Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Nature Conservancy vs. Native Americans

In 2006 The Nature Conservancy won a legal action to force the Pala Band of Mission Indians to pay them $545,000 for unknowingly violating a provision of the Clean Water Act. The tribe had allowed members to conduct a mining operation on tribal land and the water runoff affected neighboring land owned by The Nature Conservancy. When the Nature Conservancy took legal action, the Native Americans were outgunned in terms of legal representation and legal defense funds. When the verdict was announced Tribal leaders did not know how they would raise the money to pay the multi-billion dollar Nature Conservancy from their over-strained budget. The Nature Conservancy does not need the money from the lawsuit and admitted that it planned to use the money to buy even more land near the reservation.

Apparently The Nature Conservancy’s commitment to preservation does not include preservation of the welfare of Native Americans.

See for an article reporting the legal settlement.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Florida Thrills The Nature Conservancy

Florida legislature voted to fund open land purchase programs by going $300 million into debt. The Daytona Beach New Journal reported that the cost was only $25 million – the cost to finance the debt. This comment sounds like the logic of a teenager with their first credit card. The money will be raised by making further cuts in health services to Florida residents.

The paper quotes The Nature Conservancy’s political lobbyist Janet Bowman saying "We are thrilled," "We are ecstatic." She should be. She just won her employer a $300 million pool of funds that can be used for land brokerage deals that can be leveraged into even much more money using partnership arrangements with local governments around the state.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Montana land deal gone bad

Today’s (4/13/08) Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a newspaper in Southwest Montana, brings up an old deal attempted by the Nature Conservancy in 1992. The Nature Conservancy was trying to negotiate a deal to buy 165,000 acres of land inside the Gallatin National Forest for logging and development. Ted Turner was supposed to finance the deal. Apparently news leaked to the public which caused the deal to fall apart.

The article raises more questions than it answers. What was so objectionable about The Nature Conservancy’s development and logging plans? Has the same development strategy been carried out in any of the many other properties owned by The Nature Conservancy around the world? What was the financial draw for investor Ted Turner?

Little news from the 1992 deal is available online. If any readers have any information on this, we would love to hear.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Conservation easements

The Battle Creek Enquirer reported "Nationally, conservation easements are gaining popularity. The 2005 National Land Trust Census, compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance, reported 37 million acres were protected across the country by local and state land trusts and by such big-name conservation groups as The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited. Although some easements protect urban gardens and local parks, most are focused on wildlife habitat, open space and wetlands, according to the census."One commenter wrote "What happens to this land?" - a very reasonable question. The answer is no one knows for sure. Conservation easements are a fairly new experiment in real estate. We assume permanency but our courts have shown willingness to allow the custodian to modify use of trust assets under an increasingly wide range of circumstances. The review on the effectiveness of conservation easements remains unwritten.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Will whistleblower protection work at non-profits?

Would additional whistleblower protection help curb illegal practices at non-profit organizations like The Nature Conservancy?

In 2002 new laws known as Sarbanes-Oxley made sweeping reforms designed to curb the tide of management corruption in for-profit companies. One of those provisions was legal protection for employees who report wrongdoing by their employers. The logic was that insiders are most likely to see corruption and have access to documentation that would be needed by enforcement to correct the actions. But the law does not apply to non-profit organizations.

The CPA Journal recently covered the views of some people who feel that Sarbanes-Oxley should be extended to cover non-profit organizations. The trouble is that majority of employees at The Nature Conservancy fundamentally support the organization’s mission of acquiring the world’s undeveloped land at taxpayer’s expense, even when that means stepping on landowner rights or bullying municipal governments. The fact is that The Nature Conservancy is so large and so powerful that it is virtually uncontrollable by any overseer, including the federal government. Prior investigations by Congress and the IRS documented misdeeds but failed to result in any meaningful changes or punitive actions. It seems unlikely that additional charges by whistleblowers would result in any different outcome.

While whistleblower protection may be an effective means of corruption control at smaller non-profit organizations, it is unlikely to make much difference at The Nature Conservancy.