in 1951.
The Nature Conservancy grants its first official chapter charter in Eastern New York, launching a network of chapters and field offices that eventually grows to cover the entire United States.
The Conservancy works with Mianus River Gorge neighbors in Bedford, New York to strike a deal to protect a 60-acre hemlock forest; they pledge their life insurance policies, and TNC finances $7,500 of the purchase.
From large acquisitions to pioneering the use of conservation easements, the Conservancy asserts its leadership by developing new ways to protect important lands.
The Conservancy purchases 3,100 acres from a California landowner who could not afford the tax burden; the landowner was able to stay on the land, and TNC forms its first public agency partnership with the Bureau of Land Management to co-manage the property.
We receive our first donated conservation easement—6 acres of Mystic River salt marsh in Connecticut. The landowner retains ownership while TNC is responsible for ensuring the ecological values of the land endure.
A gift from the Ford Foundation enables TNC to hire its first full-time, paid president, renowned botany expert and founding member of the Conservancy, Dr. Richard H. Goodwin.
Growing in size and scope and driven by science, we expand our reach to international conservation while continuing to protect special places in the United States.
Our Vice President for Science, Robert E. Jenkins, leads a biological inventory of the United States, resulting in greater scientific rigor in land acquisition.
We launch our International Conservation Program to identify natural areas and conservation organizations in Latin America in need of technical and financial assistance.
With funding from the U.S. Congress, the Parks in Peril program launches to protect 50 million acres in Central and South America and the Caribbean by helping local organizations provide effective park stewardship.
During these pivotal years, the Conservancy embraces conservation work at broader scales. We develop regional planning tools that become the foundation of our work, and we take our expertise to new geographies.
We open our first office outside the Western Hemisphere in Koror, Republic of Palau.
The Conservancy develops Conservation by Design, an eco-regional approach for setting priorities and taking action to identify the sites that must be protected to conserve biological diversity in the Western Hemisphere.
The first group of LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future) high school interns are recruited in New York; more than 1,000 students from across the country have participated since.
The Nature Conservancy’s Membership surpasses one million people.
As pressures on our planet mount, we bring new ideas to challenges like water security, and we play a role in several large-scale, transformative conservation land transactions.
The Conservancy and the Association for Biodiversity Information publish Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States; it warns that 1/3 of the plant and animal species found in the United States are in peril.
The Nature Conservancy’s first water fund is established in Quito, Ecuador. Water users pay into the fund in exchange for the product they receive — fresh, clean water. The funds, in turn, pay for forest conservation.
The Nature Conservancy turns 50; in celebration, 12 renowned photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and William Wegman, capture the rich and complex splendor of some of the Last Great Places in a photography exhibit.
Following a decade of work in Colorado, we complete the last of a complex set of real estate transactions that clear the way for the designation of the country’s newest National Park, the Great Sand Dunes.
With decades of conservation success to draw from, the Conservancy is taking bolder steps than ever before to amplify and accelerate our work to address challenges like climate change and food security.
The Conservancy’s China Blueprint heavily influenced China’s national conservation plan. The plan calls for a halt to the loss of biodiversity in the country by 2020 and establishes priority conservation areas.
The Nature Conservancy, the Dow Chemical Company and The Dow Chemical Company Foundation launched a breakthrough collaboration to develop tools and demonstrate models for valuing nature in business decisions.
The Nature Conservancy and the nation of Seychelles finalized the first-ever debt-for-marine-conservation swap. The deal will protect nearly 160,000 square miles of ocean off of Seychelles while helping the country pay off its sovereign debt. The first marine protected areas, totaling 81,000 square miles were created in 2018.
The Nature Conservancy develops a 50-State Climate Change Strategy to test and adapt local climate actions across the country.
The Conservancy’s Canadian affiliate, Nature United, worked alongside First Nations to help facilitate a milestone agreement, permanently conserving 19 million acres of Pacific coast between Vancouver Island and southeast Alaska. About 9 million acres are off limits to logging, with the balance managed under some of the world’s most stringent harvest standards.
As our planet faces the dual crises of rapid climate change and biodiversity loss, The Nature Conservancy is implementing its biggest, most ambitious plans to achieve lasting results, guided by science and equity.
The Nature Conservancy helped transform a former mining town into a thriving hub for outdoor recreation in Colorado. This vision came to life when a 19,200-acre ranch was made into the new Fishers Peak State Park.
The challenges facing our natural world have never been greater and the need for bold solutions has never been more urgent. Your support will allow us to put the best conservation science into action right now.