By Michelle Frost
Since its founding in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has conserved more than 119 million acres of land, protected 5,000 river miles worldwide, and now operates 250 marine conservation projects. The Conservancy’s mission is to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends.
In Oregon the organization has been at its current location for 20 years, inside a stately brick building at SE 14th St. and Morrison. Executive Director Jim Desmond oversees Oregon operations with a staff of 90 employees, half of them in the Portland office and half of them in small offices around the state, including Eugene, Ashland, the coast, Bend, and Enterprise.
“TNC has a rich 60 year history,” Desmond explains. “We’ve protected 120 million acres and still our work is critically important. I feel an urgency everyday.”
Desmond brings his own rich history to the organization having once served as Assistant General Counsel to TNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the late 1980’s. He moved west to Portland in 1993 to be married, and became Director of Parks and Nature with Metro for 19 years. When his current position opened up 3 years ago, he was ready for the opportunity to continue working with them.
“This job came open for the first time in 29 years!” he exclaims.
Membership is up, according to Desmond, in response to current concerns over climate change. “We work hard to be a bipartisan organization with a philosophy to create a comfortable space and to serve in a convening role,” he explains.
Diplomacy is integral to the organization’s success. “We have a track record for cutting through red tape, and a staff with skills in negotiation and collaboration.”
Thanks to the support of one million members, The Conservancy is able to protect freshwater sources, create proactive solutions to climate change, balance conservation of critical lands with development and manage marine habitats in all U.S. states and 35 countries.
“A good example of our work here in Oregon is forest management,” Desmond says, “and at the coast working with fishermen.”
With 1 million members and counting, TNC holds itself accountable to the people who make their work possible. They have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, their highest rating. 76% of donated funds are put directly into programs. 13.5% of donations cover general and administrative expenses, and 10.4% of donations take care of fundraising and membership.
They are one of the most effective and efficient environmental organizations working around the world today. In addition to committed members, they have a large and active volunteer force. “We engage 1,000 volunteers a year, in office and administrative positions as well as at work on the properties.” Volunteerism has spiked as more people, especially young adults, wish to have a hands-on experience in helping with conservation.
If you are interested in visiting any of Oregon’s nature preserves, or if you would like to share your passion as a volunteer in the new year, visit their website for more information at nature.org.
Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature
By Mark Tercek and Jonathan Adams
Basic Books, 272 pgs
CEO of The Nature Conservancy, Mark Tercek, joined the conservancy in 2008 after 24 years as a managing director and partner at the investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs, where his mentor was Henry Paulson, former Treasury Secretary in the last Bush administration.
This resumé has caused a stir among some activists in other environmental organizations. Could Wall Street, Big Business and Ecology coexist in the same room?
The answer appears to be yes. Tercek has made it his mission to transcend the outmoded dichotomies contained in these questions, to reformulate the way we think about economic and environmental issues, and to pursue conservation projects through innovative collaborations around the world that exemplify TNC’s mission. Tercek, who had never written a book, wisely teamed with someone who has – biologist Jonathan Adams.
Preserves You Can Visit
Blind Slough Swamp
Camassia Natural Area
Clear Lake Ridge
Middle Fork John Day River
Eight Dollar Mountain
The Table Rocks
Tom McCall at Rowena
Other Preserves & Projects
Sandy River Gorge
Williamson River Delta