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State chapter helping with national, international issues

Nature Conservancy helping preserve, restore natural wildlife

Taking a business approach to the work it does, being non-confrontational, paying fair market value to willing sellers for property and paying real property taxes when it could apply for tax exemption —these are what separate the Nature Conservancy from other conservation organizations. And because of the way it conducts business it appeals to many businesses and industries looking for win-win situations toward conservation issues.

With offices in all states, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, the Nature Conservancy is an international, nonprofit conservation organization. The Nature Conservancy of Mississippi, founded in 1989, has the mission to find, protect and maintain the best examples of communities, ecosystems and endangered species in the state. Today, the Mississippi chapter has 16 full-time employees in Jackson, Ocean Springs, Tupelo and Camp Shelby. Even though Mississippi’s chapter was not formed until 1989, the national

organization has been at work in the state since the 1960s.

Charles M. Deaton, a partner with Brewer, Deaton and Bowman law practice in Greenwood, has been involved with the Nature Conservancy for 25 years.

“Mississippi really has a lot more natural life out there than a lot of other states,” Deaton said. “It’s not as jammed up. But if you don’t set aside and protect areas of course you can lose what I call ‘our blessing.’ I think that if we can keep up our programs, we’re making headway on protecting the important sites.”

Deaton, for whom the 3,300-acre Charles M. Deaton Preserve at the headwaters of the Pascagoula River was named in May 1999, has donated much of his time and money to the Nature Conservancy of Mississippi. He believes natural wildlife is important to all people, not necessarily one particular group.

Robbie Fisher, state director of the Nature Conservancy of Mississippi, agrees.

“I think that many corporations are generous in their charitable giving and I think that environmental groups appeal to some corporations more than others,” Fisher said. “Some CEOs have an interest or maybe the business is such that it has a natural interest toward the environment. I think our mission appeals to a number of businesses and industries.”

Plum Creek Timber Company, Raytheon Aerospace, Sanderson Farms Inc., BancorpSouth, Weyerhaueser Company and many others support the Nature Conservancy of Mississippi. Dan Grafton, president and CEO of Raytheon Aerospace, is chairman of the Nature Conservancy of Mississippi and proud to be associated with the organization.

“We all participate in various economic development campaigns, charities, political issues and so on, and they all have agendas or causes,” Grafton said. “But the Nature Conservancy and its mission to buy land and protect it for future generations affects every single person without regard to race, color, creed, sex, age or anything. So it’s one of those things that we can participate in that is truly an investment in the future of all the people.”

The Mississippi chapter’s day to day work includes:

• identifying lands that shelter the best examples of natural communities of species;

• determining with the help of scientists what is rare and where it exists;

• protecting habitats and natural systems through acquisition by gift or purchase or by easement;

• assisting government and other conservation organizations in their land preservation efforts;

• managing and monitoring a series of preserves using staff and volunteer land stewards; and

• encouraging compatible use of these natural areas by researchers, interns and the public.

The Nature Conservancy of Mississippi is also currently helping the national and international Nature Conservancies with one international environmental issue — carbon sequestration.

Carbon sequestration is the removal of carbon dioxide from the air and using it or placing it where it will not get back into the air in the near future (150-300 years). The easiest and most environmentally friendly way to sequester carbon dioxide is simply the natural process of trees growing and removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in their mass. Reforestation projects for mitigating carbon dioxide emissions have the potential to offset about 15% to 30% of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The Nature Conservancy aims to limit the extent of deforestation and restore natural forests to areas that have previously been cleared.

It is a lofty goal, but one Fisher believes is reachable. She compared it to restoring and maintaining wetlands in Jackson County with the Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank.

In November 1996, the Mississippi chapter acquired more than 1,700 acres in Jackson County to establish the Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank. Since then, the Nature Conservancy has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to launch the state’s first coastal wetland mitigation bank. The bank, which is located six miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, offers wetland “credits” to developers to compensate for the unavoidable loss of wetlands associated with construction projects in four Mississippi counties. The proceeds from the sale of credits will allow The Nature Conservancy to restore and maintain the area in its historical wet savanna habitat.

While preserving and protecting biodiversity is important, Fisher realizes there are other issues that are just as important. She hopes to work side by side with industry far into the future while protecting and preserving the state’s and the world’s natural resources.

“We recognize that of the so many millions of acres there are in Mississippi, that not every acre needs to be locked up and in some kind of preserve. But there are some important places we learn about through scientific investigation, and that’s where we focus our efforts,” Fisher said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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