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Nature Conservancy uses scientific approach to land management

Jackson — Since 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has used a practical, objective approach to land management and conservation. It would seem that formula has been successful as the non-profit organization now has chapters in all 50 states and 27 countries, and has protected more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of river worldwide. It has approximately one million members and supporters.

While TNC has been active in Mississippi since the 1960s, the local chapter did not form until 1989, but in a short time has become a familiar name in the Magnolia State. According to Robbie Fisher, director of TNC-Mississippi, the chapter has positively impacted approximately 133,000 acres in Mississippi, and currently owns 15,000 acres. The Mississippi chapter stands at approximately 2,500 members.

“There is a strong scientific basis to everything we do in the state to identify areas that need particular attention,” said Fisher, a Greenville native who gave up a law career to join the state chapter of the TNC in 1998. (She was named state director in 1999.)

This approach is embodied in TNC’s program dubbed Conservation by Design, the organizations hallmark management/conservation effort. The process encompasses identifying organisms that may need protection, assessing what threats exist to those organisms, developing solutions to address those threats, implementing those solutions and, finally, evaluating the success of the prescribed solutions.

It is the last item that has found favor with many entities and individuals. TNC puts a heavy focus on accountability. Results, whether successful or not, are there for all to see. Subjectivity is removed.

Successful partnerships

Another aspect of TNC’s approach that many find appealing is the organization’s willingness, even eagerness, to partner with the corporate world, government agencies and other entities. While Corporate America and environmentalists often clash with emotions running high, TNC’s objectivity and openness has won friends, including in the business world.

In addition to Conservation by Design, TNC offers practical assistance to state landowners through the Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank, a 2,000-acre tract purchased in 1996. Federal law requires that a developer who is impacting wetlands must mitigate for the impact on the wetlands area. The bank offers developers the option to purchase mitigation credits to offset the development’s impact, and in return TNC commits to managing the land in perpetuity.

If this makes businesses happy, that is fine with TNC. Though the state chapter may be a part of a large, international organization, the local branch receives no funding from headquarters. Donations and support from the Mississippi business community, foundations and others are critical to the chapter’s efforts.

That support goes to a wide array of in-state efforts. The projects of the Mississippi chapter literally stretch from border to border. The TNC preserves, on some of which the organization allows hunting, include the Connewah Creek Chalk Bluffs Preserve in Lee County, Durand Oak Prairie Easement in Scott County and Lakeshore Savanna Preserve in Hancock County. Among the TNC partnership projects are the Charles M. Deaton Nature Preserve in Bolivar County, Cat’s Den Cave Preserve in Jackson County and Clark Creek Natural Area in Wilkinson County.

These projects are managed by a staff of 20 working out of offices in Jackson, Tupelo, Ocean Springs and Camp Shelby. The Camp Shelby location underscores TNC’s unique efforts and approach. TNC scientists are there to work with the U.S. Department of Defense to study endangered and threatened species in the area used as a major training area for the military.

Assessing storm damage

As with so many entities in Mississippi, TNC has been impacted by Hurricane Katrina. How significantly its holdings in the southern part of the state have been affected remains to be seen. At the time of this story, Fisher said staff from the Mississippi chapter as well as personnel from TNC-Florida was assessing the damage, and a report was expected sometime during the week of September 19-25.

TNC will keenly anticipate that report. Of the chapter’s 15,000 acres owned in the state, more than 10,000 acres are located south of Jackson.

The good news is that its staff in South Mississippi — 15 of its 20 total employees — is accounted for, and the South Mississippi program and the Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank in Ocean Springs are intact and operating.

“We will continue our efforts to help our staff and people in the surrounding communities as we begin to assess the ecological effects of Hurricane Katrina to the area,” TNC-Mississippi said in a written statement.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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